Incoherent Signals From Planet Janet

janetI have been reading Janet Albrechtsen’s columns in The Australian since I arrived here just over a decade ago.  Over that period I figure I’ve agreed with her about 95% of the time – my agreeing-with-her hit rate has been like the result in some North Korean ‘election’.  I agree with her strong free speech positions; I agree with her small government leanings; I agree with most of her social commentary.  And I know, too, that Janet has a thick skin, having been the subject of plenty of ad hominem attacks over the years.

In what follows I want to play the ball, not the woman, when it comes to Albrechtsen’s December 16 column in The Australian (it’s paywalled, so no point in linking).  This is the one in which she graded the current government, and gave Malcolm Turnbull an ‘A’.  Let me take you through that column because, in my view, it was the weakest thing of hers I’ve ever read. In fact it was laughably wrong-headed.

Start with Turnbull.  He gets an ‘A’ from Albrechtsen.  Why?  Remember, since taking office three months ago, the new PM has

  • scrapped the Bjorn Lomborg Centre that had found a home in South Australia
  • played lovey-dovey with Gillian Triggs
  • forked out a billion dollars for overseas global warming projects…
  • … plus another billion on “innovation”
  • clearly and undeniably mischaracterised what former Prime Minister Abbott said about sending forces to fight ISIS
  • decided to do nothing about amending Section 18C (which Abbott wimped out on changing, but Turnbull hinted to some he would alter –until he had the top job, that is)
  • bumped up the pay offer to public servants by half a percent
  • carefully orchestrated the mooting of a GST rise of 50%, from 10% to 15%.

And that’s just some of the things Prime Minister Turnbull has perpetrated. There are more.  What we can notice is that every single, solitary move has been to the left: bigger government (tick); less free speech, as broadly understood (tick); more policies in line with the desires of inner-city progressives’ (tick).

Of all that Albrechtsen might have mentioned, only one of the above — the billion spent on innovation — figured in her column.  She said the initiative contained plenty of fluff, but then excused it “because it’s bracing to hear a politician say they do not have all the answers and admit they may need to tweak a policy if there are mis-steps or unintended consequences.”  Wow!  That’s a pretty low threshold for holding a politician to account.

But leave that aside. What is the real reason Albrechtsen gives Turnbull an ‘A’?  As she puts it, “It’s the ‘simple measure of polls.'”  So far so good is her line, but the case for the defence is close to incoherent. Is Obama an A-class president because he has won elections? No standard to bring to the table other than, ‘Can he win an election?’.   OK, so by that measure, the premier of my state of Queensland also gets an ‘A’. Isn’t that right, Janet?  Anna Palaszczuk has done absolutely nothing, other than watch as Queensland’s debt shoots through the roof. But “on the simple measure of polls” she’s a winner! Right, Janet?  Same for Justin Trudeau in Canada, n’est-ce pas, Mademoiselle Albrechtsen?

This is the winning-is-all-that-matters and the only-basis-on-which-you-measure-a-politician way of thinking. Did Ronald Reagan go from great politician to terrible when the polls turned against him?  Did Maggie Thatcher do the same?  Look, surely we bring substantive values to the table in any assessment of a politician and a political party.  And anyway, why vote for someone whose positions you don’t like, even if 51% of your fellow voters will?

One thing that Janet Albrechtsen has been consistently solid on over the years is her commitment to free speech.  She was incensed when Tony Abbott sold out on attempts to repeal Section 18C.  I was too.  Fine.  But the thing is that Malcolm is worse than Tony on free speech.  Malcolm has doubled-down on doing nothing about 18C.  Malcolm has canned the Lomborg Centre, which clearly can be seen in free-speech terms.  Malcolm has banned the visit of an anti-abortion activist (again, with free-speech overtones). Malcolm wants us all to tone down criticisms of the Grand Mufti and Islam.  So where were your usual standards on these issues, Janet?  Does Malcolm get a free pass on all these because you were one of the people who supported dumping Abbott, free speech concerns be damned? Because it sure seems as though you are bringing different criteria to the table, at least that’s the way your column strikes me.

What about the small government-liking Albrechtsen?  Well, on this count the Abbott government – yes, they were unable to deal with the Senate, but at least they wanted to cut spending – again looks a lot better than Turnbull’s.  Does she criticise Malcolm for more spending?  Does she condemn the Turnbull team for doing a deal with the Greens to raise tax revenue? No! and No! again  (And do note here that George Brandis, who on the Bolt Report, characterised that deal as helping to deal with this country’s spending problem. It helped to raise more government revenue, which might help with our deficit, but it is in no way a cut in spending. I urge all readers to watch out for this government’s spin and sleight-of-hand techniques by which new revenue is classed as helping with the spending problem.)

Basically, the Albrechtsen who wrote that December 16 column seems to have jettisoned the criteria that I’ve seen her use these past ten years in favour of, well,  I know not what.  Heck, she was also wholly inconsistent within the walls of that same column.  Ian Macfarlane got a “Fail” grade for “his craven political switch for self-aggrandisement”.  Really?  Isn’t that the same exact thing one could say about Turnbull?  And Bishop?  That self-aggrandisement drove disreputable behaviour?  I thought Turnbull supporters thought that bad behaviour was OK, given that it proves successful. So maybe, once again, an ‘F’ grade is based on nothing at all substantive, simply reflecting that Macfarlane failed in his treachery where Turnbull’s succeeded, which it hardly requires a columnist to point out.  And speaking of Julie Bishop, Janet gives her an ‘A’ too.  But what of the foreign minister’s duplicity over months and months?  Well, exclaims Albrechtsen,  “exactly when did being a survivor in politics warrant a mark down?”

So leaking and white-anting and being disloyal as deputy is all OK as long as you, yourself, survive the coup?  Have I got that right, Janet?  Now I’m not so naïve as to think we bring the same standards to the political game as we do to life in general, which sees most of value loyalty, honesty, and telling it to our faces, rather than back-stabbing treachery. Even in politics those qualities should count for something.  House of Cards is not real life, at least I hope it isn’t.  But this tempered lack of cynicism is sloughed off by Janet with a wave of her ‘I will survive’ pop-song hand.  Personally, I doubt all of Ms. Bishop’s fellow Coalition MPs will be as quick to slough off her behaviour. But then, looking at a good many of those same MPs and their seeming lack of belief in anything, I am happy to concede I may be wrong.

Then there is Albrechtsen’s ‘F’ grade for Abbott.  Really, an ‘F’?  Yep.  You see “friends and colleagues alike warned him about the troubles facing his leadership, his office and his government [and] he ignored them all.”  That’s just ex post facto rationalising, Janet.  Lots of politicians over the years have been warned that their way of doing things was irking their parties.  Go and look at Thatcher’s early years in office.  Or Churchill’s for that matter.  Or Stephen Harper’s in Canada.  Things can turn around.  Well, they can if the party that you took to a big election victory sticks with you.  But even if not, do you get an ‘F’ without a single mention of anything substantive you accomplished, like stopping the boats, getting rid of the carbon tax and mining tax, taking on Gillian Triggs, getting almost all foreign policy matters spot-on?  Sure, Abbott made plenty of errors, mostly by trying to appease the ABC types, not going head-on after the Senate, and in being too trusting (of Turnbull, and Bishop, and others).  But on what possible planet does that get you an ‘F’?  I suppose on the same planet where Arthur Sinodinos gets an ‘A’.

OK, so maybe you think this is just my idiosyncratic take on things.  Well, if you looked at the comments to Albrechtsen’s article, and I mean the comments on The Australian’s own online webpage, they ran at least 90% against her.  Indeed, there was a good deal of apoplectic rage.  And these remarks are from her own newspaper’s core readers.

Which brings me to this final point.  Let’s assume that about 40% of long-time Liberal voters are still unhappy about the coup.  It may well be a good deal higher, but let’s understate things.  (Disclosure: I put myself in this camp, if you haven’t already noticed.)  Where are the writers on The Australian who offer views in line with what might be considered this core readership for what is, without a doubt,  Australia’s best paper? I mean that question seriously.

Since the coup, The Australian’s opinion pages have read like the Turnbull fan club.  Nikki Sava has spent endless months writing nothing but bile about Abbott.  A gushing Turnbull cheerleader, she should perhaps add a footnote to her articles stating that her husband was one of Turnbull’s first office hires. Peter van Onselen, anti-Abbott from the day he took over as Opposition leader, who tried his hardest to prop up Gillard, and who was even more vehemently anti-Abbott from day one of the ousted prime minister’s tenure.  Ditto. (And did you notice Abbott’s letter to the editor on December 15 about van Onselen’s hatchet-job book, and how that missive was not given a prominent place on the letters page?)  Paul Kelly. Ditto.  Heck, let’s make this easy:  Who has been the “Turnbull is not the answer” columnist on the paper?  Maurice Newman, that’s who, and he is about as far as it goes.

Let me be clear about my position.  I don’t fear Mr. Turnbull losing the next election.  I fear him winning.  And I say that as someone with the same substantive positions that Janet Albrechtsen  has defended — until recently at any rate.

I can’t see a single conservative bone in Turnbull’s body.  And I don’t much like anything he’s done since taking over. Indeed, I’m moving from my initial position of spoiling my ballot and voting informally at the next election to voting for Labor (for the House that is; for the Senate the Libs had no chance of me voting for them from the day of the coup).  A tough call, I know.  But what we small-government, pro-free speech, tough on national security Hobbesian types have to calculate is long-term versus short-term damage to this country.  Both choices are bad.  But give Turnbull a mandate of his own and God knows what he might do.  You’d be voting for the most left wing leader of the Coalition possibly ever.  Alright, strike the ‘possibly’.  Three years of Shorten would get rid of Turnbull, and it couldn’t be any worse than three years of Rudd.  And remember, in 2007 The Australian came out for Rudd over Howard, something just-retired editor Chris Mitchell says he now regrets.  I’m not going to wait for more of the same regret about Turnbull.

Yes, yes, yes — there is plenty of room for conservatives to disagree about whether to support Turnbull (while holding our noses).  But the idea that he gets an ‘A’ so far is just plain ridiculous.

James Allan, Garrick Professor of Law at the University of Queensland is the author of Democracy in Decline

31 thoughts on “Incoherent Signals From Planet Janet

  • Mr Johnson says:

    Surprise was my first, reaction. Then disappointment that, Janet, one of my favourites had shown that not only did she have feet of clay, but that clay extended all the way up to her breastbone. I can only think that someone, Michael K perhaps, has whispered to her that she’ll never be invited over for Christmas drinks with the new shiny pants PM, with a pro-Abbott badge on her lapel.

    I would think that perhaps Mark Textor giving voice to the PM’s sentiment that the right end of the Conservative spectrum ‘doesn’t matter’, will come back to haunt him. Malcolm’s lead will narrow, as it always does (right Kev?) and then those ‘don’t matter’ Conservatives, will be so far gone, and so much looking forward to his political burial, that all he’ll have left are the P van Onselens and Albrechtsens pretending they never supported him, really truly, anyway.

    • Winifred says:

      I think that Kroger influences opportunistically. It is fascinating how quickly The Australian and Sky News swung behind Turnbull just before the coup.

      Will these converts to Malcolm run with him on climate change, multiculturalism and gay marriage, which are dear to his heart?

  • simsnoop1@gmail.com says:

    Janet would have laughed had anyone else written the same hagiographic waffle about another politician. Her arguments were so flimsy you could almost think it was written by an ABC Drum contributor. I feel abandoned by my own party which been hijacked by the Turnbull squattocracy. As James notes that the only decisions Lord Narcissus has made is to appease the left. Two decisions show what he stands for. The rehabilitation of Triggs is a disgrace. Also, he is so determined to always ‘win’ over Abbott that he arranged for the head of ASIO to parley his spin. What a weak character Duncan Lewis is. He has singlehandedly reduced my confidence in Australia’s security agencies response to Islamism. At this stage I will Nationals in the Senate and I would like to vote Nationals in the House of Reps if they run someone in my seat.

  • aertdriessen@gmail.com says:

    Thank you James and, like you, I will not be voting for the Liberals at the next election unless Malcolm is not its leader (unlikely). My reason is very simple — he is totally and thoroughly untrustworthy. But I don’t want Shorten either. I have expressed this in comments in previous posts. What options are there for ACT voters? I don’t think the Nats have a candidate in the ACT. I don’t think it matters much who one votes for in the ACT in a federal election; Labor will win. But I will vote for a non-Liberal Senate candidate who is a climate sceptic who, hopefully, will have some ‘balance of power’ influence. This will be the first time in my life that I will vote on a single issue. This issue is huge, costing us billions and the world trillions. It is wrecking the Scientific Method. It is extinguishing the Enlightenment. There is no evidence (the currency of Science, or it used to be) that I have seen that carbon dioxide causes dangerous global warming. If I have missed something, please point it out to me.

  • bemartin39@bigpond.com says:

    My sentiments precisely. Janet Albrechtsen’s article – disappointing as it is – is a minor detail of the central issue of a Turnbull-led Liberal Party. I don’t know if the main danger is his decisively left leaning tendencies or his basically stand-for-nothing-but-myself record. The combination of the two is pretty terrifying. I doubt if I could ever vote Labour but I most certainly won’t be voting Liberal next year, if ever. And that’s after never having voted for any other party. In the senate in NSW I will have the Australian Liberal Alliance but I don’t yet know my options for the house. The prospect of 3 years of Labour is just about impossible to countenance but so is a “vindicated” Turnbull in the Lodge. What a dismal dilemma!

  • Sigwyvern says:

    I will not vote liberal whilst we are lorded over by a giant left wing hot air balloon either. I will have Australian Liberty alliance in the senate but am unsure about my other options.My personal opinion is I would rather the liberals were smacked down by labor or a hung parliament just so these twerps could be taught a lesson, then hopefully with a more right leaning senate able to block the socialist madness, ride it out until some conservatives are located.i must admit I am surprised how many conservatives will not be voting for Turdbull but believe that he should not be rewarded under any circumstance.

  • Sigwyvern says:

    If one didn’t know better it almost looks as if Albrechtsen has been told what to write.

  • dsh2@bigpond.com says:

    Thanks, James Allan, for so succinctly summing up all that was wrong with Albrechtsen’s article. She has not yet descended to the low level where I have placed Bishop but if she keeps up the ‘My Party, right or wrong’ mantra she will drop down there too. My dilemma come the next election is that our local member is a good representative and his Labor opponent is a dangerous socialist. I am, however, teetering on the edge of voting Labor but I will have to wash my mouth out for saying that.

    • Jody says:

      And Scott Morrison got a B; he and Matthias Cormann are the only two hard-working people in the entire cabinet. Trying to make politically unpalatable decisions about our debt-ridden nation to an electorate opposed to taxation and wedded to the government taking care of their every need is a vote loser, not a winner. And, remember, Julie Bishop lost her gig under Opposition Leader Turnbull as Shadow Treasurer because she didn’t have a clue.

      Turnbull has many ambitious potential leaders breathing down his neck in the Liberal Party. He may win over the Left temporarily (I doubt it), but if he strays too far from the centre (which is where elections are historically won), his leadership is doomed. Pointless disaffecting your core constituency at the expense of ‘progressives’. This is what happened to Rudd!!

  • a.crooks@internode.on.net says:

    Sorry James, but I think we need a more creative solution here. The idea of handing Australia over to a Shorten just to spite Turnbull seems just wrong to me. Just imagine what Shorten would do to hang on to power. Imagine what influence the Reds in Labor and the Greens would have within an ideologically bankrupt Labor Party. It would be like Jeremy Corbyn unleashed.
    For sure lets criticise Turnbull and all the other “wets” – and hang them out to dry, including their useful idiots in the media, but we need to identify and support minor parties and any “dry” Liberals that still remain.
    I’m going to support the Australian Liberty Alliance – mainly because of its policy on the ABC. We are not going anywhere until that organisation has been brought under some sort of control and is answerable to somebody.

  • Dallas Beaufort says:

    Janet’s warming to take the Laura Tingle low road

    • Jody says:

      Yes, but Laura has an advantage; she’s got a world-class hater (Alan Ramsay) to fuel her political instincts and the consequences have been more loony and out of touch than serious and influential.

      None of this – repeat, none – has anything remotely to do with the vast majority of people and their daily working lives in this country.

  • brian.doak@bigpond.com says:

    A totally committed unionist like Bill Shorten as Prime Minister would empty our coffers in the same way as Queensland unionist Annastacia Palaszczuk has supported Labor mates with ramped up borrowing in Qld. Please consider anything but Labor in Canberra.

    Unfortunately our accidental former Prime Minister Tony Abbott was not up to the task. He has writing skills but very limited speaking and management ability and allowed himself to become a punching bag for the media.He was nothing like a Menzies or a Howard and would have lost the next election because he never won the previous one which Labor, so much on the nose, lost. Tony Abbott unwittingly paved the way for the Turnbull coup.

    Planet Janet please note all the above wise comments by James and so many others that insist that Turnbull is certainly not deserving of any A rating. Some would give him a C now and an F just before he is rolled after the election as his popularity inevitably dives. But he needs to be voted in before he can be tossed out and replaced by an articulate conservative with the hide of a Joh or a Donald Trump.

  • Steve Spencer says:

    Look at the people who like Turnbull – most notably the ABC. That tells anybody who can’t figure out Turnbull’s political polarity everything they need to know.

    “But what we small-government, pro-free speech, tough on national security Hobbesian types have to calculate is long-term versus short-term damage to this country.”

    Couldn’t agree more, and I’ve been saying the same thing since Turnbull stole the Liberal party. Apart from my wish to send a signal regarding the Leftist drift, I will NOT reward treachery.

  • Peter OBrien says:

    James, couldn’t agree more. I was stunned when I read that column. It seems that Janet, along with PvO, is more obsessed with politics than policy and governance.

  • Rob Brighton says:

    There is really only one question in front of us, labor or liberal.

    Given the choice between the pretender and Shorten I will cop the pretender, not happily be sure but a Shorten led labor government would be a disaster, one that our grand kids wont thank us for.

    Happily I don’t personally get a choice, as a rural voter on the Northern Rivers of NSW Nationals are the only option, that or the raggedy collection of fluoride hating, vaccination denying, CSG extraction blocking rabid greenies and new earth mother types that make me bilious to consider we are part of the same species.

    Perhaps that is why I will stomach Turnbull in the hope that the rest of the liberals will keep some sort of reigns on his disastrous leanings, not happily to be sure but I have had to spend my voting life selecting between the lessor of two evils.

    Nevertheless it is a stark choice, Turnbull or Shorten. I spent the day mulling over the argument in this column and find it a clear concise assessment of the situation except in regard to the choices that follow. We cannot allow Shorten to gain the lodge keys yes we would be handing out a lesson to errant liberal know nothings but hells bells the cost would be staggering.

    • Jody says:

      Somebody has said “a belief in everything is a belief in nothing”. That’s our social dilemma, it seems to me. And remember, politicians don’t come from Mars; what’s wrong with them is what’s wrong with us.

      Agree with Bran Dee’s comments about Abbott. I observed to my doctor at the beginning of this year that Abbott seemed bored with his job as PM. He put most of the decisions into the hands of Peta Credlin and attended to the bells and whistles side of politics, sans the elan and sophistication required of a statesman. And the community just said, “on yer bike, mate” – and nothing is going to change that fact.

      • Steve Spencer says:

        I would be interested in seeing your evidence that Abbott was ‘bored with his job” and that he left the decision-making to Credlin. As for the community saying “on yer bike”, it wasn’t the community who knifed him but his own party. The last time the people had a real say in the matter, they gave Abbott the Lodge.

        • Jody says:

          I think you need to cast your mind back to the appalling poll figures under Abbott. The government was facing defeat, big time. If that isn’t the community I don’t know what is.

          Abbott appeared bored and, consequently, he made misery for himself concentrating on peripheral issues rather than the economy. He resorted to mindless mantras, over and over and over, instead of cutting to the deteriorating economic issues at hand. And there has been much documented about the role of Credlin; I don’t need to trawl over that again.

          • Steve Spencer says:

            So, no evidence at all. You base your assertion that he was ‘bored’ on the way YOU saw him. Likewise, rumours suggested that he left the running of his office to Credlin, but there is zero evidence that she was running the country. As for polls, time and time again they are out of step with the only poll that counts – an election – and Abbott performed well at the ballot. Finally, I would argue that much of what was described as public sentiment was just the Leftist media echo chamber beating up Abbott’s every move, ably supported by Turnbull and Bishop.

  • en passant says:

    I was a Liberal for 31 years but could not vote for Turnbull if he was the only candidate. The writing is on the wall for the Liberals as North Sydney (Hockey) was not an aberration but the shape of things to come. I agree with most commentators that Shorten and the Greens are beyond destructive of what remains of Australia, but there are alternatives: vote for every other independent and party except the Liberals, the Greens and Labor. Balkanise parliament, both the Reps and the Senate. In fact this is true democracy.
    Are you wasting your vote in doing so? NO! Take Iceland, Poland the lite green Conservatives (but they have improved since ruling in their own right) in the UK and Donald Trump and collectively we can make a difference. If the minor parties swap votes then (if we take the last disastrous Victorian Election as an example) 22.4% of voters gave their primary vote to a minor party, making them collectively the third largest voting bloc in Victoria and with the numbers to win seats in Parliament. UKIP wuz robbed, but watch the next round in the EU referendum. So, vote for the ALA, LDP, Family First, the Nationals, Christian parties, etc – anyone but the Liberals, Labor and the execrable Greens or any of the other elites and we can have a voice.

  • Geoffrey Luck says:

    Fo whatever reasons, Janet joined the ranks of the sycophants with that article. Disappointing, when she had the opportunity to expose Turnbull’s clear strategy to anaethetise the electorate with false assurances. Observe: “We are living in the most exciting time”; A MYEFO assurance of the economy on a holiday road trip to never-never surplus land; employing ASIO to shut down debate on Islam in the pretence there’s nothing to worry about there. No problems, no policies, only bromides.

  • en passant says:

    Please learn to spell properly. When referring to the blind supporters of Turnb … (I cannot bring myself to even say its name) the correct term is ‘psychophants’ as only the deranged could support Richard 111, Lady Macbeth and the Ministry of the Damned.
    Roll on the May election …

  • Margie Joan says:

    Thank you for writing this brilliant article. I agree with it 100%

  • gavanhe@gmail.com says:

    Perhaps Janet will acknowledge that her monicker had been hijacked.

  • Margie Joan says:

    I agreed with the author, James Allen, when he said, ” But give Turnbull a mandate of his own and God knows what he might do. ” However, I do not believe that he has to vote Labor to get rid of Turnbull.

    We must not forget, that 44 Liberals were loyal to Tony Abbott and they, of course, can get our vote if they are still in Parliament and we are in their electorates. Then there are the Nationals. The hope is that the Nationals will put up many 3 cornered contests. If they win well, then the balance of power is shifted to the Nationals and they could refuse to join a Coalition if Turnbull remains the Leader. Of course in the Senate we now can vote 1 for the ALA Party and South Australian voters can make sure Senator Cory Bernardi can get their vote.

    The Liberals do not have to lose office for Turnbull to be ousted as Prime Minister. To hold Government it is necessary to get 76 seats in the House of Reps. For example:-

    1. approx. 40 loyal Abbott Liberals
    2. approx. 14 Nationals
    3. approx. 22 made up of known Turnbull supporters and newly elected candidates in the Nationals 3 cornered contests;

    If the 44 who supported Abbott retained their seats + at least 10 Nationals, but many of the Turnbull supporters lose seats and their numbers are reduced from 56 to 22, then the Coalition will retain office but there is no way that Turnbull would keep his position as Prime Minister.

    It simply shows that it is possible to get rid of Turnbull without electing a Labor Government.

  • Homer Sapien says:

    I fully concur with this excellent article. The world is getting more mad by the minute. Might as well vote for Shorten and go out with a bang.

  • Rhyl Martin says:

    To say I was shocked by Janet’s article would be a gross understatement. I find it incomprehensible that she would pen such drivel. A brain explosion, perhaps?

  • gerardbarry@ozemail.com.au says:

    Agreed – vote for GROT (getting rid of Turnbull)!

  • Marita Rose says:

    Sorry, I could never vote for Shorten. That would be like committing suicide for my future generations. I will be voting for any other conservative parties all the way down till I get to the greens, then Labour and last but not least, the libs. I find that Turnbull is nothing worse than a snake and a liar.
    In the senate, definitely the ALA

  • Tallaijohn says:

    James. I could not agree more. Where have all the conservatives gone?

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