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article imageOp-Ed: U.S. think tank CFR calls for removal of Australian PM Abbott

By Paul Wallis     Feb 11, 2015 in World
Sydney - American think tanks rarely make undiplomatic statements. Australians woke up this morning to find that a peak think tank called the Council for Foreign Relations (CFR) was saying that the Australian Prime Minister should be removed.
The non-Murdoch press Sydney Morning Herald ran the article slide of the CFR, commentary, “Is Tony Abbott the most incompetent leader of any industrialised democracy?”, and went on to say that the US think tank had decided that he was.
The CFR case against Abbott
A bit of further research into the actual CFR article disclosed a rather broad brush picture. This article stuck to salient points and provided a reasonable outline of events in the Abbott government history. It was hardly a comprehensive analysis of the full range of issues and the history of the subject, though. The title of the CFR article was “Tony Abbott has to go.”
The obvious next issue was whether or not CFR was pushing any particular agenda. Agendas are very convenient outs for politicians and opinion writers, if a group of this sort is naturally aligned to one political view or another. It turns out that the CFR is a nonpartisan organization, which must make it unique in the deeply polarized American public arena, but “nonpartisan” seems to accurately describe its positioning.
CFR has a few bones to pick with Abbott, not least of which are incoherent policies, not keeping track of legislative and related matters, and similar basic political functions. He is described as non-consultative, which admittedly does fit a certain image projected of Abbott in the media.
Discussion
As someone who is politically diametrically opposite to Abbott, I have to say that while the assessment is understandable, it doesn’t really penetrate some very important issues. For foreigners who don’t quite understand the Australian political system there are a few basic points to make at this stage.
Abbott is not exactly working with a finely tuned political instrument. The Liberal Party was in opposition for two elections, and has lost many of its highly experienced members from that time. It rolled into power against a truly lost Labor government which had even managed to alienate its own core voter base.
The current Parliamentary Liberal Party is a menagerie of vintages, mindsets, and political alignments. The present Cabinet basically advocates and pushes a traditional Liberal party range of policy criteria.
Australian politicians get a lot of help making their mistakes. Behind every klutz-like, out of touch Australian politician is a range of advisers. This collection of unemployable nobodies ranges from billionaires to less exalted vermin.
Arguably some of the world’s worst PR people in the world send our politicians running around with a few keywords which they repeat mindlessly in dozens of media interviews. It’s a truly pathetic sight, and unfortunately, this parrot-like behaviour also extends into the policy areas.
Their Liberal Party of Australia is essentially the product of Sir Robert Menzies, and has inherited his cultural perspective. Australian conservatives are essentially Anglo centric. They are more closely aligned to UK Conservatives than to the U.S.. That means that the political culture is highly facile, and usually based on shifting priorities outside the directly applicable public sphere.
It also means that the culture is liable to opt for expediency rather than other values when dealing with issues. The recent Parliamentary party spill to decide whether or not a vote for the leadership of the Liberal Party was even considered to be a mere charade by some commentators.
If you are somehow getting the impression at this point that the Liberal Party is rather less than transparent on leadership issues as well as everything else, you're quite right. The other party in the leadership debate, Malcolm Turnbull, a person of real ability and by far the preferred Liberal Party leader according to polls, didn’t even run.
Also strongly related to this cultural environment, the effervescent Murdoch press ran a series of articles and cartoons discussing the leadership issue — on both sides of the coin. This is a very perfidious culture, not to be trusted, and the leader of any Parliamentary Liberal Party may be expected to have a large amount of scar tissue on his or her back.
Abbott’s performance, in fact, is a mix of personal responsibility and a pretty clear picture of the problems of trying to ride an indecisive octopus. There is no doubt that the new government took on far more than it was able to handle in terms of budget measures. Many unpopular reforms, notably the extremely unpopular health and education policies, which hit the Senate like an egg attacking a rock, have stalled or had to go back for infinite redrafts.
Abbott’s personal performance does leave something to be desired, but it must be said that his minders aren’t exactly helping. The sure sign of an Australian political leader going down the drain is when everybody says they support them and nobody actually does anything to support them.
The Liberal party practically invented this methodology, although Labor did try very hard to emulate in the recent self-destructive Federal election. Abbott’s personal rating is now down to 22 percent, which is apparently one of the lowest approval ratings in Australian history.
He is definitely in trouble, but he’s not really the full scope of the problem. The various ministers could have been chosen specifically for their ability to annoy the Australian public.
The public is being penalized for the mistakes of government. The public really doesn’t like that. The public is not seeing value for taxes or political allegiance, either. The public is being expected to pay for policies that it doesn’t want, while enduring ridiculous price rises for basic services.
This is a self-inflicted problem Australia must deal with, and for once get it right. CFR raised the issue of competence as one of the core factors in its critique of Abbott. The world has yet to see a competent Australia.
This country is only 114 years old. For the first half of the 20th century, we were literally joined at the hip to Britain. For the second half of the 20th century, we were effectively joined at the hip to the United States. The result is a sort of adolescent nation which is far too used to being co-dependent on others.
Worse, we’ve also acquired the bad political habits and traditions of our mentors. We don’t have the ridiculous, venal American geriatric political cheerleaders or the infinitely hypocritical and fundamentally weak British insider scum. What we have as a sort of pig ignorant hybrid species, neither as disgusting as the former, nor as unforgivable as the latter but still utterly useless and destructive.
This country needs to grow up. Our political system is as much a part of our history as anything in a museum. We do not need a fossilised, out of date out of touch political system. The political culture and the social culture must change to reform the political system. Change can now happen a lot quicker than it could in the past. With any luck, we’ll be rid of this unholy stench of ineptitude and ignorance when some competent people step up.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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