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TONY TALKS TO WASHINGTON October 29, 2013

Posted by wmmbb in Australian Politics, CLIMATE CHANGE.
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Tony Abbott’s responds to The Washington Post on a number of policy issues. He was interviewed by Lally Weymouth.

He was asked about the relationship with the US, when he intends to visit Washington, and what he meant by his statement that foreign policy should be “more about Jakarta than Geneva”. The latter was implicitly insulting, but such insinuations are of no concern.

Lally Weymouth tried to tie the PM down on the implications for the US alliance given the economic dependence on China, especially given the US “rebalancing” or pivot toward Asia. The PM said he would do everything to be a good ally of the US. He anticipates visiting Washington next year.

He was asked:

Will you pursue a very different foreign policy than your predecessors?

I hope that I will be more consistent and predictable than my immediate predecessors. But in terms of the general aspirations — I don’t think you will see much difference. Hopefully you will see the whole relationship conducted more steadily, more consistently.

The whole relationship with the U.S.? With China?

All of our relationships. The difficulty with the former government was that one day they were focused on this, the next day they were focused on that. They found it difficult to consistently follow through on anything. I hope the new government will have fewer initiatives but will calmly and steadily follow through on the things that really matter.

Australia has been amazingly dependent on China as an export market. How will the slowdown of China’s growth impact your economy?

Growth in China has slowed down from 9 percent to 7 percent but it is still very, very high, and Australia’s iron ore exports are going up, not down. Our gas exports are going up, not down. Sure, the resources boom is changing, but it is not ending. The investment side of the resources boom is slowing down, but the production side is cranking up, not down. In the years ahead, we will be needing investment in areas other than resources. Over the next half-decade or decade, we are going to have to invest massively in roads and other infrastructure which have been neglected by Labor governments.

The following is a rogue question and answer that never made it into The WashPost.

Q: Is there any irony in Australia with a right wing Prime Minister being economically dependent on Communist China?

A: No Lally, I don’t see any inconsistency here at all with out fundamental position. We support free trade. We import a large percentage of our goods from Asian countries, including China, which has now become the manufacturing centres of the world. Equally, we are happy to export much of our mineral exports, including iron ore and coal to Asia, including China and India.

Tony Abbott was waffling, as is done in these circumstances. It is noticeable there is no vision. There is no strategic thinking. Business will continue, and hopefully get better. We will get the budget in good order, and government has done all it can do.

The Crikey Editorial observes:

Words are bullets, especially when delivered by a national leader. Few people know this better than Tony Abbott, a politician for almost 20 years and, before that, a journalist, political staffer and student of policy and power.

So when the Prime Minister responds to questions in a set-piece interview, he knows those words will be parsed and analysed with precision. That’s because they are the words of an intelligent politician who unambiguously understands their potency.

We have a clear understanding from the interview so far, that the “defence” relationship with the US is understood as critically important. He argues this is separate from the economic and trade relationship with China. In practical terms these are often personal relationship between leaders. Whereas the PM has met the Chinese President he has not met the US President, which creates an unfortunate perception. Talking by phone does not mean the same as public glad handing, even a lame duck president, or should that be lame duck prime minister? There is no critical evaluation of the American defence relationship, and whether now it is even relevant.

The interview continues and Tony Abbott becomes somewhat more forthright when speaking of his domestic opponents. As Crikey says, Tony Abbott starts using words as bullets.

During your campaign you called for a repeal of the carbon tax imposed by the Labor Party. Why are you against this tax?

The carbon tax is bad for the economy and it doesn’t do any good for the environment. Despite a carbon tax of $37 a ton by 2020, Australia’s domestic emissions were going up, not down. The carbon tax was basically socialism masquerading as environmentalism, and that’s why it’s going to get abolished.

It will be abolished this year?

As soon as possible. If the Labor Party wants to give the people of Australia a Christmas present, they will vote to abolish the carbon tax. It was damaging the economy without helping the environment. It was a stupid tax. A misconceived tax.

And yet the argument could not be more diametrically contrary to the evidence.

Tony Abbott makes a further series of unchallenged, and questionable, assertions. He says reducing taxes and regulations “will generate creativity”, and ultimately more revenue. When “the budget is stronger”, we will increase defence spending. There is “a massive illegal immigration racket”whose existence is due to the previous government.The number of “illegal boat arrivals” have slowed dramatically, particularly since the Election. “Of course, we can support a bigger population”. “We are not in the business of being prescriptive to business people”.

Then there is more on Climate Change. Tony Abbott,  as a communication general perhaps, does not throw pearls before the unknowing, he tosses out pearlers.

Since you want to abolish the carbon tax — does that mean you are skeptical about climate change?

I’m not one of those people who runs around and says every time there’s a fire or a flood, that proves climate change is getting worse. Australia has had fires and floods since the beginning of time. We’ve had much bigger floods and fires than the ones we’ve recently experienced. You can hardly say they were the result of anthropic [anthropogenic] global warming.

“Australia has had fires and floods since the beginning of time” is either the statement of a lunatic (despite Crikey) or poetic licence. To be fair to the Prime Minister, let us assume the latter. Still the way I read it, the assertions made are evidence free. He does not think and act scientifically. Why are the findings of climate science denied?

So do you believe in climate change or are you skeptical?

This argument has become far too theological for anyone’s good. I accept that climate change is a reality. And I support policies that will be effective in reducing emissions, but I do think there is too much climate-change alarmism.

Theology is the study of gods or god in its literal etymology. It is hard to know what the PM is talking about here, but suppose there is analogy with Liberation Theology. Mirriam Webster gives a definition:

: a religious movement especially among Roman Catholic clergy in Latin America that combines political philosophy usually of a Marxist orientation with a theology of salvation as liberation from injustice

And provides a brief description of the background, including the opposition by previous popes and the Vatican:

Roman Catholic movement that originated in the late 20th century in Latin America and seeks to express religious faith by helping the poor and working for political and social change. It began in 1968, when bishops attending the Latin American Bishops’ Conference in Medellín, Colom., affirmed the rights of the poor and asserted that industrialized nations were enriching themselves at the expense of the Third World. The movement’s central text, A Theology of Liberation (1971), was written by the Peruvian priest Gustavo Gutiérrez (b. 1928). Liberation theologians have sometimes been criticized as purveyors of Marxism, and the Vatican has sought to curb their influence by appointing more conservative prelates.

This suggestion is consistent with his previous suggestion that the carbon tax was “socialism masquerading as environmentalism”. Despite what is claimed, this is very much an ideological position, mostly covert and unexplicated, rather than an acceptance of scientific process, scrutiny and findings, subject, as they inevitably must be in a large dynamic system as the global atmosphere in which the experiment is ongoing in real time, to uncertainly. Dogmatists will necessarily dismiss uncertainty, which  may explain Tony Abbott is ignoring risk management.

The theology has gone under the radar. What seems to have caught the attention of some, is the PM’s critique of the previous government.

But Labor wanted to extend fiber to every household?

Welcome to the wonderful, wacko world of the former government.

So you believe the former government was doing a lot of things that were bad for the country?

I thought it was the most incompetent and untrustworthy government in modern Australian history.

Be more specific.

They made a whole lot of commitments, which they scandalously failed to honor. They did a lot of things that were scandalously wasteful and the actual conduct of government was a circus. They were untrustworthy in terms of the carbon tax. They were incompetent in terms of the national broadband network. They were a scandal when it came to their own internal disunity. They made a whole lot of grubby deals in order to try and perpetuate themselves in power.  It was an embarrassing spectacle, and I think Australians are relieved they are gone.

Crikey comments:

After 50 days in the job, Australia’s new PM is firing words as bullets in ways that are calculated, unsubtle and devoid of gravitas. And he knows it. Abbott is no longer opposition leader. There are some concerning early signs about the kind of prime minister he will prove to be.

There is more to it than that. It  Labor was the worst government in “modern Australian history”. He has forgotten the GGC.  If Tony Abbott is a historian, he has no sense of time.

The statements made about the US alliance are standard ones, although to minimize the level of American investment and the critical importance of the health of the Chinese economy is evidence of a someone either not well briefed or versed in these parameters of Australian economic performance. The comments about the virtues of the free market are simply claptrap, and part of that version of the economic bible. Reality, political, economic and electoral, is usually a constrain, although not to be taken for granted. As for his comments about the previous government. They are odd, or if preferred “crude, uncouth and vicious”. He may be sitting at the desk, but he has not his head in the space. Let us not dismiss the possibility of personal growth. There are role models, and beside John Howard, no other former PMs from whom to get advice, other than for learning on the job.

Climate Change remains “the existential challenge of our times” extending to the biosphere. Tony Abbott did say he favored “effective measures to reduce carbon emissions” and on another occasion that he was not concerned whether Direct Action would reduce emissions by 5%. There is no inference from his statements that he has carefully and thoroughly evaluated the scientific evidence, or that he intends to listen to scientific advice. The clear understanding from his words is that climate change is ideology, or a conspiracy. Hence, policy is devoid of risk management.

According to Aus Opinion (formerly Aus Votes 2013. “Abbott comes across as more Tea Party than World Leader” – by which I think is meant “national political leader”. His followers in the world at large would at best be negligible, and his  support, which was never wholehearted  may be receding in its numbers while increasing in intensity. The intention to appeal to  a segment of US politics is interesting, as it irrelevant to his political future. But is there another explanation?

There are dangers in this political practice by a prime minister that targets simultaneously an external audience while ignoring the main currents of political opinion at home.  It is true that electoral politics has been debased in marginal seat campaign, and the process is adversarial, rather than dialectical. The risk for political leaders and political parties is that they become marginal, not simply along the fracture lines of party politics, but within the supporters who perceive that their concerns, priorities and outlooks are not represented.

George Mitchell has understood the requirements for democratic political leadership – and by implication the historical consequences of its’ failure:

It might be that Tony Abbott is the leader of a gang.

Elsewhere:

Then there is the Labor Party.

Tom Allard, Mark Perry, Labor’s Carbon Backflip (The Sydney Morning Herald)

What is the Tea Party?

Mike Lofgren, The Revolt of the Lower Middle Class and the Stupidity of the Elites (Truthout)

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