Abbott's changing the sermon

Tony Abbott has reminded his party room of that old political rule: for as long as possible, make the other side the issue, not us.

For 18 months, Abbott succeeded. The heat was never off the Gillard government – whether it was an issue of competence or policy. It centred on "boats” and a "great big new tax” and the need for an urgent election.

Of course the ALP helped too. They are very good at talking incessantly about themselves – from ministers to relevance starved ex-leaders and backbenchers. "Sources” were also everywhere and invaluable in the grand plan for the resurrection of Saint Kevin.

The polls followed. Australians watched and heard a wandering rabble – and told the ever-present pollsters what they thought.

But seemingly out of nowhere the focus on domestic politics is ebbing away from issues of Gillard’s shaky hold on her high office and the demands of an election to the broad issue of; yes, we know all that Tony, but what are your plans?

The nil political effect of the carbon tax helped initially – but has not been the real reason.

Issues like the National Disability Insurance Scheme and the Gonski education reform, whilst seemingly unfunded, drew public support, in principle. They may have been sceptical about the government’s capacity to deliver their promise, but the ideas sounded right at least.

The MYEFO update was another instinctive policy matter. It saw a strange response from the Opposition. Joe Hockey went on a merry dance attacking the government’s modest hit on family entitlements. He obviously hadn’t read his own speech on the issue. Unfortunately, the influential and veteran scribe Laurie Oakes had – and laid bare the hypocrisy in a withering analysis.

The release last week of Asian Century white paper was also an interesting political moment.

The critics were all over it – too vague, motherhood, "tell us something we don’t know”, un-costed and so on. But the response in the so-called "new media” and letter writers to Gillard’s prime time interviews on TV and radio told a different tale. Ordinary people kind of "got it” – it wasn’t about government doing all the heaving lifting and paying. It was up to industry, to families, to the media and so on. Learning an Asian language sounded smart.

Even the simple matter of deregulating wheat sales caused an outbreak of feeble timidity and internal politics from the pro-market Liberal Party – and led to unflattering media.

So what’s been noted is that the Gillard government has been doing what we pay them to do – govern, as best they can. Forget all the internal rubbish. Just get on with your jobs.

Slowly, according to polls, the government is starting to resurrect itself.

That means some pointed questions are finally being asked inside the Liberal and National party rooms. And these questions go to core strategy. Is our job to hold the government to account, by whatever means and words? Or is our first job to present an alternative vision and public policy outline?

Do we keep babbling about the effects of the carbon tax when no-one is listening – especially when what we say is often just a concoction?

The fate of opposition leaders, ultimately, is in the hands of mostly anonymous party room members and each week those fractious, nervous and self-interested people devour polls. Just ask Bill Hayden, (even John Howard in 1989), John Hewson, Alexander Downer, Kim Beazley, Brendan Nelson and Malcolm Turnbull. Party rooms are unforgiving meeting places.

Tony Abbott is no different. It is his task to hold the Gillard government to the highest account, but also answer public yearning for a credible alternative.

The balance is not easy. Issues of language, props, stunts, tone, when to support or oppose legislation, behaviour in Question Time (because it gets on telly) and so on must be handled – along with the perennial issue of policy release and timing of "headland” speeches.

There are tentative signs that Abbott is subtly changing. The smear aimed at Gillard over her long gone days at Slater and Gordon is now coming from the flaying female deputy, not from him. He’s less agitated and aggressive and involved in Question Time fracas – a small but notable change in political management. He’s attempting to come to grips with quiet speeches on issues of productivity and economic management.

The election is likely ten to eleven months away. I don’t buy this swirling "clearing the decks” argument out of Canberra around an early March/April election. The punters would simply see it as a self-preserving stunt, and sweep the government away.

In the months to come, Gillard could still be easily tripped. The ALP could keep yabbering on about themselves, as for example the farce surrounding self-centred Minister Ferguson’s dummy spit over a resources tax comment from Rob Oakeshott. Also, the forecast Budget surplus could melt away – a political disaster.

Then too, the polls could keep tightening and buoy the government’s political mission. They could even act as a catalyst for boldness in public policy.

As we are inevitably reminded, tomorrow’s Melbourne Cup is never won by a faint-hearted animal. Nor is the favourite – burdened by expectation – yet past the post. It all depends on luck, tactics in running and all that meticulous and detailed long-term preparation that’s happened away from the spotlight.

The parallels are obvious and clear.

Alister Drysdale is a Business Spectator commentator and a former senior advisor to Malcolm Fraser and Jeff Kennett.

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So what is Labor's Vision for the future? ( Abbott's changing the sermon, November 5)
The Asian Century? That is too early to call: at this time last Century it would have been the British Century.
If Australia needs more Asian speakers (and the language of international business is still English as Gillard should know), then we will soon have more than we need: Seven of the top 10 source countries in Australia's 2011-12 migration program are from Asia: India, China, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, the Republic of Korea and Vietnam. No need to force reluctant Aussie kids to learn Mandarin.
The National Disability Insurance Scheme? With heightened expectations but zero funding, this is a cruel trick to play on our most vulnerable for a poll-lifting sound-bite.
The Gonski education reforms ignore that fact that we have thrown money at Education for the last 25 years but the literacy and numeracy skills of our children have declined. In Hong Kong and Singapore far better results are achieved for a fraction of the cost using old-fashioned blackboards instead of computers, with Teachers using their class-room time to engage with and teach students, not to mark the previous night's homework. There is nothing in the Gonski recommendations that takes this into consideration, so any implementation based on Gonski will be an expensive failure.
Other than that they have nothing except more lies that they expect us to believe.
"There will be no Carbon Tax" - there was.
"Tony Abbott is a Misogynist" - He clearly isn't.
In the end it doesn't matter if Gillard has got a vision for the future, beyond clawing for power at any cost: People simply don't believe her. On anything. And when they stop believing, they stop listening.
If we are indeed seeing the end of negative populism in the Coalition's approach and a move towards positve alternative policy formulation, then we are also seeing the end of the ideological dominance of a number of Conservative think tanks that have been strongly influenced by former mining executives, and present mining interests - and often largely funded by those finding Climate Change denial economically attractive. ( Abbott's changing the sermon, November 5).
One frequently finds the same memberships and leaders in these front organisations which have given the appearance of a greater acceptance in the Liberal and Coalition ranks of a range of particular concepts than actually really exists. One of the messages these fronts give is "don't rock the boat", criticising for example Malcolm Turnbull, on his own webpage, for not being a team player, even suggesting he might resign
With the loss of influence of these fronts, the Howard/Abbott era is coming to a close, something that may well be good for everyone. We can move on.
The losers of influence will be groups such as Lavoisier,HR Nicholls, Samuel Griffith,Bennelong, the Galileo Movement (patron Alan Jones), Bert Kelly Research Centre, Australian Climate Science Coalition and so on
Maybe the Coalition will be less influenced in future too by the pages of Quadrant Magazine, and writers in it such as Kinnimonth and editor Windshuttle. A move towards positive policy formulation in the Liberal Party would be a massive change in orientation almost generational in nature. The present leadership would almost certainly have to be largely changed
The Christmas break is the ideal time for such a radical shift in the nature of the Coalition. I sincerely hope they have the courage to do it. A genuine alternative voice in place of whingeing about leaky boats, imaginary slush funds, and denial of changes in Climate that may well have caused the devastation of America's East Coast would be - how should one put it?
"Nice" - I think that covers it - "Nice"
Alister Drysdale speaks of obvious and clear parallels, using the Melbourne Cup as an analogy to support the side he so obviously and clearly supports. While correctly stating the race is never won by a faint-hearted, he misses the fact that neither is it ever won by an animal that beggars the stout heart of others.
Horses win on their own merit, and not on the never-never or by taxing the galloping of others. Give us a break and tells us how it really is (Abbott's changing the sermon, November 5).
Well, if it all goes pear shaped for the Coalition they can change to Turnbull near to the election and wipe the floor with Labor. ( Abbott's changing the sermon, November 5)
The devastation of America's East Coast was caused by Weather, not by Climate change. (Abbott's changing the sermon, November 5) It was only a category 1 storm, but arrived on the Jersey shore, a particulary vulnerable low-lying area where houses have been built on a sand foundation, and it coincidentally arrived at high tide, adding tide to Storm surge in the worst combination. To the best of my knowledge Tropical Storms are nothing new,
and tides are not caused by Global Warming, so Sandy cannot be taken as any kind of proof one way or the other, for or against the theory of Global Warming.
If a fraction of the money spent on Climate Change, building wind farms and solar panel farms, had instead been spent on Coastal defences against flooding, Thousands of people would be better off.
If we insist on building on floodplains and low-lying coastal areas, we need to build appropriate flood mitigation infrastructure to defend against inevitable storms. The USA should talk to Holland about defence against coastal flooding.
Nice phantasy from Phil Clarke: It is the Gillard/Swan era that is coming to an ignominious end. Who would have thought this Government could have been even worse than Whitlam's?
But it is simply the worst Government in Australia's History by far. Latham now seems a Visionary leader compared to this lot.
The current Government is a joke, but this piece is spot on. (Abbott's changing the sermon, November 5)
We all know how pathetic Gillard & Co are; nobody WANTS to vote for them, most of us want to vote them out, with vengeance.
But it's time for Abbott to stop telling us why we SHOULDN'T vote for them (hint: they're incompetent, we already know that), and start telling us WHY we should vote for the Liberals.
Cut the small target crap, stop announcing expensive, stupid policy measures just because the Govt has done so (ie, his excessive maternity leave scheme); start clearly articulating a clear, reasonable and realistic vision for this country.
Get people excited and enthused about where we are heading again - stop this lowest common denominator rubbish.
Abbott has a real opportunity here - whoever is advising him needs to make sure he grasps it.
Stop talking about Gillard & Co, they're a waste of time, and so is talking about them - they are already irrelevant.
Start convincing us that the Liberal Party has a vision for Australia that we can all buy into.
Do it with integrity and courage; formulate quality policy and then when the inevitable attempts to denigrate them take place - stand up to them.
The general discourse on the above highlights a glaring flaw in much of the commentary i.e. views masquerading as analysis. (Abbott's changing the sermon, November 5)
Unfortunately, the same appears to hold true for others forms of communication as well. Even supposedly neutral TV programmes (e.g. Q&A) appear to think that neutrality is to have an equal number of divergant views.
Very rarely is there an attempt to take off the labor/liberal or left/right blinkers and try to get what might be the correct facts.
That said, I am not rushing to blame the media.
I understand it is a whole chain - and it takes two to tango.
Hopefully, the hopeful arrival of the insightful and objective reader/viewer might engender increased objectivity in reporting/analysis.
I live in hope.
I agree with Al Black as far as Mr Gonski's report is concerned. My late Father and Mother were school teachers and between 1935 and 1984 they educated thousands of children quite a few of whom are still around today. ( Abbott's changing the sermon, November 5) They became Lawyers, Accountants, Engineers, Generals, Doctors, Scientists, High Court Judges, University Professors at the MIT and other elite US and English Universities and of course Business people but significantly all started out at the same school and we keep in touch though we are all getting on a bit.
Might I say that in those days most of us were what was then called middle class and many of these students relied on residential scholarships for their food, clothes and fees.
It is indeed the teacher and the system. I remember my parents spent their vacations preparing presentations for their students and, a lot of time on what is now called continuing education.
Their colleagues did the same. We do not have teachers of that calibre anymore. And the system is in chaos. Just look at the mess in MLC in Kew a few weeks ago. Unbelievable. School heads being paid an annual salary that would have been sufficient to fund an entire school three dacades ago!!!
Well said Al Black and especially Robert Turners
piece.(Abbott's changing the sermon, (Abbott's changing the sermon, November 5)
Phil Clarke,you really are in an ideology fantasy land and all your comments roll out like a mantra for the extreme left,but fair enough that is your view....i think the majority in this democracy see things differently and we shall see at the ballot box.
Your are missing what really happened. Abbott has not run out of steam at all. What has happened for the past 5 years is that the media has unfairly reported from one side of politics. It was night in and night out and often on the most trivial and nonsensical 'news', if I can call it that. And of course you never got an attack on Abbott or any of his cronies.
So lets be fair. We need a fair go, not political bias as has occurred. But then big business does own the media so one has to have a healthy respect for conspiracy theory I guess (Abbott's changing the sermon, November 5).
Well said Phil Clarke, a spade is a spade. About time the Libs started thinking for themselves, this war on science has to end (Abbott's changing the sermon, November 5).
If the government is talking about "the Asian Century" that probably means that it is all over. We should probably be looking at the Russian century or the Brazilian century (Abbott's changing the sermon, November 5).
Labor yelling Abbott, Abbott, Abbott, "unfit to be P.M.", misogynist, negativity, and so on is doing a good job of brainwashing the public or voters, and the media love it. Also. unlike P.M. Gillard, Abbott is not the super smooth, off the cuff speaker capable of spin and saying nothing (other than put his foot in his mouth by using words that allow Labor to clobber him again). But, TA is no dill and this won't continue to happen come election time. Alister Drysdale is correct though; Abbott is currently changing tactics and putting his colleagues up front. The more he does this, the better as there is a long way to go until the end of 2013 (Abbott's changing the sermon, November 5).
I hope Abbott does change the sermon. I want to hear, in eloquent, articulate speech for a change, what his clear vision for the future is and how it is going to be funded (Abbott's changing the sermon, November 5).
I am becoming concerned that an articulation of quality policies by the Liberal Party is a risk that they are simply not prepared to take. After all, policies will be scrutinised, not just for their budget impact but whether they are right for the nation's future. This is not easy and the Liberals are still smarting over being tripped up by Keating over the GST in the 1993 election. I am becoming concerned that they do not have the will and are just another bunch seeking power for power's sake (Abbott's changing the sermon, November 5).
The only thing that is helping Labor in the polls is that the mud being slung at Abbott by Gillard and Co is starting to stick (Abbott's changing the sermon, November 5).
Labor always engages in classic gutter politics (even against their own kind) but what's changed now is people are getting numb to how bad our government really is. The constant of Labor's gutter politics is finally coming to the fore in people's minds. It is ironic Abbott gets accused of negativity when Labor are the ones that have relentlessly attacked Abbott's character since he became opposition leader.
Ever since Howard was rolled by "Kevin 07" for doing not much wrong, other than having bushy eyebrows, it is clear many Aussie voters only really care about how well our leaders look, how much they can waffle on about "vision", and a catchy slogan. Talking policy would be falling on deaf (or I should say, dense) ears anyway. I recall how Abbott couldn't even go for swim without people snickering over his racing bathers. I think that says it all about many people's attitude towards an intelligent policy debate. They either don't really give a toss about policies or don't have any chance of understanding it anyway.
Mr. Drysdale, I fear your political preferences may be showing (Abbott's changing the sermon, November 5).
But more importantly, you are probably aware that "the connections" of a horse entered for the Melbourne Cup rarely provide pre-race details of the race strategy that will be followed by their jockey.
For much the same reason, any political party which finds itself in opposition withholds details of its platform until the electoral date is fixed and there is less chance of its better vote-catching ideas being stolen, or artfully smothered.
One would have expected you to be aware of that necessary caution.
I am sure that closer to the election Tony Abbott and his party members WILL announce their "vision for the future ", their policies and how they will be funded, in a satisfactory manner (Abbott's changing the sermon, November 5).
This far out from the election they would simply be feeding good ideas to a totally incompetent government who, even if they understood them and tried to implement them to thwart Abbott, would undoubtedly 'muck them up' as they have with almost everything they have attempted so far. Several good ideas resulting in several disasters!
Far better to hold back on the good ideas ("don't cast pearls before swine" comes to mind) than to allow this incompetent bunch to attempt to implement them and waste the funds before a competent government gets the opportunity to put them in place.
As far as funding any policies goes, initially the concern will be to rebuild the financial base, so stupidly squandered under Labor, to allow the policies to be funded. This may prove a big ask for a first-term coalition government and it may require a "Howard-like" duration to produce the results we desire.
In hindsight, it's a pity that we 'threw the baby out with the bath-water' when we rejected Howard and elected Labor under Rudd.