Strong, Soft, Absorbent – The New ScoMo

It’s been an amusing weekend, starting with the recent Australian – published leaks against Abbott, identifying a Biggles – style desire to bash up ISIS with a unilateral campaign. What was especially amusing was to see Joe Hockey, Matthias Cormann and Tony Abbott assert in no uncertain terms that the Oz was wrong.  Ever helpful, Andrew Captain Timestamp Bolt came in with the support that the timeline was all wrong (provided by one of those annoying Liberal #auspol zombies who repeat talking points with monotonous regularity).

Amusing stuff.

Not so amusing for Abbott, however, with the leaks against him continuing, indicating that we still don’t have this new, settled “good government”.  It also brought to my mind a piece written last Sunday by Judith Ireland that presented future Liberal leader Scott Morrison through a frosted lens.  It struck me at the time as a way to start the process of making Morrison a palatable alternative leader into the future.  As puff pieces go, it’s pretty puffy – like this puffy.

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What it achieves is it reveals the remaking of the new Social Services minister – strong, yet soft and absorbent.  As ever, the article is in italics.

New Social Services Minister Scott Morrison shows his colours

Scott Morrison says he is a fixer, not an ideologist, as he flags a kinder, gentler approach to welfare and families policy.

 EXCLUSIVE
Exclusive. Not sure why Scott Morrison talking about himself in a nice, positive way needs to be emblazoned as an “exclusive”. It’s this kind of journalism that we see a bit – somehow making it “exclusive” is supposed to be impressive.  It’s a clear strategy to place this exclusive with Fairfax instead of the usual home of Government exclusives, News Ltd.  If you want to appeal to a middle ground, to those who don’t like Morrison, put it in the outlets read by those people.  In addition, it’s an obvious repositioning of Morrison as being not an “ideologist” (ideologue?) and just concerned with “fixing” things that are broken. Ok. This from the man who “fixed” the Immigration Department to being less about citizenship and more about “border security” and secrecy.
So, let’s look at the kinder, gentler, smiling, family man ScoMo.
Social Services Minister Scott Morrison in his office at Parliament House.

 

Social Services Minister Scott Morrison has declared he is not “wedded ideologically” to the government’s controversial dole and pension budget measures and says he does not want to be “combative” in his new portfolio, a move that flags a more pragmatic approach to families and welfare policy for the Coalition.

Comforting words, those – not ideological, more about getting pragmatic things done. Also, not “combative” – clearly showing that he realises that his image – his brand – up until now has been all about being combative with those foreign “queue jumpers” and the like.

In an exclusive interview with Fairfax Media, Mr Morrison stepped back from the tough “lifters not leaners” rhetoric of the Coalition’s 2014 budget, instead talking of the need to inspire young people and get them to “engage” with the workforce.

Another admission – that the Government is stinging from the stupidity of Hockey’s “lifters and leaners” rhetoric from the previous budget. Morrison’s new rhetoric appeals to the stereotype believed by those in Generations X and the Baby Boomers, that all young people need is “inspiration” to work (which sounds a touch Pentecostal, Morrison’s denomination of choice, which has a great love of that word)

I have no need or interest or desire to take this policy area into a combative space.

“That really is my pitch to the country,” he said. “Australia is something that you get involved with.”

Essentially, this is a variation on the Team Australia idea – get involved or get left out.  In a funny move, however, the article throws in this excellent Matt Golding cartoon that undercuts somewhat Morrison’s goal.

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Mr Morrison, who took on the massive social services portfolio in a move that surprised political insiders in December, has responsibility for developing the Coalition’s “families package”, a review of the welfare system and key budget measures that are stuck in the Senate – including a six-month wait before young unemployed people get the dole, an increase in the pension age and a decrease in pension indexation.

Mr Morrison said that his aim was to get young people into work, get mothers back to work after having children, and help older Australians to stay in work. If people had better ideas than were currently before the Senate, he said they should “bring it”.

“I’m trying to solve the problem. I’m not wedded ideologically to any particular one of these measures,” he said.

While on the one hand Morrison is trying to make himself seem more gentle, but there’s something menacing about the comment that anyone with a “better idea” can “bring it”, though it would be interesting to see him actually changing his mind – this being a clear message to cross bench Senators that this is an approachable, more absorbent ScoMo.

The former immigration minister is best known for his hard-line role in “stopping the boats”, and has been touted as a potential replacement for Treasurer Joe Hockey and even Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

Yes, hence why you have this exclusive…?

But despite his “tough guy” public image, several welfare and community groups have said Mr Morrison has been surprisingly easy to deal with. They have talked about his openness to new ideas and enthusiasm for the portfolio.

When it was noted that some groups had been anxious about meeting him, Mr Morrison laughed and exclaimed “no!”

“I have no doubt that there have been some who have been quite surprised,” he said.

“If they had had a misconception previously, what I’ve always tried to do – in whatever role I’ve been in – is I’m there to try and fix a problem. That’s what Tony, I think, sees my key role in the government as being.”

There’s a number of boxes being ticked here.

  • Morrison wants us to know that he is no longer that tough guy that made him popular with certain groups, but unpopular with others
  • There’s welfare groups (unnamed) that like him! (See! Not a tough guy now)
  • He fixes problems (in case you missed that earlier)
  • You know he can fix problems, right? Like the ones Tony wants him to fix, whatever they are.
  • Absorbent to different ideas and groups
  • Making a guess as to what Tony wants him to do, even if the “I think” could suggest that Tony can be a little hard to read in terms of what he wants of people.
  • But ScoMo is supportive of Tony, even if he’s unpredictable.

NewScoMo is always supportive of Tone, as we can see. But onwards…

With a portfolio that comprises about a third of the federal budget, Mr Morrison has swapped his role on the National Security Committee of cabinet for a spot on the government’s Expenditure Review Committee, which will design the upcoming budget.

Well, yes, that would be part of the job.

While he led the fight against Labor over asylum-seeker policy in opposition and government, he is calling for childcare to become a bipartisan issue similar to the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

“I have no need or interest or desire to take this policy area into a combative space,” he said.

See? NewScott is not combative, in case you missed that earlier. It’s also vital for the Government to be seen as soft and sensitive on childcare, which will continue to be a tricky policy area for a Government.  Abbott’s ridiculous paid parental leave scheme set the Government back on its heels in that area, as it played to a 1950s vision of women at home rather than one of women wanting to return to work.  It’s an area that needs careful stewardship because it’s a crucial vote loser with a number of key Coalition voter sectors if it’s done badly.

Back to Morrison’s language games…

He also said that he preferred to talk of the upcoming families policy as a “stream” and not a “package” because it would involve more than one set of reforms over multiple years.

By the time the next election rolls around, Mr Morrison said he would like lower and middle income families “believing if they went back to work [after having a baby], then they wouldn’t have to go back to work just to pay childcare”.

A “stream” infers a flowing set of small changes rather than a package – maybe indicating a desire to under promise and over deliver. In addition, there seems to be a refocus to making affordable childcare for lower to middle income families.   Which leads to this…

The government is yet to release the Productivity Commission’s final report into childcare, which it has had  since October. Mr Morrison said he was now seeking “practical feedback” from the sector about how to implement ideas.

“I won’t rush it for a political deadline,” he said.

But then, this week, hey presto! It’s been released in the week after this puff piece.  In Ireland’s piece about the Productivity Report, the new, softer, more absorbent Scott is revealed further.

The government is yet to respond formally to the report, but Social Services Minister Scott Morrison told Fairfax Media that the Coalition was “considering” the nannies idea.

“I think the recommendation reflects an observation that there needs to be a greater array of services offering to deal with a much more diverse range of needs,” he said.

But he cautioned that there were issues associated with the nanny move, including losing staff from long day care centres.

“If everyone goes off and becomes a nanny, there will be no one working in childcare centres.”

 

Morrison shows the knowledge that supporting the idea of nannies would scare away the new aspirational Coalition voter, to whom nannies is all very old money and British, a little like the Knights and Dames Abbott.  In Morrison’s new language and approach as potential leader of the nation, it’s all about negotiation.

 “It is a significant input to our process.”

Question is, however, will people accept this new strong, but softer and more absorbent Scott.

Scott-Toilet-Paper

It remains to be seen if puff pieces like this are for a longer game, such as making Morrison the ideal Liberal leader in a future time, especially if accompanied by matey, friendly appearances on Today and Sunrise, featuring Morrison making self-depracating jokes about three word slogans.  It’s also likely that News Ltd will pick up the lead started by Fairfax. It’s difficult to see that Morrison’s makeover will work, however, in the short term and get him into the leadership chair in the coming months.  The old Morrison may still loom large for many, including swinging voters…

david pope morrison

 

Postscript

Nice to see Mark Knight has done an excellent cartoon summing up the Morrison makeover

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Also, here is ScoMo smiling on Insiders, after rolling out more of the softer side. It’s a touch unsettling.

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Post Postscript

With thanks to @chrisjrn, this is the picture that accompanied this story in the newspaper version. Quite the softening.

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Throwing the full set of knives – The Australian’s War on Credlin Continues

If there’s anything that is becoming clear with The Australian, Murdoch’s loss making political megaphone, it’s that it wants Peta Credlin gone.  Today’s piece by John Lyons places another set of knives in the back of the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff.  And what a variety of knives they are.  The headline and first picture caption set the tone.

Tony Abbott in command, but is Peta Credlin in control?

Tony Abbott describes Peta Credlin as ‘the greatest political warrior’ with whom he has ever worked.

Here it is that we are positioned to see Credlin as some kind of warrior who has risen above her station. In order to support that, we are provided with this high level leak.

AS he sat down for a meeting in Canberra on November 25 last year, Tony Abbott was a man under pressure.

Only days before he had announced to the nation that he was going to clear the political “barnacles” off the ship of state.

Abbott was engulfed by domestic crises.

But on this day, he had something else on his mind: a unilateral invasion of Iraq. Abbott wanted Australia to take on Islamic State.

Australia, he told the meeting, could take a lead with an invasion of northern Iraq using 3500 of our ground troops.

His powerful chief of staff, Peta Credlin, offered no resistance.

Then Abbott tried out his audacious idea on military planners.

They were aghast.

As word of the proposal swept through the military hierarchy there was resounding opposition.

“Has he ever come up with something like this before?” one military official asked.

In fact, he had.

Four months earlier Paul Kelly had revealed in The Australian that following the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, Abbott wanted to put 1000 Australian troops into Ukraine. The Prime Minister had to be talked out of that idea.

The next section of the piece continues the idea that maybe Abbott’s military strong man act isn’t as barking mad as it may seem, that all he needs is for Credlin to clip his wings.

This is Abbott the strong man, “shirt-fronting” Vladimir Putin and destroying the Islamic State “death cult”. This is the Abbott who works best with the public — providing his only glimmers of polling success in a miserable 17 months. It is little surprise that this is where he is comfortable. Insiders say that, these days, Abbott sits for much of the day in his office in Parliament House pondering national security, Islamic State and reading Winston Churchill. He has 50 staff in his office but he insists on writing many of his speeches as Credlin, sitting in the office next door, works the phones, managing the detail.

Far from telling us that this is Credlin’s fault, what we glean is that Abbott has the same Churchillian delusion as Jim Hacker shows in Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister.

Screen Shot 2015-02-21 at 10.59.57 am

 

But this doesn’t stop Lyons from making one of the most extraordinary calls in the piece – that Credlin is a “co-prime minister”. He is sounding exactly like the swarm of Labor supporting Twitter warriors who have attacked Credlin constantly since before the 2013 election.

She is, as Abbott himself has said, “the fiercest political warrior” he has ever worked with.

This is the Australian duumvirate, a new form of government in which Abbott and Credlin run the country. They are, in reality, co-prime ministers.

As ever with the pieces that assert this, we are provided with a range of knives thrown at the figure of Credlin from people within the Government.  Thus we have backgrounding stories provided by Liberal people unhappy with Credlin, such as this one, that has appeared a few time, in a number of variations.

ON election night in 2013, Abbott’s staff, journalists and friends gathered at the Four Seasons Hotel overlooking Sydney Harbour. Credlin was hosting a victory party and the mood was triumphant. When Tony O’Leary, long-time media adviser to John Howard and a key figure in Abbott’s successful election campaign, arrived, he was met by security guards who questioned his right to enter. The guards disappeared inside to check whether he was welcome. Twenty minutes later O’Leary was escorted from the premises by security.

It was a public humiliation for the Howard loyalist in front of many of the journalists he had been dealing with for 15 years.

Credlin denies she blocked O’Leary that night. But to many in the Liberal Party, O’Leary had been “Credlined”, a verb now commonly used by Liberal staff members. Asked for a definition, one cabinet minister’s staff member ran his finger across his neck.

So it is that we go back to the oft used well of comments about the way Credlin runs the show.

“To be beheaded,” he said. “Anyone who is not on message is simply killed. It began when we were in opposition, then through the campaign, and it hasn’t stopped. I don’t think they’ve real­ised we’re now in government.”

And then the assertions that Credlin will go – hopefully, for the backgrounder / knife thrower, as a result of this kind of comment to the Australian.

One minister told Inquirer Credlin’s power would not continue. The party would bring down Abbott if they had to, he said. Ominously for Abbott, the minister is someone who has publicly been defending him.

“They (Abbott and Credlin) have unnecessarily made enemies which means there’s no reservoir of goodwill when they need it,” he said.

“The partyroom just won’t accept the management style of that office to continue. If the management style continues this way Abbott will not take us to the next election, Malcolm Turnbull will.”

Then’s there two knives thrown at once, directed at Hockey as well as Credlin by a “powerbroker” (these codes are confusing – what is an actual “powerbroker”?):

One Liberal powerbroker told Inquirer: “Abbott has two problems — Credlin’s control and Joe’s (Hockey) poor performance as Treasurer.

“He’s trapped; he doesn’t want to get rid of Credlin for loyalty reasons and he doesn’t want to get rid of Joe because he knows he would blow the place up because he doesn’t want to be the fall guy.”

The next knife from someone who is “influential”, who is not a “powerbroker”:

Another influential Liberal says that Abbott will inevitably face another challenge unless he acts.

“We warned you ‘take Hockey out and take Credlin out’ and you have done neither,” he said. “We can’t let this lot do another budget.”

Next comes the new standard refrain from the Oz in terms of their man Tony Abbott, that he was an excellent opposition leader who “destroyed” Rudd and Gillard (following the principle that make a statement often enough and it becomes truth) – but now need to stop being an opposition.

IN opposition, Abbott and Credlin proved to be an extraordinary fighting unit as they destroyed two Labor prime ministers: Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard. Across six years they have become an inseparable unit: in 2013, for example, Credlin spent 200 days on the road, mostly with Abbott.

But this duo in combat mode, in office, is now endangering the government. Their modus operandi is what helped drive 39 members of the parliamentary party to push for a leadership spill two weeks ago.

The blame for this problem is, from here on, is now pushed firmly at Credlin.

In this new order, Credlin interrupts ministers in budget meetings; effectively runs the Expenditure Review Committee as Abbott sits silently; and man­ages the Cabinet Office as well as the PM’s office. While previous prime ministerial advisers have coveted anonymity, Credlin makes no secret of her opinion.

Last year, standing next to Abbott, she told a group of Australian journalists that Barack Obama was “the lamest of lame ducks”. Abbott said nothing.

On one occasion, Abbott made no complaint when Credlin put her hand in front of his face to stop him replying to a question from an editor.

Sometimes the chief of staff even finishes the Prime Minister’s sentences. Sometimes she answers for him even as they sit alongside each other. At a dinner in Canberra last year Abbott was fired up over the international profile he had gained by threatening to “shirt-front” Putin over flight MH17. One guest asked Abbott about national security, but it was Credlin who answered. Bob Hawke, Paul Keating and John Howard all had strong advisers but none of them would have cut across their boss in this manner.

Remarkably, Credlin was a key architect of the budget, sitting in on ERC meetings, sometimes interrupting ministers.

“None of us told her to back off, which maybe we should have,” one of those in the meetings said.

These incidents are all small, cherry picked examples of times where Credlin appears to have forgotten herself and spoken out of turn.  They are not, however, solid proof of her being a “co-prime minister”. Instead, they show a political adviser who has been allowed to have a seat at the table and every so often has not acted as a chief of staff should. These incidents do not explain, however, how she is responsible for Abbott running an opposition instead of a Government.  They do also explain how members of the cabinet may well have agreed with some of her ideas, or recall how they may have been ignored (hence their not saying anything at the time), but now realise that the tactic is to blame Credlin for the current mess.

The knives thrown at Credlin continues, this time from failed leadership aspirant and jumper from the post-Howard ship, Peter Costello.

In Canberra, politicians and journalists alike use the phrase “command and control” whenever they talk about the Credlin phenomenon. As former treasurer Peter Costello, once a close friend to Abbott, said in a recent newspaper column: “The command and control model is not helping the Liberal Party, it is strangling it.”

(On a side note, I was recently made aware of this amazing Red Symonds made version of Costello’s account of his leadership woes which shows his own lack of “command and control” while he was in Government)

The knives at Credlin are coming thick and fast by this stage, with assertions made by unnamed people that she has control over EVERYTHING, which is then followed with the astonishing accusation that Credlin selects his TIES. Gosh.

Credlin’s control over Abbott appears complete — she decides who he sees, what the agenda is, who is appointed to run the offices of cabinet ministers, the order of cabinet business.

“She even chooses his ties,” says one cabinet minister’s staffer. “She likes blue!”

It is then we see a range of opinions provided by unnamed people as to why “that woman” controls the “weak” man – even citing her superior height as being an issue.

One of Abbott’s oldest friends says the relationship between Abbott and Credlin is “an elusive male-female dynamic”.

At 180cm, the 43-year-old Credlin towers over the Prime Minister. But it’s Abbott’s “exaggerated gallantry towards women”, according to the old friend, which explains why Abbott allows her such a dominant role. The friend adds that Abbott is also “lazy on detail”, another reason Credlin has been left to micro-manage the government.

Indeed, many who know Abbott well say that he believes he cannot run the country without her.

“You wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Peta,” he has told colleagues who raised complaints with him.

Then, in typical journalist quoting from other journalists style, we have Malcolm Farr making a comment about Abbott’s masculinity, saying he “plays male games” but needs looking after from, seemingly in Farr’s logic, a mothering figure.

Says political journalist Malcolm Farr: “If it wasn’t for some of those backbenchers attending a thousand sausage sizzles and Macedonian national days Abbott wouldn’t be there.

“Even if Peta Credlin has been a tyrant, it is Abbott’s office. He should be defending his own decisions, not hers. You wonder about Abbott’s maturity: he plays male games but he needs someone to look after him, to do the work for him.”

Another element to the list of Credlin crimes – that The Polling Guru can’t get to him.

So insular has Abbott become that it took him 16 months after winning the election to have a meeting with his pollster, Mark Textor.

“Even the government’s pollster can’t get to see the PM,” one Liberal senator said in exasperation. “The problem is there is a ­funnel into the PM’s office, not a sieve. The funnel is Peta Credlin, and no ideas can get to Abbott unless people get them through Credlin.”

It wouldn’t take long for Textor or anyone else with polling figures to tell Abbott what his problem in polling is. It’s not Credlin, who is still largely unknown outside Canberra and the world of political analysis pieces, it’s Abbott. He’s awkward, weird, has broken promises and made bizarre decisions.  That’s a 3 minute conversation. However, the article trundles along with the knifing of Credlin from unnamed sources – as well as an annoyance at how long information is returned to Lyons, which is used as further evidence against her.

The PM’s office, says another insider, is riven with distrust. The bad blood started early in the government. When Jane McMillan was hired by Credlin as director of the press office Credlin told McMillan that another staff member had not wanted her to get the job. It was a revelation that created instant ill will within the office. Credlin would later fall out bitterly with McMillan. An indication of how dysfunctional the office has become is that last week the man who replaced McMillan, Andrew Hirst, was not able to answer a simple question: Does Jane McMillan still work for the PM?

“I’ll have to get back to you,” he replied.

Eight days later, Hirst came back: “Jane resigned in late January.”

Sources! Conspiracy! Plots!

Another source from the office said Credlin had tried to sideline anyone who had a direct line to Abbott and replace them with former colleagues from the office of Helen Coonan, where Credlin was chief of staff in the Howard years.

Says another insider: “Peta has put her plants all through the system, in many ministerial offices. This way she can know what’s going on.”

Another problem is that Credlin’s husband is the Liberal Party’s federal director, Brian Loughnane. Previously, if a minister or donor had a problem with the PM’s office they could approach the federal director, and vice versa.

Then we have oft repeated refrain that the wife of the Federal Director should not be in the job (which is a good question to be asked). This time, however, it’s told through the prism of Credlin being in the shower, which is apparently another crime.

Former Liberal Party federal treasurer Michael Yabsley was someone who dealt with the problem first hand.

In 2010, journalist Niki Savva detailed in The Australian the resignation of Yabsley.

She wrote: “Yabsley felt he could neither speak openly to Loughnane about the leader’s office (Abbott), nor did he feel able to speak candidly to the leader’s office if he had a complaint about the organisation or Loughnane. He has told friends he rang Lough­nane one day to discuss a matter involving the leader’s office that was troubling him. He was gob-smacked when Loughnane finished the conversation by telling him: ‘I’ll tell Peta when she gets out of the shower.’ ”

On other occasions, however, when commentators have sug­gested how the PM’s office could engage more politically with backbenchers or cabinet, Loughnane himself has offered the commentators some encouragement.

Another knife – from the perspective of staffers unable to live in Canberra being subject to the budget cuts going through the place.  Credlin is to blame for these budget cuts, it seems.

THE Prime Minister, such a street-fighter in opposition, is now fighting on too many fronts, including some created by his trusted chief of staff. Even as the government has been imploding, Credlin has insisted on approving appointments, not just for her own side but for independent MPs. Indeed, she has caused a revolt by crossbenchers over her control of their staff appointments, insisting all staff must live in Canberra or in the electorate of their member to save money.

The edict led to Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie recently threatening to sue the government for discrimination over the refusal to allow one of her staff to live in Brisbane. The staff member has health issues that require her to remain at her home in Brisbane rather than move to Tasmania. Abbott was forced to intervene personally in this case. It’s an example of his confused priorities: as his government crumbles around him, the PM takes time out to micro-manage a problem with a senator’s staff member.

Credlin’s policy has also led to a struggle with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop whose senior adviser, Murray Hansen, is Brisbane based. Bishop refused Credlin’s edict that he move to Perth.

So it is that we have another knife being thrown by Nick Xenophon – but not at Credlin, instead at Abbott, no matter how hard Lyons seems to infer that it’s her that is really to blame.

Independent senator Nick Xenophon has led the battle of the crossbenchers against Credlin’s — and by association — Abbott’s interference in their staffing arrangements. Says Xenophon: “I really have lost confidence in him.”

In contrast, Xenophon says, Malcolm Turnbull, Bishop and Scott Morrison are “all very capable people with good communications skills”.

And now for another political journalist’s cliche – the “Star Chamber”. Which they never are.

Through the government’s appointments committee, now referred to by some as the “Star Chamber”, Credlin has vetoed several candidates put forward by cabinet ministers. Under John Howard, Peter Reith chaired this committee and rarely used his veto, insisting that a cabinet minister should be trusted with being able to choose the person who ran their office. But Abbott has appeared happy to give Credlin her head.

By this stage of the article, we are being left in no doubt that Credlin is the co-PM, so that is the tone of it.  The unnamed sources aren’t even cited for this assertion that it was Credlin (and Abbott) who wanted to sack Martin Parkinson, rather than just Abbott.

One of the conventions in Australian government has been that the Treasurer has been free to hire or fire the all-important Treasury head. After winning office, Hockey decided that he wanted to retain Martin Parkinson as head of Treasury but Abbott and Credlin decided Parkinson would lose his job.

So now we see a range of sources used – a “leading” journalist (whatever that means):

A CHAOTIC Prime Minister’s office has meant confusion in the government’s message. After Abbott promised to remove “barnacles” from the ship of state, his office briefed journalists about what this meant. Says one leading journalist: “There was total confusion — was the Medicare co-payment, for example, a barnacle or not?”

This is my favourite – a “political observer”. That could be literally anyone who makes comments on Federal politics. It could be a blogger, a commenter on the Guardian, a writer for the Drum, a politician, anyone.  But because that commentator has lauded Howard, that’s enough for Lyons.

Another political observer said: “He (Abbott) has done all sorts of things John Howard would never have considered doing. He decided not to keep the car industry going and John Howard would have kept it going, and his move for a Medicare co-payment is something I’m sure Howard would never have done. Abbott has taken a series of decisions which are politically lethal. It’s worse than crazy brave, it’s ignorant brave.”

It’s a rambling, unfocused piece at many times, where the focus on attacking Credlin is lost at times, especially when there’s a realisation dawning that perhaps it is Abbott and his awkwardness and inability to think of the consequences of his words that is the problem.

A central problem is that Abbott is not good on his feet. It’s not surprising that Credlin tries to keep him on a tight leash. When he speaks off the cuff he can say things that are controversial, including his comment last year that Australia was unsettled, or scarcely settled, before the British ­arrived.

It was in Melbourne on July 3. Abbott was the dinner speaker at the Melbourne Institute conference co-partnered by The Australian. Sitting at the main table was Abbott’s adviser on indigenous affairs, Warren Mundine.

Abbott delivered a solid speech, and then took questions, but reluctantly, telling the audience: “The reason why I tried to avoid any questions this evening was because the last time I answered questions at this gathering the answers to the questions were so colourful that the speech got no reporting whatsoever. So I’m going to do my best to be as dull as I possibly can in responding to that question.”

It was not to be. Answering a question on an unrelated issue, Abbott wandered into tricky territory: “I guess our country owes its existence to a form of foreign investment by the British government in the then unsettled or scarcely settled great south land.” At the top table, Mundine blanched.

It is then we go into some pseudo psychology from another “source”, this time a “close friend”, trying to understand Tony.

One of Abbott’s close friends told Inquirer that she felt in Abbott’s mind there was a doubt about whether he had legitimacy as Prime Minister. The friend, who has been close to Abbott for 20 years, says: “It’s a bit like James Packer and Kerry Packer — for a long time James felt he had not lived up to his father’s legacy, and Tony Abbott feels he has not lived up to the legacy of his mentor, John Howard.”

This is one of the more interesting nuggets from the piece – the reason Abbott ran in the 2009 leadership ballot. It was his fellow Riverview old boy, Barnaby, that talked him into it.

The accidental nature of Abbott’s rise to the highest office is revealed by the manner in which he became opposition leader. When Liberals turned against Turnbull, it was Hockey who was well positioned. The night before the vote, the Nationals’ Barnaby Joyce visited Abbott’s Canberra flat to urge him to contest the leadership.

“There needs to be an anti-ETS candidate,” Joyce told him, a reference to the fact both Turnbull and Hockey supported an emissions trading scheme.

Abbott had not planned to run. He had been bruised by his experience in 2007 after the defeat of the Howard government when he could not get a single person in the partyroom to vote for him. The right wing in the party told him he was “too conservative”.

But on this occasion Joyce convinced him to run, and he defeated Turnbull by one vote.

Barnaby Joyce!  Whenever someone writes a history of these days in politics, someone should write a book that couples the two maddies, the outsiders Abbott and Joyce, because they symbolise just how odd these times have become.

barnabyjoyce

 

It is now towards the end that it’s Abbott that is the focus of the criticism. It must really sting the “Credlin’s Got to Go” crowd that she didn’t know about Abbott’s Sir Philip moment – that we had a chance to see as a nation just how obsessively old fashioned English Abbott actually is.

Today, the view among his parliamentary colleagues is that while Abbott may “hang on” for a few months, he is terminally wounded. The dominant view is that the knighting of Prince Philip made a deeply unpopular leader a national figure of fun.

While there had been rumblings about Abbott’s judgment, for many colleagues the morning of Tuesday, January 27, was the crunch point.

It was the day after Australia Day and the full impact of Abbott granting of a knighthood to the prince reverberated across the country.

Abbott was savaged. Even in his heartland, Sydney’s 2GB radio, the audience mocked the PM. If Abbott was listening that day, he would have detected something much worse than anger — ridicule. One caller said Abbott should resign and be appointed “Lord Tony of Warringah”, a reference to Abbott’s Sydney electorate.

Peter Costello wrote in The Daily Telegraph: “Knighting Prince Philip was the barbecue stopper of the century. It completely hijacked Australia Day. Rarely have I heard such ridicule.”

But then we return to targeting Credlin by comparing her to other advisers, such as Sinodinos (who maybe should have given himself better advice before getting involved in certain “On Water Operations”)

TWO of Australia’s most successful PMs — Bob Hawke and John Howard — took advice from many advisers, but Abbott lacks an adviser of the stature of Dennis Richardson, who ran Hawke’s office, or Arthur Sinodinos, who ran Howard’s office. And, ironically, it is Sinodinos who proved a key player in Abbott’s recent turmoil.

Sinodinos was assistant treasurer until allegations before the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption led him to ­resign.

Abbott had held open Sinodinos’s position while ICAC considered matters relating to him but Sinodinos thought he should resign until ICAC had completed the investigation. Abbott agreed and the plan was that on December 19 they would exchange letters in which Sinodinos would resign and Abbott would pay tribute. But the night before, the story was leaked to the media. It meant Sinodinos lost any control of how the story would be portrayed and that instead the impression was created that Abbott had forced him out.

Sinodinos was outraged. At 11.30 on the night of December 18 he phoned Abbott.

“This is the second time there has been a leak against me,” he told Abbott. “Why do you people keep pushing me like this, doing this sort of stuff to me?”

Abbott was on the defensive — he replied that there had been media inquiries and his staff had tried to “hose them down”.

Sinodinos was buying none of it. He was convinced — and remains convinced — that Credlin knifed him and had authorised the leak.

Both Credlin and McMillan insisted they had not leaked the information but the next day the two women had a blazing row, witnessed by many in the Prime Minister’s office.

It was a further fracturing in an already Balkanised workplace.

But Sinodinos got his revenge. It was he who ensured there would be a leadership spill motion against Abbott when he told Sky News’ David Speers that Abbott did not have his unconditional support.

Sinodinos, a former Treasury official with shrewd political judgment, was Howard’s closest confidant. But now Sinodinos has joined O’Leary as two of Howard’s most trusted advisers who have been humiliated by Credlin. It would be wrong to say Sinodinos is doing the numbers for Turnbull, but many of the 39 who voted against Abbott recently want Sin­odinos to be their strategist.

One of Sinodinos’s roles under Howard was to keep the backbench happy. He would organise access to Howard for any backbencher feeling left out and let Howard know when a back­bencher was having problems so Howard could telephone.

Sinodinos was a masterful political operator in Howard’s office. On one occasion when Abbott was health minister under Howard, ­Sinodinos saved Abbott from himself. Abbott appeared in the press gallery in Canberra with a draft speech announcing a federal government takeover of every hospital in Australia.

It was a radical idea and Abbott gave the speech to a journalist on the condition he waited until it was cleared. Abbott then gave it to Sinodinos, who thought it was a political disaster. The idea was quickly killed.

While this all targets Credlin and makes her look poor in comparison to the likes of Sinodinos, the final story highlights the fact that it’s Abbott that is the real issue with the Government’s woes, not Credlin. He’s had these crazy, off script, oddball ideas for years. There’s only so much an adviser can help.  This doesn’t distract Lyons from still chattering about Credlin and repeating advice provided at a dinner party.

THE events of the past few weeks have devastated trust inside the government. Abbott has altered his language to reflect this, changing his prepared speech to the National Press Club from saying the public had elected “us” to govern without chaos, to the public elected “me”.

The relationship between Bishop and Credlin is now poisonous — the two despise each other. The rupture originated in an attempt by Credlin to control media appearances of ministers.

It came to a head when the Prime Minister’s office telephoned Bishop after a media appearance to register displeasure that the appearance had not been approved.

According to one insider, Bishop was outraged.

The message relayed back to Credlin was along the lines of: “I’m Foreign Minister of Australia and deputy leader of the Liberal Party — I do not need you to approve my media appearances.”

Abbott and other Liberals took great joy when, seven years ago, The Weekend Australian revealed the chaos in Kevin Rudd’s office, dubbing him “Captain Chaos.”

But at a dinner at Kirribilli House on December 29 one guest told Abbott: “They voted for you because they wanted to end the chaos — the real reason you’re in trouble is they’re seeing more chaos.”

Now edit0r-at-large Paul Kelly weighs in, repeating the “destroyed two PMs” line (they love a bit of repetition down there at the Oz) and blaming the budget (another knife directed at Hockey…)

Political commentator Paul Kelly says the origin of Abbott’s problems is the budget.

“He promised an ambitious agenda based on the idea we are in serious economic trouble but he misled people about how tough this would be. Abbott did not properly explain the plight of the country — that it is living beyond its means — and too many of the measures he introduced in 2014 had design flaws.”

Kelly adds: “Abbott’s achievements as opposition leader were extraordinary — he took over a party in a shambles, destroyed two prime ministers and won the 2013 election well. But the skills you need as prime minister are different from opposition leader and in this sense Abbott was found to be defective.”

(I wonder what is takes to be a “seasoned” political observer?  Lots of spice?  Lots of alcohol?)

Seasoned political observers are wondering whether Abbott has what it takes.

This next statement is quite extraordinary – making the suggestion that Abbott is really only ever good after a couple of bottles of Shiraz.

One talks of the fact that the qualities that make him a fabulous dinner companion, particularly after the second bottle of shiraz, could make him unsuitable as Prime Minister.

So, after all these words, comments, sources, commentators – seasoned and unseasoned, we get to the conclusion. It’s a dysfunctional Prime Ministership and it will go down, due in large part to Abbott’s refusal to sack Credlin (despite the efforts of the Oz and others).

IT is impossible to avoid the conclusion that dysfunction is entrenched in the highest office in the land — and that Abbott and Credlin will survive or crash ­together. It is like a bizarre political death pact. The loyalty the PM is showing a staff member has rarely been seen in this country.

And the situation is growing worse all the time for Abbott. Even since the attempted leadership spill, Abbott has failed to stem the blood. As cabinet ministers bayed for the scalps of Credlin or Hockey, Abbott sacked Philip Ruddock, “the father of the house” who was one of the heroes of the Howard government for pursuing a tough line on asylum-seekers.

Last week, I spent more than two hours talking to Credlin. We spoke in her office, where the walls are covered with memorabilia, including a cartoon by this paper’s political cartoonist Bill Leak, and an illustration by the paper’s Eric Lobbecke. Both framed pieces make fun of the chief of staff’s relationship with the PM, but Credlin seems to be up for the joke.

In our conversation, she was open and gracious but I was left with the firm view that she has no intention of falling on her sword. And it is clear that Abbott has no intention of forcing her out.

No, that job of forcing her out seems to be the chief desire of the Australian – even if that also means that Abbott wears the collateral damage that will be caused by the kinds of revelations that Lyons makes in this piece.

Malcolm Shaking Off the Past – What Might the Punters Think?

You’re all going to read a lot of stuff about the maybe, on / off Liberal Spill this weekend into next week. There’s going to a whole lot more very serious stuff by insiders, where there will be soundings, insider stories, senior ministers, junior blah blahs quoted.  There will also be the creative outsiders, like Buzzfeed, who will be entertaining with their crazy crazy gifs and sourcing.

Not me, not now. I’m asking the question, though, what might the punters think of a new Government where Malcolm Turnbull gets back in the big chair?  For guidance, I am seeking the soundings of Taylor Swift.

But I keep cruising
Can’t stop, won’t stop moving
It’s like I got this music
In my mind
Saying, “It’s gonna be alright.”
Throughout 2014, like Taylor Swift, Malcolm wasn’t getting the airplay on Serious radio – he was getting a bit of the hilarity of having to explain the stupidity of the downgraded NBN. Occasionally, though, we got a glimpse of Malcolm cruising along to his own beat, saying things were alright. He was playing the game, keeping himself nice and quiet, but still getting in gentle barbs every so often.
‘Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play
And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate
Baby, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
I shake it off, I shake it off
This has maybe been Malcolm’s refrain since being punted by the right wing climate denialist cabal led by chief anti-environment player Nick Minchin.  One would hope so, anyway, considering the number of foolish denialists there are in the Liberal Government. Not the party, the government.   The haters will come again out of their shadows, with the Nationals coming out and threatening that the Coalition agreement might be no more. Which won’t happen because who are the Nationals without the Liberals?  The Nationals stopped thinking for themselves federally since the days of Black Jack McEwen, when this happened:
Following Holt’s death, McEwen was appointed caretaker prime minister on 19 December 1967. McMahon was a leading aspirant for the Liberal Party leadership and therefore the prime ministership, but McEwen told him bluntly: ‘Bill, I won’t serve under you . . . because I don’t trust you’. McMahon withdrew, and (Sir) John Gorton succeeded McEwen as prime minister on 10 January 1968.
Can’t imagine Truss doing anything like that, especially as their power is continuing to wane, especially in the light of the limp rolling over on the issue of CSG, which is an issue far bigger in the regional areas than you’ll read about in Canberra focused stories, as we can see from this possibly dismissive tweet from Latika Bourke about Turnbull being asked about CSG in Wyong this week:
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And so Malcolm has gone on, blissfully while…
Heart-breakers gonna break, break, break, break, break
And the fakers gonna fake, fake, fake, fake, fake
Baby, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
I shake it off, I shake it off
While Abbott has broken promises as quickly as Warwick Capper talks – both men unaware of the impact of their scattergun awkwardness – Turnbull is in such an irrelevant portfolio that he has worn little of damage wrought by the flying policy monkeys created by the dreadful budget.
I never miss a beat
I’m lightning on my feet
And that’s what they don’t see, mmm-mmm
That’s what they don’t see, mmm-mmm
I’m dancing on my own (dancing on my own)
I make the moves up as I go (moves up as I go)
And that’s what they don’t know, mmm-mmm
That’s what they don’t know, mmm-mmm
We gained a great deal about Malcolm Turnbull from Annabel Crabb’s excellent Quarterly Essay on him (worth another re-read this weekend) – not least of which is that he’s lightning on his feet and that he tends to do things his way.  As the stuff about Abbott’s Prince Philip escapades was hitting the fan, we saw this picture emerge of Turnbull, from the swish Tesla electric car factory in California
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The comparison was stark and obvious – the man of the past, Abbott, giving a royal another meaningless gong, while the man of the future, Malcolm, was seen with the car of the future. Almost no media outlet seemed to pick up the clear messaging.  It brought to mind this cartoon drawn by Ted Scorfield for the Bulletin during the 1949 Federal Election campaign, comparing Chifley to Menzies:
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It summed up the different pitches for the two men in that campaign, especially highlighting the role of women with the vote.  Handsome Mr. Menzies is a direct contrast to the less than appealing Chifley.  This car theme isn’t untouched in the modern era. Dave Pope in the Canberra Times did this apt cartoon some time ago.  Old car, but this time Abbott is being a child, issuing cluess discussions.
open for business ...............That brought to mind for me an image I cobbled together that could be used to symbolise Turnbull’s self-imagined rise to leadership.
 Turnbull Transition
But I keep cruising
Can’t stop, won’t stop grooving
It’s like I got this music
In my mind
Saying, “It’s gonna be alright…
What does Malcolm have to offer if he does indeed win?  Let’s turn back to some Swiftian analysis and consider how people might react to Turnbull as PM.
And to the fella over there with the hella good hair
Won’t you come on over, baby? We can shake, shake, shake
All the while, Malcolm could be suggesting, but never actually saying
Hey, hey, hey
Just think while you’ve been getting down and out about the liars and the dirty, dirty cheats of the world,
You could’ve been getting down to this sick beat.
There’s the possibility that Turnbull as PM could have a number of minuses for the Liberals. He could run the risk of losing the aspirational voter in the outer suburbs who might not like his urbanity and championing of what they would call “fashionable” social issues and climate change action.  It could be argued conversely, though, that these voters could already be turning against the awkwardness of Abbott and the failure of his government to deliver on much of anything. In addition, if we look as the way Mark Bouris and John Symond have managed to find a place in the hearts of aspirational outer suburban people, we can see that wealthy inner city people can be respected for professionalism and success.  Abbott had little success before coming into politics (and not a great deal since entering) while Turnbull’s CV is well known.  The Mr. Smooth “I drive a Tesla” act we can already see from Turnbull, and it may well work, even as there will be those angry about an Abbott defeat.
There is also the issue of those voters who swing to Labor or the Greens due to a variety of Abbott’s authoritarian policies and attitudes – having Turnbull as leader may pose a concern for those in the centre, hence why we already seeing the ALP target Turnbull, who is a harder target than Abbott.  These people, though, shouldn’t be fooled by Turnbull, thinking that support for marriage equality and climate change will necessarily make him in a progressive Liberal leader. It would hard to see him, for example, oppose a new form of Work Choices.
But we shall see and the next few days unfold for Shakin Malc…
‘Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play
And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate (haters gonna hate)
I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
I shake it off, I shake it off
Malcolm-leatherWhile for Tony, it’s hard to see him being capable of anything more than what Dave Pope has him doing – spinning the old tunes.

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While Tony is repetitious, I don’t think he can adapt to the refrain of Swift.

I, I, I shake it off, I shake it off,
I, I, I shake it off, I shake it off,
I, I, I shake it off, I shake it off

Shake it off, I shake it off,
I, I, I shake it off, I shake it off (you’ve got to),
I, I, I shake it off, I shake it off,
I, I, I shake it off, I shake it off

Arise, Sir Campbell – The Bringer of Abbott’s Doom?

The Queensland election about to be held on the weekend holds more interest and twists than an episode of Game of Thrones.  There’s a number of plot questions to be answered:

– Is Campbell Newman’s Government so bad that it could lose after just one term?

– How shocked a look can be maintained from a Labor Opposition that had just 7 seats after the last election?

– Can the LNP have the win win of getting back into power, but be rid of their “Can’t Do Popularity” figurehead?

– If so, will there be a new Queensland Spring(borg)?

– How excited will Antony Green get with the swing calculator tool?

Tony Abbott, the noticeable absentee from the Queensland campaign, may still have cast more than just a pebble into the pond of Newman’s chances with his barking mad reactionary Sir Prince Philip moment (about which, my favourite article has been the one by Guy Rundle in Crikey). As a result of his schoolboy love affair with British royalty, the former director of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy has given extra reason for Queenslanders to be miffed with the Liberal National Party brand.  Yes, I know people should vote on state issues – and there’s plenty to dislike with Newman’s slash and burn, favour the rich neo-Bjelke Petersen administration. There are those, however, for whom state and federal blur into one.  Therein could lay a problem for Abbott.

Queensland’s newer and older Liberal members will most likely be out and about this week, trying to not be associated with Abbott but still helping out.  Voters on their way to booths may well recognise their local Federal MP and give them an ear bashing about what screws are going loose in Canberra.  These won’t be people obsessively watching the News Limited hunt for Peta Credlin’s head – they won’t be the ones who think Canberra is just an extended episode of The West Wing, where what staffers do is all important.  (This sentiment was one well encapsulated by Bill Shorten talking about the anti – Credlin campaign – “This is not some episode of The West Wing where you attribute everything to the staffers”.)  These voters will be ones concerned about the Abbott Government’s ability to deliver anything positive.

Where these messages from voters may get interesting is in what the Federal MPs take back to Canberra. The ones in the more marginal seats may well take back to Canberra the same kind of panic David Bradbury took back to Canberra back in June 2010.  Bradbury, people may remember, was out and about campaigning in the weeks before the disastrous Penrith state by-election of June 19 (in a curious side note, David Leyonjhelm was a candidate in that election for the “Outdoor Recreation Party’).  The 25% swing against the ALP should have been sheeted home exclusively to an electorate punishing an MP for misusing public funds and forcing a by-election, as well as a state government well on the nose rather than anything happening in Canberra.  While Bradbury did mention state issues as being the chief issue for the loss, he also mentioned in the party room upon his return that asylum seekers was “hitting him hard”, one of the many concerns expressed by MPs that were mentioned in the Peter Hartcher / Philip Coorey piece that came just before Rudd was pushed out of office.  It is hard to imagine that Queensland MPs coming back from their electorates won’t have messages about Abbott’s personal flaws ringing in their ears, ready to be delivered to colleagues and the party room.

Not only does Abbott have the fallout to weather from Queensland in the party room meeting next week, there’s also the matter of his National Press Club address to come on the heels of that on Feburary 2. What normally could be seen as a bland speech / question session to most people now takes on another dimension as Abbott is not only forced to make a speech about what is to be done, but may face real questions from those in the audience about his abilities to lead and consult.   Now is the time that he can’t be allowed to just blame Labor, he will hopefully be forced to stand by his own failings.  Ordinarily, such a performance at the NPC should not have any impact on a PMs ability to lead, but in this environment, it could well be afforded that importance.  If he can’t put together a competent performance – and it’s hard to see that he will be able to present any kind of coherent stance or position – the returning Queensland Liberal MPs’ questions and concerns about a bad NPC performance may turn into something more tangible.

It makes the next week pretty interesting, which may be the understatement of the year.

The Credlin Stick – Easy to Use

One of the objects in current society that is getting a lot of bad press is the selfie stick.  We’ve heard the comments:

“It’s a symbol of our vain society”

“It’s proof that narcissism is alive and well”

“Shows the power that the Self has over our ability to represent our place in the world”.

Etc. I’m fairly sure Foucault would have a view on the Selfie Stick – I know Walter Benjamin definitely would have.  But I won’t bore you with a discussion of either of them – you can read this precis on Benjamin if you want and draw your own conclusions, comparisons and the like.

But it’s easy to criticise the Selfie Stick because it’s an easy way to Judge the Young People – hating them and their idea that society have gone from wanting to take passive photos of things to wanting to include themselves in the picture of said thing.  The selfie stick allows a person to take a photo of themselves and the thing they are standing near. No longer do people need to ask for the help of a passing stranger to take photos.  In addition, the selfie stick allows for a much greater number of friends to be included in a shot – it allows for more inclusivity rather than necessarily more narcissism, such as with this picture from the Huffington Post.

o-SELFIE-STICK-facebook

To judge the selfie stick harshly is so easy to do and involves not a lot of work.  It is with this same alacrity and ease that a range of people are using what I call the Credlin Stick.  This means that they are doing a hatchet job on Peta Credlin, the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff.  The great thing about Credlin is that a whole heap of people, from backbenchers, Government whips, thinkpiece writers, press gallery people and bloggers can take the Credlin Stick and use it to take a snapshot of themselves making Pronouncements about How Bad She Is, hence showing exactly How Intelligent and Insightful they are.  These are the essential arguments used by those using the Credlin Stick:

– She’s Too Powerful – as an unelected official, she needs to have Less Power

– She’s Too Inflexible – she’s a Micromanager, just like Rudd

– She a tough, powerful woman who is the Reason Abbott is doing so badly

– Backbenchers don’t like her

– The Government Whip has complained about the Abbott defence of her!

And then there’s much assertion that she’s a terrible, no good chief of staff who MUST GO. (which is relayed in this piece at length)

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This is as close to a selfie as I can get of Peta Credlin

With the Selfie Stick, I think it’s fine for people to use one if they want. They serve a purpose and really, who I am to judge others for wanting to take photos in the way they want to. But the use of the Credlin stick is narcissistic and pointless. I am tired of the multiple attempts to have her removed from the position as COS for Abbott.   That’s because of these reasons:

– It’s a frivolous distraction from the calamities that have befallen the Abbott Government.  In order to stop us from seeing the fault in the Government’s “stars”, these pieces want us to see the fault in Credlin.

– If the baying for blood that is currently occurring has its desired result, what exactly does it actually change? What evidence has anyone provided that Credlin isn’t capable of doing her job?  I am no great fan of the tactics that come from the Government, which could well be coming from Credlin and her team – the tactics were intellectually insulting before the election and continue to be. (I, unlike some, cannot pretend to know which tactics / plans / actions are actually hers). But say she does go, what would that actually achieve, other than provide breathing space for the Government and a sacrificial Peta?

– The criticism of Credlin has been, from my perspective, overwhelmingly sexist and often revolting – with not just the comments from a variety of sexist Twitter  mutterings about her dress sense and looks, even down to this sexist description of a supposed fight between Julie Bishop and Credlin:

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Fighting fish? Really?

These discussions have overwhelmed a reasonable question about Credlin through all of this – what is the extent of her power and what precisely has been mistakes from her office and what are mistakes from the Government. Were the mistakes a result of ministers going off-script?  That seems to be lost in all this focus on Credlin. She’s a staffer. A Malcolm Tucker of Canberra.  And really, people should stop trying to get a bit of clickbait fame by grabbing the Credlin Stick and shaking it all about.

Sharia Bushfire and Flood – Penrith Council Meeting No.2 about the Community Centre

Two weeks ago, Penrith Council approved the Development Application for a Community Centre for the Muhammadi Cultural Association. Councillor Marcus Cornish, however, called a rescission motion to reverse the decision and hence an extraordinary meeting had to be called for Monday, December 8.

Cornish has been on the media about this issue – such as on Sydney radio station 2UE – where he made suggestions like that Muslims are behind Ice dealing and pedophile rings.  Sensibly, the hosts squashed him pretty hard.

So we arrived again at a council meeting, which was covered in detail through my Storify here (Thanks to Anne O’Grady and James Ryan for helping with that). The same group of local racists (the type who like to say – “we’re not racists, but we hate Islam”) were there with their amateur signs painted on beer advertising.  I went inside the library with Greens councillor for Penrith, Michelle Tormey, who had just talked to the gathered locals against the “Mosque”, despite former local One Nation candidate, Rick Putra, saying to the gathered people “it was a waste of time” talking to her. One person suggested that he would “stab her in the stomach” and another “prayed that (Michelle’s) 5 year old daughter wouldn’t marry a Muslim and be forced to have a circumcision”.   It was little wonder Tormey wanted some respite in a library.

But eventually, we re-emerged, to see some bussed in racists from a newish outfit, The “Party for Freedom“.  Not sure this is quite the same kind of freedom being asked for by Tim Wilson and the Institute of Public Affairs.  This party’s signs had a swastika in the word “Islam”. Not racists, of course.  They also didn’t seem to like Antifa, the anti-fascist association who had turned up to support the community centre (who were excellent at keeping the racists at bay – and props to the likes of Andy Fleming, aka Slackbastard, for helping to rally support).

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There was also the addition this time of the extra angle of an Israeli flag (held by a bloke wearing an Australian Rugby League shirt).

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And also fascists from the Australian Defence League taking video footage of protestors from Antifa.

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The colour and movement outside was certainly entertaining in a strange kind of way – though this time, there were no fights, possibly helped by the presence of the NSW Police Anti-Riot squad.

Once inside, it was locals and supporters of the community centre that were neatly divided down the middle of the chamber, while the community outsiders – both Antifa and the various bussed in fascists from Australia First and the rest – chanted and argued outside.

Once inside, we were treated to a similar show to the one we saw two weeks ago.  There were locals of various sorts supporting Cornish’s motion.  The first, a baby boomer who used to live in Lidcombe making these claims:

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And another from a suburb some distance away from the proposed community centre who objected to being called a “bigot” after the last meeting, making comments such as these:

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Then the last speaker, a Mr. Manou, was a resident in the same street as the proposed centre – Clifford Rd, Kemps Creek, who was treading the line between concerned resident about traffic and racist. His line of attack was to quote an unnamed Liverpool Council worker who said the following:

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This was a line of attack that was picked up later in the meeting from opponents to the community centre, both from the council and the crowd.  This last speaker was good at whipping up cheers and howls from the gathered crowd – the first and last speakers were playing more to the crowd than speaking to the council.  The Mayor, Ross Fowler, had to ask these speakers to not speak to the crowd but to council a couple of times. As the speaker went on, he got a mite excited later on – which was captured by these tweets:

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To which the Mayor, Ross Fowler, responded,

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Then it was time for the three speakers against the rescission motion to speak. Father David Smith, the Parish Priest from the Dulwich Hill Anglican Church was first up. He spoke at length about the peaceful nature of the Muhammadi association and its members, speaking of long experience of working with people from many faiths. He also spoke about the way extremist groups like ISIS pose a threat to Shia groups like the Muhammadi, revealing a gap in the understanding of the people in Penrith who make crude comments about Muslims and terrorism.

Marcus Cornish seemed to be put out by seeing a Christian supporter of the centre, accusing him of being “naive” to the evils of Islam, to which Fr. Smith replied by citing his 25 year association with people of many faiths in Dulwich Hill, as well as going to Islamic countries and seeing the problems of Islamic extremism first hand.

The next speaker, professional planning expert, Ian Rufus, pretty much silenced the councillors because he reiterated the fact that council had put the DA through its paces and it all checked out. This didn’t stop one local resident saying “bullshit”, then “do your homework”.  Instant planning expertise with that one.

The last speaker was, as last time, Abbas Alvi, the main spokesperson for the association.  He countered many of the arguments from the opponents, even the ones that claimed that Muslims = Crime.

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But for all the talk of Alvi wanting to reach out to the community, as last time, this didn’t stop someone calling this question out from the crowd, to make public applause and acclaim:

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To which Mayor Fowler, in one of his highlights, responded with this:

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Despite the moronic and irrelevant nature of the question, that didn’t stop Cornish from being inspired by the comment and he asked the same question.  Completely irrelevant to a DA.  Alvi shouldn’t have had to answer, but he started in this way:

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Alvi then showed a desire to educate the baying crowd as to what Sharia Law actually was – he even asked “do you want to know what it means?” to which the mob answer was – “No”, then “give a yes or no answer”.

Fowler, however, was clearly sick of the direction in which this was headed and ruled that Cornish’s question was out of order and that Alvi didn’t need to answer it. This brought the loudest hollering from the crowd as well as an angry Cornish rising to his feet, hands on hips, staring at Fowler in the same pose as two weeks ago, Again, Fowler responded in kind, which had Cornish backing down again.

After this, there were questions from Cnr. Tormey to Alvi as to where the money was coming from for the centre, in order to demonstrate that the centre was being built for western Sydney residents, and not the “Muslims from Auburn and Lakemba”, which had been Cornish’s continuous claim.  The answer predictably attracted some comments from the opponents about Muslims and dirty money.

After Alvi returned to his seat, then the rescission motion was put – not by Cornish, but by Liberal Independent Councillor Mark Davies – the husband of Mulgoa MP, Tanya Davies.

This was, for me, one of the more troubling parts of the night, because Davies purports to be of the sensible middle ground, yet here he was, supporting the mad views and positions of Marcus Cornish. He cited nebulous concerns such as bushfires, while stating that he knew the areas well :

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And then this classic piece of veiled racism:

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So, people shouldn’t be free to build a community centre as it may change the “character of the area”, but people can be free to be bigots, presumably.

In citing his support for “community concerns”, Davies was deliberately playing the populist card rather than staring down the racists and accepting the fact that the DA was compliant. Rather, he was suggesting that this fact be placed to one side and that the “community concerns” of a loud, rabid minority be allowed to stop mature, considered community progress.   It was a pretty rank, craven act from someone who could see that there may be an electoral backlash to the Liberal Independent councillors who voted to support the centre.

Talking of rank, Councillor Kevin “Shitspert” Crameri also didn’t disappoint, citing (again) how his knowledge of sewerage was superior to anyone who either worked for council or went to university, and how his septic system is second to none. He also decided to branch out to the possibility of flooding.  The main surprise was that he didn’t cite bushfires too.

After we had speakers for the rescission motion, there were none against it. That was because most of the councillors were well bored with this issue and wanted to move on. So the actual vote was very quick. It went as follows:

Supporting the Motion (ie. Opposing the Community Centre)

Liberal Independent: Cornish, Mark Davies

Independents: Crameri, Girotto

Opposing the Motion (ie. Supporting the Community Centre)

Liberal Independents: Goldfinch (a change in vote from last time), Hitchen, Fowler, Bratusa

Labor: Car, McKeon, G Davies, Thain

Green: Tormey

Independent: Greenow

The evening’s proceedings have also been written up by the Penrith Press’ excellent Ian Paterson here.   In the end, it needs to be noted that Mayor Ross Fowler was excellent in guiding the meeting away from the kind of rabid crowd hollering being whipped up by Marcus Cornish and the speakers – based on the evidence of the evening, that kind of mature discussion might not have happened if Mark Davies was Mayor, as he was in 2012-13.  It was also good to see Cnr. Ben Goldfinch change his mind from the last meeting and vote to support the centre.

So, again, common sense, acceptance and maturity ruled the night and the community centre can finally have no barriers to its construction.  This would have enraged the Australia First fascists who had gathered outside by the time we emerged.   However, this pleased the type of people that the City of Penrith should be thinking about with such decisions – that is, the community and the children within that community who will be enjoying this centre into the future.  And it is a photo of said children taken by Cnr. Tormey that will end this report of what was a win for the good people of Penrith and a poke in the eye for ignorant mob rule, who seem to think some kind of Sharia Bushfire Flood is coming to make all white folks wear burqas and kill their children. Er, no.

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Back in the Gossip Game – Laurie Oakes and Backgrounding Against Hockey

During the Rudd / Gillard years, many members of the Canberra Press Gallery was fuelled by the endless backgrounders, hints, leaks and so forth that emanated from the ALP.  Gossip. The first year of Abbott hasn’t been as fertile for the press gallery. It appears that for the gossip columnists, though, Abbott’s government is finally producing the material. Today’s piece by Laurie Oakes is a classic example of a gossip column dressed up as political commentary. And we get the “woo hoo!” factor from the headline:

Liberal leaks hint at eroded trust

IMMIGRATION Minister Scott Morrison had a big win late on Thursday night, gaining enough crossbench support to ensure the Senate passed changes to asylum seeker laws, including measures to bolster the Government’s power to turn back boats.

Before Oakes gets into gossip territory, however, he starts with the sporting commentary style so beloved of many.  “Big win”. This is a continuation of the idea that politics is somehow a sport with two sides. “Big win”, as if putting in draconian new laws that gives Scott Morrison unchecked power over the lives of asylum seekers is somehow akin to Cronulla winning a rugby league game (Morrison has had far many more such “wins” in that case). It’s not a win for asylum seekers, their families or those who think following UN resolutions and treating human beings with kindness, compassion and respect is something we should be doing. This method of sport reporting gives the whiff of a downside of being an embedded press gallery report – of being an insider with little care for the ramifications of the events being discussed. And it goes on…

He had been working flat-out for more than a week to get the numbers, at one stage even pursuing Clive Palmer to a function at the US embassy to continue the arm-twisting that eventually got Palmer United Party senators on side.

Wow, Scott Morrison twists arms! He negotiates! That is something to be celebrated, clearly.  As is this method of “negotiation”?

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But, as we can see from Oakes, he thinks this is all good, because…

That Senate success was a rare high point for the Abbott Government in what was a shambolic end to a shambolic parliamentary year.

“Success”!  Yay, ScoMo. While the rest of the Government is a shambles, ScoMo can use children in detention as a bargaining chip for a slew of a mind bogglingly inhuman changes to Immigration law and procedures.  It’s quite insensitive and superficial way to address such an issue – and frankly, no surprise. Neither is the rest, which is where we get into gossip column territory.

Yet just hours later, when yesterday’s edition of Sydney’s Daily Telegraph hit the streets with a front-page report on suggestions Joe Hockey could be dumped as Treasurer, some of his Liberal colleagues were pointing the finger at Morrison as a likely source.

“For God’s sake, Scott’s been virtually living with crossbenchers all week,” said a Morrison defender. “He had a merciless focus on getting this legislation through. When would he have had the time to dump on Joe?”

News Corp journo discussing impact of News Corp front page talking to unnamed sources. Gossip.  Finger pointing. Defending.

Other Liberals had different suspicions about the exclusive by journalist Simon Benson.

Benson is well connected and one of his most important connections is in the Prime Minister’s office. Because of that, according to a senior Liberal MP, “people will not assume it has been written lightly”. Another source says: “Directing attention at Joe could be an attempt to give some cover to the PM. He’s the one who’s been stuffing up lately.”

“Benson is well connected” is one of the more amusing lines in this piece – that could well be because Benson has been talking up the Liberal Party for as long as anyone can remember – he, along with Gemma Jones (remember her?) were their boosters in chief while they were in opposition. So it’s little wonder he’s “well connected”.   And so it goes, we have “sources say” (but not senior sources, where are the senior sources?) this and other “sources say” that.  Tony’s friends said that, Joe’s friends said something else.  I’m not sure whether at this stage I’m reading a political analysis or a teacher’s account of a dispute between two former friends.

No matter who spoke to Benson or what was their motivation, the importance of the incident lies in the disunity and paranoia it exposes and the lack of trust at the highest levels of the Government.

This from the journalist who confronted Julia Gillard during the 2010 election with leaks from cabinet meetings dropped to him to damage her election campaign – which they did. Journalists like Oakes knows exactly why these leaks happen and they are the bread and butter of his work and the work of others in the press gallery. They despair when they lack leaks.  When has there been a government that doesn’t have disunity and paranoia?  But now for more gossip…

There had been more evidence a day earlier when The Financial Review ran a story about a confrontation between Tony Abbott and Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop. The paper claimed the minister had “gone bananas” at a meeting with Abbott over reports she was to be “chaperoned” at a climate change conference in Peru by Trade Minister Andrew Robb.

Bishop was offended, according to the paper, because it was said the Prime Minister’s Office wanted the more sceptical Robb keeping an eye on her to ensure she did not overcommit Australia on climate change policy.

Something is clearly amiss when details of a row between the PM and his deputy leader are leaked like this. Given that Bishop is popular among Coalition backbenchers and regarded as the Government’s best performer, it could only be damaging to Abbott.

So many questions to be asked after this. Why would the bananas story be damaging to Abbott?  Aren’t people allowed to be miffed at things? Did senior sources say that this was damaging?  And Bishop is popular? Why wouldn’t a Liberal minister be “popular”?  The superficiality of the pronouncements of this paragraph highlight the facile nature of such insider gossip stuff. All hints, all assertions and all in a tone of “I know all this because I’m an insider, so trust me, I know what I am talking about”.

But for many of us, it’s Who Cares.  But the Sydney branch of News Corp thinks that we should care – and wants to push the idea that Julie Bishop is worth liking and should be considered popular in this breathless puff piece that claims that Bishop “should double as Fashion Minister”. But back to Oakes…

Keep in mind that these days “the Prime Minister’s Office” is almost always code for Abbott’s protective and controlling chief of staff, Peta Credlin.

Credlin, like Hockey, is regarded by a growing number of Liberals as a problem that will have to be dealt with. Speculation about a possible Senate berth to get her out of her current role, though almost certainly groundless, indicates the concern.

Ah, Peta Credlin. The scapegoat for the calamities of the most awkward Prime Minister since Billy McMahon.  The Daily Tele and the like have been airing all sorts of stuff about Abbott’s Chief of Staff.  The various rabid Labor Twitter shouters have also targetted her with various hypocritical sexist comments about her clothing choices and the like.  The campaign against her has been whipped up so effectively that now the Tele has felt inclined to run a piece defending her. Such pieces are often seen as actually having the opposite effect and are the beginning of the end for people in politics.  But Credlin should not be the focus on any of this stuff.  A PM’s COS should be invisible, like Malcolm Tucker or Sir Humphrey Appleby.  That she isn’t speaks volumes for media outlets and a government not wanting to admit that they have a dud performer in the PM’s chair.  If Credlin left, nothing would improve. Indeed, there’s been precious little evidence provided in this commentary that Credlin isn’t actually very good and efficient at her job, no matter what people might think of the politics of the Liberal Government.  Oakes’ sources however, aren’t really targetting Credlin this time. It’s Hockey.

But Hockey is the subject of most of the talk. There is much to be said for getting rid of ministerial dead wood but, replacing the likes of Kevin Andrews and David Johnston may not be enough.

Hockey’s performance is undoubtedly central to the Government’s difficulties. A very prominent Liberal told me after the Coalition’s Victorian election loss: “A reshuffle won’t really change anything if it doesn’t change Joe.”

“Very prominent” is the new “senior source”?  And quoting someone who doesn’t like Hockey without knowing that person’s context and reasoning is pointless. The “very prominent” person may be someone who has never liked Hockey / is in a different faction / wants a better job. We don’t know because Oakes is just saying what he said.  And the words being said do do damage to Hockey, because it hints at a wider view of Hockey.  And that leads to an open discussion of gossip of what could happen in the future.

And changing Joe is probably too hard — not only because the most obvious replacement, Malcolm Turnbull, would immediately be portrayed as a leadership threat to Abbott.

To begin with, friends say, Hockey would not go quietly. It would be ugly. Also, giving a Treasurer the shove would be a big deal, effectively an admission that the Government’s economic policy has been on the wrong track from the start. On top of that, if Hockey has failed to produce the right Budget or to sell it properly, then the PM shares the blame.

Gossip, gossip, gossip. This is all very well for Twitter, this kind of talk, but it’s not analysis nor any kind of serious political coverage.  “Hockey would not go quietly”. Really? Thanks for that.

Abbott chaired the Expenditure Review Committee. Abbott’s office, under Credlin’s command and control structure, is at the heart of every decision. The Prime Minister and the Treasurer are joined at the hip. Or perhaps, the hip-pocket nerve. If Joe’s on the nose, the PM by definition is just as pongy.

Here, finally, we are getting some analysis and we have an admission that Abbott has issues – but inserted into this is another veiled dig at Credlin and her “command and control structure” – which has been the central charge from her detractors. “She’s too controlling!” If I was Abbott’s COS, I’d be controlling too, considering what happens when they say what they actually think. This David Pope cartoon sums up the Credlin situation perfectly.

david pope pre school for pollies

Oakes at this point does continue down a fruitful path, pointing towards the problems with Abbott:

And there is the added element that Hockey’s Budget proved toxic primarily because Abbott lacked the ticker to tell voters the truth before last year’s election. Abbott made promises he obviously knew could not be kept. Hapless Hockey can hardly be held responsible for his leader’s political cowardice.

This is less gossip and more political analysis.  And then we get this analysis, featuring a range of insider assertions:

Whether Hockey will stay as Treasurer is undoubtedly a matter of interest. The question asked much more often, though, is whether Abbott can survive as PM. He answered that himself on Thursday when he remarked that “governments that change their leaders haven’t done very well lately”. Julia Gillard’s unhappy prime ministership, plus the Coalition’s defeat in Victoria after replacing a premier midterm, provide Abbott with insurance.

This may well be true – and as an insider, Laurie would know such things for certain, we can glean.  To end with Abbott as being the core problem is fair enough.  But what is interesting is that along the way, we have seen Morrison, Bishop and Hockey mentioned. There’s a code here that I suspect is designed to spark discussion of leadership and the like amongst Liberal Government people, just as we saw with the ALP.   In terms of these press gallery gossip columnists causing a stir within a government, they are back in the game. And they are relishing the possibilities of that all over again.

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