Federal Politics

Under Tony Abbott we are going nowhere, with the nowhere man

Tony Abbott has only himself - and Julie Bishop - to blame. A vital opportunity to jump-start his prime ministership with some international pizzazz was squandered.

Obstinately and adamantly, he insisted climate change would not be mentioned in Brisbane. Naively he thought, simply because Australia would be in the chair, he could dictate what would be discussed at the G20. Pardon? The world doesn't work like that.

The US and China are gorillas - they'll do as they choose. They hinted - quietly and subtly - that the Brisbane forum might be a good opportunity to highlight progress in the fight against global warning. It was his chance for a win-win, giving Abbott a chance to shape the agenda and hop on board, saying, "Each country in their own way, and every step, is vital in this fight". But the silly man said "no, the G20's only about the economy". He was utterly determined to kick an own goal.

Being  Prime Minister is  very different from being opposition leader. Maybe some day Abbott will understand this. Unfortunately, he's demonstrating no comprehension of his role to date. Perhaps his colleagues do?

That would be a "no". Foreign Minister Julie Bishop compounded the problem and turned it into a disaster. It's incredible that there's any hint of her performing a "Gillard Option" - you know; unmarried woman charges in and saves the day just before the election, insisting a good government has "lost its way". Forget that now.

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It was her inability to work out what was coming in Brisbane, together with the incompetence of her department to tell her what the superpowers were up to, that left the government blindsided in the first place. Bishop's fierce and unbending style has made enemies in both Beijing and Washington.

On more than one occasion she's waded in, pointing out how everyone else has got it wrong. Perhaps now she might do a bit more listening and thinking. Maybe all that business-class travel is getting her off on the wrong foot. Always ready to dish it out to those who don't perform, she may now like to reconsider her role in the G20 fiasco.

Bishop's appointment to cabinet hints at Abbott's second problem. Is his vision for Australia being communicated? Is there any place for women? The answers to both these questions would be more "no's". How could it be otherwise, when his inner circle includes people like Peter Dutton (who?), George (port, brandy, anyone?) Brandis and Kevin (undertaker) Andrews - not to mention the man who isn't there, Arthur (steel-trap) Sinodinos - and his picture for Australia's future has us curtseying and bowing, and scraping and bobbing to knights and dames? Vision? Hah!

The signing of the agreement between Barack Obama and Li Keqiang hit Australia with the surprise of last weekend's heatwave. It was a sudden wake-up call, but it's not the first to stun the inner-circle of the PM's office. Perhaps they can see a way to change this dynamic?

But again, another "no" and the evidence this time comes from the polling. The people Abbott turn to for advice won't be turning this ship around until it crashes up on the rocks. The proof? Just look. The latest, authoritative Newspoll left Abbott washed-up 45 to 55. And that's against Bill "Zinger" Shorten, for God's sake. It's absolutely true; the only poll that counts is the one on election day. That's why we have all these intermediate numbers - to understand what will happen on the day itself.

Abbott's problem isn't one bad set of numbers: it's a stream of them. This has been going on far too long and he can't staunch the flow. His issue isn't that he's been implementing hard decisions: so far, nothing's been achieved. His predicament isn't simply that he's been ushering in change. He frittered away the goodwill that saw him installed with overwhelming support. Now he's scoring lower polling numbers than any other first-term leader. Results this poor are stunning, because they shouldn't be happening. Yet Abbott can't seem to escape.

He's been as unable to harness the goodwill of incumbency, as he has been to occupy the Lodge. It's as if residing in this building is somehow necessary to demonstrate you are Prime Minister. Gillard refused to move in; the people refused to endorse her at the election. Abbott can't move in (renovations won't now be finished until well into 2015); and his premiership's been trapped in a loading zone. We're still waiting for a workable budget. We're still waiting for direction. We're still waiting for Godot. Guess what? He'll never arrive.

The Lodge provides a perfect metaphor for Abbott's time in office so far. His builders are taking him to the cleaners. The price for the renovations keeps increasing. So does the work needed ("a slate roof first, gov', then I'll throw in some wiring, and how about an 'upgrade' for the bathrooms?" – just how long can this be strung out?). Abbott's proven incapable of getting his job done and now he's giving us the 'builder's excuse'. First one story; then another, and still no evidence that any work has actually been completed.

If you can't manage a renovation, how can you govern the country? Perhaps the truth is that Abbott's actually just not very capable. We thought he was a boxer, but he's just been striking at shadows all this time. When it's come to the crunch, it's turns out there's really nothing there.

That's why the electorate is unhappy. It knows this government's becalmed. There's no direction coming from the PM's office. We're not waiting for a luff of wind to suddenly fill the sails with air and push us where we need to go. The chaotic Senate can only be made workable if it's given a heading. That's not happening with Abbott at the helm.

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