As the Good Book says, in its proper King James version, ‘Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall’. And isn’t it comforting to know that some of this country’s political columnists abide by the sayings of the good book? Take Peter van Onselen, for instance. After reading his (paywalled) column this past Saturday, there can be little denying that pride goeth before just about everything. This is the same columnist, don’t forget, who indulged himself in the worst sort of moral preening about the awfulness of attempting to stop the boats for, well, eons and eons. What his virtue signalling made clear was the boundless nature of the columnist’s sanctimony. And smugness. Nor for him was it ever right to stop those boats.
And who on The Australian was a greater cheerleader for getting rid of Tony Abbott and bringing in ‘walk on water’ Malcolm? Okay, Niki Savva was and remains the greater shill. You got me on that one. But PVO gives her a pretty good run for her money. The dislike of Tony oozed out of van Onselen and into every column he wrote and still writes. Remember, PVO gushed when Gillard first came in. On the 2010 election night he called it a win for her about two minutes into the results, getting the result ultimately right, but managing to look a prize fool in the meantime. Also, he never failed to present his own, un-elected views as being morally superior to Abbott’s at every opportunity.
Oh, and since the Turnbull coup – the fruit of treachery that PVO savoured with barely restrained glee – a visitor from Mars could be forgiven in thinking that (how shall I put this?) slightly different standards were being used to assess Malcolm’s performance than had been used to weigh Tony’s. Indeed, Peter’s initial sense was pretty much that here, in Malcolm, was the Second Coming — the whole package, a political saviour and, best of all, someone who shared his political views (I read between the lines on that one). But events have conspired (that verb seems apropos) to bring Malcolm down to earth politically. His party is now neck-and-neck with labor in some polls. behind in another.The optimist in PVO has given way to a soupçon of pessimism, of worry.
And so we get this past Saturday’s column. He tells us
“Turnbull can’t be afraid to run on Abbott’s success at ‘stopping the boats’, alongside stoking fears that the flow will restart if Labor is returned. It’s ugly politicking, but effective all the same.”
Wow! Wow, again! Does the man have any pride at all? (I mean PVO; we know the answer as regards to Malcolm.) So as long as it’s his man who’s doing it, no problemsky with the boat mongering. Right?
Now I happen to think stopping the boats was a great idea. It was the moral thing to do. Abbott was terrific on that front. Speaking for myself, I’m darned sure that if I thought something morally wrong, it wouldn’t become “right” just so that I could save a bit of face and spruik my main man. Take repealing Section 18C, for instance. I think ditching it is imperative. I think Abbott made a terrible mistake not repealing it, or putting repeal to the Senate — and I think that even though I much prefer Abbott to Turnbull. And I criticised Abbott relentlessly on that. The Peter way seems to amount to, what’s the term? Help me please! Oh yes, a heaping helping of hypocrisy.
Yet that’s not all, folks. Peter also tells us, now with the polls tanking, that this Coalition government is one that “‘stumbled on policy and panicked on leadership”. What? Not for me the joys of a French deconstructionist’s interpretation. I prefer my writing to be clear and to the point. Is Peter saying that the Libs erred in dumping Tony? How else do you interpret “panicked”, ladies and gentlemen? Generally, I don’t see it as describing a good thing, as in ‘Lincoln panicked and then delivered the Gettysburg Address’ or ‘Thatcher panicked and declared war on Argentina’. Usually, at least outside the environs of the TFB cubbyhouse (Turnbull Fan Club, postal address c/o of The Australian‘s opinion page), “to panic” connotes the doing of unwise things in the aftermath of such panic.
As for the policy stuff, Peter omits all the good things Abbott did: stopping the boats and doing so in the face of the Peteresque commentators saying it simply wasn’t possible; getting rid of the carbon and mining taxes; pushing through three free trade agreements; nixing government subsidies to the car industry and Qantas (want to bet Malcolm will be less inclined to toughness on that sort of front?); reducing subsidies to the renewable rent seekers; calling the Heydon Royal Commission. However Pete is very nearly right in noting that Turnbull has done nada, nothing, zero since taking over. Almost right, but not quite because Malcolm has played lovey-dovey with the appalling Gillian Triggs, thrown money at an implicit government-can-pick-winners “innovation” boondoggle, and put every tax-raising scheme imaginable ‘on the table’. So I guess it’s true that at least Turnbull has ‘stumbled on policy’.)
PVO calls all rudderless indecision “a messy period for the government”. How apt. How perspicuous. But then we get the piece de resistance as Peter concludes with a wee confession:
“It may represent an unwanted streak of conservatism in me [unwanted by him, you understand, and no doubt by his fellow journalists], but I don’t like to see one-term governments kicked out, especially in a political system of minimalist three year terms. I would have written the same (admittedly through gritted teeth) had Abbott taken this government through to the election.”
Really? Hands up if you believe that. Anyone? Personally, I prefer the deranged honesty of Niki Savva over these ‘woulda, coulda, shoulda’ assertions we see above – and notice that these are wholly unverifiable claims that point to events in some non-existent parallel realm. But let’s say Peter is telling it like it is, that he really woulda supported Abbott, albeit through gritted teeth. What I don’t get is why, if the Libs in fact did “panic on leadership”, there would be gritted teeth at all.
Look, most of you readers will be aware of the Peter Principle ‘that in bureaucratic enterprises people tend to rise to the level of their incompetence’.
Well call this is the New Peter Principle:
Hypocrisy and principle are nothing compared to getting my preferred man across the line.