Passing bull 14 – The Canberra Disease

On the second day after the fall of a Prime Minister, an article commencing on page one of a national daly was published.  That article contained the following.

The inside story of the knighthood has not been revealed before and this information does not come from Abbott.  But Abbott gave Philip a knighthood because he learned the Queen wanted her husband to have one.  The Queen’s son, Prince Charles, had a number of Australian honours, but Philip had not been so richly rewarded by Australia.

The Queen is immensely well regarded in Australia, and rightly so.  Prince Philip, like Prince Charles, is much less popular.

Abbott is a constitutional monarchist, the position a majority of Australians endorsed when the republic was put to a referendum in 1999.  But most Australians are at best small-m monarchists like John Howard.  They don’t want Australia to march backwards to old-style titles and regal pomp and circumstance.

That Abbott unilaterally restored knighthoods at all is an example of how poor his tactical judgment on political management was as a prime minister.

But for the Queen to make a request of Abbott meant that all that was honourable and generous in Abbott – loyalty, chivalry, romance – was lined up against the pragmatic political judgment that should have guided him.

Not only did Abbott endure enormous political damage because of his loyalty to the Queen, he never leaked the exculpatory explanation, which does not excuse his error of judgment, but gives it context, humanises it and may have made it a less toxic political issue.

Abbott’s government fell mainly because of questions of image and style and political management.  His successor, Malcolm Turnbull, in a sense acknowledged that the substance of the Abbott government was good by essentially endorsing all the Abbott positions when he took over as Prime Minister this week.

Abbott’s greatest achievement lies in stopping the boats…..

Generally in foreign policy, Abbott’s record is outstanding….

No one was prepared for the spending cuts in the first budget, or that is to say the electorate was not prepared for them.  In truth, it was a mild enough budget, with most of the notional savings occurring several years down the track.  But Labor, in an act of deliberate national economic sabotage, had baked spending increases into the budget just beyond its own forward estimates in its last year of government…….

Abbott was again partly the victim of wickedly unhelpful external circumstances.  The weird business of needing to rerun the West Australian half-senate election meant that for its first six months the government could not really prepare the electorate for a tough budget, because it was scared of losing at least one senator…..

Abbott was astonishingly successful as opposition leader…..

He has been vilified by the Left for many years and could never expect a fair shake from much of the media…..

Because his Catholicism was so relentlessly and unreasonably attacked, he learnt to shut down about the personal side of his identity…..

He had the potential to be the Liberals’ Bob Hawke.  He had the same easy presence in a bar or at a community barbecue, the same mainstream Aussie bloke manner, along with a powerful intellect.  I thought he would be a hit with Howard’s battlers, labelled only far too late, and unsuccessfully, in his prime ministership, as ‘Tony’s tradies’……

Abbott is without question a fine person.  The basic human ingredients are of the highest order.  But so often his virtues got him into trouble.  And to the end [as] at the beginning, never more was this the case than on the question of loyalty.  Joe Hockey failed as Treasurer, but Abbott would not consider moving him when he was still strong enough to do so.  Yet Abbott has known Hockey for so long…..

There is tragedy in all this but there is also, as Howard remarked, great achievement.  The Abbott prime ministership leaves more pluses than minuses.

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