We know The Australian suffers from logorrhea on its favourite topics but it’s rare to see its assembled battery of popguns deployed against a Liberal government.
Today, the China extradition treaty offered the excuse for article after article on how badly the government had handled the “debacle”. Julie Bishop was accused of having a poor “tone” when she met with backbenchers. “Clumsy handling” was the conclusion of another journalist, who en passant defended Tony Abbott against the charge of hypocrisy in criticising a treaty, the ratification of which he had promised the Chinese. Paul Kelly puffed up into full Bloviating Bore mode on what he labelled a “fiasco”, an “embarrassment” in which Turnbull “misjudged the politics”. “This was a significant event,” he sagely noted, although he was not prepared to let Abbott off the hook — he explicitly contrasted Abbott’s commitment to the Chinese when Prime Minister to ratify the treaty and Abbott’s claim now that he never intended to do so.
Abbott’s close friend Greg Sheridan went further: “the single worst foreign policy fiasco in the life of the Turnbull government. It represents a failure in principle, as well as a failure in political and process management, on an epic scale.” Sheridan went on to praise Labor before returning for another kicking of the Prime Minister, calling it “a massive self inflicted injury by Turnbull. The source of his motivation for doing so remains an unfathomable mystery.”
The only positive came from old mate Dennis Shanahan, who said it was all such a disastrous blow to Turnbull’s authority that same-sex marriage advocates within Liberal ranks had called off a stoush, believing Turnbull’s leadership was teetering on the brink.
The whole thing was indeed a shambles — especially, as Crikey pointed out yesterday, the linking by the government of the need to ratify the treaty with the abusive treatment of Australians being held by the Chinese government. And, in the normal way of both this government and its predecessor, it was entirely of its own making. But was it the catastrophic failure that article after article after article in The Oz made it out to be? Hardly.
For a start, it was in foreign policy, an area voters couldn’t care less about — and especially when it’s in the arcane area of treaties. Second, if nothing else, this government is good at getting its constant debacles over with quickly. The ratification was rapidly killed by Turnbull after Labor revealed its opposition. That made senior ministers, including Julie Bishop, look silly given they’d been stoutly defending the treaty mere minutes before, but it’s better than leaving the issue to drag out, making the government look indecisive and sucking oxygen away from what it would prefer to be talking about.
And third, it demonstrated yet again what a profound hypocrite Tony Abbott is. Even ministers have taken to pointing out that Abbott is constantly urging the government to do things he himself refused to do in government. Now there’s a crystal-clear example: Abbott has openly admitted he promised the President of China he would move to ratify the treaty while intending nothing of the sort. Indeed, that makes him worse than a hypocrite, it means he’s a liar. What foreign government would ever trust that man’s word again?
If the Oz’s goal was to boost Tony Abbott over Turnbull, it hasn’t helped either of them.