ABC, climate change: the Coalition is drowning us in nonsense
In opposition, authenticity and truth-telling was the focus. Now it’s all denials and broken promises
This morning, on the wireless, I heard the finance minister, Mathias Cormann, say the government wasn’t making cuts to the ABC.
The day before, I heard the communications minister, Malcolm
Turnbull, say Tony Abbott hadn’t actually promised before last
September’s election not to cut the budgets of the ABC and SBS. If
Abbott had said something like that, then he didn’t mean it; and more
likely, we’d all just misunderstood what the prime minister had said.
Also on Wednesday, I heard the prime minister tell the French
president, Francois Hollande, that part of the Australian government’s
policy arsenal to combat the risks associated with climate change
involved funding an agency called the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.
What he didn’t tell the French president was the government intends to abolish the CEFC.
In politics at the present time, we are drowning in nonsense. The
nonsense waves are not only lapping, elegantly, at our ankles, they are
picking us all up and dumping us head first into the sand.
The Abbott government is performing so many contortions, and running
so rhetorically ragged, it’s hard to see if anything coherent is
actually going on.
The maximum self-harm you can inflict on yourself in politics is to
obscure your substance with abject nonsense, and yet federal politics
has been seemingly locked in this cycle for the past couple of terms.
Labor deadweighted itself with kindergarten intrigues and dysfunctional
This government is seemingly intent on deadweighting itself with
evasions and too-clever-by-half constructions that can be ripped apart
comprehensively in about a minute-and-a-half.
You cannot, as Tony Abbott did in opposition, make a virtue of
authenticity and truth-telling in politics then break promises and spout
nonsense from the moment you take the prime ministership. By Abbott’s
own measure, this behaviour is immoral; and if politics is too flawed a
business to apply morality, then from a self-interest perspective, it’s a
recipe for self-destruction.
It is death by a thousand cuts.
Let’s be clear on the examples flagged at the start of this dispatch.
The government is cutting the budgets of the ABC and SBS. It doesn’t
matter whether you call the cut an efficiency dividend because it sounds
kinder, or if you call it an interpretative dance – it’s a cut.
Abbott made an unequivocal promise before the last election not to
cut the budgets of the public broadcasters. There were no underpants on
what he said – it was black and white. So no, Malcolm, we did not
misunderstand what the prime minister said, and you really insult our
collective intelligence (and your own) by suggesting otherwise.
As for the CEFC construction – well, that kind of takes the cake.
Abbott is sounding increasingly defensive and sensitive on climate
change, which he should.
The government has taken a carbon pricing scheme that was rational
and functional and replaced it with a scheme that most sensible analysts
think is an absolute dog. To dress up clear policy regression as action
is an absurdity – absurd enough to be seen for what it is in far away
capitals of the world.
On Wednesday in the Senate, two newcomers to Australian politics did a
very simple thing. Jacqui Lambie and Ricky Muir got to their feet and
said, effectively: we screwed up, we are sorry. We made the compromises
and engaged in the sheep-like behaviour that institutional politics
seems to demand. It delivered a poor result, and we are going to try
very hard not to do that again.
Rather than sneering at the newbies, some of the old timers in
Parliament House could stop for a minute and have a good, hard think
about that gesture of atonement.
Truth-telling and humility are powerful things.
And as bankrupt as things currently are in Canberra, it is not too late for politics to learn that basic lesson.