Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Has the Abbott Government simply become incompetent?

A lot around at the moment. Daniel Flitton in the Canberra Times reports on the latest Lowy Institute poll of Australians' attitudes towards global issues. As I write, the poll itself does not appear to be up yet on the Lowy Institute web site. However, the Flitton piece appears to give a good summary. Peter Hartcher's commentary on the results is also worth a read.

Daniel Flitton summarises the results in this way:
Australians are feeling more unsafe than at any other time in a decade, seized by fears of terrorism and a bleak view of the economy.

But the Abbott government has not much profited from the anxiety – or even won much credit for the hardline stance against asylum seeker boats – and risks losing touch with yet another public shift in concern about the danger of global warming.
I think that there is  growing disconnect between the Australian Government's messages and community reaction. I think that there is also a similar if perhaps smaller disconnect between the Labour Party and community reaction.

Back in 2006, I complained (Words and Manners - the use and abuse of "the punters") about the condescending use of the term punter or mug punter to describe the electorate, a point now made by Peter Hartcher. I actually think things have got better here. When I wrote, the term was almost universal among the commentariat who dominated the TV political programs. On one program, the one that triggered the post, I must have heard the term punter used twenty times.

Australian aren't dumb. They face a political system in which message and spin, the achievement of instant political gain, the avoidance of risk, has dominated for a number of years. People get their information from a variety of sources. They hold their own views that may shift slowly. They also remember. As time passes, previous views, actions and decisions become discredited, are seen in a different way.  

 In politics, you have to win to do things. The political cycle is relatively short term. People focus on the now. Yet the reality is that the things that come to be seen as good, as significant, are often not those that formed the heart (and heat) of political debate at the time. 

One of the difficult things for those actively most involved, me included, lies in the way that the things we believe most strongly, are most passionate about, may simply be rejected immediately and in indeed in the long term. That's reality.

My personal view, and it is only that, is that the Abbott Government will come to be seen as one of Australia's failed Governments. This is not a party political position, nor is it based just on divergences between my values and those espoused by the Government. My difficulty is a practical one. 

For the life of me, I cannot see a path that will allow this Government to achieve positive longer term objectives. It's just so locked into the negative and short term. It does have a longer term ideas about economic and social structures in Australia. I may disagree with some of these, but can at least debate them. But even these are lost in the morass of a Government that seems to be ruled by fears and slogans, that appears to be willing to do whatever it takes to achieve what?

Consider the current mess over the alleged payments of bribes to people smugglers to return boats to Indonesia. Practically, if it happened you either deny it (lie) or say that you will investigate. Some ministers did deny. By then obfuscating on the woolly grounds of not commenting on operational matters, the Government has created a significant incident, further complicating (among other things) our relations with Indonesia.

 I can't see a way out of this beyond further mess. Maybe the Government can find one. At this point, it just strikes me as incompetence.


The level of textual detail in this report on what just took place on the high seas with that boat makes it highly credible. I would be interested, Legal Eagle comes to mind, on just how many laws were broken.

Since I first added this postscript, apparent information about previous payments has become available, leading to backtracking by Labor and exposing Opposition leader Shorten to criticism. I would have thought that these latest payments were of a different order,

When I said that I couldn't see a way out for the Government on this one, I hadn't counted on Labor!

The Lowy Institute poll I referred to is now on-line. The timing is a little unfortunate, since it indicates a further cooling in Australian popular perceptions of Indonesia, something that has been picked in the Indonesian media such as this story in the Jakarta Post.

Postscript 2

The Melbourne Age  has come out with two editorials (here, here) that essentially suggest that the Abbott Government has lost its moral compass.

More details on the boat transaction from ABC.And here. And I should just record that Mr Turnbull appears to have broken ranks on the citizenship issue.                 


Evan said...

The most remarkable thing to me about this government is their political incompetence. All of them are basically career politicians (by no means confined to one particular party) and they are just so bad at the politics.

Part of this is their propensity to keep digging - they persist rather than admit error, or distract or change course. And then it becomes inevitable and they look incompetent. When they could have done something like: Due to [x fact] we now realise we were wrong, or, Having listened to the concerns of the people etc. These aren't exactly unknown options. And yet they don't use them.

Anonymous said...

Hi Evan!

In answer to Jim's query: no.


Anonymous said...

"If it happened you either deny it (lie) or say that you will investigate"

What happened to good old British Foreign Office procedure: Never explain, never complain and never apologize


Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Evan. kvd, the old FO procedure is more difficult now! too much exposure!

2 tanners said...

Given that I consider our whole approach to refugees to be morally bankrupt, it is hardly surprising that increasingly the morality of the 'solutions' being adopted by both parties increasingly match the approach.

It will be a sad day indeed when I find myself voting green on both political and economic grounds, the latter because neither major party seems capable of economic policy aimed at anything other than the 24 hour news cycle.

Jim Belshaw said...

I understand your problem, 2T. I just can't agree with you on the Greens economic policies!

2 tanners said...

I know. Please see the first phrase in the second paragraph, and then tell me where the economic platform as espoused by either major party is preferable, or in one case, even detectable.