It’s time to be clear about something: if the coalition is elected to govern on Saturday, it’s not just because they’re not Labor.
That’s the story we’ve been hearing for months, if not years. The story many of us have wound up believing. The Labor party is so bad, and have governed so poorly over the last six years, that all Tony Abbott had to do was show up – and often not show up – and he’d walk into power almost unopposed.
But to paint Abbott as a passive beneficiary ignores his vital, unique contribution. For Abbott has done a lot more than wait idly for the crown to fall on his head.
To start with he led the most prolonged, most negative, most distasteful series of attacks on a sitting Prime Minister that most of us can remember. For three years he refused to address PM Gillard by any more than her first name, repeatedly turned his back on her in parliament (when he was there at all), repeatedly attacked her character, her personality, her ability and, yes, her gender.
He chased her for months and months over allegations of improper conduct in some kind of union thing. He told us every day that she “still had questions to answer”, while unable to tell us just what those questions were.
He sank to the level of Alan Jones, and then even lower, suggesting that her government should’ve “died of shame”. As low a blow as the House has heard.
Few of us could carry out an attack so completely devoid of compassion. Julia Gillard certainly couldn’t have done it.
Then he had to lie. Constantly.
He lied to us each time he said the government was “paralysed”, couldn’t get anything through its parliament, and had lost the confidence of parliament. The Gillard minority government passed hundreds of pieces of legislation; Abbott’s coalition supported 87% of them.
He lied daily about the perilous state of the economy – Joe Hockey’s belated policy costings show us once and for all that the Liberal Party have no real concern about Labor’s levels of spending. Not that we needed them to confirm what economists have been telling us all along.
He lied daily about those costings – a day out from voting we are yet to see the properly detailed costings that we were promised “in good time” before the election.
He lied about Australia’s debt, again and again and again, not just about its size but its relevance, which is close to zero.
He lied about the coalition’s policy on climate change, “direct action”. He told us that he was committed to action on climate change, only to admit that he doesn’t care whether or not the scheme actually meets its targets.
He lied about his alternative to the government’s NBN. He lied by telling us his FTTN plan would offer anything near the level of improvement that the NBN promises. He lied by telling us that his plan was billions of dollars cheaper than the NBN, while ignoring the ongoing costs of maintaining badly deteriorating copper and the revenue that Labor expects to be generated by its completed network.
He lied about asylum seekers, repeatedly talking of “illegal arrivals” and “illegal boats”. He kept up this language despite being reminded on numerous occasions of its inaccuracy.
He lied about the carbon tax, so consistently, so boldly and so infuriatingly that a proper rebuttal would probably constitute a PhD. To start with, it wasn’t really a tax. It didn’t wreck the economy. It wasn’t a wrecking ball, a python, or any other bizarre metaphor. Neither Whyalla nor any town like it was wiped off the map. It wasn’t responsible for massive hikes in the price of power, water, rent, petrol or lamb roasts. Carbon emissions fell.
He lied each time he said the government was illegitimate. If being elected doesn’t make a government legitimate nothing does.
He was happy to use his daughters as ornaments to make himself look a little better in the final weeks of the campaign. He was willing to spruik their bodies – not their brains, not their nature, not anything relevant, just their looks – to a national TV audience in the hope of a few more votes. He did the same with his female candidates.
He was frequently willing to say one thing to one audience and the opposite to another. It took a breathtaking display of arrogance to give us “direct action” on one hand, “complete crap” on the other. To talk fiscal conservativism and cuts while promising billions upon billions of dollars of new spending. To cut the tax rate by 1.5% and replace it immediately with a 1.5% levy. To sell low-taxing government one day; speak of slashing the tax-free threshold and refusing to rule out GST hikes the next. To have his ministers deny and downplay his promises to people who might have been put out by them. His hatred of Gillard was accompanied by calls for kinder, more positive politics. His only consistent stance has been his hardline hatred of asylum seekers, contradicted only by his claimed love of Jesus.
Time and again he ran from questions, even at press conferences he’d called. He refused to be interviewed on the ABC after he was correctly called out for commenting on documents he hadn’t read. He refused to appear on Q and A and face the audience’s questions. And at the same time he had the temerity to put himself forward as a serious candidate to lead the nation.
To pull off such a campaign took a whole lot more than just being there. It took more than Labor shooting itself in the foot, time and again. It took more than a complicit and uncritical media. It took more than the apathy of the public to a band of politicians they were sick of.
It required, on Abbott’s part, a level of meanness, of arrogance, of gall, of disdain that few in the community could even imagine possessing. And perhaps that’s why it took so long for us to see it for what it was.