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Robb, Hockey and Bishop: The Opposition’s woes

February 14, 2011

Liberals must be choking on their fried eggs every morning as tension over the party’s deputy leadership goes on display regular as the rising of the sun.

Just look at the debris out of the weekend. Andrew Robb is mounting a case to be admitted to leadership contention. Is the man serious? Isn’t he aware we all remember his potentially-perilous stumbles, interview by interview, in the last Federal election campaign and more recently. Joe Hockey wears the mantle of statesmanship matched against the media hesitancy of this nervous and unconvincing spokesperson.

Malcolm Turnbull barely conceals a grin laden with schadenfeude as Abbott’s tell-tale seconds of silence are subjected to media analysis. But a return to Turnbull would require an abandonment of Liberal climate change agnosticism. As Labor moves to firm up its position on carbon trading the Liberals will be tempted to run more stridently against it. No room here for Malcolm unless he does the unthinkable – that is, shift his position on climate change itself. Yes, unthinkable.

Greg Sheridan’s skilful evisceration of Julie Bishop in today’s Australian will be read, reread and shared until every member of the Liberal parliamentary party knows it by heart. To be taken seriously as an opposition the Coalition must have rock solid, gold-plated national security and foreign policy credentials. Greg Sheridan has stripped her (and them) of any credibility in foreign policy whatsoever. Linger over his indictment:

      Bishop has been the worst opposition foreign affairs spokesperson in the 30-odd years that I have watched this position closely.

      You couldn’t even begin to list the astonishing blunders she has made in the portfolio. She criticised Kevin Rudd as prime minister for raising human rights publicly with the Chinese, a truly bizarre position for someone claiming to belong to a party called the Liberal Party.

      She criticised the government for “failing to work constructively” with the Chinese when it gave a visa to the dissident Uighur leader, Rebiya Kadeer. There are many egregious Bishop errors of this kind, combining a complete lack of feel for foreign affairs, an inability to relate the area to any political principle and an unerring ability to pick the dopiest political response available…

But how can the Liberals generate such tension over the deputy’s position – and in opposition? It defies the first half dozen rules from the textbook for oppositions – don’t make yourself the story, the leader is right every time, when the leader is wrong refer to the earlier principle, keep the attention on the government’s mistakes day-in-day-out, be positive when you can and nuture your credibility.

  1. February 14, 2011 10:42 am

    I agree I think Andrew Robb suffers as well as depression a superiority complex. His costings at the last election sunk him with the three independent amigos. Imagine Robb taking over Hockey or Bishops positions. Then surely one could bring down the curtains on the co-alitions chances at the next election.

  2. Peter Pando permalink
    February 14, 2011 12:19 pm

    Dear Bob,

    The role of the Opposition is variously defined as you might know. The one to which I’d like to draw your attention is to hold the Government’s actions up to scrutiny by providing a critical counter-point. Whatever the Government does, or wants to do, make a criticism. That isn’t necessarily to take an ideological position – in many cases that’s the Labor Party’s penchant. In the Liberal Party, so-called, this means that, as part of the debating process and informing the Government of non-Government opinions, a wide range of views can be expressed. The Government hopefully can then look at its policies and bills and legislation in a perspective of sorts, and can debate it in public.
    In Opposition, Labor often makes this criticism by playing the man, rather than the ball, turning politics into a social contest, where these unwritten media ‘rules’, applied by an unelected club, can be given full social scope. If the federal Liberal Party followed those rules that the media thinks government and Opposition should work by to the letter, we might well have the NSW State Labor Party in federal opposition, and the ATN Party in Macquarie Street. Then no one would dare criticize Government on any count. Mr Sheridan has missed the point again.

    • February 14, 2011 1:44 pm

      Peter you claim that only the Labor Part play the man and not the policy or platform. Abbott claims to be keeping the Governemnt to account as it says it is their role to do so. However that claim I contend is wearing rather thin. Take for instance last night attack on the ?Government Health agreement with COAG without even seeing the prininted outcome Abbott had formulated a negative one liner trying to claim Julia Gillards policies cannot be trusted because for instance the devil will be in the detail. I contend the public are waking to this and if Abbott wants to turn around his fortunes he will have to change his modus operandi

      • Peter Pando permalink
        February 14, 2011 5:57 pm

        Hi Barry,

        Is it possible to draw a strong line separating what is said in Parliament from one-liners for television on any complex policy issue? I think so.

        I don’t see the role of Opposition as something which can ‘wear thin’, as you put it, but it can definitely be performed more or less effectively in any given debate. It doesn’t help good government when people are constantly arguing about leadership and so on, but I know in many cases it is intended to.

        By the way, I only claimed that the Labor Party often plays the man, but if I said Liberal members occasionally did so but less than Labor I’m sure I’d be asked for the statistic on the issue derived from a focus group analysis. Then we’d all have to wonder who commissioned the focus group!


  3. Watson permalink
    February 14, 2011 4:33 pm

    With all this doom, gloom and dopiness I guess we can expect a further shift to the Libs in the polls

  4. Christopher Brown permalink
    February 15, 2011 6:47 am

    Well said sir. In fact, you sound just like a former (and successful) Opposition Leader might. Mind you, with your slavish adherence to any leaders infallibility you might be accused by unkind detractors of some Stalinist tendencies – something I know you find abhorent! Cheers cb

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