<i>Illustration: Glen Le Lievre</i>
Illustration: Glen Le Lievre

You can smell the doubt in Tory ranks, see the fear in Tory
eyes. It’s not yet panic, although in this febrile political climate it
wouldn’t take much to start one. But they are worried, deeply worried,
that Tony Abbott might just have lost the plot.

This swine of a budget has been a disaster, both in its
construction and its political execution. Stunned by the public protest,
Abbott and his ministers have been furiously daubing the pig with
lipstick, but it’s not working. The polls have the Coalition trailing
badly on the primary vote and Bill Shorten is streets ahead as preferred
prime minister, even though he has done little but keep his bum pointed
to the ground.

So the usual Tory toadies of the media are stampeding to the
aid of the party. For more than a week they have been exhorting Abbott
to stand firm, to take arms against a sea of troubles, blah blah. Always
a sure sign the faecal matter has hit the fan.

Lost the plot: Prime Minister Tony Abbott during question time.
Lost the plot: Prime Minister Tony Abbott during question time. Photo: Andrew Meares

An even more certain sign is when they start fighting each
other. Treachery! The shrill denunciation of Malcolm Turnbull by
Melbourne’s village idiot, Andrew Bolt – amplified on Thursday by
Sydney’s village idiot, Alan Jones – sent the needles on the right-wing
paranoia scale trembling off the dial. Hilariously, the Parrot dictated a
pledge of loyalty for Turnbull to repeat on radio, a wheeze not seen in
any modern democracy since the demise of the infamous American Senator
Joe McCarthy.


To his credit, Turnbull stiffed the two nongs right back,
branding them ‘‘bomb throwers’’ doing Labor’s work. He’ll not be
forgiven. It’s been hugely enjoyable.

The polls tell you more and more people are realising Abbott
has not so much lost the plot as that he never had one. In opposition he
was the wrecker, brutally effective against a divided and demoralised
Labor Party, promising to lead an adult government faithful to its
election commitments. But in power he and his ministers trudge through
the smoking ruins of their policy flip-flops and broken promises,
haplessly blaming their predecessors for the mess. This scaled new
heights of idiocy on Wednesday when  Defence Minister David Johnston
proclaimed that it was Labor’s fault Abbott’s RAAF VIP jet had been late
leaving for Indonesia.

Malcolm Turnbull has come out swinging.
Malcolm Turnbull has come out swinging. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

In truth, we are saddled with a gang of punishers and
straighteners, of cutters and slashers, run by the sort of bossy former
private school prefects who enjoy enforcing dress codes at golf clubs.
To borrow from that American wit, the late H.L.Mencken, these Abbott
Tories are racked by the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, might
not be working hard enough.

So the government has changed. But despite the dogged efforts
of Peta Credlin and her platoons of highly-trained spin doctors, it is
ever more obvious that Abbott himself has not. Beneath those crisp white
shirts and pale blue ties there still beats the heart of the campus
bully. And Australians know it.

LIKE MANY stonkingly rich people, Clive Palmer displays two
grand delusions. One: that great wealth automatically confers great
wisdom, and especially political wisdom. Two: that his antics are
endlessly fascinating to us lesser folk. He is entirely wrong about the
first. In additional proof I give you that American fruit loop Donald
Trump, and our very own Gina Rinehart.

But he may be partly right about the second delusion. In his
slender youth, Palmer learnt the tricks of massaging the media at the
feet of no less than Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, a grand master of the art.
‘‘Feeding the chooks,’’ the old crook used to call it, in his sly,
yokel way.

All it takes is colour and movement. Announce that you are
going to build a replica of the Titanic. Or turn up at Parliament in a
vintage Rolls-Royce. Works every time, and you can count on short
memories; been a while since we’ve heard of the Titanic project.

It’s rather more difficult to discover what – if anything –
Palmer actually stands for beyond trick populism. Although when you name
a political party after yourself you are giving away a pretty big clue.

Lately I’ve been tossing around a few metaphors to fit the
man. One, that here is a great bladder of gas that will eventually crash
and burn like that ill-fated Zeppelin, the Hindenburg.

But I like the second better: Palmer as a tout in sideshow
alley. Roll up, only $10 to see The Bearded Lady, The Mexican Midget,
The Two-Headed Gorilla. In the darkness of the tent you realise it’s
done with smoke and mirrors, but it’s too late. Clive has already got
your money.

THE TROUBLE with writing critically about child abuse in the
Catholic Church is that you get accused of sectarian bigotry.  It’s how
they hit back.  Carlton hates Catholics, they cry.  He’s out to shaft

This is particularly offensive to me.  My father was a
Catholic priest.  I hardly knew him, for he died when I was five, but by
all accounts he was a good and honourable servant of his God and his
church, much loved. I was christened a Catholic myself, at no less than
St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne.  I am now an atheist, but some of
my best friends, etc.

The true demons, though, are not us heathens but those who
have betrayed their faith by not dealing properly with child abusers
within the church. 

The Cunneen Commission into child abuse in the Hunter Valley
found this week that Father Brian Lucas, Secretary of the Australian
Catholic Bishops’ Conference, knew of child sexual abuse by a predatory
priest, Father Denis McAlinden, but did nothing to report it to the
police. Instead McAlinden was allowed to leave Australia, where his
practise of abuse continued after 1993. Commissioner Cunneen found that
Lucas was consulted about the plan to relocate McAlinden, but at the
inquiry, ‘‘sought to distance himself from the appearance of having any

Matthew 25.40 comes to mind: "In as much as ye have done it
unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."

In the light of Cuneen’s findings, how is Lucas’ position tenable? He should at least have the decency to get the hell out.

smhcarlton@gmail.com      Twitter:  MikeCarlton01.