Judging from the shambling swagger he affects these days (part-Western gunslinger, part-silverback gorilla) Tony Abbott is brimming with confidence.

And why not? Having astonished both friend and foe by nearly pulling off the unwinnable election, he remains poised a couple of by-elections away from the edge of greatness. The polls show that the two parties are still locked together and there seems to be a feeling within the Opposition that the next election, whenever it may come, is theirs for the taking.

There has been just one glitch: the leader’s unguarded remark about not wanting to suffer from jet lag when meeting his Tory mates in London, which was his initial excuse for not accompanying Julia Gillard to Afghanistan. At the time this sounded not only unpatriotic but seriously wussy, and the consequent criticism prompted Abbott to show just how ferocious he could be when he tried.

He accused Gillard of deliberately leaking his decline of her invitation (she didn’t) when she knew all the time he planned to make his own visit on his way back from England. Indeed, he had really wanted to be embedded with the troops for days on end while Gillard just had tea with them. Consequently he was the victim of a well-planned political ambush, an act of Machiavellian bastardry.

He had a duty to respond in a tough way: “One of the things that so disappoints me about the election result is that I am the standard bearer for values and ideals which matter and are important and as the leader of the coalition, millions and millions of people invest their hopes in me and it’s important that I don’t let them down.” Rather wistfully he noted that he could not compete in the area of bastardry with the Labor Party; they were the masters. But by golly he was going to do his best.

Thus he latched on to the campaign from his friend, supporter and would-be mentor Alan Jones against the charging of three Australian soldiers over the deaths of civilians, including five children, in Afghanistan. Jones was at his craziest and most vicious, constantly referring to the Director of Army Prosecutions, Brigadier Lyn McDade, as “that woman” — obviously the worst insult he could imagine. He didn’t know how she became a brigadier (actually she was appointed to the job by his old mate John Howard) and she had clearly never been on the front line — what a contrast to his own distinguished military career with The Kings School cadet corps, abut which he was regrettably silent.

Abbott made sympathetic noises of agreement throughout this vomitous diatribe and averred that the soldiers were being thrown to the wolves by the government — it sounded rather as though he believed the rules of war should be abrogated altogether when it came to Australians. Jones obviously believes just that, but after five failed attempts has now abandoned his goal of a formal political career. Abbott, on the other hand, leads what he describes as a government in waiting and seems to feel that the best way to shorten the waiting time is to act as mindlessly macho as possible.

It is a worrying prospect, made more so by his performance when he finally got to Afghanistan. His request to be embedded had been knocked back, ostensibly on security grounds; but one suspects that the troops threatened with his embedding realised that he could also quickly become a dangerous nuisance. He apparently spent most of his time not in asking questions about the operation in anticipation of this week’s parliamentary debate on the subject but in firing every weapon he could get his hands on for as long as they would let him.

Sensibly the military attempted to suppress the pictorial record of his trip — after all, it was hardly a good look for them to have this hairy-chested Rambo blasting away with their expensive ammunition as if the place was his own private playground. But some pictures got out, and the voters were treated to the spectacle of their alternative Prime Minister armed and rampant. And swaggering. Is this what they really want?

And speaking of national virility symbols, the little Aussie dollar has stiffened up to match its American counterpart.

Of course, many economists will assure you that size doesn’t really matter and that in any case it’s all comparative; it’s not so much that the Aussie has tumesced as that the once mighty greenback is going through a severed case of the droops. Indeed, its continued flaccidity is a matter of grave concern; is this the prelude to terminal impotence? Should we now be checking on the hardness of the euro, or even the yuan?

But having said all that, there is no doubt that the rise of the Aussie is a matter of mild self congratulation. There are disadvantages, of course, especially for exporters, but the strength of the currency in a free market is a fair indication of the strength of the economy as a whole. And of course it makes a mockery of the wild talk from the Opposition about the horrors of our national debt and deficit. Economics, the miserable science, the pseudo science, is all too easy to oversimplify and misrepresent. But this does not make the symbolism of reaching parity with the world’s traditional monetary yardstick any less satisfying.

And of course we cannot and should not ignore the really good news, another triumph for the lucky country:

Our ocker saint, Mary McKillop,
Is giving rock-choppers a fillip.
At last Cardinal Pell
Has a product to sell —
She’s filling the Vatican’s till up!

Parity and canonisation in the same week. And we won the Commonwealth Games — well, we got the most medals, which is almost the same thing. What a trifecta. Aussie Aussie Aussie! Oi Oi Oi!

Peter Fray

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