Perhaps it’s something about winter in Canberra. It was around this time last year that The Australian began trying to get a boom for Peter Costello going.
Brendan Nelson had endured months of polling humiliation. Malcolm Turnbull loomed as his replacement. So the national broadsheet began a Peter push. “Voters want Peter Costello as leader” and “Costello may agree to ‘friendly takeover’ of Liberals” were some of the headlines. Even when Costello made clear he wasn’t interested, that was jujitsued into evidence that he was merely waiting to be invited to become leader.
A leadership contest in which Costello declined to participate eventually resolved the issue, although there was a brief flurry again earlier this year until Costello appeared to kill it finally by saying he’d be bailing out at the next election.
The Oz didn’t give up, though. They’ve found a new man to spruik: Tony Abbott. Not merely did they offer an extract from his forthcoming book on the weekend, along with a magazine cover and some nice photos of Abbott — one a sort of film noir tribute, the other a movie star shot in the middle of a studio — but four articles, including an editorial, written as always in what seems to be that newspaper’s ponderous house style.
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For a book that so far has offered a return to fault-based divorce and an in-depth account of how Abbott’s girlfriend cheated on him, it seems a bit OTT. We’ll find out tomorrow if there’s any more substance to it. But it’s only a few days since Abbott was also given an op-ed piece on climate change, while he was refusing to comment on an issue within his own portfolio for fear of upsetting his publisher (it was the sort of issue, too — indigenous housing — in which they take an interest at that paper if nothing else, The Oz consistently devotes considerable space to indigenous issues, something that other outlets could learn from).
Coupled with what appears to be an enthusiasm for undermining Malcolm Turnbull with opinion polls and frantic claims that he is mere days away from being ousted, this appears to be a particularly shameless piece of political “agenda-setting” from The Oz.
They do like a campaign, though. Nuclear power is now the issue de jour. The Government can’t avoid a debate on the issue, according to the Solons at News Ltd. Well, it can, actually, by pointing out that an Australian nuclear power industry would be hugely expensive, take decades and need to be developed from the ground up, when we already have rapidly-developing solar and wind power industries and are investing billions in carbon capture and storage that would enable us — if it ever proves viable — to continue to rely on coal. Nuclear power might make sense for the Japanese or the French, but it’s a dud option for us.
It’d be nice if occasionally, just occasionally, there was some consistency of economic argument from News Ltd.
At Fairfax on the weekend, they had someone altogether less interesting than Tony Abbott. Kevin Rudd got two full broadsheet pages to go on at mind-numbing length about the economic crisis. There’s a Goodies episode where the most tedious people in the world go to France to compete in “Le Boring” competition, and the most formidable entry is a six-hour mimed version of Murder on the Orient Express. Rudd’s truly, awesomely boring essay could have been a late and successful entry. At one stage he almost caught my attention with the word “bold” but it was only a reference to his plans for improved infrastructure planning. Even his attacks on the Liberals barely roused roused the reader from an inevitable coma.
It wasn’t a patch on his Monthly effort — which wasn’t exactly a page-turner itself — since it consisted of pretty much the same things he’s been saying over and over again for most of this year. Fairfax should have knocked it back and told the Prime Minister unless he was prepared to write something other than a recycling of every speech he’s made this year, he could find another outlet — or stick it on his blog.
But the real point of the Rudd essay was to assure readers — those who made it past the first paragraph — that he is the sort of bloke who may not be the most exciting person in the world, but he sure as hell knows what he’s doing when it comes to managing the economy. Voters want competence, not excitement, at this stage, and Rudd fits that bill perfectly.
Tony Abbott, on the other hand … well, he’s always good for a quote.