Chasing the Norm

Australian academic and blogger on politics, international relations, and culture

The openly cynical conviction politician

One thing to like about Tony Abbott is that he has a clear set of beliefs and is in politics because he wants to be the engine that implements these views. His numerous “gaffes” (in the eyes of the media) are generally just cases of him saying what he believes when it’s impolitic rather than actual mistakes. Therefore, with his advisors surely very keen to play up this image of a straight shooting man, it was odd to see two significant counter-examples on Four Corners last night

First was an odd comment from Minchin which suggests the entire #spill was a pre-planned coup. That isn’t the most surprising of suggestions, but Abbott was adamant up until the final weekend that the whole crisis“isn’t a leadership issue at all. It’s a policy issue”. Minchin doesn’t quite say it, but it’s pretty clear he doesn’t claim issues had anything to do with it:

LIZ JACKSON: Tony Abbott wrote that it was an ideas book and a rallying cry for Liberals, but not a leadership job application.
LIZ JACKSON (to Nick Minchin): At what point did you form the view that the party needed to change leadership because of your views and others’ views on the climate change issue?
NICK MINCHIN, LIBERAL SENATOR: Well, I didn’t form that view. I mean, the leadership issue arose because Tony decided that he would you know mount a challenge.
NICK MINCHIN: I like to pride myself on keeping my finger on the pulse both of internal opinion and the mood of our own grassroots and of public opinion at large. So I was talking to him on that basis on a number of occasions.
LIZ JACKSON: The politics rather than the science?

Then comes the even clear admission with Jackson paraphrasing Abbott’s view (on this we must take her claims carefully) but with Minchin’s comments and Jackson’s reputation it’s hard to not see this as a frank admission that it was the politics not the science which drove their new position and the downfall of Turnbull and by extension that they don’t even have a position on the science.

LIZ JACKSON: The opportunity for Tony Abbott to challenge for the leadership was delivered courtesy of the climate change debate.
This is the township of Beaufort, north west of Melbourne. It was his trip here in September last year that Tony Abbott says in Battlelines, changed his thinking about the Government’s emissions trading scheme.
MALCOLM TURNBULL: Well, Tony shifted his ground a number of times. In the middle of 2009 he was strongly of the view that we should simply pass the ETS unamended; just wave it through, and he published an article in The Australian newspaper saying that.
LIZ JACKSON: But on his drive to a Liberal Party function in Beaufort , Tony Abbott recounts that the local MP told him there was a bush revolt against what country people saw as just a new tax.
LIZ JACKSON: Tony Abbott says that while driving back to Melbourne, he spoke with Senator Minchin and this crystallised his views.
He now accepted that voting for ETS would fracture the Coalition, while opposing it would give them the chance to campaign against Labor’s giant new tax on everything. Politically, it was the way to go.
LIZ JACKSON: Over the next two months Tony Abbott put this to his leader Malcolm Turnbull, sometimes he say on morning bikes rides in Canberra ,but Malcolm Turnbull was unpersuadable, and still is; and the word crap still rankles.

As I said, no one should be surprised that this was the case. But it is surprising that Minchin and Abbott, men who would know very keenly that their entire chance of winning office rests on Abbott seeming more honest and straight shooting than the PM would so freely admit that they had mislead the media and the public in their pursuit of the leadership.

It’s the kind of interview you almost expect post-election, not prior to while the image consultants are busily at work. There’s no add ready quote here for labor to use, but enough smoke to leave little doubt. Already people think his position both in calling it “absolute crap” while implementing a multi-billion dollar climate change policy is a bit of a joke. But allowing it to be made clear that Abbott and Minchin nakedly used the issue to get to the leadership risks what little credibility his policy has, and indeed his larger image. The Coalition has clearly decided that the election can’t be won if Climate Change is one of even the top 5 issues. Hence the focus on attacking the ETS on economic grounds, the paid parental leave scheme, and the focus on asylum seekers. That’s a sensible analysis, its just odd to see them freely admitting it while still running for election. The public won’t notice or care much, but expect the media to be a little bit harsher on Abbott over environmental issues. No one likes being taken for a ride or used for another’s benefit, let alone a prideful press gallery.

6 ResponsesLeave one →

  1. Joey Mac

     /  March 16, 2010

    Sorry Andrew….I am in the mood for being a pedagogue! It is ‘impolitic’, not ‘inpolitic’.

  2. Fair call. I plead typo rather than error and have updated the post. Cheers

  3. Bridget

     /  March 16, 2010

    The abortion issue was also clumsily handled by Abbott, I thought:

    LIZ JACKSON (to Tony Abbott): You said in your speech in Parliament that you wanted to make clear that you don’t judge a woman who’s had an abortion.

    Yet at the same time you said 100,000 women choose to destroy their unborn babies every year, that a grave decision has been reduced to one of a woman’s convenience, and the legacy of this is one of unutterable shame.

    Can you see why women might feel that you are judging them for having an abortion, and indeed, judging them harshly?

    TONY ABBOTT: I’m not, because Liz, there must be a million, maybe two million Australian women who are in that position, including people who I know extremely well. Now, the last thing I would want to do is to make a harsh judgement or to be judgemental in any way about people who are wrestling with an incredibly difficult situation.

    LIZ JACKSON: But you described the decision they made as one of convenience that led to a legacy of unutterable shame. How could you…

    TONY ABBOTT: Well, I think…

    LIZ JACKSON: Could women not feel that that is judging them and judging them harshly?

    As this exchange demonstrates so aptly, I think that Abbott’s views on abortion could also be very problematic for him in an election year. Unfortunately for him, and despite the fact that, as he points out, Kevin Rudd and Kristina Keneally hold similar views, the media has seemed quite reluctant to let him off the hook.

  4. Abbott’s stance on abortion was always going to be a risk, and he’s seemingly survived 4 months without it becoming a discussion (though what indirect effect it is having amongst female voters is hard to measure), but you’d have thought he would have come up with a better way of handling the issue than he did. He needs a formulation like Clinton of abortion being “safe, legal and rare” to help define what he is for and what he is against. His tendency for hyperbole, especially on sensitive moral issues is going to make him look much more extreme and insensitive than he is. He wasn’t convincing at all on 4 Corners.

    You could spin this as him being honest, but rather its just a failure of communication. People don’t know why he holds the views he does (isn’t he religious or something) nor what those concerns mean in practical terms for their own lives (would there still be abortion under an Abbott government). He isn’t doing a good job of communicating who he is or what he stands positively for, so the old stereotype of the ‘mad monk’ is creeping back into people’s minds and press reporting.

  5. Alex

     /  March 17, 2010

    It would be nice if Abbot was clearer in communicating the views he holds, especially on matters where the catholic church is controversial. It would go a long way towards convincing me if he were to clearly state his views on abortion, contraceptives, LGBT rights, and stem cell research. My guess is the reason why he isn’t doing this, is that he is fairly hard line Catholic and thinks that will alienate a decent chunk of the voting population if he is honest about it.

    “The Coalition has clearly decided that the election can’t be won if Climate Change is one of even the top 5 issues. Hence the focus on attacking the ETS on economic grounds, the paid parental leave scheme, and the focus on asylum seekers. That’s a sensible analysis, its just odd to see them freely admitting it while still running for election.”
    Surely the sensible thing would be to do something about climate change, rather than muddy the political water? Though I guess if they are focused purely on winning power then their approach makes sense.

  6. This is an excellent article Andrew. I think you are right in saying most people don’t know or don’t care that the Mad Monk and the Emperor mislead the media and abused an important political issue simply to gain power and that they have more or less admitted it. In any case, good on you for making an important point.