Comment: No, Peta Credlin isn't to blame for this mess

Prime Minister Tony Abbott at a morning tea to honour the various Australian of the Year finalists at Parliament House in Canberra, Sunday, Jan. 25, 2015.

Some free advice to the government, the media, and conservative commentators: own your mistakes.

Thank God they know who is to blame.

After 16 months in which the Abbott government has:

Fortunately, it’s all the fault of Peta Credlin.

Whew.

It must be a great relief to Ministers, MPs and American media moguls who hitched their wagon to the Abbott train to know that the reason the government is foundering in the polls, has a leader even less popular than Joe Hockey, and is struggling to get any contentious legislation passed the Senate is the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff.

It’s so much easier to have a scapegoat handy than having to consider that your own performance has not been up to scratch. It’s even handier to have a scapegoat than having to consider that the bloke you elected as leader of your party is a complete dud.

There’s been a lot of dopey things said off-the-record by backbenchers and ministers in the past week, but perhaps the dumbest is the suggestion that Abbott now “combines the judgment of Gillard with the madness of Rudd.”

This is not new: he has always been thus.

That any Liberal MP or media commentator thought otherwise just shows the lengths they have gone to suspend disbelief over the past 4 years.

Abbott in his time in the Howard government was no star policy performer. He was just the head kicker. The bloke who was given the pit-bull role because no one seriously thought he’d be considered a future leader.

This style also worked well in opposition because he didn’t have to do anything but just keep repeating the same lines; and just keep attacking.

But he has always had poor judgement regarding policy, and has always been “mad”.

As Health Minister under the Howard Government, his performance was so weak that health became one of the key issues the Rudd-led ALP chose to hammer the Liberal Party on in the run up to the 2007 election. Things became so desperate, the Howard Government took over the Mersey Hospital in a vain attempt to look like they had a clue.

So poor in policy that despite having been Health Minister for 4 years, in 2010 Kevin Rudd specifically challenged Abbott to a debate on the issues – a debate which went so poorly for Tony Abbott that Peter Dutton was forced to suggest the timing of the debate was unfair because the opposition hadn’t had time to develop a policy.

His political judgement was so “great” he had easily the worst election campaign of anyone in 2007. And yet his slips and stuff ups, his gaffes and utter inanities were passed over during his time in the Howard Government as just “Tony being Tony”. You know, such as when in 2002 he suggested “If we’re honest, most of us would accept that a bad boss is a little bit like a bad father or a bad husband. Notwithstanding all his or her faults, you find that he tends to do more good than harm.”

I’d suggest it wasn’t a metaphor he would have pursued with Australian of the Year Rosie Batty when they met on Wednesday.

As opposition leader though he was great, right? Yep, he was the guy who told Kerry O’Brien just months before the 2010 election that he lied during interviews.

What a political genius.

Commentators in attempting to find credit for Abbott’s policy and political acumen have often suggested, the “you may not like him but at least you know what he stands for” line.

And yet what does he stand for?

As Health Minister under John Howard he wanted the federal government to take over the hospital system, now he doesn’t; he was massively against paid parental leave, now he is massively in favour of it. In his book Battlelines he suggested a carbon tax instead of an emissions trading scheme, then he spent all of 2010 to 2013 campaigning against a carbon tax.

It goes to the paucity of election coverage we often have in this country that the ability to stick to a pre-prepared script is seen as evidence of a person’s ability to be politically and policy astute.

Abbott spent 3 years rarely venturing away from his slogans (given to him by others) on stopping boats and taxes. Whenever he strayed into policy – such as with his paid parental leave scheme – he came unstuck.

Tony Abbott isn’t being like Kevin Rudd or Julia Gillard, he is just being pure Tony Abbott. We are seeing Abbott “a cappella” – without any effective back-up singers or a smart producer who can both write his songs and then auto-tune his voice to sound remotely listenable.

If government MPs and Rupert Murdoch, whose newspapers idiotically plastered their front pages with slogans such as “Australia needs Tony,” are looking for blame, look in the mirror. They wanted Tony Abbott, they backed him, and now they’ve got him – pure and uncut. 

Greg Jericho is an economics and politics blogger and writes for The Guardian and The Drum.

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