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Published: Online Opinion

Conventional political analysis has Tony Abbott almost beating Julia Gillard at the last election. Much praise and kudos has been bestowed upon him for coming as close as he did to victory. I don’t see it that way. Gillard should have been wiped at the last election based on the lack of delivery by the Rudd government, compounded by spin and denial that had the electorate angry, to say the least.

Abbott should have beaten her hands down and the fact that he did not says much about the man and the party under his leadership.

Somewhat surprisingly Abbott is not liked or respected by people that might otherwise be termed supporters. His public persona makes people uneasy. They can’t roll with him, waiting always for a gaff or foot in mouth moment.

His jerky, fish in a fish-tank response with eyes popping and mouth cavitating has him better placed for French comedy than the faux gravitas of Australian politics. His barely concealed anger and naked, whatever it takes, ambition are not pleasant to behold and are redolent of student politics.

Abbott is devoid of vision and policy, his claim to be Prime Minister rests on his ability to attack Julia Gillard and the Labor Party. He makes no effort to court the swinging voter, to capture the middle ground. He is a bottom feeder, basking in the praise of the prejudiced right. It will not win him an election. It will however, increase the vote of the Independents and Greens.

He has waxed and waned on restricting migration including the notion of banning professing muslims. He questioned the wisdom of allowing Christmas Island detainees to attend the funeral of family members in Sydney and ignorantly believes that keeping refugees in detention will act as a deterrent to other desperate asylum seekers.

He ruthlessly plays the refugee card, which means he neither understands nor seeks to understand what drives an individual to seek asylum and what are the obligations by the state and individuals, such as himself, toward asylum seekers. For a Rhodes Scholar he is poorly read; in all of his opportunistic pronouncements on refugees, there wafts about him the odour of racism and intolerance.

It does not require an overactive imagination to transport those attitudes, should, heaven forbid, he become Prime Minister, onto the most needy and desperate in our community, particularly those that might need help outside the dictates of Roman Catholic dogma.

Within his party he has unleashed and encouraged the maladroit and mendacious Scott Morrison who elicits more jeers than cheers and has done nothing to enhance his party’s prospect of election to office.

Julia Gillard fares no better. It is hard to identify what she believes in and difficult to discern any trace of vision. Her sincerity is not enhanced by her flat uninspiring delivery and her robotic hand and body movements. She appears awkward and ill at ease and manages to make an audience feel the same, if they haven’t fallen asleep from boredom during her opening remarks.

A 9 year old refugee boy is pushed from pillar to post by her feeble Minister for Immigration, Chris Bowen, and she does nothing, says nothing, so much for her forced compassion during the floods. Julia chokes in Parliament and we squirm, Bob Hawke sheds a tear and we shed with him.

Name an issue and its odds on the Gillard government has not come to grips with it; climate change, mining tax, refugees, water, infrastructure, health, education are beyond anything but their spin. No leadership and no guts. They are led by opinion polls and managed by the federal public service.

Gillard made an embarrassing miscalculation on WikiLeaks calling the activities of Julian Assange illegal and through her credulous Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, sought his prosecution. Appointing Rudd as Foreign Minister was not her best call. Rudd’s linguistic skills are not matched with analytical or managerial skills. Visiting Cairo shortly before the recent momentous events he came away none the wiser about popular feeling spilling over into protest. All he succeeded in doing was to upset the equilibrium of the Embassy by throwing his weight around. He hasn’t learnt much.

Rudd oversees a dysfunctional department, not through any fault of the personnel and management of the organisation but rather through the unwillingness of governments over the past decade to hear any analysis other than the one they wanted; politicisation of the public service has done the rest.

At the request of President Obama the US undertook a review of the Middle East last August. It concluded that popular discontent with established governments was high. Did Australia have access to that review? Did it conduct its own review? What questions did Rudd ask on his recent visit to Cairo?

The Department of Defence needs a complete shake-up and restructure, as does the Department of Immigration. ASIO has the nerve to advise that security clearances are required by refugees from the very regimes they are fleeing and the government meekly accepts this advice. ASIO believes it is being very cleaver in holding the line for Immigration – delays in security clearances act as deterrence; too smart by half, delaying these clearances do not act as deterrence.

But as I write the sharks are circling. Bill Shorten is spruiking his leadership credentials around Canberra and no doubt beyond. I guess he would make a fine leader, if it wasn’t all about him. A slicker version of Rudd, but he couldn’t sell me a car.

No doubt, with machinations again embroiling the Labor Party, Arbib is keeping his American interlocutors informed.

Greg Combet is a reluctant starter, in fact a non starter in the quest to replace Gillard. He would need to be dragged, which is no bad thing, but he has the character, the brains and the belief to do the job.

However the Labor Party is unlikely to act until the Liberal Party makes a move. They know that the best thing going for Gillard is Abbott. With Abbott replaced by Turnbull, Gillard does not have a show. With Combet leading the ALP and Turnbull the Coalition the next election i would be a close run thing and difficult to call.

Turnbull has the capacity to capture the middle ground; ambitious and urbane he has had a life beyond politics. He is a good public speaker and is able to get his message across, which neither Abbott nor Gillard can do.

With great relief Wilson Tuckey is gone, nonetheless to ensure election the challenge facing the Liberal Party is to scrap Abbott’s wilder pronouncements, which he casts as policy, and to clear some of the dead wood out of the Party.

Turnbull’s ambition is tempered with imagination and an idea of where he wants the country to go, he shares that with Combet.

Bruce Haigh, Mudgee

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