I’ve been to a lot of heritage music concerts. The audience expects that the star, a stiff-legged hologram of his youthful self, will sing all his biggest hits. Although looking and sounding a little shop-worn, he’ll still rise to the occasion. And the listeners relive an experience that had at one time struck a chord with them and still resonates.

And so it was that Tony fronted up the fans at the Sydney Institute last night, giving them a short, punchy set list of his greatest hits – immigration and street gangs, the benefits of coal and the evils of political correctness.

In a speech that would have surprised exactly no-one, he called on Malcolm Turnbull to halve Australia’s immigration program and heavily criticised the government’s National Energy Guarantee, saying it did not explain how it would bring down prices.

Tony was ousted by his own party in September 2015, so he has now had 2 ½ years to work on his act. At the age of 60, many men and women still have a great deal to offer their country or their chosen career. So what has our least effective Prime Minister been doing all this time, other than honing his ability to entertain pensioners? On the face of it, not much.

He did say something which resonated with me: “Now, none of you came here tonight to hear slogans like ‘stop the boats’ or ‘scrap the tax’ or ‘build the roads’ – let alone ‘build the wall’ or ‘drain the swamp’.”

Tony, you are right about that.

“Hence the insiders versus outsiders chasm now bedevilling the politics of the west: a talking class that’s never had it so good; a working class that’s trying harder and harder just to keep up; and a welfare class with a strong sense of entitlement,” he went on.

And into which of those classes would you put Anthony John Abbott, who’s been pulling down a public service salary for the past 24 years? I would call someone who earns $200,000 a year, and hasn’t had an original thought since Ted Nugent sang “Paralyzed”, a welfare bludger who needs to get a proper job.

He ran through the usual right-wing playlist – immigration needs to be cut to help ease the local job market and housing affordability pressures, only 30% of migrants speak English and “ethnic gangs that are testing the resolve of police.”

None of these statements are evidence-based, but Tony doesn’t need to be accurate or informed. He’s just dog-whistling to the party’s right-wing base and firing shots in the incessant war against the man who put him out of a job, Malcolm Turnbull. Like Kevin Rudd, he’s devoted the time since being booted out of office by his own party to plotting and planning his revenge and guess what? We’ve been paying for it!

A few weeks ago I went to see “The Modfather”, Paul Weller,  at the Sydney Opera House. It was a fantastic concert: I loved The Jam and The Style Council and he played all my favourite songs. But something else happened: the 59-year-old played new music, great songs which he had composed and arranged in the years since the Style Council broke up in 1989. He’s not a heritage act but a brilliant musician, and that’s why he sold out the Opera House.

There’s a lesson there. Tony, unless you want to keep playing smaller and smaller venues, and end up at the Manly RSL on a Friday night competing with the pokies, it’s time to either change your act or move on. Because the rest of us have stopped listening.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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