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February 26th 2015 print

Peter Smith

Wanted: A Better Cunning Plan

They all seemed like good ideas at the time, especially the bit about making Bill Shorten look good in order to secure a firm hold on his party's leadership. Unfortunately the other part of this strategy hasn't quite clicked: presenting Abbott & Co., as paragons of unity, competence and fairness

oopsScoop! A cunning plan of Baldrick-like proportions was hatched in Abbott’s office to undo the Labor party at the next election. The plan appeared under the heading of “Keep Shorten”. You may recall the movie Get Shorty. This provided inspiration for the catchy heading.

How do I know this? Simple, nothing else makes an ounce of sense. Nothing else passes the sniff test. To paraphrase Sherlock: once all rational explanations fail only the risible remains.

An astute Abbott realised early that if the government were to stop the boats and get rid of the carbon and mining taxes its popularity would go through the roof. Unelectable Bill Shorten (or so he thought) would get the boot and he might be facing that superior put-downer Tanya Plibersek or smart-alec Chris Bowen in 2016.

The whole matter became acute when Julie Bishop exceeded expectations by signing free trade agreements with Japan, South Korea and China. Then Abbot himself exceeded expectations by appearing statesman-like when Malaysian airline MH17 was shot down in Ukraine.

Never mind. Abbott knew that his paid parental leave scheme was an insidious millstone around the government’s neck, which would boost Shorten sooner or later. Moreover, he had his cunning plan up his sleeve. Phase one of the plan was built around Joe Hockey. Phase two, the pièce de résistance, was built around himself.

Hockey was not privy to the plan. He didn’t need to be. Abbott knew that Hockey had delusional thoughts about the end of the age of entitlements and would be sure to stuff up the budget. He outdid himself.

In cutting family payments for those near the bottom of the pile, he explained that everyone had to do some lifting. ‘You may be old or you may be frail, but tote dat barge and lift dat bale,’ Hockey was reported as singing merrily at a whisky and cigar evening with a group of silvertails. But a cautionary note, I can’t independently verify that.

Unemployed people were to be left without benefits. How would they live? Hockey was not quite ready for that unexpected poser. I dunno he said, with practised sulkiness.

Poor people with kids were to start paying for doctors visits to fund the salaries of university educated medical researchers. Pensioners were to wait until they were seventy to get a pension which, in turn, was to be progressively cut against community standards.

Hockey was on a roll. And too boot he didn’t have Mary Poppins with a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down but a Teutonic-sounding sidekick with a ‘no-sissies-will-be-tolerated’ attitude.

Oh, how it worked! Shorten’s popularity shot up. However, it slowly dawned on Abbott that it might have worked too well, as his own popularity and the government’s plummeted. It dawned too slowly.

He had already put in place phase two of his plan by threatening to ‘shirt-front’ Putin and then, following that, by knighting the Duke of Edinburgh. What a lark!

To be absolutely fair, he hadn’t counted on Attorney General George Brandis exclaiming that we were all entitled to be bigots or (now former) Defence Minister David Johnston doubting the ability of South Australians to build canoes after promising them submarines. They were bonuses.

Okay, you can quibble, but the plan worked a treat. Unprepossessing Shorten, without a policy to call his own, is miles more popular than Abbott. His position of Leader of the Opposition has been secured. One half of the job is done. That only leaves the small matter of winning the next election

Wise heads think another cunning plan is required to counter the deleterious effects of the first cunning plan. What would this plan look like? It would look exactly like me, said the Member for Wentworth to a close group of friends. Impishly, he broke into rhyme.

I’m prepared to wait awhile
Mutiny’s not my style
That would be a captain’s call
This can cause a mighty fall
Best to get there stealthily
By appearing on Our ABC.

Smiling disarmingly, he sauntered away. “I’ll be back,” some thought they heard him gruffly mutter under his breath. Again, I can’t independently verify this last bit.

Peter Smith, a frequent Quadrant Online contributor, is the author of Bad Economics