Arriving at Bill shorten's McKell institute address at the Great Hall of the University of Sydney I was confronted by a group of young leftist (further left than ALP Left) protesters who urged me to "fight Tony Abbott." I advised the unfortunate sods that I had been fighting Tony Abbott since before they were born.
My wife, on the other hand, thinks I am just carrying too far an obsession since University days.
My observation, in response, is that the Tony Abbott who won the Presidency of the SRC and the Tony Abbott who won the Prime Ministership are the same being. My original thesis was that having won the job he had no idea what he wanted to do with it.
My thinking has advanced - in both cases he wound up leading an entity (the SRC, the Government) whose very existence he reviled. I expressed this in the comments section of Crikey yesterday as:
Re. "Hockey bungles the message, but Abbott’s is a failure of conviction" (Friday). Bernard Keane is wrong when he says of Tony Abbott, "he appears (extraordinarily for a politician so frequently identified as an ideological warrior) to lack a core policy vision that informs his handling of the vicissitudes of public life." He is right that Abbott doesn’t really stand for small government, even though he genuinely believes that government shouldn’t do anything people can do for themselves. What he simply believes is that all government is bad. But by definition that includes his own government. So every morning he wakes up to his eternal contradiction. His only saving grace has been that three Labor leaders in succession have been equally devoid of conviction.
As if by magic the PM gave me validation for the proposition in an answer to a question without notice yesterday (from Tanya Plibersek), saying:
I say to the member who asked the question that this is a government which understands that the best form of welfare is work. This is a government that understands that the best and most generous thing you can do for the people of Australia who are currently doing it tough is to maximise their chances to have a go—to go out and get a job, to go out and get a better job, to work more and to do the right thing by themselves and their family.
I cannot understand why members opposite do not get it. Why is it that they seem to prefer people who are trapped in welfare than people who are liberated by work, to do the right thing by themselves, their families and their communities?
But when I ponder this question I think the answer does become clearer. Members opposite quite like it when people are trapped in welfare because, if they are trapped in welfare, they are dependent on government. We certainly want government to be there to help. But governments should be there to help; governments should never be the master of the people. They should never, ever be the master of the people.
The trouble with members opposite is that they are no longer a working-class party; they are a welfare-class party. That is the problem. That is the measure of the decline of the once great Labor Party. They would rather see people stuck in the welfare system than helped by government to get the jobs that will liberate them for the rest of their life.
It could be argued that this form of words is just an attempt by the PM to make himself out to be a "pro-jobs" kind of guy - even though ACTU commissioned research says voters in coalition held marginals think he isn't doing enough to create jobs. But the form of words reflects the deeper Abbott - nothing could be worse in his world view than the Government actually doing anything to help.
And you see this in the so-called small business plan. It is entirely about what the Government won't be doing - it won't be charging as much tax, it won't be defining certain assets as capital that need to be depreciated rather than counted as an expense.
Tony Abbott didn't just dislike the Rudd Government or the Gillard Government. He dislikes Government and so really doesn't know what to do when in charge of one. So that's when he lets his behaviour be determined by the last person he spoke to and the PM becomes Australia's most powerful sycophant.
Labor's challenge is how to combat something that is no more than a column of smoke.