Yesterday was to be my last political post for the year, but today Tony Abbott announced his new Shadow Cabinet, and well hell, you can’t let such a joyous thing go past without comment. A quick glance at the list revealed three names – Kevin Andrews, Bronwyn Bishop and Philip Ruddock. All three have been strapped to the table, undergone 24 hours of Frankenstein-like electric shock therapy, and somehow got back to the vertical. That the three would be returned to the front bench says pretty much everything about Abbott. He thinks the Howard years were great, and he thinks everyone wants to do them all again. I eagerly await his asking Peter Reith to make a return to politics…
The best way to judge the front bench is to have look at them going head to head with their ALP counterparts.
Now I’m not underestimating Abbott – he can run a scare campaign as good as anyone. But he is trapped in a bind of his own making. He made his name as a head kicker. He made his name saying he was the love child of Bronwyn Bishop and John Howard. He made his name saying “that’s bullshit” to Nicola Roxon in the last election campaign. The voters know him and have a good idea who he is. You either love him or well… you don’t.
The first Newspoll of his leadership reveals at the very least that people by and large don’t love him as much as they do Rudd. Rudd will be his usual methodical self, because doing that has kept his personal rating in the stratosphere. Abbott may like to think Rudd’s popularity is brittle, but the data doesn’t support that at all.
Rudd won’t slip up. Abbott will because he is Tony Abbott – he says what he thinks (prefaced by lots of “arrrrrs” as though he is almost physically trying to stop himself from saying what he wants to but knows he shouldn’t).
Abbott is the person the Liberal Party wheels out to the media for Lateline etc when the shit has hit the fan. That is his best role. The problem for him, though, is with the shadow cabinet he has selected, the fan will getting severe punishment, and it shouldn’t be the leader who has to front up every time.
Ask yourself if you think Swan is in any danger of being replaced before the election?
Hockey has barely laid a glove on supposedly the weakest link in the Rudd Cabinet. The 2010 Budget is looking set to come in better than expected, and Swan learns the script and sticks to it - he doesn’t always sell it all that great, he’s no orator, but at least he doesn’t come out with stupidities like Hockey did when he suggested higher unemployment was preferable to higher interest rates.
Hockey’s stocks have also been severely damaged by his woeful performance in the leadership spill. He went from being one who was seen (by some) as a potential leader, to a bit of a junior player, in need of a lot of time in the second grade before being elevated to the top job. And he is now no longer the main opposition economics person…
Oh geez. Where to begin. No I can’t. It’s too bloody easy.
Lindsay Tanner, the meanest, smartest, quickest wit on the ALP front bench, going up against the buffoon from the National Party.
Joyce will be savaged. He will say far too many stupid, stupid things. He is also a member of the National Party – the least financially prudent party going around – they exist to give their electorates ladles of pork. Now sure in 07, Swan went up against Costello, and many in the Liberal side thought it would be a slaughter. During the election campaign debate against Costello Swan however did well, and Costello did not sell in the people’s minds that Swan (nor Rudd) would be dangerous with the economy. But by then Costello’s heart wasn’t in it. He was tired from fighting and losing against Howard, and also he knew the election was lost.
Tanner is in no such state of mind. He will be absolutely brutal and he will keep going until Joyce is considered the biggest liability on the LNP front bench. The media will help him in this. On most economic issues, the media – seeking a good quote – will likely go to Joyce before going to Hockey. Joyce will give them a good quote, and an hour later the Tanner press release will destroy it.
2010 was not a great year for Julia. She performed well, but Pyne – with help from The Australian made her answer question after question about the schools’ stimulus program. The only problem for Pyne was that he relied too much on The Australian, and when their attacks were shown by and large to be over the top and only half of the story, he was made to look a bit silly. But Pyne is used to looking that way and so he kept going.
The big problem for Pyne is that while he might be able to criticise the spending, he has no Education policy (or at least not one that I can recall). And with Abbott now as the leader, the ALP will be able to run hard on a scare that Abbott will slash funding to public schools and universities. That will not be fun for Pyne to defend.
When Julia got the IR Bill through parliament, she probably thought her time working on IR would be much smaller. The Liberal Party were not stupid enough to bring up WorkChoices, and so the debate was mostly at the margins.
With Abbott in charge this has all changed. Gillard will run an all WorkChoices all the time line in Question Time. She will be helped by having right wing Senator Abetz as the Shadow. Abetz, who came to prominence through the Godwin Grech affair, is your standard Senator – best confined to Estimates hearings and kept as far from the publics’ gaze as possible. He is not a good salesmen. He is not the guy you would go to to win over the hearts and minds of the voters on the one issue they most hated last time round.
Ian “Chainsaw” Macfarlane won a few supporters through the way he handled the ETS Bill negotiations for Turnbull. Unfortunately these supporters did not include Tony Abbott. Macfarlane will do well against Albo – he can at least ask decent questions.
But he’s actually been screwed here by Abbott. Because Albanese now has the gift of Barnaby Joyce as shadow Finance Minister, Albo will keep hammering away at anything Joyce says (or indeed has said) in Dorothy Dixer after Dorothy Dixer.
He’ll also have the benefit of the economic stimulus which is now primarily infrastructure spending, and he’ll have Tony Abbott saying it should all be stopped – including the biggest infrastructure project of them all – the National Broadband Network. It’ll be easy pickings for Albo, and hard, hard yards for Chainsaw.
Yep, she’s still there. She’s still Deputy Leader. And she is still the lightest of lightweights on the Liberal front bench.
Smith won’t have to do much, Bishop will do the work for him.
Roxon is not the ablest member of the Government. But no one whispers about her being replaced. Dutton is considered a brightest hope for the Liberal Party, and yet he has not put a dent in Roxon. Now admittedly this is because the Howard Government’s performance on Health was so woeful and so when attacked, Roxon falls back on the “look how things were under you guys” line. It’s a cheap, easy line. However here again things don’t look good for Dutton – because who was the last Health Minister under Howard? Yep, Tony Abbott, so the cheap, easy line is now one targeted directly at the opposition leader.
Health is usually a dead end for anyone’s career – mostly because you are never seen to “succeed” and you thus carry a lot of negative baggage. Abbott has that baggage, and I can’t see Health being a winner for the Liberals. Sure the ALP has come up short of their goals, but is there anyone who thinks the public health system got better under the Howard Government? Health is always an ALP issue. It will remain so. And given Dutton will likely lose his seat, he’ll be a tad preoccupied as well.
I like Greg Hunt, but for those who think Peter Garrett has sold his soul, they ain’t seen nothing yet. Greg Hunt, who did his Master’s thesis on environmental policy, will have to come up with a climate change policy that satisfies a party and leader who don’t really think climate change is real. He has to reverse his previous position that carbon needs a price, and instead say that it can all be done through encouraging environmentally responsible activity. Madness.
He’ll also have to deal with Nick Minchin who is the Shadow Resources Minister, and has publically stated that climate change is a left wing conspiracy. And on the ALP side he’ll have to deal with Greg Combet – who is my pick for star performer of 2010. Combet has greatly impressed since joining the front bench, and he is a methodical, ruthless bastard. He is tailor made for an election campaign.
There are of course others – but my time is limited, and these are really the faces you’ll be seeing a lot of in the election campaign. I can’t see a winner for the Libs anywhere. Any time the Liberal side might be seen to have a chance, they are handicapped by either Tony Abbott or Barnaby Joyce. They will also be handicapped by the return of the old fogies from the Howard era. There’s little new about the Liberal side, and there’s even less of a reason to vote for them unless you voted for them last time, and even then with no Howard, Costello or Downer, you feel like you’re just getting a pale imitation.