I think it is well also for the man in the street to realise that there is no power on earth that can protect him from being bombed, whatever people may tell him. The bomber will always get through, and it is very easy to understand that ...Baldwin was talking about the prospect of air warfare, developed initially in what we know now as the First World War and developed to a greater and much more deadly extent in the Second (Holman's blog is very good on the British prewar dread of bombing from the air, as WG Sebald's On the Natural History of Destruction is on the German experience of it). He could have been talking about today's climate of fear that is throwing away important civil liberties with no real increase in safety.
- Stanley Baldwin, former UK Prime Minister, addressing the House of Commons on 10 November 1932 - thanks to Brett Holman
Tony Abbott has staked the survival of his government on a game of chicken with the Labor Party, according to recent articles by Laura Tingle, Lenore Taylor, and others. There are two problems with this.
First, Labor seem up for such a game, which puts them into their traditional position of being Almost the Liberal Party - i.e. a permanent opposition, rather than an alternative government.
Second, the game depends utterly upon there being no actual terrorist incidents - something that no amount of bipartisanship can guarantee.
When Man Haron Monis took hostages in Martin Place last December, Abbott acted the statesman and denied it was a terrorist incident. Since then he has, to his discredit, insinuated it into the ranks of terrorist incidents. He has increased funding to the AFP and other agencies for "national security theatre" activities rather than measures that directly address terrorism and the motivations behind it.
When the US was attacked on 11 September 2001 it punctured the idea that what the US calls its 'defense' forces do not actually defend the country, and some people never got over it. The same would happen here: all that talk about sacrificing civil liberties for safety and losing both, all the talk about submarines and F-35s, all that pales in the face of a terrorist attack against Australia and Australians. A conservative government can't afford to risk such unconcern for public order and safety, and is foolish to place it all on a game of chance with their fellow former political staffers.
The entire premise behind Abbott's fear campaign is that it people are grateful when the government steps up and takes charge. Nobody is assuaged or comforted when Tony Abbott steps up and takes charge.
Evelyn Waugh (who would have agreed with Abbott on many aspects of general outlook) once said of a fellow writer that his treatment of the English language was like watching a Sevres vase in the hands of a chimpanzee. Watching Abbott in charge of the government, having him speak on anniversaries for Anzac or Magna Carta, the economy or anything important really induces similar queasiness.
This goes to policy areas unrelated to "national security theatre", too.
The peer-review systems for managing academic and artistic grants are imperfect, but almost every alternative to it is worse. Christopher Pyne has not made the case that he has greater wisdom on education and research than those with established reputations in those fields. George Brandis has not established himself as much of an aesthete outside Liberal circles in Canberra. They are drawing on an authority that they simply do not have.
Senator Mitch Fifield is the minister responsible for realising what used to be the National Disability Insurance Scheme. People familiar with that work praise Fifield's commitment and industry - but he will not get the credit he deserves because he is a minister in the Abbott government. His achievements are met with relief that he hasn't yet botched or slashed it, as though he were defusing a bomb rather than building something of lasting value. To give Fifield the credit he is due would require a broad acceptance of this government that nowhere exists outside the studios of shock-jocks and party headquarters. Liberals still hope there might be some circumstances so dire that Abbott might be seen as reassuring.
The idea that Abbott can make up for policy failings elsewhere in government with the lights-and-greasepaint of "national security theatre" isn't just 'flawed', as they say in Canberra: it's crap. It doesn't play to a strength. It doesn't compensate for his weaknesses, it emphasises them.
Mike Baird knew that there is no political capital in disasters. John Brumby took charge of the 2009 Victorian fires, so what? Anna Bligh reaped nothing from the Queensland floods of 2011. Baird did what a real leader does: praise the emergency services and get out of their way, then praise the post-recovery volunteer organisations and get out of their way, too. Baird's popularity stemmed directly from that humility in public and support in private.
Abbott and the dopey crew surrounding him think there's value in inserting their guy into genuinely tough situations, like an action hero cavorting in front of a green screen within a film studio. There's no helping him, or them, get over it. There's no way the press gallery will snap out of it either. They can all be shown up, and they probably will; and once again we will all pay the price of a bad government foisted upon us by misleading, disinformative, unchallenging work from the press gallery.