Abbott’s main argument against those in his party who want him out is that to get rid of him now would be to return ‘to repeat the chaos and instability of the Labor years’. This is understandable; after all, what else has he got going for him?
My question is, rather, why do elements of the mainstream media buy into this narrative?
Even commentators who are not nominally part of the right-wing commentariat, such as Jonathan Green and Barrie Cassidy, are basing a large part of their argument about how Abbott got there in the first place on the electorate’s haste to be rid of the Gillard/Rudd governments. Cassidy could be channelling Abbott when he talks about ‘the failed, disunited and chaotic Rudd-Gillard-Rudd governments’; he says there was ‘a six or seven year period of dysfunctional and chaotic governments’. Green says Labor was ‘a government we had come to hate’.
Sure. Labor lost the 2013 election, 46.51% to 53.49% on a two party preferred basis. So I’m not sure who the ‘we’ is that Green is talking about. Some of us, certainly. But others of us both valued what Labor had achieved, and feared – rightly as it turned out – what an Abbott government was capable of.
It would be foolish of me to dispute the impact of the changes in leadership, the public backstabbing, the vengeful backgrounding of journalists and the mistakes in policy and its implementation made by these governments. Possibly it was Rudd’s back-down on climate policy which most undermined his public authority. The governments were certainly spooked by Abbott’s relentless negativity, rarely seeming able to get clear air to promote a more positive agenda. And there were disastrous policy failings, such as that on asylum seekers.
On the other hand, much of this was blown out of all proportion by the Opposition and the media. Why is a minority government that has the support of independents illegitimate? Will this be the case if the LNP scrapes into minority government in Queensland? Does anyone really think there are no factions in the Liberal Party? Or that they aren’t crucial in deciding who leads the party? Why is only the negative side of the Rudd government’s insulation scheme ever mentioned? Even Tony Abbott’s Royal Commission didn’t manage to blame Rudd for the deaths of the four workers whose unscrupulous bosses abused this program. Yet you’d think Rudd went out and murdered them himself from the press treatment it received. And why is so little credit ever given to the Labor government for the stimulus package that saved Australia from the worst of the GFC? Instead, there has been a relentless and damaging talking down of the economy.
So did these failed and chaotic governments really not achieve anything? I’ll just list some of what they did achieve, as Cassidy and Green, and no doubt others, seem to have forgotten about these. The fact that some powerful vested interests didn’t like them doesn’t make them any less important reforms. The fact that some of them were used against the Labor government doesn’t make them wrong either. Nor does the fact that Abbott has repealed or undermined many of them. It’s impossible to say which if any of these policies those who voted against Labor were rejecting, but aren’t government supposed to act in the national interest regardless of popularity? Labor governments:
- Saved Australia from the worst effects of the GFC
- Put a price on carbon, which resulted in a decrease in carbon emissions.
- Began implementing the Gonski reforms to base educational funding on need
- Began building a world class NBN
- Introduced a mining tax to share the benefits of the resources boom more fairly
- Introduced paid parental leave
- Supported an increase in the minimum wage – modest, but still an increase
- Introduced the National Disability Insurance Scheme
- Achieved the Tasmanian forest deal
- Achieved plain cigarette packaging
- Won a seat on the Security Council to give Australia a stronger international voice
Why are Cassidy and Green and their ilk ignoring these positive achievements? (It’s OK Barrie I don’t really hate you. I just think you should know better.)
My guess is that it is only by portraying the Labor governments as incompetent and hated that they can excuse their own failure to look properly at Tony Abbott and his policies, and to publicise what they would have found if they looked at all.
It’s true that Abbott made himself a small target. But there were still things you could have analysed. Did you ever look in detail at Direct Action and how it might work? Did you ever wonder in print whether a price on carbon was a good thing? Did you ever suggest that it would be wise to look more closely at the effectiveness of an NBN based on fibre to the node – and therefore on Telstra’s aging copper network? Did you ever question the inequality of Abbott’s paid parental leave scheme? Did you ever consider what would be lost if the mining tax was repealed? Was government debt really a problem in Australia?
And even if Abbott’s agenda was relatively limited, couldn’t you have probed a bit deeper into his political agenda? He laid it out for you in Battlelines. Small government, trickle-down economics, culture wars and social conservatism. It was all there for you.
Maybe a bit more work from journalists on sites like The Drum wouldn’t have made any difference, given the torrent of anti-Labor venom pouring out of the Murdoch press. Maybe the disunity and policy mis-steps of the Labor government would have led to an election loss anyway. But what I find hard to understand is the wilful denigration of Labor’s achievements, a perversion of the narrative if ever there was one.
While I’m on the subject, please don’t go on making the same mistake over and over again. Apparently, according to Green, Labor still can’t do anything right. Bill Shorten is ‘carping’ in opposing not just the destruction of Labor’s achievements but also the demolition of Medicare, cuts to funding for health and education, the farce of Direct Action etc etc. And for Cassidy, ‘Malcolm Turnbull is immune; above it all’. Really Barrie? He’s voted for every piece of the Liberal agenda so far. How about you start reporting facts not fantasy?