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Byron Shire
April 11, 2021

Thus Spake Mungo: The captain picks an iceberg

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By Mungo MacCallum

Yet another captain’s pick that hasn’t worked.

Tony Abbott’s attempt to ambush the party room into a premature party room vote has produced the worst possible outcome for just about everyone except Bill Shorten.

A few more votes for a spill would have led to a discreet tap on the shoulder from his colleagues, or, if that didn’t work, they would be breaking down the door. A few less and it could have been spun as a decisive win, a chance for a real recovery. At least it would have been some sort of result.

As it is, a very substantial proportion of the backbench – perhaps even a majority — have declared that they want to get rid of him, not because they like Malcolm Turnbull or anyone else but just because he is Tony Abbott, erratic, pig-headed and above all a loser. He will dangle in the breeze until they cut him down.

The wreckage of the Liberal Party is scattered far and wide, and no doubt sifting through of the debris will take a very long time. But some of the major pieces of the charred remains can be discerned already, and the most obvious ones reveal that the calls from so many of the chieftains, especially those of the right, have been utterly wrongheaded – even delusional.

The first of them has been the all but united chorus of denial: our policies are basically sound, it is just that the navigation has gone awry. There has been a problem of communication; there have been some over-hasty judgments, but nothing that can’t be fixed with a bit of tweaking. The bloody senate won’t respect our mandate.

What no one will concede is that whatever the economic rationale for the nasty medicine, it was regarded as overwhelmingly unfair – that the poor have suffered most of the pain while the rich continued to wallow in their gains.

Some will reluctantly admit that there have been some broken promises, but hey, circumstances change. There have been adverse headwinds. We were elected to make tough decisions. You can’t please everybody and in any case, it was all Labor’s fault.

What no one will concede is that whatever the economic rationale for the nasty medicine, it was regarded as overwhelmingly unfair – that the poor have suffered most of the pain while the rich continued to wallow in their gains.

Then there is the captain himself. Reprising the last two federal election campaigns, Tony Abbott implored his colleagues to reject Labor and all its works, and embrace stability, certainty, security. But when? There has been little sign of this for most of the last year and no real hope that it will suddenly settle down. At least since the time of the 2014 budget the only stable we have seen is the one in which the panicky horses are kicking over their stalls.

And of course Abbott’s self-interested line that it is the people who can and should hire and fire their prime ministers is not only self-evidently absurd, but actually counter-productive. Just go give the people half a chance: they can hardly wait to do just that, which is why the backbench has gone feral.

Long before the last election the people would have preferred Malcolm Turnbull to be prime minster; they voted, when they could, not for Tony Abbott but to get rid of the last government. Now the polls show that their loathing of Abbott has got to the stage where they will sacrifice his entire government as collateral damage just to throw Abbott out. Abbott sneered at the furious voters as simply ‘absent-minded’. Yet more denial.

But the most serious lack of understanding of what is really going on is the throwaway line from the Abbott supporter, trade minister Andrew Robb, who dismissed the Liberal Party room critics and dissenters as behaving like a bunch of amateurs. It was, of course, intended as a put down. But in a way it could be taken as a compliment, because the professionals, of whom Robb is a prime exemplar, have comprehensively stuffed up.

Robb has been, essentially, a career politician, if not from birth, at least since his graduation from La Trobe University when he joined the public service as an economist before moving on to the conservative National Farmers Federation, where he rose to become executive director. He then became deputy director of the Liberal Party and joined the staff of its leader, Andrew Peacock, in 1989.

When Peacock resigned the following year, Robb became the party’s federal director. He stayed in that job until John Howard won the 1996 election. After a stint as a business consultant (a lobbyist) during which he continued to serve as a board member on the NSW Liberal Executive as its finance director, Robb moved into parliament in 2004 and quickly joined the front bench. He weathered a brief bout of depression and then continued to rise to his present position – the ultimate professional.

For all his working life he has been a negotiator, a tactician, a fixer – one whose aim is to achieve the outcomes set for him by his superiors. He has been pretty successful at it, but the means have become vastly more important than the ends. It has been all about winning, about success. And in the process he, like so many of his fellow professionals, have become disconnected from the people – the ones who have had enough and want to throw him out.

The professionals find this hard to fathom: why are the people getting it so wrong? The Australian’s Paul Kelly, who clearly regards himself as the professional par excellence, is fond of pontificating about what he calls the two realities; the one that those inside the beltway (an elitist American affectation) see and the one the mass of uninformed people see. In the insiders’ reality, the world is black and white: economic imperatives are paramount and must be observed as a law of nature; the professionals rule. All the rest is irrelevance, distraction, misguided waffle.

But unfortunately this is not a reality at all – it a self-serving fantasy nurtured by blinkered political know-it-alls. The other, the more substantial, reality is the world of the people, the world of the voters. And eventually, in a democracy, they demand to be heeded. And loudly and persistently, they have rejected the professionals and want to give the amateurs a go.

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  1. When has a Government become more boring ? Ill-advised-Advisors have each & every prominent MP repeating the same words & phrases as each other: “I am confident, I am confident, I am confident” .. “My Colleagues,my colleagues, my colleagues”. I think Paul Keating started it, but then it was a new way of communicating and therefore more effective. Now – with all proceeding Prime Ministers, until it has reached an unprecedented overuse by Tony Abbott & his orchestrated puppets .. it’s become thoroughly insulting to those of us who went to school long enough to become brain-numbed, at screaming point, and impatient to hear an intelligent sentence come out of their mouths. Malcolm Turnbull, of course, is articulate – but kept as far out of the picture as the Dumb Bunnies can manage to keep him !

    End of the line for me was MAT-TEDIOUS CORMANN this week saying over and over ad nauseum “My colleagues and I believe in him; my colleagues and I trust him; my colleagues and I are confident he will lead us to the next Election etc. etc. etc.

    Well, MaTEDIOUS .. MY Colleagues and I are CONFIDENT none of you – except Malcolm – will last the distance, because we can’t perceive a collective brain among the rest of you !!!


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