LNP Great Barrier Reef Abbott Govt Divisions

LNP Great Barrier Reef Tony Abbott in Parliament

(LNP Great Barrier Reef) – The Abbott Government’s in trouble, so who will take the fall?

Whenever a government looks like it is about to sink a few things always happen.

Whenever a government looks like it is about to sink a few things always happen.

The first is that opinion pieces start appearing suggesting that there are organisational issues with the Prime Minister’s Office – usually targeting the chief of staff. It happened with Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard – it even happened to John Howard after Arthur Sinodinos left his office in 2006. And we saw it this week with mutterings about the running of the PMO by Peta Credlin.

If the Government’s polls stay down in the dumps, expect this chorus to get louder. It’s always much better to have some essentially unknown person be seen to take the fall, and it also works into the hands of those in the government who feel their access (and power) is being restricted.

Then there are articles about how some other minister is performing really well and could be the next leader. Generally this involves a few puff pieces from journalists who have decided to fix their wagon to this minister’s train in the hope of getting higher level access should all the pieces fall into place.

This week, the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was given the soft treatment. Apparently she has been the shining success of the government, which is most certainly true if you have the memory and critical capacity of a gnat.

She was praised for her chairing of the UN Security Council meeting that addressed Ebola. And I guess if you ignore the fact that Australia dragged its heels over our own response to the crisis, you could say she has done well on that issue.

You could also say Bishop has been doing great diplomatic work if you ignore that she publicly, and for no good reason, rebuked President Obama’s statements on the Great Barrier Reef that he had made in his speech at the University of Queensland during the G20 summit.

Given Obama did not actually criticise Australia’s climate change policy, but merely stated how important climate change was, Ms Bishop’s response to suggest President Obama was wrong, and displayed a fair degree of diplomatic ineptness, which was doubled by the fact that her statement that she did “not believe that [the Great Barrier Reef] is in danger” contradicted the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, the Australian Institute of Marine Sciences and the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (LNP Great Barrier Reef)

But yeah, she’s been the star performer.

The next step is to suggest the problems aren’t about policy, but about communication.  This goes well with the blaming of the Prime Minister’s Office, and also fits in well with subtle comparisons to the supposed star performer of the front bench.

This is generally followed by friendly voices in the media suggesting a range of actions that need to be done to save the government. This week Andrew Bolt, Janet Albrechtsen, Paul Kelly; among many others, have tried their hands at this approach.

The final step is to suggest the ship isn’t sinking, but that the decks just need to be cleared to allow the government to focus on its agenda. This week Tony Abbott put his unique spin on this approach by telling his party room that some “barnacles” needed to be cleared.

Except the problem is these barnacles are the government’s actual agenda. It’s not a case of having to deal with an expenses scandal as was the case this time last year. The “barnacles” such as the GP co-payment, the proposed paid parental leave scheme, or the changes to university funding are not mere superfluous additions to the hull of the ship of state, they helped to build the government’s boat – strip them off and what is left?

The problems are compounded by the fact that they do actually have communication and organisational issues which have meant the barnacle removal work has ended up putting a hole into the side of the ship.

Late Wednesday it was leaked that the government was going to dump the GP co-payment. But then Tony Abbott in a quick doorstop defended the policy, using the same lines he has for 5 months to sell it. Senator Abetz on Thursday morning told AM that “The government’s policy on the GP co-payment remains… it is good policy, it is our policy.”

And then Health Minister Peter Dutton fronted the media to defend the policy, and crucially, would not rule out trying to get it through by use of regulation. This might have been fine, except on Tuesday he had also told reporters that he was ruling out introducing a GP co-payment through use of regulation.

Later in the morning Treasurer Joe Hockey told reporters the government still intended to pass the GP co-payment legislation through the parliament.

Added to the misery was that while the barnacle clearing operation was supposed to be in full swing, Defence Minister David Johnston decided to fall overboard when he told the Senate he wouldn’t trust Australian Submarine Corporation to “build a canoe”. Given they are currently building the Air Warfare Destroyer, it was particularly dumb thing to say, made all the more dumb his attempting to excuse it as just a “rhetorical flourish”.

Normally you might think a Prime Minster would either discipline or even sack him, but this week Tony Abbot was administering a few rhetorical flourishes of his own when he described the cuts to the ABC and SBS which he had unequivocally ruled out doing the night before last year’s election as just an “efficiency dividend”.

Helpfully, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull the next day told Guardian Australia that the cuts were not an “efficiency dividend”.

A consistent message is not the government’s key asset at the moment.

Given this is just week one of the barnacle clearing procedure, the government had better hope it improves its work, or soon it’ll turn into a salvage operation.

SOURCE: http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2014/11/28/abbott-governments-trouble-so-who-will-take-fall

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