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14-November 2013

Tony Abbott and his ragtag bunch

It is hard to imagine a group less ready or able to govern than Tony Abbott's Coalition, says David Donovan, who wonders how much damage they will be allowed to do to Australia.

It is hard to imagine a group of people less ready and less suited to governing Australia than new Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his ragtag bunch of senior ministers.

The PM spent the years prior to reaching the pinnacle standing around in hard hats and high viz in factories and shops and warehouses, filleting fish and driving forklifts, before mouthing a few three word slogans to an adoring press pack. And if he wasn't doing that, then he was usually riding his bike across the country, or doing triathlons and fun runs, all the while claiming a living away from home allowance. Of course, he was far from alone among his colleagues in helping himself to public funds for personal gain.

Never did Abbott articulate a vision for Australia, all we knew was what he wanted to "stop" or "end". Stop the boats, stop the waste, stop the spending, end the carbon tax, end the mining tax, stop the NBN and, overall, stop the so-called "socialists" from ruining the country for good, simple, honest conservative people like him. In all, negative, short-sighted aspirations from an apparently petty and small-minded man.

His first move in Parliament today, on his first full sitting day as PM, was to introduce legislation to repeal the carbon tax, a modest climate mitigation measure, which has been shown to have caused next to no inflation and absolutely no damage to our economy, yet has significantly lowered Australia's greenhouse gas emissions, and one which amply demonstrates his myopic vision for Australia.

Before the election, Abbott seldom allowed himself to be put in a situation where a decent question might emerge that he couldn't quickly baulk and run away from. Shows like the ABC's 7.30, Lateline and Q&A, as sympathetic to conservative politics, as they have apparently become under the expert guidance of former Liberal Party staffer and now ABC managing director Mark Scott, were mostly declared off-limits by Abbott's minders due to his offputting habit of abruptly blurting out something highly inappropriate, egregiously offensive, inadvertently revealing, utterly idiotic and/or an outright lie.

These days, on the very rare occasions the new PM fronts the media, he appears as if he may be being guided through interviews via a wireless earpiece in which his chief of staff and personal mother-figure, Peta Credlin, presumably remotely barks the correct responses into his ear when his sclerotic, or perhaps punch drunk brain refuses to co-operate and he starts to "umh" and "erh" his way precariously off-message.

Today, Abbott faced Question Time for the first time as Prime Minister, where an earpiece is presently not allowed. At time of writing, the Parliament was debating a motion put by the annoyingly supercilious new Leader of the House, Christopher Pyne, to remove supplementary questions from Question Time (amongst other retrograde measures designed to limit parliamentary debate). All of this is utterly predictable.

And so, it seems, despite a lifetime of ambition, Tony Abbott was unprepared for the prime ministership and, once installed, has shown himself to be decidedly unequal to the task.

But it is not just him; his selection of ministers were no better suited to high office and now in situ have started the inevitable mayhem, chaos and disaster you would expect from such a gallery of rogues, miscreants and clowns.

To begin with, there has been the breathtaking arrogance of Immigration Minister Scott Morrison, who in concert with hard-eyed foreign minister and former asbestos lawyer Julie Bishop, has already seen a tense naval stand-off ensue with our northern neighbour and regional giant, Indonesia, as well as an exchange of angry words in the media.

Then there has been the always amusing antics of Attorney General George Brandis QC, known in certain circles as the "clown counsel", who before the election was deeply enmeshed in various plots against Coalition enemies and, true to form, has wasted absolutely no time once in power to reward his favourites, his first priority as Minister being to remove the anti-discrimination legislation that saw Coalition crony and News Ltd "journalist" Andrew Bolt, convicted as a racist in 2011 under s18C pf the Racial Discrimination Act.

And one cannot forget the performance this far of gormless mouselike apparatchik Environment Minister Greg Hunt, who famously used Wikipedia to rebut the Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Christiana Figueres, and who couldn't spare the time to attend the current round of UN climate talks in Warsaw, repealing the carbon tax being a far more vital goal for him than worldwide climate change action.

Easy to forget, on the other hand, is Health Minister Peter Dutton, whose stubborn silence on anything to do with his portfolio is matched only by his uncanny resemblance to a common house brick.

Also making us proud to be Australian is our heavily perspiring Treasurer Joe Hockey, who whined and wailed his way through Opposition about "Labor debt", yet now wants to increase the debt ceiling by a staggering $200 billion to half a trillion dollars and put forward absolutely no plans whatsoever to cut debt. In fact, since assuming office it seems his chief role has been to slash government revenue by cutting taxes such as the mining and carbon tax and to pump billions of dollars in the Reserve Bank and the ACCC.

You may desperately want to, but it also hard to ignore Education Minister Christopher Pyne, whose most obvious asset for the role he has assumed is his embarrassing predilection for schoolboy antics in Parliament. And of course, his alleged methods of "mentoring" young people have been raised repeatedly to our Ashbygate investigators and contain significant very serious questions abput his fitness for public life.

After that, you can only stand back and admire the carmine face of court jester, the almost incoherent Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce, someone seemingly on the payroll of Gina Rinehart and who Mungo MacCallum famously said needed to drop his trousers to count to 21.

Sitting above them all, presiding, is the ancient spectre of the new Speaker Bronwyn Bishop, who has said she would "bring dignity back to the Parliament" and would act "without fear or favour", but is happy to still attend Liberal Party caucus to get her running orders and, in her first hours in charge, today ruled (the ubiquitous) Pyne calling the Opposition Leader "Electricity Bill Shorten" was perfectly parliamentary conduct, thereby immediately precipitating a dissent motion against her.

And there are others, too many others, far too many, to mention here now but, to summarise, arrogance, incompetence and hypocrisy would appear to be the Government's strong suits.

Yet will Bill Shorten, that quiet, pleasant, man, provide a strong alternative prime ministership? It would be nice to think so but, alas, we must hold grave doubts.

Shorten has gone missing in the first 60 days of Abbott rule, after winning leadership he has been almost never sighted, much like Abbott himself since becoming PM. Have they been hanging out together, one wonders?

Also, Shorten is part of the consistently wrong "right" faction of the ALP, whose deeply conservative ideology would fit rather neatly within the bounds of the Liberal Party itself. Indeed, Shorten himself is one of those former union bosses who has, it seems, never done a real job in his life, but went straight into union organising from university and then into politics and would probably to be rather more at home with the bosses than with the workers. His mother-in-law is the Governor-General who was obliged to deliver a speech outlining the Abbott Government's agenda in power. More worryingly, Bill has apparently swallowed whole the dominant, yet wholly discredited, neo-liberal quasi, aissez faire economics of big business, the sort of thinking that brought us banks too big to fail, the GFC and widespread worldwide poverty. How much of a fighter for progressive Australia Shorten remains very much to be seen.

Indeed, the alternative to the Coalition provided by the ALP under Bill Shorten seems like not that much of an alternative at all. We will see whether the Opposition Leader provides a robust interrogation of Abbott in Question Time today. If he doesn't, many people will be left shaking their heads about the shambolic election process that delivered the unrepresentative right faction the Labor leadership, despite the vast majority of members voting for his opponent, Anthony Albanese.

It's going to be a long three years and one in which the Coalition will attempt to send Australia as far back as possible into the long stultifying torpor presided over by "Pig Iron" Bob Menzies.

We can only hope that Abbott's ragtag bunch will only be allowed three years, because who knows how far back they may send us if they are allowed any longer.

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