As Tony Abbott’s political leadership spirals slowly but surely out of control, there is increasing analysis of the reasons for his political decline.
Much of the answer lies in a headline in The Age where Abbott speaks of the candidate in the Canning by-election. Andrew Hastie, as “Someone who is more than capable of fighting for the people of Canning.” (my emphasis). Not “representing or “serving” but “fighting”.
This has been the problem that has bedevilled Abbott’s prime ministership: Everything is a fight. We’re constantly at war against forces that should be opposed by any means. His pugnacious and aggressive attacks on Julia Gillard in Opposition served to give warning of what his style would be when he came to Government.
The difficulty with drawing the battlelines on every issue in politics is that there can only be winners and losers. And when you do not command a majority in the Senate, approaching every policy debate as a war, is an extremely limited political strategy. Tony Abbott certainly lacks Julia Gillard’s political skills at negotiating as leader of a minority government. She won the support of, and continued to govern with, cross-bench support from people who were, or should have been, Tony Abbott’s natural political allies.
By contrast, Abbott can only see things in black or white, win or lose. It’s also indicative of a bizarre form of political laziness. If a policy issue cannot be solved by a slogan (Stop the boats) and an often draconian policy response, Tony Abbott is not prepared to put the hard work into solving the problem.
With the wisdom of hindsight, it is now possible to see him demonstrating this shortcoming very early in his career as leader of the Opposition. His incessant demands that the Gillard government should resign, simply because he didn’t like it, indicated a complete lack of understanding of the democratic process in Australia and was typical of his pursuit of his own narrow personal agenda unalloyed by any consideration of political reality.
A good indication of this problem is the ” I don’t like wind farms” syndrome which has characterised his approach to climate change, energy generation, gay marriage, Aboriginal reconciliation, carbon emission reduction and a host of other issues.
George Orwell parodied this approach in Animal Farm with the mantra ” four legs good, two legs bad.” The problem with this approach to political, social and economic problems is that it doesn’t allow multifaceted solutions to multifaceted and complex problems.
Abbott’s support for the coal industry indicates the disastrous policy outcomes that such an approach produces. Two things appear abundantly clear. The first is that in the medium-term, Australia will remain dependent upon fossil fuels for the production of electricity. The second is that the rest of the world is moving away from coal as the primary source of electricity generation for some very practical reasons that are also relevant in the Australian context.
It is a situation that is a lay-down misere for national leadership: taking a long-term view of the need to shift to renewable energy at a national level, recognising the limitations of coal-fired electricity generation and easing the transition to renewables and ensuring economic growth and employment in the shift towards renewable energy generation.
However, providing leadership in the situation requires being able to think of more than one thing at a time Beyond that it requires being able to handle arduous and possibly fraught transition processes. Unfortunately, Abbott isn’t capable of this and Bill Shorten hasn’t been able to step in and fill the vacuum.
The same shortsightedness has bedevilled our approach to the conflict in the Middle East. Abbott’s single-minded sloganeering ”ISIS is a death cult” is, to him, sufficient justification for Australian engagement in this war.
Flying bombing missions against ISIS is a simple-minded solution to a problem whose complexity almost defies solution. The atrocities that ISIS has committed against civilian populations are truly appalling but then so are the atrocities of the Assad regime.
If Australian government has a genuine concern about the impact of war on civilian populations, It could devote more time and energy to finding more humane solution to the refugees who wish to come to Australia.
However, the”Stop Boats” campaign highlights of shortcomings of Tony Abbott’s political philosophy. In a world where you interpret everything as black or white, there’s no room for compromise or review that you need to sacrifice some of your self-interest for the betterment of others.
Solving the global refugee crisis is going to entail the “haves” giving up quite a bit for the “have-nots”.
It is a political message that will require considerable courage and leadership.
Attributes sadly lacking in contemporary Australian politics.