12 August 2010

Tony Abbott’s policy laziness

Tony Abbott’s abysmal performance concerning the Coalition’s broadband policy in his interview with Kerry O’Brien on the ABC’s The 7.30 Report last Monday 9 August demonstrated that, for an aspirant to be the political leader of one of the world’s larger and more modern economies, he is intellectually ill-equipped and lazy in his policy thinking and preparation.

It is possible to be an effective Leader of the Opposition by developing three or four attack lines on a range of subjects and repeating them at every available opportunity, but when it comes to presenting oneself as an alternative Prime Minister, much more is required. It requires a capacity to argue for new or alternative policy, and in order to do that it is necessary to be sufficiently familiar with the subject matter to be able to make the case for the policy and weather a probing interview on prime time television. On Monday evening Tony Abbott demonstrated, and acknowledged with refreshing candour, that he was not on top of it, that it was all beyond his ken.

The episode betrayed a remarkable lack of political judgement. Why would anyone want to choose as a key political battleground in an election campaign a subject matter domain in which he has not even the most basic competence to engage in discussion or debate?  This was supposed to be one of the key issues that distinguished the Coalition from Labor, and Mr Abbott simply had not done the homework – nor could he, one cannot get up to speed on issues like this in a couple of days.

 Tony Abbott protests that it is not necessary to know in precise detail how a car works in order to drive one. The analogy is a false one. We can all agree that it is not necessary to know how the information and communications infrastructure works in order to send emails or access the internet. But in order to make the case that one technical solution is better than another, it is necessary to have at least an intelligent layman’s knowledge and understanding, and perhaps some sign of having taken expert advice.  To go back to his analogy, he is not just driving the car, he is telling us why a Holden would be better than a Lamborghini, and to be credible making that case would require some technical knowledge.

The episode told us something deeper about Tony Abbott.  He protested several times that he was not “a tech-head”, for which read “geek” or “nerd”. My take on that is a sub-text that real men don’t have time for these quaint matters, they are far too busy riding bikes, battling the waves and filleting barramundi.

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