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16 August 2014

by John Lord

Giving Abbott a Serve

Since bringing down the budget a consensus has developed that even includes right wing journalists, with all agreeing that Tony Abbott has been an abject disaster as Prime Minister.
In little under a month the “adults” will have been in charge for a year. Abbott is a visionless leader lacking a narrative for our country; a leader unable to shake off a dour, negative, pessimistic personality, and someone who has never been held in high regard.
After four years of daily abuse, distortion and outright dishonesty, he forgot that once elected you are expected to come up with ideas and actually have policies that take the nation forward.

Paul Kelly of The Australian newspaper said this:

“Abbott is governing yet he is not persuading. So far. As Prime Minister he seems unable to replicate his success as Opposition leader: mobilising opinion behind his causes. The forces arrayed against Abbott, on issue after issue, seem more formidable than the weight the prime minister can muster.”

In this statement Kelly assumes that Abbott was a success as Opposition Leader. If one assumes that gaining office by deliberately lying to your fellow Australians and later denying it equates to successful persuasion, then he is correct.

Take this recent comment by Lenore Taylor:

“In the final sitting weeks of the winter session, Tony Abbott held an unusual meeting of his full ministry during which he was asked by a junior minister how the government was intending to deal with the widespread view that it had broken election promises. The prime minister’s response was forceful and absolute. The government had not broken a single promise, he insisted. There was nothing to deal with, no case to answer.”

Australia has never elected a Prime Minister so ignorant of technology, the environment and science, nor so oblivious to the needs of women. He is a man blind to inequality, and so out of touch with transparency, truth and decency. A man remote from a changing world in which answers to complex problems are more likely to be provided by science and logical critical reason than a belief that change should only ever be incremental at best.

Abbott is a man who seems isolated in a time warp, hungering for a past world long forgotten. He is driven by elitist, privileged ideology, the intent of which is vindictive punishment rather than inspirational leadership and governance for the common good. He is a man who only takes advice from those who agree and treats with disdain those who don’t. He appoints as heads of enquiries those who acquiesce the same view, thus divorcing the process from any real objectivity.

Abbott is a man with rich and influential friends, and it is from them that he seeks advice. Advice is a necessary function of competent leadership but when it only comes from those with wealthy vested interests, or from those who see life through the prism of a cash register, then it is born of self-interest and cannot express a common good. The same goes for those who seek power with manipulative words.
Last week we had an appalling example of this. In giving into public opinion on Free Speech legislation the Prime Minister at the same time found it obligatory to ring a Murdoch journalist, Andrew Bolt, to inform him that the legalisation would not proceed. It was as if Bolt was owed some sort of apology, needed to be pacified in some way, or was owed something for his biased support.

Abbott leads a men’s club who can be divided into four groups: the religious right; the corporatist dealmakers; those who resemble the American Tea Party; and the technological luddites who deny science. They are a ministry of aging men with little practical work life experience and obscure views often deep-seated in neoconservative principles. Conservative men who can speak at will about what they oppose but have difficulty articulating what it is they believe in, or when they do it is clouded in the hue of feral, often hysterical, extremist privileged morality.

What is our democracy coming to?
The first requirement of any Government is that it be transparent, because secrecy makes us less free. When politicians lie they deny us the truth.
The right to vote is the gift that democracy gives. When a political party deliberately withholds information that the voter needs to make an informed, balanced and reasoned assessment of how it is being governed, it is lying by omission. It is also tantamount to the manipulation of our democracy or, more bluntly, it is destroying the very democracy that enables it to exist.
This of course requires trust. “You can trust us” was Abbott’s frequent mantra during the election, but events since would suggest that the Prime Minister and his government can be far from trusted. It is a sad reflection on our country when its citizens cannot expect that their parliament will govern with trustworthiness.
We have seen what Rob Oakeshott calls “conflict theory” used by big business to destabilise government by creating the perception that the government is undemocratic. ‘We will decide how much tax we pay’ said the big miners, and daily the billionaires protested, supported by the Murdoch Empire, in turn subverting our democracy – and the conservatives acquiesced.

According to a recent survey by the ANU, most Australians no longer think it matters which major party is in government. It also revealed a significant decline in support for democracy over the past seven years. Nearly 20 per cent of eligible voters, about 3 million Australians, effectively opted out of the last federal election by either failing to enrol to vote, not showing up to vote, or voting informally.

A quiz (with questions one would think most Australians should know) on the link provided highlights the political ignorance of voters and the Coalition have an interest in keeping it that way. Less informed voters unfortunately outnumber the more politically aware, and therefore the conservatives feed them all the bullshit they need. The menu generally contains a fair portion of fabrication.

If our democracy is not in crisis it is fast approaching it. All parties are responsible, but none more so than the Prime Minister who has sought to trash the parliament and its institutions.
Having said that, and if the Polls are to be believed, around 48% of Australians are happy to see the poor supplement the advantaged rich and be governed by a group of middle aged men whose sole aim is self-interest.

People no longer trust political parties and the parliament. A Monash University survey found that trust in the Federal Parliament has fallen from 48% in 2009 to 27% in this year.
Is it any wonder? Politics is rife with scandal and corruption, and rorting of expenses is commonplace: particularly by a Prime Minister who thinks he and his ministers should be immune to such things.

To quote Mark Latham:

“The famous formulation of ‘government of the people for the people, by the people’ has been replaced by ‘government versus the people’.”

The malaise in Australian politics is comprehensively demonstrated by the fact that after three years of insisting he would restore popular trust, after Abbott was elected leader the polls very quickly reflected the fact that the people recognised they had voted for a dud. He never had the honeymoon period usually given to incoming leaders.

Whilst in opposition, Abbott could have formulated some policy instead of spreading negative propaganda. However, he has shown by the frequency and blatancy of his lying that it was all about self-interest.