Everyone (or at least everyone who went to school more than 20 years ago) knows about Saint Paul. He started life as a ‘Saul’ and ended life as a ‘Paul’. It is because of him, and his new found aversion to killing Christians, that we have that lovely expression ‘Damascene conversion’ (again something that elicits blank, uncomprehending stares from the vast preponderance of today’s university students). What you saw at one point in Saul is not what you got at another with Paul.
Moving forward a couple of millennia you have another Paul, this one of Beatles fame. (I think even today’s students know who they were.) At one point in that group’s unsurpassed success a few crackpots got to thinking that the ‘real’ Paul McCartney had died and been replaced by a new ‘Paul’. What you saw at one point is not what you got at another.
And so I ask you, do any other readers feel as though Prime Minister Tony Abbott has a certain ‘Paul’ quality about him since the election last year? What we saw before the last election is not what we’re seeing after the election, or not nearly as much as many of us had expected.
The pre-election Tony Abbott was subjected to ridiculous abuse and loathing from all the usual suspects (not least those at the ‘ABC’) for being a misogynist. They wailed about how he was mean to that poor, incompetent woman running the country. Rather than respond directly to those who noted she wasan incompetent buffoon, she played the gender card. ‘It’s all because I’m a woman, otherwise they’d be saying I was Australia’s greatest-ever Prime Minister’, or some such patent absurdity, echoed far and wide throughout progressive circles everywhere. All of us who liked and supported Mr. Abbott hated this play-the-victim tactic. ‘Tony’ Abbott was not someone who would ever play the sexism card. We were sure of that.
The post-election ‘Paul’ Abbott is apparently a different kettle of fish. A few people allege that his chief of staff, Peta Credlin, is too controlling and, a la Gillard, out comes that appalling ‘Oh, you’re only saying that because she’s a woman’ guff that made me want to barf when Julia said it and makes me want to barf just as much when ‘Paul’ trots it out about Peta (not Peter, I emphasize). Come on, man, the last thing anyone who voted for the pre-election Tony ever wanted to hear was garbage like that coming out of post-election Paul. What it shows is how thoroughly the left, and the play-the-victim, special interest group gobble-de-gook has captured the culture if the supposedly conservative current Prime Minister is indulging in such sloppy misdirections.
Personally, I figure that Credlin did a mighty good job when directing the troops while in opposition. Of course, if she had anything at all to do with the selling out on the 18C repeal then I am bitterly disappointed. But I’m disappointed because of what she did, not because of the sort of reproductive organs she happens to be carting around. The pre-election Tony Abbott would have said the same thing. The guy who has taken over his body since the last election, Paul Abbott, has decided to channel Julia Gillard, and isn’t she just the great role model for a successful prime minister!
Which reminds me: the pre-election Tony Abbott spent over two years assuring everyone that the government he led would be committed to free speech and would amend Section 18C. The post-election Paul Abbott threw that all away for what? For the votes of ‘Team Australia’? Are you kidding me? For a bit of slack from the perennially hostile ABC? Are you kidding me? Where was ABC’s post-election explanation that repeal of 18C was in no conceivable way an extreme or radical step? My Lord, man, after repeal of 18C Australia would have been in the same position as regards hate-speech laws as is Canada. You know, that bastion of right-wingery which is the social democratic state of Canada. You must be joking if you think that’s extreme in any sense other than as viewed from Cloud ABC Cuckoo Land.
Even if we had repealed 18C in its entirety there still would have been more restrictions on that sort of speech in Australia than there are in the United States today. Yes, that United States, which has 330 million people and millions of Muslims who do much better there – better integrated, better treated, not a single solitary hate-speech law on the books – than they are treated in all sorts of Western democracies (think France and Germany and more) with egregiously tough hate-speech laws. Being part of a national ‘team’ in no plausible way at all requires there to be idiotic and counter-productive hate-speech laws in place and the pre-election Tony said as much. And that former Tony was right. Alas, the post-election Paul folded on this issue like an expert in origami.
Mr. Abbott must have had some sort of conversion and become Paul the Team Player — Paul, the man trying to be the darling of the inner city left. Paul the man we no longer recognise.
But maybe it was just a pragmatic political calculation gone horribly wrong. You spend too much time in Canberra and you start to think multicultural lobby groups represent far more voters than they actually do and that (maybe, fingers crossed), if we throw them this bone or that grant, a whole bunch of their supporters will switch over and vote Coalition. What a joke that is! It’s like saying the ABC will give the Coalition impartial coverage on Q&A or Media Watch if only this government would genuflect once in a while to the sacred cows revered by all at the national broadcaster’s Ultimo head offices. Ha!
Suppose we shift our focus to the Recognise campaign. Whatever one’s take on this – and it’s hard to have one until the precise wording is announced – I doubt any of Mr. Abbott’s core voters before the election ever thought that the future Prime Minister would give $5 million dollars to a collection of left-wing rent-seekers without giving a penny to people who oppose all but technical repeals of s.25 and s.51(xxvi) of our Constitution. The Tony Abbott who headed up the campaign to keep us a constitutional monarchy, pitting himself against the combined weight of inner city bien pensant thinking, is only funding one side of this issue, the lefty side! Are you kidding me? This is nothing other than robbing from Peter (all of us taxpayers) to pay – you guessed it – Paul. Worse, one can already see that proponents of this Recognise campaign will be labelling anyone who disagrees with them a racist.
Then there’s the pre-election Tony who promised not to raise taxes. What we have is a spending problem. The post-election Paul keeps raising taxes. Now I know that the Senate is obstructionist. So be it. You just stand up every day, together with all of your Cabinet ministers, and you explain everywhere, all the time, that spending must be cut. You don’t cave in and raise taxes. If you have to choose between the deficit expanding, and raising taxes, you let it expand and sheet it home to Labor. That’s the way Tony would behave. Paul is trying to do a bit of both and that simply isn’t a coherent message.
None of any of this is meant to deny that even Paul is a better choice than Bill Shorten. If push came to shove, I would prefer Paul over Electricity Bill. Bill can’t seem to identify a single spending cut he would make. He’s keen to keep all the over-staffed and unneeded agencies, on some half-baked Keynesian grounds. We’ll just cross our fingers and hope for growth, Mr. Shorten tells us. This from the man who once said he believed whatever Julia believed.
So, wretched and spineless as he is, Paul Abbott remains preferable to Bill Shorten. But to be perfectly blunt, I didn’t vote for Paul I voted for Tony. And I want Tony back. Right now my sense is that the core voters of the Coalition are seething mad at the David Cameron-like attempts to curry favour with people (think ABC producers and presenters, the human rights brigade, the trendy lefties, the Gaia worshipping greenies, the list goes on) who will never, ever vote for Tony …… or for Paul. Meanwhile back in the land of regular Coalition voters many of us right now wouldn’t donate a penny to the Coalition. We wouldn’t help them on election day either. Yes, we will probably tick the ballot for them. But it will be very much on a least-bad basis.
It was precisely this sort of trying to be a centre-left government and sell out your base that has landed British Prime Minister David Cameron into such big trouble. Why our Prime Minister is copying that flawed approach is, quite frankly, beyond me.
Again, remember the Beatles. The cry that went up amongst a few misguided tragics insisted Paul had died. That was just crazy talk. But I’m pretty sure that if our Prime Minister keeps on his current path then, in electoral terms, come the next election ‘Paul Abbott will be dead’.
Santa, I want Tony back. Can I please have that for Christmas?
James Allan, Garrick Professor of Law at the University of Queensland, is the author of Democracy in Decline