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Issue #1671      February 4, 2015


A right royal disaster

In selecting Prince Phillip for receipt of an Australian knighthood, PM Tony Abbott consulted only defence chief Angus Houston and the Governor-General Peter Cosgrove. By seeking their support he placed them in a position of conflict of interest, because he had nominated both of them to receive the honour themselves.

The ceremony will undoubtedly be held in London, but who will bestow the award? It won’t be Abbott, because that would imply he’s the Prince’s social superior, and it won’t be the Governor General, because he’s only the Queen’s representative in Australia. Presumably Betty herself will have to place the sword on her kneeling husband’s aged shoulders.

The bizarre situation is truly worthy of a Gilbert and Sullivan comedy, so it’s not surprising that it produced widespread amusement, contempt and embarrassment.

But it also evoked bitter public criticism from coalition MPs, one of whom commented: “It takes a particular talent to turn Australia’s national day into a joke”.

The controversy over the award is just the latest in a long series of gaffes by the Prime Minister. It undoubtedly contributed to the disastrous result for the Queensland Liberals, despite their desperate attempts to distance themselves from the Prince Phillip fiasco (known to dissident coalition members as “the Knightmare”).

The Liberals are now discussing replacing Abbott as the PM. Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who held forth about foreign affairs and leadership during a conference last week in Los Angeles, and Foreign Affairs minister Julie Bishop, who recently had discussions with media tycoon Rupert Murdoch in New York, are the front runners for the job.

The ruthless Minister for Social Services, Scott Morrison, regarded as a “star performer” in coalition circles, is also a possible contender.

The dispute within the coalition over Abbott’s leadership has arisen because his government has failed to implement its savage budget measures, which included imposition of a $7 GP co-payment fee and deregulation of university fees.

Coalition members have gnashed their teeth as those were blocked by opposition Senators, backed by massed public opposition.

Moreover, the conservative federal agenda includes an attack on industrial awards and conditions, including penalty rates, which is expected to follow in the wake of an upcoming Productivity Commission inquiry.

The real problem for the coalition does not lie in Abbott’s incredibly inept and grovelling subservience to that parasitic remnant of feudal property relations, the British royal family.

Nor does it lie in the apparently fractious and domineering personality of Abbott’s chief of staff, Ms Peta Credilin, despite Murdoch’s claim to the contrary.

Nor, for that matter, is the essential problem Abbott’s inability to “sell” his policy initiatives to the public, as claimed by Murdoch.

The government’s extremely expensive taxpayer-funded advertising campaigns have failed to convince voters, and their cost has sparked a public uproar. The bill for the campaign concerned with university deregulation alone has soared to $15 million, nearly twice the original estimate.

The real problem for the conservatives lies in the policies themselves. They were carefully concealed before the election, but the shocking budget initiatives revealed the government’s real agenda in full and with all its nasty details.

The government is still intent on achieving its “wish list” cost-cutting objectives, as well as flogging off public utilities and agencies, or starving them of funding.

Meanwhile more and more of the costs of providing services are being transferred to the shoulders of working Australians. Many major corporations now pay far less tax than working families (and in some cases virtually none at all), and there’s barely a murmur from the government.

Joe Hockey’s claim that the GP co-payment was essential because people are going to live to 150 years of age was treated with the ridicule it deserved.

Australians are now letting the government know very clearly that no amount of PR will make the government’s policy agenda acceptable.

And things won’t change if the Liberals adopt a new leader. The coalition has to be dumped in order to achieve real change for the benefit of Australian workers.

Next article – Liverpool Plains coal mine approved

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