Tony Abbott met with conspiracy theorist Chris Monckton yesterday at lunchtime, but Abbott wouldn’t allow photographers to record the meeting or publicly comment on what was discussed.

Meeting this shabby character is contemptible and reflects poorly on Abbott’s fitness for high office.  There are, after all, plenty of Australian skeptics and denialists out there to meet, plenty of men and women who share Abbott’s view that climate science is crap.  We’ve produced quite a few of them.

Despite Ian Plimer or Bob Carter lacking any credentials in climate science, at least they can mount a pseudo-scientific case against global warming.  But Abbott decided to meet this low-rent Lyndon LaRouche from London. Worse, refusing to allow the meeting to be photographed shows thorough cowardice. If he’s happy to meet this “swivel-eyed maniac”, as one conservative called Monckton, he should be happy to be photographed shaking his hand.

But forget the moral outrage: this was savvy politics. Abbott has sent a clear signal to the right-wing fringe groups and One Nation-types that have drifted away from the party over the last two years: he’s their man, he shares their values. When they talk about shoring up the base, this is what they mean, pulling those voters out of the “Other” camp in polling, where they’re lodged with Family First and socially-conservative parties, and back into the Liberal column.

It didn’t require being photographed with Monckton – the lunatic fringe will know he met him. It will be all over their blogs and in their email networks. Finally, they’ll think, someone important is listening to us.

Being photographed with Monckton might have sent the wrong single to mainstream voters, because Monckton’s a risk, prone to coming out with potentially ridiculous statements that Abbott would have to distance himself from. Like interning people with HIV, for example, (although apparently Monckton has invented a cure for that).

So best to keep it on the quiet, out the media, because the media loves visuals and stories don’t get one-tenth as far without them. A job well done.

We “intellectual snobs” can foam at the mouth all we like, but this was Abbott doing what he has been hired to do – dog-whistling to the extreme right of the party, letting the conservative membership know the Liberal Party is safe for them again, showing them that that appalling lefty Malcolm Turnbull has gone.  Just like John Howard felt he had to in the face of the One Nation phenomenon.  Abbott was an apt pupil.

Peter Fray

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