Twirling towards freedom

Giving credit where credit is due
Balancing the goodies and baddies in Abbott's first year

In a speech delivered to a crowd of journalists and lobbyists at the National Press Club’s 50th anniversary dinner in Canberra last Wednesday night, Tony Abbott said that there would always be “an element of tension in the relationship between members of parliament and members of the media”. This tension exists, he said, because the latter are “deeply interested” in policies that affect people’s lives, and that while it is a politician’s lot to “put up” with media scrutiny, both Australia and the world are “stronger thanks to a media that speaks truth to power”.

“So I wholeheartedly acknowledge the media’s role in our national life and in our polity,” Abbott said. “Yet the media’s job is to improve our country as well as to report it, and the best contribution, if I may say so, that the media could make right now is not to be more right-wing, or to be more left-wing, but to be more ready to give credit where its due.”

So, in that spirit, and to celebrate the anniversary of Abbott’s prime ministership, let’s take a fair and balanced look at his first year in office.

It might be said that the quality media have been a little tense about the number of election promises that Abbott has broken, and have unfairly failed to remark on the ones that he has kept. According to ABC Fact Check’s Promise Tracker, of the 66 major election promises the Coalition made in the 2013 election campaign, Abbott has kept 13. So, in the language he used when describing the Syrian conflict, that’s 13 goodies versus only 8 baddies.

Moving Indigenous Affairs into the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and establishing a seniors’ employment incentive scheme are two perfectly respectable goodies, that may have been unfairly overshadowed by the baddies, namely, delaying a referendum to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Constitution, and re-indexing the aged pension.

Abbott’s government has come under fire for its proposed cuts to education funding and privatising university fees (and a short-lived scheme to collect HECS from the dead), but it would be remiss to overlook the fact that the prime minister has shored up the tertiary education of one particular Sydney schoolgirl.

And there’s something to be said for the man’s stubbornness. Being ridiculed worldwide for his “baddies versus baddies” comment didn’t stop Abbott from trying to cast himself as a leader on the global stage. Voters and the media constantly underestimate Abbott, and although he sagely promised there would be “no surprises” in his term as prime minister, I think it can safely be said that a year ago, nobody would have expected Abbott to pick up the phone and condemn Vladimir Putin’s actions. A Galaxy poll conducted by The Daily Telegraph in the days following the attack on MH17 revealed that the majority of Australians believed Abbott to have shown more leadership than US President Barack Obama.

On this occasion, what had been derided as Abbott’s child-like view of complex and fraught international affairs actually worked in his favour. Lacking the caution of other diplomats who perhaps paused for five minutes to consider whether dialling the number of a famously impulsive and militaristic Russian leader and “holding him to his word” was necessary or wise, Abbott saw no need to hesitate.

And this week, while Abbott has snubbed a major UN climate conference in New York, he’s at least vowed to lead us into an ill-defined war masquerading as a “humanitarian” effort which military strategists warn is likely to fan the flames of domestic terror and cost a fortune. But if that sounds like a case of baddies v baddies, at least it’ll provide a grand photo opportunity for Abbott to pose in one of his shiny new F-16s.

When setting out to write this piece, I figured if I just put my cynicism on hold and researched widely I’d be able to find ten positive achievements. What I found instead was list after list of Abbott’s broken promises, the most detailed of which has tracked 284 separate instances of lies told, promises broken and harm wrought upon Australia and the world. In the past month alone, the baddies – on submarines, superannuation, school chaplains and mining super-profits – have far outweighed the goodies. A cynic might say that we have a leader who cares more about inflaming false fear and playing dress-ups than governance. But this is a balanced column, so I’ll just say I’m glad that the grown-ups are back in charge.

Michaela McGuire

Michaela McGuire is a journalist and the author of Last Bets: A True Story of Gambling, Morality and the Law and the Penguin Special A Story of Grief. Visit her blog, Twirling Towards Freedom.

@michaelamcguire

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