Week 8: Tony Abbott and the Washington Post Interview

Australia has had a long standing (and very strong) relationship with the US, particularly under Gillard and Howard. My history teacher in high school attributed this to the US bailing us out during World War Two, after Britain conveniently stopped answering our calls for assistance. Or something, I didn’t pay close attention in High School History. Our relationship with the Us has strengthened over the past 70 years, with the passage of the Australian and US Free Trade agreement and our ongoing military support.  Our relationship with the US is so strong, we are being seriously considered as the 51st state and may rename our country to become “Ameristrarlia”.

Well, not really. But I hope you can understand how important our relationship with our big brother, US, is to Australia.

Evidently, Prime Minister Abbott didn’t have my superior knowledge of international relations and political etiquette  when it came to a Washington Post interview with Lally Weymouth. PM Abbott started off reasonably well, by saying “I will do everything I humanly can to work closely with the government and the people of the United States. Australia will be a good ally of the U.S. and a good friend and partner — strategic and economic — to the United States.”. He also expressed continuing support for the marine’s base in Australia and was hopeful for the opportunity to meet with Obama in the future, however understood how busy the President was.

As the interview progressed however, it became apparent that Weymouth is quite the skilled interviewer, because he is clearly a little too relaxed in his answers. After a while, he starts to gradually revert back to attack mode. Abbott was queried what he meant when he said that Australia was “open for business” once again, to which he responded with –

The previous government would often say the right thing but it would invariably do the wrong thing when it came to business. There was an explosion in red tape and green tape. There was a whole thicket of new restrictions in the labor market. There were big new taxes. It was a government which thought that there was no problem that more public servants, higher taxes and further regulation couldn’t fix.“.

He also suggested that he would do his darndest to shrink the public service and he was looking forward to having a bonfire of red and green tape. Sounds like a party really, I love a good old fashioned bon fire every now and then. The Prime Minister was then quizzed about the roll back of Labor’s NBN. He could have responded with something to the effect of “Considering the global economic situation and deteriorating fiscal outlook, we believed it would be inadvisable to pursue costly investment in infrastructure at this point in time. While we appreciate the former Government’s vision for a broadband network for the future, we believe it would be inopportune to consider such as venture at this stage of the game.”

But no. Abbott responded with this delightful chestnut in relation to the ALP’s fibre to the node policy –

Welcome to the wonderful, wacko world of the former government.” When prompted further, Abbott responded with ” I thought it was the most incompetent and untrustworthy government in modern Australian history.”

It was like returning to the wonderful world where Abbott was opposition leader and he was hurling negativities upon negativities in our general direction. But this time, he’s doing this as our elected representative on a well respected, US publication. Awks much? Of course, he gets better –

They made a whole lot of commitments, which they scandalously failed to honor. They did a lot of things that were scandalously wasteful and the actual conduct of government was a circus. They were untrustworthy in terms of the carbon tax. They were incompetent in terms of the national broadband network. They were a scandal when it came to their own internal disunity. They made a whole lot of grubby deals in order to try and perpetuate themselves in power.  It was an embarrassing spectacle, and I think Australians are relieved they are gone.

I just want to take a few moments to deconstruct that nugget of a quote. First, the reference to the great “lie” that was the Carbon Tax. The Carbon Tax became one of the most effective policies at reducing our carbon emissions. It was also a political necessity to get the Greens to form a temporary coalition with the ALP and help them to form Government.  Second, the reference to the great incompetence that was the NBN, that struggled to stay under budget and within the allocated time frame. Let’s cut the NBN a bit of slack here -this represented one of the most significant infrastructure investments in Australia’s history. I suspect the Harbour Bridge, or the Opera House, the Snowy River scheme and so on weren’t completely in a timely, fiscally responsible manner. Third, the ALP disunity. Well, I can’t argue with that one – it’s hard to have a unified party when your members are running around with knives and blabbing their deep dark secrets to the media.

The point is – he shouldn’t have made those remarks. That is not the conduct that befits a Prime Minister, irrespective of where in the political spectrum they lie. Sometimes, I wonder whether Abbott realises that he is actually Prime Minister, and he can take a small break with the electioneering.

The aftershocks of that interview have been felt in the media. Norman Ornstein, from the American Institute apparently “winced” when he read the interview, which he attributed to as being a bit of a “rookie mistake”. (SMH: 2013) However, like talking about your exes on the first date, talking about previous governments with disdain is also a bit of a diplomatic no no.  In an unexpected display of wit, our modern day Oscar Wilde, Doug Cameron, ALP Senator described Abbott as the “Wacko” and stated that he was embarrassed by the PM’s display. (SBS: 2013) It remains to be seen whether this will affect Australia /US relations, I suspect it won’t. But still, one should expect more from our elected leader, even if his mandate was the fact that his party wasn’t the ALP.

Until next time, brace yourself, climate change is coming.

Australian Labor Party, Australian Politics, Cuts, Liberal National Party, Tony Abbott, Uncategorized

Week 5: Is that a wedding in your pocket, or is my expense allowance pleased to see you?

Believe it or not, Abbott has been our Prime Minister for a little over a month now. Potentially more frightening still, the ALP hasn’t decided who will be the next opposition leader and, like that  Arts student we all know and love, has requested an extension on the ballot.

Over the past few weeks, Abbott has slashed funding for anything to do with Science, making the decision to eliminate the science department or any other branch of Government that hints to the existence of climate change. Personally, I’m not shocked at all by these announcements and I continue to baulk at people who do so.

Politically Oblivious Friend: Did you know they were going to cut back the science department? I’m shocked and appalled. Plus what about climate change?

Me: Well, Abbott has held the view that, and I loosely quote, climate change is a lot of “crap”. So it’s hardly surprising that he would do such a thing.

POF: But … I voted for the LNP and I expected better.

Me: That’s your first mistake. Never mind. Take some panadol, have a nap. You can even cry into this framed photo I have of Turnbull when he was leader of the opposition. Remember those days? He stood for something, and not just on something or someone. Just think – this could be over in three years if you play your cards right.

POF: Thanks. I feel a bit better now. I’d better go, I think I hear the women knocking on the cabinet door again. God they’re persistent.

One area of political life which hasn’t been subject to budgetary thriftiness is weddings, also known as the great economic stimulant of the Abbott Government. It was recently announced that Prime Minister Tony Abbott claimed $600 to attend Peter Slipper‘s wedding, the very man who holds the dubious honour of being a political pass the parcel that no one ever seems to want. Naturally, Slipper is flabbergasted at the flagrant hypocrisy of Abbott being able to repay the amount he was able to claim in 2006, an opportunity that was never afforded to him and he now faces potential charges for the misuse of cab charges. (SMH:2013) Apparently attending weddings are an expensive business. Attorney General George Brandis and veritable Comedienne of the National Party, Barnaby Joyce also claimed considerable expenses to attend Michael Smith’s wedding. It apparently costs a few thousand dollars in tax payer funding to attend the wedding of a shock jock. ( SMH: 2013 ) Prime Minister Tony Abbott also claimed thousands to attend Mirabella wedding, however in light of Ms Mirabella’s delightful reputation, he should have just kept the money as payment for a community service. ( ABC : 2013)

The scary thing though is not the fact that Brandis apparently dominated the dance floor, but the formerly loud voices of accountability aren’t being heard. I’m not one to say this too frequently, but where is Chris Bowen when you need him? He politely requested the LNP “come forth” and admit they were wrong. Christine Milne  has announced that the Greens will propose accountability legislation once Parliament resumes ( SMH: 2013) however I can’t imagine that would garner much support as both sides have shown how capable they are at helping themselves to the public purse.

There have been public calls to tighten the scope for politicians to claim back compensation. I understand that the Department of Finance and Deregulation specifies that expenses for official business such as “meetings of a Governent advisory committee or taskforce are permitted”. I also understand that claims can be made for “functions representing a minister of presiding officer”.  (I don’t really, but let’s pretend that I do) We should make things much more straightforward and eliminate the legalese – “if in doubt, there’s no pay out”. Therefore, any event that does not relate to the good governance of Australia is not entitled to receive tax payer funding, particularly times in budgetary distress. That’s right, I’m looking at you weddings.

Dr Hewson summed it up beautifully when he said that the LNP were at the risk of loosing their reputations as economic managers by retrieving funds from the taxpayers purse. Abbott will need to take swift action on the issue of MP expenditure in the same way Howard did in 1996-7. It will cost him a few ministers, but if history teaches us anything it’s that Australian voters have remarkably poor collective memories when sport is on the front page.

Australian Labor Party, Australian Politics, Julia Gillard, Kevin Rudd, leadership, Tony Abbott, Women

Week 4 : A Conversation with Gillard and Summers

Credit - Instagram: @theagonisedone and Twitter: @Fiona_MH

Credit – Instagram: @theagonisedone and Twitter: @Fiona_MH

I was incredibly fortunate to be able to attend the Gillard talk which was at the Sydney Opera House last night with two amazing friends of mine. Regardless of your political affiliation, to be able to see a woman of such intellect, passion and charm such as Ms Gillard was an opportunity not to be missed.

Credit: Instagram - @theagonisedone

Credit: Instagram – @theagonisedone

On my way into the Opera House, I turned into something of a fan girl. I walked past former treasurer Wayne Swan, who was wandering around the Quays, and squeaked with nervous joy. I also saw other ABC personalities such as Mike Bowers, with his trademark camera in tow and radio presenter Fran Kelly. It was at that point I realised I watched far too much ABC for my own good.

The opening of the talk was electric – Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” came blaring out of the speakers as Julia Gillard stepped out on stage. What greeted her was an auditorium of adoring fans giving her a much deserved standing ovation. I personally was a bit overwhelmed by the wave of love and emotion that I nearly shed a tear or two. The love in the room for her was simply awe inspiring and I think it was a way for supporters to try to tend the wounds of her time in office. My friends and I were also absolutely delighted that she looked radiant – I think at one point we all swooned and had a bit of a feminist girl crush on her. Gillard looked revitalised, happy and the twinkle in her eye had resiliently returned. Plus, Tim did an excellent job on her hair.

The talk itself was a revelation – her strength and resolve are an inspiration not only to women, but to everyone who has had to endure such hostility. Her charm really came to the fore in the conversations, she was witty, funny and just an absolute delight to listen to.  It was a real shame that most Australians simply never got the opportunity to see that side of her, they were too focused on the vitriol. At least now we will be able to take some time to reflect upon Gillard’s accomplishments while she was PM of a hostile government – they were significant and too lengthy to list here.

Credit - Instagram @theagonisedone

Credit – Instagram @theagonisedone

Looking at Gillard last night, my friends and I reflected upon how different Australia could have been if she was given the respect she very much deserved. But at least Gillard came back into the welcoming arms of her audience and hopefully we reminded her that history will be kind to her, and there were people who will remember her legacy as the First Prime Minister.

After the speech and after having a few vinos overlooking the Harbour, I rewatched the passionated Sexism and Misogyny speech. I remember that day so vividly when I first heard the speech. I was so proud of my Prime Minister to call out the vitriol and the sheer disrespect of the opposition and it was a speech that seemed to resonate with a lot of women, not only in Australia but worldwide. Listening to it again, it was just disheartening to see how minute the progress had been for women in the LNP, with only Julie Bishop in cabinet. We have gone from a female PM, Governor General and growing representation in parliament and the Senate, to just Julie Bishop. It really makes you think.

This morning, my dad proceeded to ruin my breakfast by telling me about what Alan Jones thought about the talk. Apparently he was absolutely livid that Gillard was not only alive and well, but people would actually fork out

Instagram - @theagonisedone

Instagram – @theagonisedone

money to hear her talk. I simply don’t understand Jones’ hostility – his party won, the status quo has returned and the Earth as we know it continues to spin. Leave us progressives to unite and celebrate an intelligent, articulate and highly skilled political leader. His rage also extended to the ABC who kindly decided to broadcast the speech. In true Jones’ style, he called for the ABC to be privatised to prevent this nonsense from being shown to the people. Misogynist, thy name is Alan Jones.

Thank you Gillard – thank you for showing women what is possible and thank you for your service to improving the lives of Australians. History will be more than kind to you. It wasn’t easy being the first, but someone had to do it. Let’s hope that is is easier for the next future Prime Minister and that we all learn to be much more mature about women in power.

I’ll be taking the next few weeks off this blog as apparently I need to study my law textbooks and not the ABC. Hopefully, by that time, Abbott will have stopped the boats, developed a policy position and the ALP will have a leader. Not going to hold my breath on any of those though.