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
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
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?