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<p>Mike Bowers/The Global Mail</p>

Mike Bowers/The Global Mail

Abbott Says Boo to Geese in Government

The Prime Minister who wants politics off the front page was forced to front the media on the first day of the new Parliament, with his ministers running worryingly off-message.

On the day he announced his Ministry, new Prime Minister Tony Abbott told Australia that henceforth he would adopt a much lower media profile and would only talk publicly if “I’ve got something to say”.

Methinks he phrased it wrongly. What he meant was that he would only talk “if I’ve got to say something”.

And on the first day of the new Parliament, he clearly figured he had to say something. Had to, because the incompetents and ideologues and graspers by whom he is surrounded had forced the issue.

We refer, first of all, to the Minister for Immigration, Scott Morrison, a man whose personal convictions always bring to mind a bumper sticker I once saw on a car in America. “The Christian Right is neither,” it said.

Morrison, it must be acknowledged, did a fine line in vilifying asylum seekers in the lead-up to the election. But he clearly has not adjusted well to life in government, rather than in opposition. He has yet to absorb the lesson that government brings a burden of some moderation.

It’s one thing to bag out hapless asylum seekers; quite another to bag out the government of the fourth-largest country in the world, which sits sensitively just to Australia’s north.

But that’s just what Morrison did, coming over all petulant at Indonesia’s refusal to accept the return of a couple of boatloads of what he would call “illegals”.

He expressed his acute frustration that our northern neighbour would not meekly accede to his punitive vision of a policy, bellicosely named Operation Sovereign Borders.

There was, he whined, “no rhyme or reason” to Indonesia’s response.


With the egregious Morrison in the vanguard, the Coalition ran an election campaign substantially on the issue of asylum seekers. It played international relations for crass domestic purposes, tacitly (and sometimes not so tacitly) suggesting Indonesia was not doing enough to help Australia stem the refugee tide. It unilaterally promised to push the boats back to Indonesia and even, in one of the most knuckleheaded policy suggestions of all time, floated the idea of solving the problem by sending agents to Indonesia to buy up all the people smugglers’ boats.

One imagines that will not go down well with the tax-averse Clive, which is unfortunate given that and Abbott will need to have good relations with the wacky miner.

And Morrison wondered why the Indonesians were now being somewhat less than cooperative.

So, at his presser, called for 1.45 pm, Abbott was trying very, very hard to be nice to the Indonesians.

He was very pleased, he said, to have “such a close constructive and cooperative relationship with the Indonesian government”.

He was determined to “work as closely and as collegially and as consultatively” as possible with them.

Asked directly about Morrison’s expression of frustration Abbott sighed deeply and loudly.

“I’m not going to run a commentary on a commentary...” he said.

And he was certainly not going to “engage in negotiations through the media”.

Yeah, well, maybe that will help.

But Abbott had another problem to deal with as well: Maurice Newman, the climate-change sceptic, economically dry-as-dust ideologue Abbott has just installed as chairman of the Prime Minister’s business advisory council.

Alas Newman’s first bit of — publicly offered — advice was not at all helpful. In his view, the wages of Australian workers are too high, and our economy cannot afford to meet the costs of education-funding reform and the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Both were championed by the former Labor Government, and supported by the new Abbott Government.

So Abbott had to walk that one back, too.

Given Newman’s position, the PM said, “you would expect robust advice”.

And, although Newman’s was one of a number of voices the government took “very seriously”, it was not about to break its “fundamental promise to the Australian people” to implement the NDIS and to match the former government’s promised spending on schools, at least for the next four years.

Did you get that, Maurice? Decoded, that means “shut the heck up”.

There were other fires to damp down, too. Abbott was again forced to answer for his behavior in claiming travel allowance while accepting free food and accommodation while on his annual ‘pollie pedal’.

He was aggressively questioned on his government’s approach to climate change, and came up with the memorable observation that carbon-trading schemes were not, as every reputable economist will tell you, market-based mechanisms based on the inherent self-interest of capitalism, but were instead “socialism masquerading as environmentalism”.

And he was taken to task for having promised to lift the standard of political discourse, yet continuing his cheap shots at Opposition leader Bill Shorten as “electricity Bill”.

Yes, Abbott conceded, it was probably un-parliamentary language.

The PM was required to swat down billionaire MP Clive Palmer over his companies’ refusal to pay their mining tax liabilities.

“They’ve got to pay their bills, obviously,” he said.

Oh dear. One imagines that will not go down well with the tax-averse Clive, which is unfortunate given that and Abbott will need to have good relations with the wacky miner and has rag-tag collection of Senators.

All in all, it was not a comfortable or convincing press conference for the new PM. And on the very first day of Parliament, too, when all is supposed to be happy pomp and circumstance.

But it was one he had to have, because the issues were getting away from him.

Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned here: it’s much easier to run a “small target” strategy in opposition than in government.

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53 comments on this story
by @chrispydog

This is what happens when the clowns try to run the circus.

November 12, 2013 @ 8:31pm
by Jo McSweeney

Your last comment is absolutely true-as is your whole article. No one in the Opposition from Abbott to Morrison to Hockey to Pyne seems to have realised yet that they are the actual government. I mean, any idiot can call Bill Shorten 'electricity Bill'. I can think of a couple of others off the top of my head: Bill-fold (gives in on everything-even if this isn't true) and $ Bill-taking other people's money. It probably took a group-think tank of Liberals to come up with 'electricity Bill'. It's both farcical and heartbreaking that this motley crew are having a go at running the country. And so far making a mess of it.

November 12, 2013 @ 8:50pm
by chris

Out of the gates early Mike? Didn't think we'd get much objectivity from you when it's patently obvious you can't stand the thought of the country being run by economic rationalists, tea party types or whatever the current description of those who don't ascribe to your high taxation, anti business, pro green agenda. I suppose you are writing for the Global Mail the home of "Independent Journalism". Just why Australia should come to the aid of refugees off the coast of Indonesia beggars belief. But as you implied Mike, we have to tread on egg shells for the "fourth-largest country in the world" Should we lie completely doggo for the top three? It does include the USA and China!

November 12, 2013 @ 9:32pm
by James Nash

Ah Chris. Waiting at the gate yourself like a rabid dog are you not? What about an 'agenda' of representation? Or would you rather our elected representatives go by Howard's 'gut feelings' repackaged by a simpleton. Perhaps independence from the 1% is a little hard for you to handle. Maybe Gina should fund the Global Mail as well so your reading is a little more digestible for you? Thanks Mike for shining a small light into the big shadows or 'small profile' while these 'tea party' types get their heads around policy ad lib from from PR/ corporate lobbyists. The cute little jingoes like electricity Bill don't matter much when you have a country to run. Clearly they are struggling, as one would when conviction is nowhere to be found. And as for you Chris, comments such as yours regarding the rescue of refugees escaping from the tyrannical governments we overtly support or blind eye are pathetic.

November 12, 2013 @ 11:48pm
by Marilyn

Chris, the refugees were 63 nm from Indonesia, they were in international waters and under the law of the sea once we were asked to rescue them it was an absolute obligation not a toy to think about using.

Abbott went to the election with nothing more than criminal behaviour against innocent civilians, what is he now going to do.

November 13, 2013 @ 4:28am
by John Fraser

Congratulations to Indonesia for still ascribing to the pretense of a democracy .... if only I could say the same about the Abbott government.

Having a bullying bogan as PM and a vacuous, insipid Opposition leader does nothing to enhance Australia.

On the bright side though .... having Murdoch as Grand pooh bah leader would be infinitely worse.

On the downside though .... why doesn't "someone" tell him to "shut up" ?

November 13, 2013 @ 6:29am
by Mick

This is shaping up to be yet another great period for political cartoonists,Mike.
There'll be more material than we'll be able to cope with.
My pencils are sharpened and a fresh batch of ink has been opened.



November 13, 2013 @ 8:14am
by Adrian B

Thankyou Chris, in case we needed to be reminded of what type of small minded, intolerant nutter actually finds Tony Abbott appealing and stands firmly by him as it's patently obvious that neither he nor the people he surrounds himself with have a clue.

November 13, 2013 @ 8:49am
by Brian

Chris, in regards to high taxation, maybe you should refer yourself to a little research. Even with the carbon price, we were still paying less tax than under Howard. This fallacy that Labor is high taxing is just that, a fallacy. Many studies prove this. Check the numerous Politifacts references for one example.

November 13, 2013 @ 8:55am
by Where is My Ostrich?

Chris Wrote:
"Should we lie completely doggo for the top three? It does include the USA and China!"

Precisely what Scumbag Abbott has announced he will do in the Trade Negotiations currently underway.

You are making an argument but I don't think it is the one you think it is...

November 13, 2013 @ 8:56am
by Joe Banks

I have been waiting 3 years to read articles like this… Why it has taken so long to 'figure out' Tony Abbott? If we had seen more 'intuitive' journalism like this in recent years, we might not have finished up with this rag tag of a government. I saw the press conference on TV yesterday and I disagree that any of the questioning was 'aggressive' (obsequious maybe, under the circumstances). In contrast, I did see plenty of journalistic aggression, disrespectful aggression, towards Julia Gillard in the past. Still, good work, Mike. I am so pleased the journalistic worm has finally turned… Maybe!

November 13, 2013 @ 9:11am
by Kelly

He is the equivalent of an online troll in the PM's job, now he has the chance to make a positive contribution and enact some policy for the country, ie, to govern and he has nothing to say.

November 13, 2013 @ 9:46am
by joe

it is noticeable you don't actually refute or bring to bear any evidence that contradicts Mike's article, if you are to continue making these breathtakingly generalised comments, at least have something to support your mundane and ill-evidenced claims. Furthermore, if economic rationalism is cutting 4.5 billion from the foreign aid budget, and this from a country with one of the strongest economies in the world, isn't it reasonable to expect that one of the worlds richest countries have a substantial foreign aid budget? Additionally, you display a shocking lack of awareness when it comes to taxation, allow me to explain. higher taxation = cheaper public service, less taxation = more expensive public service. this means if you want a reasonable hospital bill, or you children to go to school without having to mortgage your soul, you pay a bit more tax. This can be seen clearly in the northern european countries, some of the most liveable, strongest economies on earth. And why should we help asylum seekers you ask? there's the international convention we signed, the fact the indonesian navy simply doesn't have the type of ships to save them, and finally, and this is probably un-important, they are people, who will die, who have children and who we have the capacity to save, where are your morals? Your ethics? If your family we're about to be tortured, your passport had been confiscated and your house destroyed, what would you do?

November 13, 2013 @ 9:51am
by Margaret

So much for a more respectful parliament. Before it even opens Abbott continues with his bully boy tactics, calling Bill Shorten names like a schoolboy. Very grown up.

November 13, 2013 @ 10:25am
by Heather FORWARD

Great question Sabra Lane about the use of the term: "Electricity Bill". How bloody childish.

November 13, 2013 @ 11:01am
by Bob Spann

Mike Bowers has done a marvellous job with the lens, complementing the story brilliantly, Abbott looking somehow belligerent yet silent, stern with nothing to say - or nothing of substance. Well done both Mikes

November 13, 2013 @ 12:06pm
by Brian

Bronwyn Bishop in ruling the term "Electricity Bill" as being within parliamentary guidelines has demonstrated she intends to continue as a Liberal warrior and not give the role the (relative) independence it deserves.

November 13, 2013 @ 12:32pm
by M.R. Stringer

The Libs in government appear to be doing their best to win the SHITS OF THE YEAR Award. Is there any group at all who feels positive about the useless bastards? (I mean aforesaid Libs, in this context ...)

November 13, 2013 @ 12:39pm
by Ed

and the REAL Tony Abbott has turned up on day 1.

November 13, 2013 @ 12:43pm
by Michael

Good article Mike.

And today, the tone of the Partiament has been elevated through the wise judgement of the new Speaker, ' Bull-dozing Brony Bishop' who permitted that ' Taunting Tony's ' comment about 'Electricity Bill ' to be legitimate parliamentary language.

Indeed, the GROAN-UPs are in charge.

What an embarrassment this government is to our nation.

November 13, 2013 @ 1:10pm
by John Drysdale

Who voted for these infantile ignoramuses?

November 13, 2013 @ 1:20pm
by Paul Saxby

A conga line of arseholes cheered on as ever by Howard... the leading arsehole of his day.

November 13, 2013 @ 1:26pm
by Ana Milosevic

Mr Abbott, now we will all die of SHAME.

November 13, 2013 @ 1:31pm
by Clair

And all those crocodile tears shed in Opposition about how "we must stop these people risking their lives in boats tempted by evil people-smugglers" - now we see the truth in Government that it's really all about pandering to xenophobes like Chris who couldn't give a hoot about desperate people dying trying to escape persecution and make a better life for their kids. Let 'em drown and make sure the media can't report it.

November 13, 2013 @ 2:49pm
by bedlambay

Toxic Abbott is a divider, certainly not a leader as witnessed over the last two months. When he and his government poll ratings crash, he will go the way of Rudd, Baillieu and Mills who did not get to their first election as leaders.

November 13, 2013 @ 4:22pm
by Keith

I was very amused when Abbott stated he wanted a respectful Parliament; I gather that within the first hour that went down the drain; aided by that new Speaker. I believe that if you take the opposite view to Abbott, then you are in the ball park; renewable energy is a good example.

November 13, 2013 @ 8:31pm
by Ruckus

One Toss of a term Tony...bring on the goons.
We are falling over ourselves watching you do the same.

November 13, 2013 @ 9:54pm
by D Murphy

A joy to read.
Thanks Mike for bringing some sunshine into my bunker—and making me smile.

November 15, 2013 @ 7:55am
by Mark Porter

Nice, succinct summary Mike. Some of Mr Abbotts choices have been suprising (to say the least!).

November 15, 2013 @ 9:46am
by vulturecapitalist

Said the abbott to sparky bill - "comon' baby light my chasuble"

November 16, 2013 @ 7:59am
by Mkichael Creswell

Good analysis and synopsis of the record so far of this wooly, misguided, mob, and its muscular Christian leader on the government benches. As for Abbott naming Shorten, Electricity Bill, when it comes to tit for tat name calling either by punning or alliteration ...Ah yes, I can think of some, so get to work readers, we should be able to come up with a whole lot of them.

November 16, 2013 @ 8:03am
by Philip Holland

It seems that Abbott's policy of just repeating the same mantras over and over again in opposition is not going to work quite so well in government. It will be interesting to see if he can tow one single boat back to Indonesia, for example.

November 16, 2013 @ 8:14am
by Ros

Great to read a commentary with such insight into the duplicity of this devious government.

November 16, 2013 @ 8:43am
by Ruth Lipscombe

Mike. This is priceless!
It would be funny if it was not so depressingly true.

November 16, 2013 @ 8:52am
by Manolaki

Keep up the good commentary - there are so few of you left willing to stand up to those LNP bullies - but for next three years I will remain despaired - by then, we will have less than 20% to make ours for future generations, but where will we find them in future to hang in front of the Canberra War Memorial in memory for those that gave their lives for our future Australian generations, and as far as the new speaker "the contessa of Mackelar" what hope is there for fair adjudication in our current parliament - when she was in opposition she could not get NOT even "1" point of order and plus getting kicked out for abusing the parliament's time - "Tony" gave her a well paid job for life.

November 16, 2013 @ 9:54am
by Peter for Tony

He is obviously new at the game, give him time and with practice I am sure that he will improve.

November 16, 2013 @ 10:10am
by Peter for Tony

He really is a nice guy so give him a go!

November 16, 2013 @ 10:11am
by Elizabeth

An excellent insight into the current government. I am unsure why the Coalition was elected when they are so obviously unsuited to the 21st century.

Western Australians must put a break on these crazy men by not electing the Conservatives in the proposed senate election.

November 16, 2013 @ 10:12am
by Julie

Tony Abbot and his coalition spent the past 3.5 yrs denigrating the political system in this country and the media happily went along with it. Now the media are expecting Tony and Co to be forthcoming with their ideas (of which I'm sure are very light on the ground) and vision for the future. So now we are stuck with a Government who are basically an opposition in power. There was no debate on why the now Foreign Minister -Julie Bishop - never asked a question to the then Foreign Minister of the Gillard Govt unless it referred to leadership tensions. And now, as they weren't effective with policies (what policies?) in opposition, we are left with government floating along with no direction. I guess as long as Tony gets his exercise in everyday then the world is humming.
ps I'm assuming Peter has written those two comments tongue in cheek - aw gee perhaps he might get it right in the third term!

November 16, 2013 @ 10:44am
by Ralph the Red

And so, too, the people of Griffith, Elizabeth.

November 16, 2013 @ 10:49am
by Ralph

And the people of Griffith too Elizabeth.

November 16, 2013 @ 11:08am
by Green Peace

Dear "Peter for Tony",

If Abbott is such a 'nice guy', let's hope he finishes last as nice guys are supposed to do … and quick about it!

November 16, 2013 @ 12:16pm
by fred

its probably a one term govt, fred

November 16, 2013 @ 1:14pm
by Sandra Hey

Tony Abbott is under the control of his of Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin and her husband Brian Loughnane, Federal Director of the Liberal Party of Australia. It will be interesting to see how Peta Credlin manages Tony Abbott and his front bench in the Parliament, especially when it comes to Question Time. Don't be surprised if the Liberals stop question time from being televised on national free to air television. So far this week, Joe Hockey has been their star performer which would suit Tony Abbott and his boss.

November 16, 2013 @ 4:37pm
by Lis

All right, hands up all if you who voted for them. Well you got what you wanted, so ENJOY!
On the topic of asylum seekers - they're racking up a gargantuan amount of very very bad karma - and the kiss off is coming!

November 16, 2013 @ 6:11pm
by Peter for Tony

It is sad to see such negative commentary directed at our leaders. It is about time those quick to knock those that do think of the consequences. Without respect democracy is threatened. Please give Tony a go, our children deserve a better example.

November 16, 2013 @ 7:23pm
by Sheyne Meiklejohn

Dear Peter for Tony,
If you honestly are all for setting a good example for children, Tony "climate change is crap", "asylum seekers are a scourge", "it is folly to expect that women will ever approach the level of men" Abbott is the LAST place you should start. It is up to YOU, mate, to set a good example for your child. And you can start by making them socially aware of the hideous conditions some people live in which is why they decide to seek asylum in other countries. ANd that the last thing these persecuted peoples deserve is to be villified or used as a political ping-pong ball. You can then move on to explain that humankind is affecting global climate patterns and that we have a responsibility to address our patterns and safeguard our planet for future generations and then you can wind it up by explaining that women have value and that they deserve equal consideration to men in all walks of life. And it really will be up to YOU to explain this as our current government is doing absolutely NONE of it.

November 16, 2013 @ 9:44pm
by Joan

Can we set up a spy system to find out what the newly elected dictator has planed for us? .

November 17, 2013 @ 12:27am
by craig sambell

The age of enlightenment is certainly over for Australia.
Having often wondered what life must have been like in Europe
around the years 500-800. (the dark ages) I think we are going to find
out now under this mind blowing inept and stupid conservative regime.
Welcome to a 21 century re-run of the dark ages.

November 17, 2013 @ 8:12am
by Alister

"Our children deserve a better example." Well said Peter. However we need a Prime Minister with vision and a road map for the future. Have you listened to his say nothing comments. The “I’m not going to run a commentary on a commentary...” On Sri Lanka's human rights record "sometimes in difficult circumstances difficult things happen". On Asylum seekers, "I'm just not going to comment on operational matters," As a school teacher I would fail any student with answers like that.

November 17, 2013 @ 9:19am
Show previous 50 comments
by Babs

A general carrying out a maneuver does not s top and blab the details to the world at large.. Likewise, our pm will clue us all in as to his modus operandi when it is prudent to do so. anyone with a brain could figure that out.

November 17, 2013 @ 9:19pm
by Pappinbarra Fox

Babs I have never read such nonsense. We are not at war - Abbott is not a general, we are a democracy and the people have a right to know what is going on. If you dont like that then move to China.

November 19, 2013 @ 10:13am
by Lou

Funny but even when the people (read press) know what's going on they twist it to suit their agenda. A vile habit that our journos seem to be embracing. Journos need to stick to reporting not giving us their opinion. Unless they r writing an opinion piece of course. I often think if self righteous journos r so smart why arent they running for office!

November 19, 2013 @ 5:02pm
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