In the past 24 hours the previous two Prime Ministers, John Howard and Paul Keating, have made appearances in the media. Howard was on 4 Corners talking about Tony Abbott; Keating was interviewed on Fran Kelly this morning. Their respective appearances would have only served to convince supporters of both that we are well rid of the other, and Oh! That the one we like were still in power. There’s no guessing which one I miss!
Seeing Howard last night merely reinforced that the 24 November 2007 was a great, great day in this nation's history. I still remember with supreme joy seeing the image on the right appear during the ABC telecast on election night (and recall the wild cheers from those at the National Tally Room when it came on the screen). Howard last night was his usual nothing self. Here’s a standard line:
Tony's an authentic person and I think a lot of people see Tony as somebody who actually believes in something.
Yeah authentic… really? Like when he was authentically against climate change policy, then authentically for it, then against it… etc etc etc
Howard yesterday was also in the newspapers attacking Rudd for not having done anything since being elected:
"Economic credentials depend on more than spending a lot of money to stimulate the economy when there's an overseas recession. One of the reasons why we had a good reputation in this area was that we had undertaken economic reforms. Now there are no economic reforms the Rudd government has undertaken."
Which is I guess Howard’s way of saying he left the country in a shocking state and Rudd should be doing all he can to bring in the economic reforms that he couldn’t be bothered doing in 11 years? I would have thought Howard would like the fact that he thinks Rudd hasn’t changed much. But look, let us leave Howard criticising Rudd for something illogical and untrue, and go to more enjoyable things – Paul Keating letting rip against the Opposition.
Keating was notionally being interviewed to talk about his hope for compulsory superannuation to be increased to 12% (something I agree with, though others like Peter Martin don’t) but at the 14 minute mark, Fran Kelly turned to current politics – making mention of today’s Newspoll (which was unchanged from last fortnight’s 52-48 to the ALP, and Pref PM also unchanged at 55-30 to Rudd). Kelly has never seen a Newspoll that she has not believed shows the end of times for Rudd, and so she wanted to know Keating’s thoughts.
He talked of Abbott taking over the Liberal Party – saying he had consolidated the right wing “all the nutters are behind him” but didn’t think that Abbott would get the middle ground. On Barnaby Joyce he referred to him as “Bjelke-Petersen junior” saying he “was running around making economic pronouncements which are foolish and extreme” (I guess a nice bit of irony from the guy who said Australia could end up as a Banana Republic!). And of the Opposition in Government he said “you wouldn’t trust this mob with a jam jar full of 5 cent bits”.
Kelly then wanted to know why the electorate is going off the Rudd Government (Kelly apparently thinks an election winning lead is a sign of unpopularity – she even put in the slogan “all talk no action” – well done Fran, keep going with those Liberal talking points!). Keating pointed out:
“The Government did a miraculous job in saving the national economy from the deepest recession that has come along since the Depression. You know, the one country out of the 26 member states of the OECD that had no negative growth” (I think there was one other actually).
He continued, “I mean the Rudd Government should be re-elected on that basis alone! I mean getting that right… if they did not one other thing in this Parliament but saving us from the massive crunch which is happening in Britain and the United States now, and in Germany, France and places like Greece, to save us from that kind of... that kind of holocaust, economic holocaust, they deserve re-election”.
He then acknowledged: “But I think the emergency is over now, and the Prime Minister understands that [ie during such an emergency a Government will often be “popular” but not during “normal times”] and this is why he’s on things like Health; he’s trying to deal with these long term structural issues”.
His commentary was quite timely given this morning I was unfortunately watching the ABC2’s Breakfast show (an eminently missable program). Chris Bowen was being interviewed by Joe O’Brien. O’Brien asked Bowen in a rather flippant voice: “Other than steer the nation through the Global Financial Crisis, what has the Government done?” When Bowen pointed out that the GFC was a pretty big deal, O’Brien said “and I acknowledged it”. Well yes he did but with such a manner that made it quite clear he thought it was a doddle. I can just see O’Brien interview Federer and asking, “Besides winning three of the last four Grand Slam titles, what have you done in the last 12 months?”
Keating is right – the emergency is over – because the Government saved the day! But the media for sure has moved on. Kept Australia out of a global recession? Snore, that’s so 2009, what have you done for me lately?
Kelly then asked Keating what he thought about the coming election and Abbott’s chances. Here PJK let rip:
"If Tony Abbott ends up the Prime Minister of Australia, you've got to say, ‘God help us. Gold help us’. [He is] truly an intellectual nobody and [has] no policy ambition. I mean ‘is that all there is?’… I mean is that where we’d be really?
I mean, look he turned up in the last couple years when I was Prime Minister, those regarded him as a resident nutter on their side.. you know, where is the thought out position? A conservative party can have a thought out position. I saw this program last night with Malcolm Turnbull [4 Corners], well I mean the differences! Turnbull had an articulated, intellectual, moderate, thought-out conservative position. The fact is that Abbott does not have this”.
Kelly then asked about the story Abbott floated yesterday, that we overdo the “welcome to country” things – that it is just tokenism – a position quickly supported by Wilson Tuckey, which says a fair bit I would think. Keating responded:
“We have a chance in this part of the world as a society to turn over a new leaf.
Of Abbott’s position he said: “Here we are an immigrant country, but by the way we are not big enough to acknowledge that we did the dispossessing?”
He continued: “As I said in my Redfern Speech [ a great speech, by the way] we did the murders, we brought the alcohol and the diseases, we did these things… and goodness of heart and honesty is something that is a core requirement on a good country. You know, truth is a necessary ingredient in a society with its head in the air.
If you want to go round telling lies all your life, historical lies like Tony Abbott does – fine! But haven’t we moved past that? Do we really want little John Howard? It was bad enough having the real John Howard, you know with all of the pre-Copernican obscurantism he had. But we want just another little John Howard? You know at least Howard was a militant, aggressive conservative driving in reverse through the rear-vision mirror. Do we want the poor-man’s Howard?
Ah yes. I know he doesn’t change any votes, and some will say he hurts the ALP with swinging voters. I don’t give a damn! It was good to have him back, especially when you compare his performance with today’s Question Time.
Today’s topics of questioning from the Libs were Asylum Seekers, Insulation and then at the end, the Education Stimulus.
The asylum seeker issue is easily the one guaranteed to bring out the worst in both sides. There was chance when Turnbull was leader of the Libs for there to be once again a rational and bipartisan approach to the issue. Instead both he and then Rudd took the low road. Turnbull blew the dog whistle, and Rudd responded by going all over the top about people smugglers etc. Today Rudd was more reserved and methodical – but it’s too late. The issue is with us until at least the election. Though I really don’t think it has too much punch – especially as those who side with Abbott on this issue would already be with him. But still the Libs think it’s a winner and so they asked five questions on it.
Rudd’s response to each was to point out the numbers of asylum seekers that came under Howard, and he also rather subtly started clearing the way to allow asylum seekers to be processed in Australia (he pointed out that it happened under Howard in 2007 even when the so-called Pacific Solution was in operation). When it happens will the fact it happened under Howard matter to the Libs? What??! Will facts and logic matter? Of course not! But, sigh, the yellow hordes are coming, so let’s blow that whistle…
The Government once again was focussed on Health. Rudd was outlining the Government’s next attack on Abbott – the number of “warnings” he received over the shortage of Doctors. This will be a lot like the ALP’s attack on Costello about the number of “warnings” the Reserve Bank gave the Howard Government over interest rates. The good thing about this is that a warning can be anything you want, so long as you reads it that way! Rudd was saying Abbott was warned 7 times about the shortage of doctors, 9 times about the shortage of nurses, 3 times about the shortage of specialists, 4 times about hospital funding, 2 times about shortage of surgeons, and 3 times about funding of the health system. Expect to hear that again and again this year.
Abbott won’t like it – especially given his reaction to the claim he ripped $1b out of the Health system. Lindsay Tanner today took up that line, and Abbott and Pyne did not like it one bit. Tanner referred to the Budget Papers (page 179):
Australian Health Care Agreements Expense ($m)
2003-04 2004-05 2005-06 2006-07Department of Health and Ageing -108.9 -172.0 -264.6 -372.9
Abbott and Pyne both called Tanner a liar. The Speaker got very shirty with Abbott, and by all right should have warned him. But Abbott just better suck it up, because the ALP will keep saying it every day till election day – especially as they know it really annoys him. Rudd in fact used the topic as the basis for the last answer of Question Time, and he really went in hard on the issue – drawing a response from Abbott that the Prime Minister was being very “un-Prime Ministerial” (whatever that means).
The questions on insulation were more about either dodgy companies or bills for fires. Rudd studiously non-answered them all and pretty much dumped it all on Combet’s lap. I think we can say for sure that if Combet is able to keep this issue “insulated”, he will be given a very senior position after the election. (The fact is he should already have one.)
The Education Spending questions were carbon copies of those from last year, except this time they were based on a story from the Sydney Morning Herald, and not The Australian. The story was based on complaints by the NSW Teachers Union. Would Julia miss an opportunity to get stuck into the Teacher’s Union? Hell no! She took great delight in calling the link between the Opposition, the NSW Teacher Union, the Australian Education Union and the Shooters Party of NSW as a great “cabal” – given they were the groups against the MySchools website. She laughed at Abbott basing questions on the positions of a union – describing Abbott as “Comrade Tony” – especially as “one by one they [the opposition] invoke unions [which] they spent the entire time in office trying to abolish”.
The politics of this Education Spending will be this – come election time, will the ALP be able to sell all the buildings around the country in virtually every school as a good thing, or will the Liberals be able to persuade the electorate the buildings were bad and not needed. I think the ALP has an easier task.
After Question Time Abbott did seek to claim he had been misrepresented over the Health Funding, but he didn’t seek to correct any record regarding his views on women. During Question Time, Jenny Macklin took a shot at him for not repudiating in the 4 Corners episode things he wrote while back at uni. He wrote then:
I think it would be folly to expect that women will ever dominate or even approach equal representation in a large number of areas simply because their aptitudes, abilities and interests are different for physiological reasons.
His response last night on 4 Corners?
TONY ABBOTT: Well, I just don't want to go over old ground too much Liz. Ah, I don't want to repudiate what was said, but I don't want people to think that what I thought as a 21 year old is necessarily what I think as a 52 year old.
He doesn’t want to repudiate the view that women will not be able to approach equal representation in certain areas purely because of their physiological aptitude, ability or interests???!
As Keating said, if this guy ever becomes PM, God help us.