What about me? Why Abbott’s plea falls on deaf ears

It is no wonder Australians have failed to embrace Abbott’s call to make sacrifices for their country.

Here's why Tony Abbott's appeal to patriotism has fallen on deaf ears.

When President Kennedy entreated Americans in 1961 to “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”, it was inspirational.

When Tony Abbott expressed a similar sentiment in the lead-up to what promises to be a harsh 2014 federal budget, a nation bristled.

Why so cynical? Why are Australians having trouble coming to grips with the sense of shared responsibility to which every decent nation should aspire?

Putting aside for a moment the doubtful proposition of whether we really are in a budget emergency – not to mention the broken ‘no new taxes’ promise and the anomaly of the generous paid parental leave scheme (even if amended) – the answer rests with the broader political class itself.

Arthur Sinodinos at ICAC. Photo: AAP

Arthur Sinodinos outside ICAC. Photo: AAP

This includes not only selected politicians, but shady characters from the worlds of big business, big unions and, worst of all, that modern scourge of democracy: lobbyists.

The voters have been given the impression that this unholy cabal is not only running the show, but growing fat in the process, and that we are not invited. It is hard to conceive of a time when the disconnect between the public and their elected officials has been greater.

The public saw a man exploiting his connections to help fund for a lifestyle beyond the imagination of the average Australian.

When Arthur Sinodinos stood down as Assistant Treasurer as a result of the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption hearing into Australian Water Holdings, Abbott described him as a man of integrity with a long and faithful record of service to the country.

The public, on the other hand, saw an already wealthy man making $200,000 for between 25 and 45 hours work (although the senator quibbled over travel time), with the possibility of a $20 million payday down the track if a lucrative contract was won.

They did not see a man of service, they saw a man exploiting his connections – and, no doubt, his business acumen – to help fund for a lifestyle beyond the imagination of the average Australian.

Further, they saw a man who, as political commentator Michelle Grattan has pointed out, had a razer sharp mind when helping run John Howard’s office, but whose memory failed him badly under cross examination. This included knowledge of donations from the company, of which he was a director, to the NSW branch of the Liberal Party, of which he was treasurer.

Service to the country indeed.

When Barry O’Farrell quit as NSW premier, Abbott trumpeted: “We are seeing an act of integrity, an act of honour, the like of which we have rarely seen in Australian politics.”

Barry O'Farrell outside ICAC. Photo: AAP

Barry O’Farrell outside ICAC. Photo: AAP

The public, on the other hand, saw a man who falsely denied under oath ever receiving a $3000 gift from a lobbyist of dubious integrity.

Spare us the frothing about ICAC being a star chamber. We should all be grateful that it is shining a light on the shady backroom shenanigans poisoning Australian politics.

It was not ICAC’s fault that O’Farrell quit once the whole episode was laid bare to the voters, few of whom will ever lay eyes on a bottle of Grange, let alone taste the stuff.

It was not ICAC’s fault that O’Farrell accepted the gift; it was not ICAC’s fault that O’Farrell failed to declare the gift; it was not ICAC’s fault that O’Farrell denied under oath ever receiving the gift; and it was not ICAC’s fault that he quit once the whole episode was laid bare to the voters, few of whom will ever lay eyes on a bottle of Grange, let alone taste the stuff.

As journalist Mark Kenny observed, imagine if the $3000 had been cash in an envelope. 

Integrity and honour indeed.

Sinodinos and O’Farrell, it should be pointed out, have not been accused of corruption. It should also be pointed out that they are senior figures in the party that is asking Australians to think of the country first and themselves second, a credo they have not observed.

There has, of course, been genuine corruption. While the Liberals are copping it in the neck at the moment, the Labor Party wrote the book. It should never be forgotten that Michael Williamson, sentenced to jail for defrauding the union that represents low paid hospital workers, was a former national president of the Australian Labor Party. Names such as Craig Thomson and Eddie Obeid will live on in Labor infamy.

Eddie Obeid outside ICAC. Photo: AAP

Eddie Obeid outside ICAC. Photo: AAP

Every day at ICAC we hear more about slush funds, secret bank accounts, sham businesses, false invoices, illegal donations, snake oil spivs, influence pedalling and lobbyists lining their pockets.

Very few of those named will ever be charged or brought to account. But the public can smell the stinking pile of manure from the furthest corners of the continent.

Names such as Craig Thomson and Eddie Obeid will live on in Labor infamy.

It seems almost quaint to hanker for the days when John Cain paid for his own postage stamps, Bob Brown tried to change the world while owning only one suit and John Howard holidayed every summer at the Hawks Nest motel.

Then again, why not? It would be better than the venal and self-interested public officials who have hijacked the Australian polity.

It is no wonder, then, that when pensioners, single parents, the disabled, or even Joe Average taxpayers are asked to tighten their belts and think what they can do for the country, they spit back: “What about me?”

  • Harquebus

    The boom is over and most of us didn’t hear it.
    Peak oil mates, peak oil. Productivity can only deteriorate.
    Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey will fail unless this most serious threat is addressed.

  • Michael

    Patrick, thank you for your keen analysis. With Australians skepticism of politics at all time highs, it is disappointing that we just get more of the same behaviour and spin.

  • Michael

    Good article Patrick!!

  • fluffylucy

    And that’s with you putting aside the proposition of whether we are really in a budget emergency.

    We aren’t blind, we can see that the rich are getting richer at an accelerating rate and that our government does what it can to help that end of town while making us pay. Its not just the pollies that we would like to see share in the burden, but their squillionaire mates.

    Why should I entertain the idea of more self sacrifice when a smug, puffed up whipper snapper treasurer (48) who already has more money than I will see in my lifetime, and who is eligible for his platinum pension, tells me that me and my kids will have to work till 70 before we can get our measly share. When a bunch of arrogant know it alls who were educated at my expense, tell me that my kids and grand kids will have to pay their own way. When our sticky fingered ‘leaders’ sabotage our attempts to save the planet for our kids, because its cutting into the champagne and caviar profits they earn from gobbling up the earth.

    It isn’t only the obviously (even if not charged or convicted) corrupt, but the self interest that drives our ruling class, that has made us cynical.

  • earl

    Tony Abbott is quick to offer criticism of worker’s pay as being too generous but there’s no adverse comment when it’s those wealthy conservatives who are involved and in fact stands by them. Sinodinos will be back.

  • Sally Rose

    An appeal to patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.
    How dare he do this! The disclosures about the NSW liberals, party donations etc- how can TA think he has any credibility?

  • Gibberish

    Tony Abbott is more responsible than any other person in public life for the degradation of political discourse and civility in Australia. In the singular pursuit of power, and out of resentment at his loss in 2010, he gave comfort to the most scurrilous attitudes, behaviours, insults and lies that have ever despoiled our national debate. He was happy to be seen under banners that shouted “Ditch the Witch”, to form alliances with shock jocks who rudely denigrated the elected PM, to promulgate the lie that the minority government was illegitimate, to encourage xenophobia and sexism to flourish, and to allow sloganism to replace thoughtful analysis and policy formulation. The sort of Australia that Abbott has fostered over the last five years (and longer) is not one that responds to calls for self-sacrifice and altruism in the name of high ideals. We’re in the gutter, cynical and selfish, because that’s exactly where he’s led us.

  • david ennew

    And yet it seems so hard to get rid of this political stench that is running our states and running our country.Let me see a broad based independent (good luck finding someone who is independent) royal commission into corruption of politicians coupled with significant cuts to their pays and benefits (for the good of the country ) and the elimination of post political life annual salaries ,offices , free air tickets ,staff, and goodness knows whatever repugnant benefits they receive after their term in office has expired.There its self lies the wickedest corruption of all.Until these insidious lurks and perks are rooted out and eliminated ,the people of this country will never trust politicians nor believe that anything they say or do is nothing more than a covert feathering of their own and their cronies nests.Enough is enough .

  • david ennew

    And I ,good people am happy to post my name next to every comment I make on this page.

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