All praise the muppet


By Barry Tucker                    10 September, 2015

Why do journalists feel compelled to praise LNP federal government leader Tony Abbott? He’s praised when he deserves no credit at all.

Across Fairfax media today he is given credit for the decision to take 12,000 refugees from war-torn Syria. Much is made of comparisons with historical intakes. Much is made of the heroic Abbott for making this decision. Little is made of the pressure within the party room and from some ministers for the change. In all of the praise for this wooden muppet, the plight and rescue of refugees is overlooked. Their future and their fate in Australia is overlooked.

Only a few days earlier Abbott was saying there would be no change in intake numbers. He was moved but unmoved by pictures and video of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi lying drowned on a beach or lying limply in the arms of a security man. His brother Galip, 5, and their mother, Rehan, also drowned when their refugee boat capsized.

I read a front page article in today’s The Sydney Morning Herald by Mark Kenny. He referred to a “stunning change of heart” by Abbott. He referred to Abbott “staring down the anti-immigration hardliners” in his cabinet. In Melbourne’s The Age, national affairs editor Tony Wright used the same “stared down” term.

What’s interesting about Mark Kenny’s page 1 article is that it had disappeared by the time I got home from the coffee shop and began searching the internet and comparing articles. Kenny had not tweeted or promoted his article this morning. By about 11 am, his article could not be found on the SMH website.

SMH political reporter Latika Bourke had a more rounded compilation of the refugee intake saga.

Inside today’s SMH, Michael Gordon’s article on the Syrian refugee announcement was a good piece of work, much closer to the reality of Abbott’s ‘change of heart’ than anything else I’ve read today. It names those government men who were moved by the Syrians’ plight and urged Abbott “to do more”. One of them, Craig Laundy, is holding his seat by the slimmest of margins. If I was a cynic I’d say he was more worried about losing his seat than any more Syrians losing their lives. I’d like to know if he supports the allies’ decision to extend bombing to Syria.

Michael Gordon’s article ends by pointing out the paradox Abbott’s government has now created. More Syrian refugees are being taken in because a little boy drowned, basically, while others seeking refuge remain locked up and languishing on offshore detention camps. Abbott deserves the credit for that situation too. It’s one he forced the former Labor government to resume.

The reality of the situation is that hard-line, hard-hearted Abbott is given the credit because the hard-arsed government he leads has been shamed into doing more to help the refugee crisis that a previous LNP government is at least partly responsible for. The credit belongs to those members of the government who forced Abbott to change his mind. Anyone who thinks Abbott would have changed his mind without this pressure is deluded. You have to look no further than the tough statements he was making in the few days before his ‘change of heart’.

The further reality is that Abbott personally and his government, in particular, is still down in the polls after two years. The by-election in the federal seat of Canning, WA, is a little over a week away and the outcome is considered crucial to Abbott’s fate.

The apportioning of credit to Abbott for recent Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) is somewhat similar. Years of negotiation were done by the previous Labor government and completed by LNP government Trade Minister Andrew Robb. Abbott may have contributed in behind-the-scenes discussions, but he gets the bulk of the credit for merely signing the documents.

The shallowness of the man was revealed again in his interview with the ABC’s Leigh Sales on the 7.30 Report last night. Asked about some specific points related to the state of the economy, Abbott responded: “The boats have stopped.” When Sales tried to get him onto the subject, he repeated: “The boats have stopped.”

We don’t know what went on when ministers and MPs met to consider increasing the Syrian refugee intake. We do know that Abbott is a cold-hearted monster who has slashed a mountain of welfare, foreign aid and other assistance in preference for a reduction of national debt. We know the Syrian intake decision (plus the bombing campaign) is going to add to that debt. We know Abbott’s position in the polls stinks.

The greatest likelihood is that some journalists in the Canberra pool are continuing to promote Abbott in an effort to increase his poll position. It’s in their interest to do so — they think — because they backed him in his opposition to the previous Labor government. They can’t admit they backed a dud.

Unfortunately for them, for him and for his government, the strategy is not working. The people are able to read, to watch and to listen. They see through the shallow charade and Abbott remains where he deserves to be — in the pits.

PS: Since writing this story I have learned that the government’s National Security Committee discussed a further intake of Syrian refugees and recommended the 12,000 figure. The decision was not Abbott’s.

Ben Doherty reports in The Guardian on the LNP government policy of offshore detention for refugees (including Syrians) who tried to reach Australia by boat, because they are clients of “people smugglers”.

Also in The Guardian, political editor Lenore Taylor reports on the results of a Lonergan Research poll on the increased Syrian intake and the Operation Sovereign Borders program (which includes turning back boats).