Illustration: Glen Le Lievre
You can smell the doubt in Tory ranks, see the fear in Tory eyes. It’s not yet panic, although in this febrile political climate it wouldn’t take much to start one. But they are worried, deeply worried, that Tony Abbott might just have lost the plot.
This swine of a budget has been a disaster, both in its construction and its political execution. Stunned by the public protest, Abbott and his ministers have been furiously daubing the pig with lipstick, but it’s not working. The polls have the Coalition trailing badly on the primary vote and Bill Shorten is streets ahead as preferred prime minister, even though he has done little but keep his bum pointed to the ground.
So the usual Tory toadies of the media are stampeding to the aid of the party. For more than a week they have been exhorting Abbott to stand firm, to take arms against a sea of troubles, blah blah. Always a sure sign the faecal matter has hit the fan.
Lost the plot: Prime Minister Tony Abbott during question time. Photo: Andrew Meares
An even more certain sign is when they start fighting each other. Treachery! The shrill denunciation of Malcolm Turnbull by Melbourne’s village idiot, Andrew Bolt – amplified on Thursday by Sydney’s village idiot, Alan Jones – sent the needles on the right-wing paranoia scale trembling off the dial. Hilariously, the Parrot dictated a pledge of loyalty for Turnbull to repeat on radio, a wheeze not seen in any modern democracy since the demise of the infamous American Senator Joe McCarthy.
To his credit, Turnbull stiffed the two nongs right back, branding them ‘‘bomb throwers’’ doing Labor’s work. He’ll not be forgiven. It’s been hugely enjoyable.
The polls tell you more and more people are realising Abbott has not so much lost the plot as that he never had one. In opposition he was the wrecker, brutally effective against a divided and demoralised Labor Party, promising to lead an adult government faithful to its election commitments. But in power he and his ministers trudge through the smoking ruins of their policy flip-flops and broken promises, haplessly blaming their predecessors for the mess. This scaled new heights of idiocy on Wednesday when Defence Minister David Johnston proclaimed that it was Labor’s fault Abbott’s RAAF VIP jet had been late leaving for Indonesia.
Malcolm Turnbull has come out swinging. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
In truth, we are saddled with a gang of punishers and straighteners, of cutters and slashers, run by the sort of bossy former private school prefects who enjoy enforcing dress codes at golf clubs. To borrow from that American wit, the late H.L.Mencken, these Abbott Tories are racked by the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, might not be working hard enough.
So the government has changed. But despite the dogged efforts of Peta Credlin and her platoons of highly-trained spin doctors, it is ever more obvious that Abbott himself has not. Beneath those crisp white shirts and pale blue ties there still beats the heart of the campus bully. And Australians know it.
LIKE MANY stonkingly rich people, Clive Palmer displays two grand delusions. One: that great wealth automatically confers great wisdom, and especially political wisdom. Two: that his antics are endlessly fascinating to us lesser folk. He is entirely wrong about the first. In additional proof I give you that American fruit loop Donald Trump, and our very own Gina Rinehart.
But he may be partly right about the second delusion. In his slender youth, Palmer learnt the tricks of massaging the media at the feet of no less than Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, a grand master of the art. ‘‘Feeding the chooks,’’ the old crook used to call it, in his sly, yokel way.
All it takes is colour and movement. Announce that you are going to build a replica of the Titanic. Or turn up at Parliament in a vintage Rolls-Royce. Works every time, and you can count on short memories; been a while since we’ve heard of the Titanic project.
It’s rather more difficult to discover what – if anything – Palmer actually stands for beyond trick populism. Although when you name a political party after yourself you are giving away a pretty big clue.
Lately I’ve been tossing around a few metaphors to fit the man. One, that here is a great bladder of gas that will eventually crash and burn like that ill-fated Zeppelin, the Hindenburg.
But I like the second better: Palmer as a tout in sideshow alley. Roll up, only $10 to see The Bearded Lady, The Mexican Midget, The Two-Headed Gorilla. In the darkness of the tent you realise it’s done with smoke and mirrors, but it’s too late. Clive has already got your money.
THE TROUBLE with writing critically about child abuse in the Catholic Church is that you get accused of sectarian bigotry. It’s how they hit back. Carlton hates Catholics, they cry. He’s out to shaft us.
This is particularly offensive to me. My father was a Catholic priest. I hardly knew him, for he died when I was five, but by all accounts he was a good and honourable servant of his God and his church, much loved. I was christened a Catholic myself, at no less than St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne. I am now an atheist, but some of my best friends, etc.
The true demons, though, are not us heathens but those who have betrayed their faith by not dealing properly with child abusers within the church.
The Cunneen Commission into child abuse in the Hunter Valley found this week that Father Brian Lucas, Secretary of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference, knew of child sexual abuse by a predatory priest, Father Denis McAlinden, but did nothing to report it to the police. Instead McAlinden was allowed to leave Australia, where his practise of abuse continued after 1993. Commissioner Cunneen found that Lucas was consulted about the plan to relocate McAlinden, but at the inquiry, ‘‘sought to distance himself from the appearance of having any involvement’’.
Matthew 25.40 comes to mind: "In as much as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."
In the light of Cuneen’s findings, how is Lucas’ position tenable? He should at least have the decency to get the hell out.
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