tip off

Rundle: the government’s Escherian spiral to nowhere

Are the adults really in charge? Not even the Coalition knows.

Parliament begins sitting tomorrow for another gruelling fortnight, which will most likely resemble the Battle of Stalingrad more than the calm deliberations of the Westminster system. Street by street, house by house, amendment by amendment and deal by deal, the Abbott government is still trying to put together the core initiatives it announced as its bold plan to end the “age of entitlement”. Barring some secret comprehensive deal stitched together with a bloc consisting of PUP + Muir and the Leyonhjelm (Lib Dem)-Bob Day (Liberal Fi-, sorry. Family First) axis, there is going to be no big triumphal announcement. Word around on the weekend was that nothing like that was in the offing — and this crew of senators seem far too motley to keep any sort of false front.

There isn’t much focus on the government side, either. Yesterday, Christopher Pyne announced on The Bolt Report (the word covers, it must be remembered, the sound of something backfiring) that a refusal to pass the Norton-Kemp free-market higher education proposals would trigger regulation-based cuts to research. Since some of the government’s few supporters are the Group of Eight VCs — holding the line against their own staff and students — this is another own goal, forcing them into opposition against the government. Does Pissy Cryin’ really think swing voters care more about cutting-edge research or whether their kids can afford to do a business studies degree and get a house before they’re 35?

But what else would we now expect? This budget, and its history, outlined by my colleague Keane, will be studied by political historians with the same gape-mouth that military historians study decisions like Hitler letting the British Expeditionary Force escape at Dunkirk, or Stalin disregarding his spies’ reports of Barbarossa. There’s a budget emergency, a baseline co-pay to fund a medical research fund — entirely separate to the world-leading research grant evaluation and distribution process we already have — and a paid parental leave scheme insisted on because there now is no budget emergency. It’s like an Escher picture — by the time you go round, you’re facing the opposite direction to the one you came in.

The government surely realises that it is in a make-or-break period. The jury is almost back in on the Coalition’s ability to run a country, and there is a widespread sense that government MPs are not merely bad at messaging, but incompetent at the basic processes. Having been elected to be competent implementers of an inherited Labor program — hence the promises on Gonski, NDIS, Fair Work, universities, the ABC — they have become the incompetent wreckers of it. People vote a party in either as an expression of their values, or, conversely, hire them to do a job — the difference is between choosing a spouse and choosing a lawyer, often to manage the divorce. Abbott was hired as the latter, but has behaved like the former. Hence the far more rapid turnaround in their fortunes, than for Rudd, who was a political bride — a crazy one, who shredded photos of your exes and had you followed by detectives, but a bride nevertheless. You don’t sack a bride. Have her rubbed out, maybe,  for the insurance, but not sack her. Jesus, where was I?

There is, at the moment, no clear picture of who’s actually running the show as we go into this fortnight, despite a series of rolling crisis meetings.”

The failure to rule a lot of this stuff out and make a bold and positive offer will cost the Coalition dearly. They could have done this in terms of their own narrative by:

  1. ruling out the co-pay — which is, after all, not actually directed towards reducing the deficit — and calling a loss on PPL, which actually increases the deficit;
  2. suggesting a reduced dole for under 25s who do not undertake training, but junking the six-month gap;
  3. preserving one element of the spending measures attached to the mining tax — either the schoolkids bonus or the low-income super supplements — and junked the rest;
  4. halving the proposed increase in uni fees and left interest on HECS debt at existing rates; and
  5. quietly letting the asset recycling program sit in limbo.

That would be a package likely to gain the support of all five non-PUP crossbenchers, putting the heat firmly on Palmer — and also on Labor. Palmer’s interest is in making the Liberal-National coalition look incompetent on a nationwide scale, right up to the Queensland election. Yet many of his supporters believe in deficit reduction and the incompetence of Labor. Why would the government not take the opportunity to bang a wedge between party and supporters? The most interesting thing in asking this question is that when you ask around from those who should know, no one does.  This is a government without a three-month plan, much less a three-year one, so far as anyone can detect — and the failure seems to be one of leadership. The strong sense is that ministers like Pyne and Cormann — absent of any co-ordination of a central message — are just playing it as individual operators. This is always the great danger for a Liberal Party, based on the creed of individualism — its ability to generate the sort of teeth-grinding commitment to solidarity in the last instance that Labor can produce is diminished by its very conception of the world.  There is, at the moment, no clear picture of who’s actually running the show as we go into this fortnight, despite a series of rolling crisis meetings.

Maybe they have a deal ready to go, and this was all — given Mr Tony’s fireman metaphor — a smokescreen. But the strong suspicion is, while we’re having a metaphor clear-out, that they’re not the firemen come to put out the fire, they’re the strippers dressed as firemen, come to goose up Madison’s hens’ night. You can leave your hats on, fellas — you may not be staying long.

24
  • 1
    Exactly!
    Posted Monday, 25 August 2014 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    To get the budget through the PM is heading off to war. PM Abbott, Catholic war hero and scourge of Orthodox Russia and the Islamic State.

  • 2
    Luke Hellboy
    Posted Monday, 25 August 2014 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    A COALition wishlist versus an old, white businessman wishlist… there’s a difference?

  • 3
    Jaybuoy
    Posted Monday, 25 August 2014 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    trying to second guess an eighty three year old who only reacts to his jawbone and is busy being massaged by his nubile employee on a semi constant basis is not easy…

  • 4
    rhwombat
    Posted Monday, 25 August 2014 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    Another good one Grundle. I expect we’ll soon hear from One-Hand-Fapping and his Menzies House Kindergarten mates, telling us that to ignore these apostasies and return to the dreadful calumnies against Pope Rupert and his court.

  • 5
    rhonaj
    Posted Monday, 25 August 2014 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    I rang my sister in Scotland the other day, a retired journalist, to find out what she thought of the T. Abbott comments on Scottish independence, apologising in advance for the T Ab by saying he is our George W, The return was “he is worse than George W Bush”

  • 6
    The Old Bill
    Posted Monday, 25 August 2014 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    Kind of makes you almost wish for the Howard Costello era, where the only promises they broke were non core ones and they actually believed in global warming, reskilling, almost affordable education and healthcare for poor people. This current lot don’t seem to even listen to each other, let alone the polls. (Which is quite strange because before the election that’s all they cared about.)

  • 7
    Trog Sorrenson
    Posted Monday, 25 August 2014 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    they’re not the firemen come to put out the fire, they’re the strippers dressed as firemen

    Why didn’t Bill Shorten think of this analogy!

  • 8
    Neutral
    Posted Monday, 25 August 2014 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    Strippers dressed as fireman? Thank that Bronny is the MC and not the action…

  • 9
    Karen
    Posted Monday, 25 August 2014 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    Agree with your central message, Guy. If Abbott was to show leadership and negotiate skills on the budget, ironically in the way that Gillard was most famous for, he stands to save a large slab of his agenda and quite possibly his government.

    As for the public, if it wanted the Labor agenda implemented, then it should have voted for Gillard who would have done it by now and would have been onto the next big thing. What was it thinking in voting for this ideological, incompetent wrecker we’ve all now got to put up with.

  • 10
    Steve777
    Posted Monday, 25 August 2014 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    Tony Abbott is our George W Bush - only not as smart and not as eloquent.

    But it’s an interesting question - who, if anyone, is running the show. Tony Abbott seems to have had a plan for Opposition - oppose everything - while having little idea of what to do when he won government. Much of the time he still seems to be still fighting the 2013 election.

    Presumeably Christopher Pyne and Peter Dutton were developing their plans for health and eduction during opposition - in secret - and now seem to be running their own shows. Joe Hockey was always going to deliver for Big Business, Scott Morrison for xenophobes.

    When are the adults arriving to take charge?

  • 11
    Andybob
    Posted Monday, 25 August 2014 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    I was ruminating on an image of the coalition front bench as stripping firemen and after envisaging Joe Hockey and Chris Pyne was about to claw out my own imagination by the roots to make it stop when Kevin Andrews and George Brandis swung into view and the whole thing went flaccid.

  • 12
    Posted Monday, 25 August 2014 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    ” Hitler letting the British Expeditionary Force escape at Dunkirk, or Stalin disregarding his..”

    Or the expression on Xerxes face when he lost the battle of Thermopylae.

  • 13
    Catherine Scott
    Posted Monday, 25 August 2014 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

    Best yet demonstration of the truth of my father’s observation that it’s a bad idea to give government to people who don’t believe in it.

  • 14
    Draco Houston
    Posted Monday, 25 August 2014 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    Why didn’t Bill Shorten think of this analogy!”

    Sadly, ol’ Biff Slotcar isn’t witty enough for zingers like that. Unless The Simpsons do a gag about male strippers dressed as firemen.

  • 15
    AR
    Posted Monday, 25 August 2014 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

    Wonderful pic - Truss gazing into the distance (longing to be in his far away fields?), Miss Penelope absorbed in her kandykrush (trying to beat Manny Vanny’s latest score?)and Our Beloathed Leader … looking vacant as per usual.
    And chwissy screaming in agony due to his painfully tight hair.
    OleBill - more like the ‘firemen’ in “Fahreneit 451”.

  • 16
    Mark out West
    Posted Monday, 25 August 2014 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

    Excellent

  • 17
    JohnB
    Posted Monday, 25 August 2014 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    Ms Credlin should share at least some of the blame.

    Micro-managing control freaks and corporate psychopaths are noted for their propensity to start many things, stop many others and allow nothing to finished.

    Credlin is one such, but she is not alone. The Liberal Party’s leaders clearly learned absolutely nothing from the failures and eventual collapse of Kevin Rudd. They are following in his footsteps, but in greater numbers.

  • 18
    Electric Lardyland
    Posted Monday, 25 August 2014 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

    Personally, I think the main reason for their confused messaging, is that sometimes they believe the crap that comes out of their own mouths, sometimes they don’t.

  • 19
    Duncan Gilbey
    Posted Monday, 25 August 2014 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

    I agree entirely with the thrust of this piece, but please can we stop with the sniggering innuendo about Christopher Pyne?

    He’s my local Rep and I think that he’s a waste of air, but “Pissy Cryin’ “?

    Come on… play the ball, not the man.

  • 20
    Posted Monday, 25 August 2014 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

    I think Rupert Murdoch tells them what to do. When he’s on a business foray in another country the Libs thrash around wondering what to say next.

  • 21
    Posted Monday, 25 August 2014 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

    PS: As for having crimp wave Chrissy Wissey as minister for education, hell, he should be minister for war.

  • 22
    Dez Paul
    Posted Tuesday, 26 August 2014 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    What are you doing, Rundle? You can’t go around offering these zealots solutions, lest they actually listen to you and get the train back on track. Fcuk ‘em - they can stew in the mess of their own making and then be rightly regarded as the most incompetent, most idiotic government in living memory.

  • 23
    Dez Paul
    Posted Tuesday, 26 August 2014 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    @Duncan Gilbey. I appreciate the principle, but when it comes to Pyne he deserves every sling and arrow aimed at him. He is a vile, petty, small minded polico-sociopath. A yuk of a man.

  • 24
    Duncan Gilbey
    Posted Tuesday, 26 August 2014 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

    @Dez Paul - I agree - he’s hopeless. Bagging what I laughingly refer to as his policies is like shooting fish in a barrel.

    And …”vile, petty, small minded polico-sociopath.” is perfectly legitimate criticism :)

    But insinuating that he’s gay (not that there’s anything wrong with that…) cedes the high moral ground to him.

    Which he doesn’t deserve, the prat.

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