The talk of Australia’s backyard barbecues marking the national holiday yesterday was the Prime Minister’s bizarre decision to award a knighthood to the Queen’s husband.
At our gathering one lifelong Coalition voter, who’s probably to the right of most Liberal MPs on most issues, said Tony Abbott had finally lost him. Another wondered how a Prime Minister with a highly-paid team of advisers could be allowed to give an Australian honour to “that weird old guy who makes all those racist comments”.
It was unsurprising for Labor leader Bill Shorten, who has been talking about reviving the republican movement, to attack the knighthood for Prince Philip and say he initially thought it was some kind of joke.
But coalition figures are saying the same. There are reports of MPs being accosted over the decision at their Australia Day events yesterday. Northern Territory chief minister Adam Giles said he “thought it was April Fool’s Day” and make the knighthood “a bit of a joke”. And federal Liberal MP Warren Entsch is quoted in The Australian this morning saying: “I don’t think it was a smart call and I am not going to pretend to endorse it”.
The decision might – just might – be forgiven as an oddity if Abbott was leading, as he promised, a “government of no surprises”. But it’s part of a pattern of unpredictability and poor decision-making from Abbott and his office.
Entsch’s comments underline the continuing concern – also seen in the debacle over Medicare co-payments which the PM apparently decided to pursue despite being warned against it – that Abbott simply lacks judgment. And giving a knighthood to the biggest oddball in the British royal family is being deservedly mocked, even in conservative circles, as evidence that Abbott is out of touch with mainstream Australia.
There is continuing uncertainty in the economy and the most important task this year for the federal government is convincing consumers and business it has a plan to meet that challenge. The government needs to lead a broad-ranging conversation in 2015 about the structural changes in the economy with empathy, tact, and style. Abbott has started it off by punching himself in the face.
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