Friday, May 23, 2014

Two cigars, a wink and a princess

Fairfax editorial bod Michael Short has a plea for the left today:
This is in reference to the stories about the scholarship awarded to Frances Abbott as broken by The Guardian, followed up with style by a leak from an insider to New Matilda, and now percolating as far as the Murdoch press. Fairfax's newsroom has reported the story normally, but its op-ed section ran a defence of young Abbott today, probably commissioned by Short since that is his job. (Short is editor of The Zone, which is separate to op-ed - my bad).

It is easy to chip Fairfax for not acknowledging the breakers of the story in its pieces (even namechecked its competitors), and it is also easy (and lazy) to conclude that Short's view has an element of sour grapes to it. Had their journos been tipped off but refused to print it as such was beneath them to score scoops on such tawdry material, as they did with the AWU stuff?

Nevertheless, there is a valid line of propriety that Short identifies, but I would argue that the difference between what the Prime Minister says and what he does is very much in the national interest at the moment. If Abbott is slashing university funding and asking students (and their parents) to fork out much higher fees on one hand, and accepting a meritless secret kickback from a rich donor for the higher education of his own child on the other hand... that is completely within the bounds of political conversation.

John Quiggin, Ross Gittins and Alan Kohler do fine work, but dry economic screeds don't cut through like vision of two ministers enjoying cigars at Parliament House after a long day of raising taxes, or a Prime Minister winking merrily as one of Howard's battlers pours out a sob story, or the PM's photogenic daughter being revealed as a member of a gilded aristocracy. In a country where it is now possible to become a knight once again, after more than 20 years since the move away from such trappings of imperial rule, the optics of the progeny of the leader being coddled like a princess by his political cronies are too powerful to ignore.


  1. And besides, as I said on my posts about it - the real story is Tony Abbott not declaring it. The New Matilda story made it pretty clear that the guidelines do indicate a category of “any other interests where a conflict of interest with the Member’s public duties could foreseeably arise, or be seen to arise.”

    It's pretty obvious that generous gifts to adult daughter who are still (presumably) reliant on the parent's support falls into the category.

    I accept that it is possible that Abbott might not have been fully aware of the exact circumstances of the scholarship - Frances herself might not even have known that there were no other people in the running, I suppose.

    But if that's the case, an honourable politician would say so and argue that was the reason he did not disclose the benefit. (I think it's clear that a genuine scholarship made on merit and from a competitive field of applicants is something a politician should not have to disclose, even if there may always be suspicion that the family connection helped.) But Abbott has chosen to tough it out as being an unfair assault on the daughter who he used (with her consent, no doubt) so extensively during the campaign.

    I really find Abbott has become an appalling politician and the sooner any crisis can remove him, the better.

    1. The adult response to an accusation of nepotism is not to blame the accusers for attacking the beneficiary of that nepotism. That is a childish reaction.

  2. Have you read the latest revelation from New Matilda? The case for Abbott to apologise for not disclosing the scholarship is overwhelming.

  3. Note that most of that last piece doesn't mention Frances at all, it is all about lobbying the Prime Minister with secret gifts. Leaders have been brought down for less this year in this country.