Prime Minister Abbott’s probation: A progress report

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You know it makes sense...

In February, after narrowly surviving a leadership spill, PM Tony Abbott asked for six more months to bring good government. Michael Galvin says the results are in and they don't look good.

Six months ago, Abbott barely survived a party vote for his own job. At the time, he pleaded for more time – for another six months or so – when he promised that there would be no more stuff-ups, that he could turn the polls around, and that good government, or at least better government, would henceforth be the order of the day.

“Good government starts today”, he said bellicosely, before later clarifying that good government apparently "starts every day".

Well, whatever, the six months of Abbott’s own self-declared “probation” are now up and we have just witnessed a stuff-up of gold star proportions. It is difficult to see how any reasonably intelligent member of his Government would not conclude that the man is not up to the job. He just doesn’t have the character, the temperament, or the competence for the job of PM — that is now all too abundantly evident.

There are so many aspects of the Choppergate fiasco worthy of comment that it is difficult to know where to begin. Here are just some.

Firstly, there is the nonsense that, whatever his faults, an endearing quality of the Prime Minister is that he is inordinately loyal to his friends. This claim is particularly laughable. Yes, he has a scale of loyalty. It is obvious that he puts loyalty to his party above loyalty to the country. It is also obvious that he puts loyalty to his friends – even odious ones like Bishop – above loyalty to his party. But it seems equally obvious to me that he puts loyalty to himself above all else, including his friends. Bishop was dropped as soon as the pressure started to focus on Abbott rather than her. She was disposed of on the same day that the Murdoch tabloids turned their attention towards ridiculing Abbott and not just Bishop.

Secondly, there is the matter of competence. When the $5,000 chopper story first broke, any half competent PM would have dispatched a staffer like Peta Credlin to question Bishop and find out what other murky details might still be waiting to be revealed. Or call up the travel records himself. It beggars belief that Abbott would have had no prior sense that Bishop was taking advantage of, if not abusing, the system. They came into parliament at the same time and share adjoining electorates on Sydney’s north shore. There must have been many occasions when they arrived back at Sydney Airport on the same plane. That Abbott’s office did not carry out this minimum amount of due diligence before deciding to defend the indefensible for nearly three weeks is as unbelievable as it is derelict.

The fact that it took three weeks before Abbott acted is surely a warning sign that he is unsuited to being PM. How could anyone be so out of touch with reality? What would happen in a real crisis? It seems almost impossible for Abbott to rise above his own preconceived attitudes. What would his decision-making processes have been like during the GFC? To ask this question in the context of the last three weeks is enough to answer it.

Thirdly, Abbott picked the most damaging and offensive way possible to try and end the affair. He decided that he would throw mud at all politicians rather than let any individual excrement land on the one person who had brought shame on the whole of parliament with her profligacy. By focussing on “the rules” rather than Bishop’s own excesses, he did his best to cheapen the reputation of all politicians.

Of note is the contrast with his treatment of his friend Slipper.

Then, it was the character and judgment of Slipper and Gillard that were at fault, not the rules. Now it is the rules.

Fourthly, he has made government harder in the future for everyone, not just himself. When the rules are revised, they will inevitably be stricter and tighter than they are now. Politicians lead complex lives, where it is often difficult to distinguish between personal and work time, and therefore, expenses. This is not going to change, except to the public’s detriment. Sooner or later, a decent politician is going to be crucified for breaking these new rules, because they will be applied in a more formalistic and prescriptive manner.

To sum up, Abbott’s own probation is up this month. By any standards, the debacle of the last three weeks should be enough for his contract to be terminated forthwith. The man is a joke — a very unamusing one.

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