By Mungo MacCallum
Barack Obama’s speech to the University of Queensland during the G20 bash was undoubtedly a show-stopper: spell-binding oratory which included a powerful message urging the people, particularly the youth, to demand more action on climate change.
Obviously and inevitably it was seen to be aimed squarely at Tony Abbott, who had done his best to gag or at least mute the climate change issue at the meeting he was presiding over. And of course it worked: the headlines responded.
But it should have been a one-day wonder: as the G20 subsided and Abbott’s big numbers with China’s Xi Jinping and India’s Narendra Modhi took the stage, our great leader should have been accorded the attention he hoped for and expected. The fact that the Obama address continued to distract from the plaudits he craved was due not from the recalcitrance of the leftist media but from the paranoia of his own supporters.
From day one Abbott’s bestie, The Australian’s Greg Sheridan, led what turned out to be a running series of attacks on Obama: he was gratuitous, and ungracious to speak openly on a subject Abbott wanted to avoid. Not only that, the speech was not given to Abbott in advance, presumably so that our prime minister could be forewarned, or better still censor it. And it turned out that the US ambassador in Australia and even some of Obama’s own advisers wanted it toned down.
The culmination was an enormous feature from Sheridan last weekend, reprised as a front-page news story, that Obama had shot himself in the foot: he had diverted from his own message about the American commitment in Asia. Bloody lame duck dysfunctional – a bit like Kevin Rudd, really.
Well, just let’s get this in context, as another of Sheridan’s bugbears, Malcolm Turnbull, might put it. Obama’s concerns about climate change might well be embarrassing for Tony Abbott, but they were neither new nor surprising. For months the president has been proselytising on the importance of action both at home and abroad.
He tried to bring in an ETS in the United States and more recently made his agreement with Xi the centrepiece of APEC. And significantly he opened the climate change summit in New York, calling it the overriding challenge confronting the world – a view endorsed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and shared by politicians, scientists and countless ordinary citizens throughout the planet.
Abbott, of course, conspicuously snubbed this event, in spite of being on his way to the UN in the same city. For Sheridan and others to demand that Obama should now ignore his long held beliefs and passions in order to condone Abbott’s ignorance and massage his fragile ego is an absurdity – but it has been one supported not only by The Australian’s usual suspects, Paul Kelly, Dennis Sheridan and the self-parodist Gerard Henderson, but also by politicians who ought to know better.
Queensland premier Campbell Newman was particularly miffed: why, he had gone out of his way to host Obama’s event, and look what happened. And foreign minister Julie Bishop sprang to the defence of the Great Barrier Reef – or rather, of the state and federal management of it. Agricultural run off, mining and using the reef for dredging waste was no longer permitted, she boasted.
True; but Obama was not talking about dumping and drilling or any of the other short term vandalism perpetrated and proposed in the past. He was talking about the future of global warming and the damage it would cause to the reef through rising sea temperatures and increased concentration of carbonic acid, which will affect coral in he same way as it is already affecting the great food supplies of Antarctic krill.
Bishop, like the republican guard of News Corp, was more concerned with protecting Abbott’s arse than advancing the argument. But at least she was trying, and that part of the prime ministerial anatomy – the sanctum of the suppository of all wisdom – is looking particularly vulnerable.
The last Newspoll was, for the party room, appalling. The headline figure, a 10 per cent gap after preferences, was mega-landslide territory. But wait, there was more: Labor now led on primaries, which was almost unprecedented, and the barely visible Bill Shorten was now seen as a better prime minister than the beleaguered incumbent.
And this had happened after what was supposed to have been a good week. But when you’re hot you’re hot and when you’re not, well, you’re Tony Abbott. Even the much-vaunted China Trade Agreement hit some sour notes. Among all the rejoicing from the free marketeers, the public was not impressed. There would, admitted the economists, be losers as well as winners. Alan Jones berated Abbott about Chinese takeovers, energy companies warned that gas prices might rise and agriculture minister Barnaby Joyce admitted that food might go up as well.
In the circumstances, the news that coal and dairy exports would increase did not exactly lead to dancing in the streets.
The coalition parties blinked, and blinked again. The troops are not panicking – yet. But they are not happy. Bishop has been a firm ally, and Matthias Cormann remains indefatigable, even saying that Abbott’s lie on no cuts to the ABC wasn’t actually a lie – by no cuts he meant well, an efficiency dividend – in other words, spin for cuts. Malcolm Turnbull conceded that Abbott had said no cuts but they and Joe Hockey had said there would be a bit of trim all around. And he might well have said it; but no-one was listening. What the voters heard was the clear and unequivocal commitment from their leader, who promised, above all, honesty and trustworthiness.
And ominously, the rest of the cabinet, most of the junior ministers, and just about all of the backbench seemed stunned into silence. So, what is to be done? Demagoguery, obviously, and fortunately Andrew Bolt has the answer with a detailed ten-point plan for redemption. Actually it is a bit simpler than that: a couple of slogans in fact. Bolt’s advice to Abbott can be summed up as: No more Mr Nice Guy, and Keep it simple, stupid.
Or perhaps, given Bolt’s determination to avoid the science on climate change and bring Abbott back to the one true path: Keep it stupid. Now there’s a mantra to take to the next two years.