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Abbott already a dud

By Syd Hickman - posted Friday, 17 January 2014

Let's begin the year with a big prediction. Tony Abbot will not lead the Coalition to the next election. This is not just the lazy journalist's love of a leadership story. Abbott has already proved he is not up to the job and when the polls get so bad that the Lib MPs realize they could be one-termers there will be a rush to the best alternative, which looks like being Joe Hockey.

So far the Government has mostly been associated with getting rid of jobs and threatening unpopular changes. The public service, Holden, Ardmona and Qantas (not to mention Ford, maybe Toyota and the rest of the car industry plus others) will all be seeing large numbers of people walk out the door as the next election approaches. The point here is not the correctness of each call but the apparent joy these job losses have brought to the government and the complete lack of a narrative as to where new jobs will come from.

The holiday season has been used to threaten the ABC, bulk-billing for Medicare, various changes in education and to appoint extreme right-wing folk and devout Liberals to government tasks. All this might cheer up the faithful but it will not be popular. Many government figures seem to believe that the election win was so big they can now do whatever they want. That will change.


Abbott's own behaviour has been odd. Apparently he flew to an exclusive ski resort in France for his Christmas holiday. With his wife and two bodyguards he travelled in economy on Qantas. This mixture of indulgence and humility is just weird. There are stories he fudged his plans when asked about them prior to leaving by saying he was going to visit one of his daughters, and she was at the ski resort. Most interesting is the way this story has been ignored by the media. If Julia Gillard had holidayed in this way it would have been front-page news.

More broadly Abbott has hidden his exercise regime and tried to look calm and conceal the old aggro. This is not convincing. He has gone from being a known person with some eccentricities to a nonentity. There is still no vision of the future, just a retreat to some confused mix from the past. His parliamentary performances have been uninspiring, and less memorable than Hockey's. Then there are his friends like Cory Bernadi and the call for the abortion debate to be reopened.

When Abbott had to go to South Africa for Nelson Mandela's funeral Joe Hockey put his hand up to be the sane grown up to actually run the show, leading with an attack on Holden for not announcing its decision on ending production in Australia. He was still angry about having to cave in to the National Party and block the foreign takeover of Graincorp. (The message out of Canberra is that he sold this decision so badly because he did not agree with it and wanted that to be known.) Doing something for Qantas became another important issue with Hockey publicly supportive but the Transport Minister, Warren Truss, opposed. No-one seems to believe that it is of any significance that Truss's predecessor as National's leader, Mark Vaille, is on the Virgin Board and everything Truss says would meet with his approval.

Abbott returned and slapped Hockey down. The Nationals won again, but most unusually they were advocating an economic rationalist position.

Hockey appears to have absorbed the Treasury briefing on how bad the economy is becoming and as a result is inclined to be serious and flexible about the policy responses. Abbott sounds like he has not read anything that might contradict his faith that axing the tax and stopping the boats is all that needs to be done.

Bob Hawke showed that to be a successful PM you had to sit at the desk for hours reading a lot of paper and understanding what you read. Abbott seems to have bought the Keating myth that you just get inspired and make the big calls and it all falls into place.


His efforts in foreign policy show the results. The visit to Indonesia was not a success. Calling in the Chinese Ambassador to remonstrate about claims in the South China Sea was an overreaction with bad long-term effects. The PM seems to annoy most foreign leaders he meets, which helps to confirm stories of his lack of interest in briefings or issues papers before he meets them. His description of other nations in terms of hierarchies of 'friends' is laughable.

In all its been a very poor start and it hard to see Abbott turning things around. A concerted attack on the union movement can be expected this year. How effectively that is managed will be important but it probably will not be the big vote winner the Government expects. It will help confirm the current impression that driving down employees' wages and conditions is the key policy of the government, with no compensation and no explaination.

Abbott is utterly opposed to anything remotely like global realism, which helps explain his failure and the need to get rid of him. His environmental policies revolve around direct inaction while economic and energy policies are non-existent. Hockey as PM with Turnbull as Treasurer would be more likely to introduce serious transition policies. Watching how the media react to the government's primitivism over coming months will be nearly as interesting as watching the Government.

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About the Author

Syd Hickman has worked as a school teacher, soldier, Commonwealth and State public servant, on the staff of a Premier, as chief of Staff to a Federal Minister and leader of the Opposition, and has survived for more than a decade in the small business world.

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