March 14, 2007

Into the Void

I know the opinion polls have been a little hostile to the ruling Liberals of late, but I would have thought they would aspire to putting in a strong and dignified effort during the next eight months or so, on the off chance that the electorate at large, the hoi polloi of our great land, might find it within their black embittered hearts to despise them less than they do today, at least sufficiently so to allow them to hold onto enough seats to form a footy team, if not an opposition party.

That was my naive imaging, as a member of the great unwashed, and, therefore, not nearly as clever as the average politician.

Instead of slugging it out for a full 12 rounds the Liberals have cut the rope. Just like that. No forewarning. No desperate or agonising decision. No conscious to wrestle. No howling or death inducing cold or wind.

They simply took a knife and cut the rope with a swift and irrevocable movement.

Appropriately enough, it was the Federal Health Minister, Tony Abbott, who did the deed, having obviously borrowed a frighteningly sharp scalpel, determining, contrary to all of his political and religious convictions, that euthanasing the entire party was humane and necessary.

This is how he did it:

“In a column in The Sydney Morning Herald today, Mr Abbott said Mr Rudd's story of losing his father when he was 11 and his family's subsequent eviction from their farm "sounds too self-serving.

"There have now been a number of suggestions that, with Rudd, all is not quite as it seems," Mr Abbott wrote.

Mr Abbott referred to recent media reports which raised doubt over Mr Rudd's claims that his father died as a result of medical neglect following a car accident in Queensland and his claims he and his family were then immediately evicted from their farm.”

When wise and wily journalists record “the incident” that killed the Howard / Costello Federal reign, this will be in the top 100 list of the top 156 political journalists in the country.

In my list: this is the moment that Tony Abbott destroyed all personal political and priministerial ambitions.


  1. Anonymous11:18 PM

    To blatantly plagiarise myself from another thread, if you sat on the treasury benches at the present you would read the ALP primary vote figures and suffer the same reaction the ALP did reading same back in '96: call for a well connected headhunter experienced in government outplacements.

    Then the Keating reaction was the same: destroy the character of the opposition leader with the application of as much vitriol as was able to be laid hands on. It worked with Hewson - with the hapless fellow's enthusiastic, if not intended, help - why not "Lazarus with a triple by-pass"?

    Then, as now, a cynical electorate, tired of the increasingly dismissive and "take for granted" manner of an incumbent grown fat on thin skinned, vacuous and hapless opposition, found what it saw as a credible alternative to a PM it had never really liked, let alone loved. It would not be swayed and nor, do I think, will they be now. It is too late.

    Howard now finds himself in a position very like Keating’s. He is not well liked. Truth be told, he never has been. He has been near enough to “put up with”. He has bribed the electorate, scared the electorate, berated the electorate, lectured - at length - the electorate and treated the electorate with the contempt and conceit of a power born of a politically illiterate opposition often gelded of any courage. Worse, he and his – this month sedulous, next seditious – deputy have treated that same electorate to a protracted primogeniture soap opera of Number 96 proportions.

    It would seem, on current polling trends, there is a mood of reconciliation afoot. Political accounts – core and non core – will be reconciled and balanced before the year is out.

    I may well be wrong – have been many times before – but I believe government strategy will be focussed on minimising the losses. If it does not succeed, the after election recriminations will make the Latham fiasco look like a Sponge Bob Squarepants cartoon.

  2. Anonymous11:36 PM

    Caz, I don't think Abbott was ever a serious prospect for PM. Too divisive, too conservative even for many Catholics. (And I say this as a person who actually quite likes him.)

    I really don't think the original column was as dire as you seem to say. Actually, I am not sure if you are saying that. The last couple of paragraphs confused me.


  3. No one would ever have picked Downer as a viable leader either - and it turned out that he wasn't - if most of the party is wiped out by the end of the year, Abbott might be one of the only leadership aspirants still standing.

    Leaving that aside, it's not whether he was a serious contender, it's whether he seriously aspires to being PM, and clearly he does.

    This is low-life stuff. It has nothing to do with politics, nor honesty, nor someone being "self serving" about their past.

    Fact: Rudd's father died when Rudd was 11 years old. Does it matter a damn the cause of death? No, of course it doesn't.

    There is nothing uncommon or astonishing about the "head of the household" dying and the family subsequently being left in precarious financial and housing circumstances.

    Yet, there is Abbott, carrying on like a pork chop, as if such a familiar story has been manipulated by Rudd, or embellished, worse, seemingly, almost implying that maybe the dad didn't die, or that he died some other way - see point above - as if that has relevance to the bare facts; as if that has relevance to federal politics; as if casting these spurious statements about reflects on Rudd’s honesty, rather than Abbott’s own basic character.

    Talk about irrelevant gutter loitering.

  4. Anonymous10:11 AM

    Caz, I really don't see it as so bad. As some commentators have said, it isn't directly about what happened then, it's about Rudd's character now if he is prepared to deliberately but carelessly use his past to enhance his reputation now. He is the one who has raised these stories to prove his bona fides as a true Labor person, because, after all, he doesn't fit your average profile of Labor right now. (Gerard Henderson made the point that Labor politicians had told him how Rudd was "not really one of them".) To exaggerate, confabulate or even be careless about stories from your past is also not entirely innocent if it hurts other people, as it evidently has the children of the family in Eumundi.

    The investigations have also been done by journalists with no apparent prompting from Liberals.

    Character is a fair enough issue to be taken into consideration for those who enter politics, especially if making a run for leadership of the nation. Do you doubt that Latham's questionable treatment of women and general immaturity was not a fair thing to know about?

    There are limits of course. Generally, failed relationships should be left out of consideration, and arguably Latham was badly done by the Fairfax press giving so much coverage to his first wife. But the story there did really seem to go to his character in an interesting way (remember the showing of a porn video at a mixed dinner?) that I sort of forgave the press for covering it. Anyway, going back further, John Hewson had the same thing hurt him too, so it was fair enough turn for a Labor contender to be hurt by an ex-wife too!

    The current issues about Rudd won't hurt him anywhere near as much, but if a family in Eumundi is hurt by him repeating a story several times about their father and they believe it is not true, it's fair enough to hear about it, and for us to wonder what it means about Rudd now.

    Having said that, it won't help for the Liberals to keep dwelling on the story now. The point has been made, let's move on. I think it's main political benefit is that it has sown a seed of doubt for some swinging voters.


  5. Steve – there are far more credible ways to plant seeds of doubt than this, and far more relevant subjects upon which to put Rudd’s personal character on trial, if that’s what the Libs really believe this year’s election is going to be all about – and therein throbs their first mistake.

    They are making themselves look like irrelevant bully boys from some other era.

    Not a single voter will have a “doubt” raised in their mind about Rudd over this scuttle buck.

    That’s the problem with taking the low-ground, it backfires. They’ve already had a taste of that on relevant matters, eg, Bourke – and that was at least relevant.

    Journalists and politicians are so absorbed in every nook and cranny of their own little universe that they think the public is equally absorbed with the trite and trivia. For the most part, they aren’t. These aren’t the things that determine a person’s vote. They are definitely not the things that determine a landslide shift from one party to another. Not ever ever.

    And what the hell is a “true” Labor man these days? Gawd, does the ALP still hold onto that antiquated and mythical notion? They don’t deserve to win if they actually believe that only some types of people are legitimate ALP material, ipso facto, they only represent particular types of people; they only want particular types of people to vote for them? That’s what the Libs should be picking up and running with, not a little boy’s dead father.

  6. Anonymous10:53 AM

    Having voted for Labor in the past myself when the conservative side was in a hopeless state federally and in Queensland, I shouldn't be written off as a potential Labor voter forever. The stories have sown a seed of doubt in my mind about Rudd. I think I therefore disprove your sweeping generalisation!

  7. I can't believe that this of all possible things has murkied your thoughts on Rudd.

    The media have wrung his childhood story, rather than Rudd. They are the spinners. Rudd quite reasonably and logically dates his personal determination and social awareness of the unfairness of things from his childhood experiences - wow, how amazing! Would anyone who has lost a parent in childhood not be affected, not have their motivations and life path coloured by that event? This isn't even psych 101. It's plain obvious.

    I personally have no particular thoughts on Rudd. I am able to distinguish that he is a different shade of beige than Howard, but that's about the extent of it for now. Perhaps things will evolve during the year such that I will be provided me with reason to have stronger and more colourful thoughts.

    You "disapprove" of my generalisations?

    Good thing I'm not in search of approval.

  8. Anonymous12:07 PM

    Good grief Caz, you are so excited by this that you misread my words. I "disprove" (not "disapprove") your statement that:

    'Not a single voter will have a “doubt” raised in their mind about Rudd over this scuttle buck.'

    I suggest a nice cup of tea...:)

    Meanwhile, I am disappointed you did not comment on my octopus videos.

  9. Indeed Steve, you DID "disprove" me!

    I had wondered why you were going to the trouble of "disapproving" of my ramblings!

  10. Anonymous1:55 PM

    "The stories have sown a seed of doubt in my mind about Rudd."

    Ewww, that says more about you than Rudd. Nasty.

  11. Anonymous2:42 PM

    Darlene, I could understand this revulsion if it was Liberal party operatives scouring Eumundi for dirt on the 11 year old Rudd, and it was raised in Parliament. It wasn't, and I doubt it will be used in Parliament in future either.

    Look, I agree that of itself it is unlikely to do much, but if other people start coming out with other stories indicating that Rudd exaggerates or confabulates stuff, then it will be water to the seed of doubt.

    And as Gerard Henderson pointed out, Rudd was not shy of calling Howard and outright liar, when I think in fact the best you can say is that he can be slippery and spins the story, as does every politician. To call a fellow politician an outright liar is a pretty big character attack, in my books, particularly when no enquiry has actually make a finding of that against Howard.

    But when other politicians take advantage of a journalists story to say, hey, maybe Rudd doesn't get his personal history quite right, it's some gutter level politics.

    I just don't get the outrage here.


  12. I don't get the sensitivity of some people to criticism of Howard. Sure he lies - I've always taken it as a given that politicians *will* lie. Politicians will say one thing to their party and another to the electorate; it's inevitable. No-one is ever going to be able to win an election by telling them in acutely boring detail about the minutiae of administrative activities that will be their job. Politicians win over an electorate by using big generalities, on grand themes ('freedom' vs. 'equality', etc.)

    Regardless of all this, the coalition is probably still in with a good chance - polls are one thing, and outrageously insensitive statements by Abbott and co are another thing - but the fact remains that the Coalition has a sizeable majority in the lower house and Labor is going to have to work damn hard to win all the seats they need.

    Remember all the doom and gloom statements in the media three years ago when Howard won? How this was a dismal loss for Labor and Latham, and how they were 'cast into the wilderness' for another six years, minimum?

    Throw a couple of opinion polls their way and see how they change their tune!

  13. Anonymous5:06 PM

    Tim, many people will agree with you that all politicians "lie", but I thought the unwritten rule was that politicians don't call other politicians liars without proof of a specific lie. If they didn't follow that rule, the term would just get used every day and in every question time and people would get bored with its overuse. (Just like people who use a swear word just to fill in spaces in a sentence.) Steve

  14. Oh crap - you have an octopus video up!

    Yes Steve, I forgot to look.

    You'll have to stop being so prolific, so that we have some chance of keeping up.


    Steve is the Steve of Opinion Dominion fame, linked in the left sidebar - FYI - for other readers.

  15. It’s the “vibe” Steve. For 11 years.

    My brief, and not random, perusal of letters to the editor over the last couple of weeks revealed 100% consistent public disgust at the Libs besmirching, and most especially casting aspirations on the honesty of other pollies.

    So, as much as no lies have been “proven” the public would seem to recognize that the line between slippery and spinning, and hard assed lies, gets darned anorexic after 11 years and an economy sized vat of KY jelly. The Teflon has worn off, but Howard and his lads haven’t caught on. It’s this, as much as anything, that’s making them look suspiciously like school boy amateurs instead of 11 veterans of the game, with all the strength that would normally go with being in power and running a hot economy.

    Yes Tim you are right. I certainly believed that the ALP had two terms before they would get within cooee of winning anything. This was based primarily on two things: the size of the Liberal win and the ALPs grim determination to keep big Kim as leader.

    Of course, there could be a massive swing to the ALP, and a massive majority of the primary vote, but they could also still lose – it would not be the first time – because of our preferential system, as well as the significant and unpredictable effect of results in marginals. Then there’s the Senate, of which the ALP has a very poor record of getting the numbers. Gawd, I can think of nothing more tedious than the ALP winning the House but not having the numbers in the Senate. Oh, spare me the running commentary on such a situation!

    So far as I can tell, the predictions about seat numbers is based on a uniform swing, and that’s improbable.

    The biggest shocker of the election is going to be how many people vote with their “hearts” instead of their “hip pockets”, because that has probably never ever happened before, at least not in this little brown land. (People are sure not giving any appearance of voting about policy.) Voters seem to believe that the good times are so good that even the ALP couldn’t possibly bugger up the economy. Well, that will be the second big shocker.

  16. The thing that just stuns me about the idea of using this as a way to attack is that it assumes that anyone who isn't a liar should remember quite clearly and accurately exactly what happened to them during the most traumatic thing that ever happened to them despite being ELEVEN years old.

    Hell, I can't even begin to think of the stupidity of that as an attack. If someone were to ask me about my parent's divorce (which happened when i was about eleven [I think] hell I can't even be sure about that) I'd be able to give them my idea of it, but my parents might well remember things differently.

    Just because my ideas of what was going on at the time might have been wrong, doesn't mean they didn't shape who I am now just as much as if they were right.

    or something like that.