Perhaps Tony Abbott is not up to the job.

There have been a couple of incidents recently that have led commentators to question Tony Abbott’s judgement. The first was his performance at Davos and the second was his criticism of the ABCs reporting of the spying scandal Indonesia and the torture claims against Australian Navy. It’s highly likely that the bulk of  the  Australian population is not particularly concerned about either of these issues despite the fact they have been widely canvassed by the commentariat.

Many commentators recognise that Abbott had regressed to being the Leader of the Opposition at Davos rather than the Prime Minister of Australia. There has been  a predictable  response to his criticism of the ABC, much of it noting that while he was unhappy with the coverage of the Indonesian and naval episodes  he was very happy with the exposure of  alleged corruption in the CFMEU. However, much of this  was predictable.

Whether or not  Abbott’s criticisms of the ABC were justified is not the point here.

The point is rather that the constituency that is concerned with the role the ABC plays in Australia is probably relatively small and not electorally important. The important point about this constituency is that, for the most part, it  probably regards the ABC is being a relatively independent news reporting service, not above criticism, but generally fairly evenhanded. Criticisms from the Prime Minister about the  ABC’s coverage will only be interpreted as an attempt by the Prime Minister to influence the ABCs coverage for his own political advantage.  The constituency that engages in this discussion and debate will only ever regard the prime minister’s comments as an attack on the integrity and independence of one of the most respected news services in the country.

But Abbott doesn’t get this. He doesn’t recognise that his comments on this particular topic  are completely  politically counter-productive, in the same way that his comments at Davos were.

Are we left with the impression that Abbott is simply not up to the job of being Prime Minister, that he  hasn’t been able to make the transition from being Leader of the Opposition?

Malcolm Turnbull’s intervention in support of the ABC indicates that at least one member of the Cabinet is prepared to contradict his leader in public. I suspect that concern about Abbott’s performance is beginning to deepen within the Parliamentary Liberal party. Not that it is likely that Malcolm Turnbull will replace Abbott. But Abbott will be replaced before  this Parliamentary term runs if he continues to demonstrate ineptitude that is becoming a pattern.

And where will that challenge come from if not from Malcolm Turnbull? Put your money on Julie Bishop. She has made the transition from being a head-kicking politician to being a diplomatic Foreign Minister with consummate skill. The succession planning team with the Liberal party must be considering her pretty seriously.





Mystery Road – a great Australian film

Mystery Road draws different responses from the people who have seen it. Some rank it as the best Australian film ever while others are more qualified in their responses.

The film is magnificently photographed and captures the beauty of the outback and squalor of the town where the aboriginal community lives in dire poverty. It was an interesting piece of programming by the ABC to show this film, that is an indictment of the conditions in which the indigenous community lives, on Australia Day. The beauty of the landscape is intertwined with a sense of threat and menace that is emphasised by most of the main characters, good guys and bad guys alike, carrying guns. The sense of threat builds the stunning final scenes out on Mystery Road.

 Aaron Pedersen as Jay

There is also a superb cast of supporting actors,


Hugo Weaving as Johnno,

untitled 6

Damian Walshe-Howling (who seems to have a mortgage on all the seedy characters  in Australian film and television are present) as Wayne Silverman,


Tasma Walton  is superb as Mary, fragile hurt and defiant.

There is also Bruce Spence as Jim, the local undertaker, Zoe Carides as the randy motel owner, a fabulous cameo by Jack Thompson as Charlie Murray.  But the film belongs to Aaron Pedersen, whose Jay Swan is a slow controlled burn of anger and pain.


Most of the criticism is about the loose ends in the film. There are certainly loose ends  but the film is also about ambiguity and the way corruption becomes insidious and the boundary between good and evil becomes wide and vague. In many instances this works well, in others it is confusing.

One such instance where the ambiguity does not work is in the motif of the dogs roaming the outback. It strong throughout the film and parallel between the dogs and criminals is quite clear. However, the idea of the “super dog” introduced by the forensic pathologist is simply left hanging. I was expecting a return to The Hound of the Baskervilles. But no, the idea of the dogs was never really developed.

In other cases the ambiguity and uncertainty works well. Some people complain that we don’t know whether Johnno is a good cop or a bad cop. We don’t know and neither does Jay. He’s most likely both. Certainly his role in the final shootout is ambiguous.  He is certainly shooting the bad guys. But he would, wouldn’t he? It’s clearly time to tidy up a few loose ends for Johnno and if this means killing off his criminal associates and protecting Jay, so be it. He is indeed one of the enigmas in the film but this is hardly a fault in the film. Sarge, played by Tony Barry, is similarly enigmatic character. He is probably not  as corrupt as Johnno corrupt but simply turns a blind eye to what he knows is going on. The portrayal of evil in the film is certainly well nuanced.

What is a little more confusing is that it is not clear why the young girls are being killed. Given this is central to the film, it’s somewhat of a shortcoming. The cast of baddies is pretty big. Almost all the white guys in the film are crooks. It is Jay’s task to work out how they are connected which he does with some good old-fashioned sleuthing. He does this while channelling John Wayne. Many of the shots of Aaron Pedersen are taken from inside a house, with him framed in the doorway looking out into the vast expanse of the outback, a reference that all John Wayne fans will have picked up.

In many ways, the film is a Western, with the lone lawmen battling small town corruption. There is even a furious shootout at the end where, quite improbably, Jay manages to kill six and maybe seven of the bad guys and escape with a minor wound.


It’s a fabulous sequence and a fitting climax to one of the strands of the film. But the most satisfying part of the film comes in the final scenes as Jay drives back to town after the shootout.

The corrosive effects of the corruption the town is seen brilliantly in its impact on Mary, Jay’s ex-wife and Crystal his daughter. Jay learns that Crystal has been friends with some of the girls who have been murdered and possibly involved in their prostitute activities with truck drivers. As Jay drives back into town after the gunfight, he sees a figure standing by the side of the road. Is that someone waiting for a truck driver come past? He slows down. It’s his wife Mary. Sitting next to her, in the gutter, is his daughter Crystal. Has Mary been complicit in prostituting Crystal? Or are they simply looking for a way out of town.

In the final shot of the film, Jay walks across the road and stands looking at his wife. It is not a scene of reconciliation but it is perfectly in keeping with the film where individuals struggle to confront the corruption that surrounds them.  In this final scene, Jay and Mary confront not just each other but the evil in which they have become a meshed.

Other film related blogs

Migrants and obligations

Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells believes that migrants should ç as ”an obligation to our country”. (The Age 26/1). She uses her own experience as the daughter of Italian migrant parents learning English in an Australian kindergarten as an example “It wasn’t very difficult: within three months, (I) had … learnt English”.

Many of us have good cause to reflect upon the benefits and obligations that immigration to Australia has brings.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells may also wish to reflect on the obligations that the Abbott government has towards people who currently seek refuge in this country.


Kim Wells: Stuck between a rock and a hot place

You can’t help feeling sorry for Victorian Police and Emergency Services Minister Kim Wells. He has been pilloried for attending the tennis while there was a bushfire emergency in the Grampians. In its lead article The Age recognised that Wells would not actually have had any role had he been in attendance at the State Control Centre. Control of the bushfire situation rested completely with Fire Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley. However, The Age condemned Wells for attending the tennis.

You can’t have it both ways. If he should be at the Control Centre, it should be because he has some useful role to fulfil. If he has no role then his should not be there. It really doesn’t matter where he is, watching the tennis at Rod Laver or sitting at home watching it on television.

As Minister, he has no role to fulfil in the operations of fighting so it is probably best that he is out of the way and not distracting the senior command through his presence in the Control Centre.

Is important to remember that the politicians who are chosen to head up ministries are not necessarily experts in the field, sometimes they are, but in most cases they are not. Kim Wells is clearly not a fire fighter so he would have had no useful information or assistance to offer Craig Lapsley.

The difficulty is that there is a parallel between the situation and the one in which Christine Nixon found herself on Black Saturday when she went to the pub with friends including a bushfire crisis. The difference between these two situations is that Christine Nixon had operational command of the fire fighting and her absence was seen as a gross dereliction of duty. To include Wells in the same category as Nixon is pretty unfair on Wells.

The problem for Wells is that it’s a very bad look. The public is heartily sick and tired of politicians who appear to be living the easy life at the expense of others and for the Minister of Emergency Services to be at the tennis while members of his department are risking their lives to fight fires resetting the bar on political naiveté. This situation is not helped by the fact that the local MP for Grampians region, Hugh Delahunty was also at the tennis on Friday night.

It would seem that the bush fires have well and truly cooked the Minister’s goose

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It would appear that the bushfires have well and truly cooked the Minister’s goose.



Davos: Abbott’s missed opportunity for statesmanship

When a politician moves from being leader of the opposition to being Prime Minister they have an opportunity to stand on a larger national and international stage. The World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2014 in Davos presented Tony Abbott was such an opportunity.

Strangely, he chose not to take it but regressed to being the leader of the opposition again in his attack on the Labor government’s handling of the GFC. Not only was it a message that was better suited for domestic policies, it is also wrong. There is little doubt that the approach taken in Australia to the GFC saved the country from the impact financial conditions which crippled the economies of many countries. There is also no doubt that the Labor government was able to enact those policies because the surpluses built up during previous governments. But to claim in an international economic forum that the policies failed and have been disastrous must surely have left many of the delegates incredulous.

It is also ridiculous to claim that Labor has stuffed the economy and at the same time claimed that Australia is a good place to invest. It is clear that many international companies regard a strange place to invest and Tony Abbott’s claims that its trading economy is in trouble would clearly be seen as the nonsense that they are in this particular forum.

It is hard to understand why Abbott this approach when the opportunity to take an International view of world economics was presented to him. Was it that he simply reverted to type, that at best he is only ever a leader of the opposition and that the job of prime minister and international statesman is beyond him.

His lacklustre performance at Davos certainly suggest that this is the case


Why secrecy over asylum seekers policy is a dumb idea.

When Jeff Kennett was in power in Victoria he attacked Director of Public Prosecutions Bernard Bongiorno, and Auditor-General Ches Baragwanath and enacted legislation to restrict the power of the Auditor General to investigate politicians. Kennett dismissed the public protests about but failed to notice that they were being held, not in the streets, but in Dallas Brooks Hall. Why was Dallas Brooks Hall significant? Because it has a car park where you can pack the BMW. These protests were from the constituents of the Liberal heartland concerned about where Kennett was taking democracy in Victoria.

In the next election, which Kennett lost, there was a significant erosion of support in traditional Liberal party areas. Many commentators believe this was result of Kennett’s attacks on the DPP and the Auditor General.

What cannot fail to understand was the difference between people disagreeing with your policy and people disagreeing with the manner in which you govern. Once people become concerned with the way democracy is functioning, the government is in deep trouble. Attacks by politicians on public officials who have responsibility for auditing the activities of those same politicians are often seen as an attack on to fundamental freedoms and democracy.

The refusal, by Immigration Minister Scott Morrison, to provide information on the  “on water” activities of the Australian Navy falls into the same category as Kennett’s attacks on the DPP and the Auditor General. Morrison’s actions deny Australians the right to know what is being done in their name and erodes the principle of open government. This is not a question of policy but rather a question of how our democracy will function. Morrison has managed to combine a discussion on asylum seeker policy, on which the government is on firm ground with most of the electorate, with the discussion about the right is training people to know what its government is doing. This is an issue on which the government is on very shaky ground.

It is clear that many Australians agree with the current government’s policy on asylum seekers.  It is also clear that asylum seeker policy appears to be effective in reducing the number of boats coming from Indonesia. If this is the case, it is difficult to understand why Morrison is not broadcasting the success of government policy. Because of the cone of silence that has descended, we are left with the impression that there is something that needs to be hidden, like the fact that the Australian Navy is intruding into Indonesian territorial waters to return asylum seekers. The cone of silence also leaves us wondering what else we are not being told.

It would appear that the government’s policy on asylum seekers is not going to be electorally damaging. What will be damaging is the contempt that the Abbott government is shown for the processes of open government.




The concept of a mandate in politics

It is extremely common for elected governments to claim a “mandate” to implement their policies. Christopher Pyne was the latest to make this claim in The Age

“There can be little doubt the Abbott government has a firm mandate to initiate a review of the national curriculum”

This, in fact, is not the case. What the Abbott government has is a majority in the House of Representatives, which entitles it to form the government. This gives it a mandate, and power, to introduce and pass legislation in the lower house. What it does not currently have is a mandate in the Senate because it doesn’t currently hold the balance of power in the Senate. It may not have it when the new Senate sits. There are many who now recognise that the voting system in the Senate is not producing results that the electorate wants. However imperfect this system may be, the Senate was designed to be a curb on the power of the House of Representatives. In other words, the balance of power in the Senate is a qualification on the “mandate” of the majority in the House of Representatives.

The current results in the Senate, notwithstanding the possibility of another election in Western Australia, indicate that the Australian people has not granted the Abbott Government a mandate to implement all of their policies. What the electorate has granted the government is a mandate to implement those policies that it can negotiate through the Senate with the support of the minor parties that hold the balance of power. A majority in the House of Representatives does not mean that those parties necessarily must support all government policies.

Part of Christopher Pyne’s argument in support of the curriculum review is that “the Coalition promised it before the past two federal elections”. This assumes that the electorate has a perfect memory in this case going back six years. However, if we accept Pyne’s argument that the electorate was perfectly informed, then we must also accept that it was perfectly informed when it elected representatives of the Palmer United Party, The Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party and the Australian Sports Party and that it has granted them a “mandate” to vote in line with their policy positions in the Senate.

It’s an imperfect system and perhaps one that needs reform. But as the system stands at present, the current government only has a mandate for legislation that is supported by the minor parties in the Senate. The Abbott government’s majority in the lower house does not mean that these minor parties necessarily must accept all government legislation.

One can only hope that the members of the government who claim the “mandate” are just jawboning and that they do actually understand how the Australian political system works.

Asylum seekers – it can be done differently

Italy and Greece have borne the brunt of the flood of refugees from Africa yet Italy’s still able to launch humanitarian help for asylum seekers and take them to Italy. In this case it was close to 1000, many multiples of the numbers that come to Australia.

Given Australia’s editorship to asylum seekers, many of the European delegates at Davos must regard Tony Abbott as a pariah.

This is not to say that the flood of asylum seekers and Europe isn’t a significant political and social problem, what it does say is there are solutions other than sending them back with a came from.

2014 Prediction (V) – Western Australia Senate rerun

The electoral commission orders a rerun of the Senate election in Western Australia, Labour Party wins three seats, the Greens win two and the Liberals win one, making the Abbott government’s  legislative programme dependent upon gaining six of eight independent senators.

2014 Prediction (IV) – Speaker Smith is forced out and resigns.

Ken Smith is forced out as Speaker in the Victorian Parliament and resigns his seat in a fit of pique.

Government loses the by-election and is forced to state election. Geoff Shaw joins the Palmer Party and is soundly defeated. Kevin Andrews becomes Premier and Labors standing in the poll begins an immediate decline