Abbott's first 100 days : the 'bring himself to' problem
The US pundits tell us that in the "first 100 days" of any new government you know everything you need to know about what that "new administration stands for".
If that is correct, then Australia will pay a huge price for its change of government in September 2013.
The broad generic describing the Abbott government at the end of its first 100 days is 'amoral'; it "stands for nothing"!
The Abbott government is petty, ignorant, self-centred, domestically-oriented, secretive, destructive, lacking in moral fibre, lacking in common decency, and willing to take Australia back to the fifties (and in some cases the forties) for the petty gain of a few at the enormous cost of many. It even has the potential to turn Australia, regarded up until now as a 'first world country', into a tinpot backward Asian nation at the same time as other Asian nations are emerging and coming of age, in an emerging new world order.
I'd like to say otherwise. I wish I could say that Abbott is still finding his feet, and the real Abbott has yet to emerge. But the US pundits say, "nuh, at the end of 100 days he has been fully tested and that's what he stands for. That's going to be his historical legacy".
Why do we need to stand-for something?
If you are going to bring about massive changes, you need some ideas outside personal likes and dislikes, some more general ideas that will generate enthusiasm amongst the many, to encourage broad popular support for the changes to come and to provide an independent gauge of your success or failure. If you don’t, your changes will be arbitrary, your successes fleeting and directed towards those closest to you, your failures difficult to quantify, your failures not recognised and therefore unable to be rectified, and in the fullness of time the changes will 'stand for' nothing. When you are gone, your changes will be replaced by other changes without the need for justification and you will have made no contribution to the history of humanity.
Why does Abbott 'stand for' nothing?
The Abbott government is suffering from an inability to perform because of Abbott seeking to dictate operations from the centre.
It commenced its government with ministers unable to perform.
The best place to get a glimpse at the enormity of this, is to look at the way the government has dealt with a simple and straight-forward world event, the death of Nelson Mandela.
The end of the Mandela era
The 'quietness' of other ministers such as foreign minister Julie Bishop, or usually outspoken minister for communications Malcolm Turnbull, is staggering. Ministers have obviously been told to keep their mouths shut, and they are doing what they are told. The handling of the event was left to Tony Abbott, and it was handled in a manner that immediately called attention to his personal failings and was generally embarrassing to Australians on the world scene.
Abbott's 'handling' of 'a situation'
Abbott issued a poorly worded, trite, minimalist statement that recognised "the world mourning" Mandela's passing, thinking that was all he needed to do. http://www.pm.gov.au/media/2013-12-06/nelson-mandela
He then showed us his true feelings at home, refusing to allow the bringing the Australian flag to half mast, even though the governments he holds dear, the UK and the US, had no problem lowering their flags. Abbott could not 'bring himself to' allow true recognition, tribute and mourning.
The response was an immediate public dismay and anger, and demands for the lowering of flags. Abbott stood steadfast and said nothing. The next day Abbott issued a small press release explaining that he had issued an instruction for flags to lowered on the day of a memorial service in Johannesburg which he will be attending and recognising Mandela as Honorary Companion of the Order of Australia.
Malcolm Fraser's warm assessment
It was left to Malcolm Fraser, LNP Prime Minister 1975-83 to pay tribute in papers and TV to the passing of the "greatest man", on behalf of his side of politics.
Fraser's account was warm and glowing. See for example
Abbott could easily have acted in a similar manner to Fraser. But personal failings meant a lost opportunity.
His government is incapable of doing anything in case it gets it wrong, and thereby gets it wrong, every time.
Conservatives who aligned themselves with apartheid against Mandela in the past, like current British PM David Cameron, or more liberal players who sought real change to apartheid regimes South Africa and Rhodesia while maintaining international capitalist structures and regimes, like Malcolm Fraser, had no problem this week reflecting on the importance of Mandela, and his honesty, integrity and honour; a man prepared to lay down his life for the good of his people; for the good of humanity. But Abbott couldn’t 'bring himself to'. It is understanding why this is the case that is essential to defining the character of the Abbott government.
Why couldn't Abbott 'bring himself to' recognise greatness?
It seems obvious that Abbott could not 'bring himself to' recognise the greatness of Mandela because he saw himself as being on the opposite side of politics to Mandela and to recognise his greatness would be to fly in the face of those he represents.
This means that in Abbott's eyes he represents one side of politics to the exclusion of the other; he is more a tea-party man than anyone expected.
This means that anyone in the ALP or anyone to the left of the ALP will never be included in his deliberations.
It also means exclusion by Abbott of the liberals within his own party.
It 'downgrades' the role of the Prime Minister to party politics and downgrades it even further to particular interest groups within party politics.
The role of the head of government to represent the country on the world scene and to look after the interests of all citizens at key moments of change has suddenly disappeared and is no longer part of the scene.
This higher order responsibility for the Head of Government in the House is fully understood by Labor with Whitlam, Hawke, Keating and Rudd playing a fine role internationally, taking a key role in instituting change internationally and supporting change instituted by other states with a higher order responsibility, not just Australia's domestic political agenda. Gillard found her feet quickly and was looking to become a fine statesperson, especially with the prospect of Australia undertaking key roles within the UN. In the past the Liberal Party usually got it right, with Menzies, Gorton and Fraser especially recognised internationally as great statespersons, although Menzies was 'for' the Commonwealth and skeptical of the role that the UN could play in the betterment of life. The 'downgrade' began with Howard. Howard was dominated by the domestic agenda and thought that the UN had no moral authority and did not see their Charters signed by Australia as some sort of 'legal binding' as the ALP does and was prepared to play in the international arena only when it suited Australia's best interests.
Since our Head of State is in most parts playing a purely ceremonial role, the further downgrading of the role of the Head of Government that we see under Abbott is a serious moment for Australia to find itself in. It has already had, and will continue to have, serious ramifications, both domestically and internationally.
Since our new prime minister has downgraded his own position as head of government, and he is keen to control all aspects of government from the centre, the tendency is to downgrade the key government portfolios, as well. This is already happening.
Abbott's 'Downgrades' - What will Abbott be remembered for?
Parliament – downgrade long standing traditions
Abbott will be remembered for abandoning long standing parliamentary traditions for political gain. He has soiled the office of the Speaker of the House by getting him sacked in an attempt to bring the minority Gillard government to an early election. The office of Speaker had long standing strong bipartisan support that is now lost forever.
Abbott knew the Speaker was rorting the system because he was doing it himself. Whereas the Speaker was sacked for a "try it on" for under one thousand dollars, Abbott and his ministers were into heavy rorts of fraudulent claims for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The rules they were all playing by was "try it on" with the Department of Finance. If it bounces, you have to pay it back. But the assumption is you made a mistake; it is understandable for busy people like the Speaker or the ministers to make the odd mistake in the rush and tumble of political life.
Abbott went outside the rules and got the Speaker's claim sent directly to the Federal Police.
There is a long-standing tradition that the Federal Police are above party politics. They play by the rules established by the Department, and they administer their tasks without fear or favour for one side over another.
This has proved to be easily discarded with no regrets.
The Federal Police should have simply referred it back to the Department for handling under the rules. Instead they took an active role in trying to bring about a change of government. When Abbott finally came to power, the Police agreed to not use the Slipper referral as some sort of precedent but to refer any referral from outside the Department back to the Department, giving Abbott complete control over any future referral to the AFP.
One claim by an LNP MP is clearly fraudulent and could result in incarceration, but Abbott refuses to refer it.
But they continue with their criminal action against Slipper, making the whole affair some sort of sordid childish Abbott victory; might is right. The Head of the AFP continues to get strong support from Abbott and will never be called upon to explain his role in the whole sordid affair.
Few are concerned that a man's political life was terminated and his personal life impacted, purely for Abbott's personal betterment, at the hands of the AFP. But the cost to democracy of such dealings can be enormous. In Malaysia, in the Anwar Ibrahim sodomy trials, we have seen what can happen if the police lose their independence and their actions start to become dictated by party politics. Certain people cannot take part in the democratic process without fear of legal action, or worse incarceration, or being maybe even subjected to violence by the state. Australia has now turned the corner towards such changes and Abbott is happy for that to happen.
Shit happens – downgrade Australia's dealing with Crimes Against Humanity
Abbott will be remembered for abandoning long standing United Nations traditions for political gain. One of Abbott's first actions as Prime Minister was to attend a Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting CHOGM in Sri Lanka. While at CHOGM, Abbott entered into a contract with Sri Lanka giving them a couple of control boats to use against people trying to leave Sri Lanka seeking asylum in another country. When other leaders such as David Cameron said that this was inappropriate because of torture by Sri Lanka of its own people, and called for investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity, Abbott's reply was "sometimes difficult things happen".
We all knew what he meant, as Abbott was well known in Opposition as the "shit happens" man.
This means that for Abbott domestic political difficulties are sufficient reason to abandon well established UN rules of engagement and allow actions that could result in trial in the Hague and imprisonment of Sri Lankan leaders to go completely unattended by the UN. Moral and ethical issues simply don't enter into the picture.
When one compares this CHOGM meeting with the role that Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser played in CHOGM in relation to South Africa and Rhodesia the difference could not be starker. Fraser understood that his position in a 1st world country and in CHOGM gave him certain powers to impact on human rights and freedom in other countries, and he should use it wisely. His agenda was not about furthering Australia's domestic agenda, the way Abbott's so clearly was.
Illegals – downgrade Australia's dealing with Human Rights
The ALP set up mandatory detention of people who have a basic human right to seek asylum and few thought we could get any worse, but Abbott achieved it! Abbott will be remembered for getting his Minister for Immigration Scott Morrison to instruct the Department to refer to boat people as illegals, even though this is outlawed by the UN Convention granting these people the right to seek asylum in another country. Up until that point only the Alan Jones's and a couple of renegade MPs insisted on breaking this convention, but now it was coming from within the cabinet.
For the first time, in the lead up to the election and since, serious discussion regarding withdrawal from the 1951 Convention is happening in Australia.
Bob Carr will be remembered for referring to asylum seekers as economic migrants in a cynical manoeuvre to generate a few more votes for Labor in the run up to the election.
Bolt laws – downgrade Racial Discrimination Act
Abbott will be remembered for introducing changes to the Racial Discrimination Act to allow racial vilification, as if it were synonymous with free speech.
His attorney general Senator Brandis said changes to the act would be viewed as the government condoning racist behaviour, but said "you cannot have a situation in a liberal democracy in which the expression of an opinion is rendered unlawful because somebody else finds it offensive or insulting".
There are real dangers in these changes for Indigenous (and non-Indigenous immigrant) populations. It brings into stark relief Abbott's claim to have a special personal commitment to Indigenous well-being and development whilst at the same time promoting legislative changes that will allow idiots like Bolt freedom to promote their racist filth.
NBN – downgrade node to the home
Abbott will be remembered for returning Murdoch's favours getting him elected with a downgrade of the NBN Project 'fibre to the premises (FTTP)' with 'fibre to the node (FTTN)'. The last mile used between the node and the house is old Telecom copper wire. The FTTP designed by Labor was looking to make every house in Australia working at 1Gbs per second, matched across the world only in Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, and South Korea. This did not suit Murdoch as it would turn his major investments in Australia into old unnecessary technology, films for example being freely available using streaming. IEEE have just given us an excellent overview of the differences and the price being paid by every Australian so that Abbott can determine that government policy can be designed for for the benefit of one key friend.
Malcoln Turnbull is fully cognisant of the price Australians are paying for Abbott's lack of moral fibre. Turnbull was heard joking in Parliament last week about the craziness of Labor's project plans, but many realise that the joke is on us.
No briefing – downgrade Australia's governmental transparency
Abbott will be remembered for silencing the cabinet to the MSM, controlling handling of the MSM from his office, making no press releases, instructing ministers to make weekly ministerial verbal announcements at press gatherings rather than press releases and Q&A by the minister when something happens (so he has time to "review" and "suggest") and instructing his cabinet to not answer media enquiry. This secrecy has the intention of hiding real government activity and poor performance from the media, the opposition and voters. This impacts directly on democracy and good government.
A good example is his Minister for Immigration Scott Morrison instructing his Departmental employees and agents to leave the detention centre in Papua New Guinea for their own personal safety whilst leaving asylum seekers at the behest of the perpetrators of violence and with no protection. At his weekly press meeting Morrison mentioned the 'event' with a one-liner. When asked about the details of the event he provided no more information, and he lied to the MSM saying it had nothing to do with him and was a matter for the PNG government, thinking that was enough to shut them up.
Read more (The Age): http://bit.ly/1e2AbsX
Scott Morrison failed to provide proper account of the failure of his Department and defence forces to properly respond to calls for help from asylum seekers on the high seas, resulting in a huge loss of life, hiding behind security concerns. Abbott refused to confront the media and we saw his ludicrous running for cover, many of us feeling it was happening because he didn't want to muddy the waters with another "shit happens" statement.
Morrison continues to hide the real facts and even refuses to answer questions in Parliament quoting the security issue. We have to go back to the Children Overboard affair to see a government so tied up in silence, expediency, and cabinet instructions to the Department and the Defence forces demanding complicity in political lying.
Read more (Canberra Times) http://bit.ly/J9VoU9
Transparency is central to good governance. To dump it is a clear indication of Abbott's personal agenda.
Question Time is a tradition that goes back to the formation of the Constitution and is considered fundamental to our form of democracy. That Abbott can formally diminish its ability to provide transparency shows clearly what importance he places on democratic traditions.
Advice – downgrade the role of Indigenous advisors
Abbott will be remembered for setting up a new Indigenous Advisory Group so that it now has five members who are NOT Indigenous and two who represent the interests of big business, a CEO of a major bank and a Managing Director of a major mining conglomerate.
Read more (AHR.org) http://bit.ly/1bsDRMT
The reason why he did that was unclear to Indigenous participants on Twitter when the makeup of the committee was released and as far as I am aware a proper explanation is still not available. If anyone has any link that has that explanation, I would appreciate the link.
Colonialism – downgrade respect for a friend
Abbott will be remembered for a stand-off with Indonesia who was expected to do what it was told in taking back a boatload of asylum seekers.
Within a month of coming to power Abbott was flexing his muscles as the colonial leader of SE Asia. He told the Indonesians in no uncertain terms that they had no alternative but to take back a boatload of asylum seekers as they would not be accepted into Australian waters.
Read more (SMH) http://bit.ly/1cmguWn
Strange isn’t it? an Oxford graduate, so no one thought they needed to tell him that the colonialism of the past has gone for good (in both senses). What Abbott thought he was going to do, if the Indonesians refused to budge, noone knew. I sat back with a smile on my face and watched the event unfold. As it turned out, the Indonesians had the same thoughts as I did, and Abbott wandered off with no explanation and Abbott's weak lackey Morrison accepted them into Australian waters and got them shipped off to detention immediately without any knowledge or respect for human dignity or health or special requirements. If this had been a boatload of international reporters playing their roles, all hell would have broken loose. But as it happened they were just asylum seekers, so who cares? But my smile didn't last for long. My embarrassment talking to international friends about the incident, as an Australian, could not have more degrading.
Spying – downgrade the importance of diplomatic traditions
Abbott will be remembered for refusing to say I'm sorry when Australia was caught spying on a friend.
There is a long standing tradition in diplomatic circles that you always view events from the perspective of your own nation state and engage in diplomatic activities to the benefit of the country you represent. But if you get caught doing the wrong thing the tradition is that you eat humble pie, apologise and give assurances. This would be the case, even if the other side was an enemy during the cold war. It is even more important if you are found spying on a friend. Failing to say I'm sorry could have huge implications for friendly relations in the future. Abbott didn’t order the spying on Indonesia but, when Australia was caught spying, the traditions called on him to eat humble pie and tell Indonesia "you are our friends and we will make sure it won't happen in the future".
Read more (ABC) http://ab.co/1dZTQtB
Abbott couldn’t 'bring himself to' apologise, quoting other traditions such as "neither admit nor deny". That may have some purpose in other types of incidents, but if you are caught with your fingers in the till, to call on other traditions just makes the diplomatic incident worse! Abbott's ineptitude in this matter has caused a public standoff between friends which has yet to be played out.
Misheard – downgrade the importance of campaign promise
Abbott will be remembered for a big lie in relation to education funding, claiming to have been "misheard" on the campaign trail.
There were very few policy commitments by Abbott on the campaign trail. Most policy detail was retained until after the closing of the camapign so it could not be subjected to proper rigorous enquiry and analysis. One fight that did get cleared up before the final weeks was Gonski. The Gonski education policy was highly developed by Gillard and well understood and well regarded by the electorate. Tony Abbott attempted to neutralise education as an election issue by matching Labor's funding plans. On 2 August 2013 he made a public announcement and promised to spend dollar-for-dollar on Gonski what Labor had pomised and said that on this matter Rudd & himself were on a unity ticket. No school will be worse off under the LNP and he went further saying you'll get the funding without the Labor strings attached. On 21 August Pyne issued a statement that said: "Every single school in Australia will receive, dollar-for-dollar, the same federal funding over the next four years whether there is a Liberal or Labor government after September 7."
We he got into power, Abbott got his Minister for Education Pyne to announce that there was no commitment that "no school will be worse off", but that the commitment was on overall funding on education, implying that some would be better off and (by implication) some would be worse off. This created a public furore and Abbott came out, backed his minister and said in an interview with Bolt that the commitment was "schools" not "school"; you "misheard our commitment", he said. "We are going to keep the promise that we made, not the promise that some people thought that we made, or the promise that some people might have liked us to make," he said.
Read more (The Guardian) http://bit.ly/1aQRGod
The SMH had however recorded Abbott's statement and his commitment was clear. "No school will be worse off ..." There was no plurality involved. There was no other way of interpreting the statement.
Listen carefully to Abbott's announcement (SMH) http://media.smh.com.au/news/national-times/abbotts-education-unity-tick...
In the end he backed down and said yes he was prepared to deliver Labor's program in the first forward estimates period, and no school will be worse off. He could not 'bring himself to' admit that he lied in the Bolt interview, so he lied about the lie, and cleaned up the lie.
But the lie is still there and was in the statement in August and was reinforced in the Pyne public promise. This lie was a true statement and it was that that Abbott was referring to when he said to Bolt that we had "misheard". He had always intended to tell us we had misheard, he just forgot why. (He's not too bright, our Tony!) What he intended for us to mishear was that "...no school will be worse off over the forward estimates period". If you are talking about funding over two estimates periods what he said to Bolt makes absolute sense and is not a lie. The statement is clear and he will honour it. But the commitment that "no school will be worse off" only applies to the first forward estimates period. As the majority of Labor's Gonski funding was intended for the second forward estimates period, the commitment overall falls way short of the original government Gonski project plan. This means that education funding just went through a major cut. And this was always Abbott's intention in August.
It seems likely that what Pyne & Abbott were intending when they took over was to take money from the public school and give it to the church schools, the extent of which is unknown. But the fight over the big shortfall in the second estimates period is still to be had. There was no unity ticket, at all! The words "unity ticket" is the lie. The misheard statement was sold as a unity ticket to remove it from the agenda as they went into the final month of the election. Since Gillard had done a lot of the work on Gonski when she was Minister for Everthing, it's hard to imagine that he would have gotten away with the lie if she had still been PM. But that's just speculation on my part!
Others – the downgrades go on and on
Abbott will be remembered for lots of other downgrades.
There are a host of others that could be included here, but I think you get my point. I could have commenced this dissertation with the downgrading of science in the Abbott administration, taking us back 50 years. I could have commenced with idiotic scepticism in relation to global warming and climate change, in the face of scientific certainty across the world, downgrading Australia's ability to take action or to participate in joint projects or cooperate with a global community. But these matters are well known and well understood and I have dealt with them before.
I will not go into the Pacific agreement being worked on at the moment to downgrade Australia's sovereignty in the face of global big business. I won't go into Abbott's downgrading of our relationship with China that is at its height at present and has the possibility of hurting Australia economically in ways that we can only speculate about at present.
But after the first 100 days, we have to conclude: Big thumbs down!