Telling the truth

The real offence of Abbott adviser, Mark Roberts, was not telling the head of the Australian Indigenous Education Foundation that an incoming Abbott Government would ‘cut your throat’ but rather the more serious one – telling the truth and allowing the private language of politics to become public.

Modern day politics is so carefully scripted that public utterances now bear almost no relationship to the private utterances of politicians and staffers. To have the misfortune to sit through a Labor factional discussion, or hear factional leaders discuss internal Party opponents, is to hear a succession of disparaging, offensive and ideology free diatribes. Opponents, and supporters, are given faux humorous nicknames which encompass the scurrilous, the obscene and the totally politically incorrect. To have the misfortune to listen to a group of Australian right wingers’ derisory, offensive and group reinforcing comments on politicians and policies with which they don’t agree is to see the impact of the death of civility and liberalism among modern conservatives.

Just occasionally, as with the Mark Roberts comments, what’s being said sneaks out. Consistent with the discipline the Abbott Opposition has shown almost none of the commitments it has made to industries, interest groups and others have leaked out. Many of these are of the nudge, wink, reassuring tone of looking after the problem but all of them have policy implications the Australian public is unaware of.

What has been made public – except for the mining tax and carbon price – is now up for grabs. When the blog was working in politics the tactic of making promises; getting into government; announcing a budget black hole; and, then trimming policy commitments accordingly had just become common. Over the years the technique got a bit more sophisticated with audits and reviews supposedly supporting the black hole contention and recommending a series of measures straight out of any right wing think tank’s word processing system. With Labor Governments it was more a case of summits and conferences to consult with business, community and unions about issues before proceeding with what the government wanted to do.

Now Tony Abbott has refined it a bit by starting the process early with his ‘all bets are off’ comment while also talking about the need for an audit. Of course, it’s all nonsense. The reality is that the Australian public service is very professional and legislation, introduced by John Howard, ensures a level of budget honesty in the lead up to an election. But, despite this you can still expect some big black hole headlines in the first weeks of any Abbott Government.

The Abbott response was also an example of the blog’s earlier comments (Irony and/or Paradox 21/4/2013) about the Right never apologising. Initially Tony Abbott simply denied the accusations against Roberts. When that became untenable he said the staffer had been ‘counselled’ had apologies and that was the end of that. That is also probably indicative of another development in politics: when things go wrong on your side it has been settled, now in the past and we all have to move on. When something goes wrong on the other side there has to be a full explanation, independent inquiry and full investigation. No wonder politics and media coverage of it turns so many people off – the political people have got so boring and predictable. They need some innovative and creative thinking. But that might involve some risk and courage, so don’t get your hopes up.