One month into Tony Abbot’s stewardship of Australia my favourite image is of him and Stephen Harper, Prime Minster of Canada, hanging out in Bali. Both are the right wing leaders of their sister countries, both struggled long for power and both have a dorky funk about them; but this photograph helps illuminate their differences. Stephen: doughy and grey haired, the tinge of a boyish smile on his face. Tony is fit and snarling, his ears spread out like wings on a descending hawk.
While Abbott is happy to put forward the image of himself as the everyman buffoon, peddling around tackling one trouble at a time, Harper projects himself as cerebral and in control, kinda like Doctor Claw. And now with Tony Abbott taking the reigns in Australia and Harper firmly in control of a majority Government in Canada, it’s the rare occasion that the right wing factions in both countries are in charge at the same time. Since Harper has a few years of experience on Abbott I thought it’d be good to see what Tony can learn from him.
Lots of inner city Australians are creeped out by how casually Abbott brandishes his Catholicism and how open he is about it influencing his decisions. While there’s something to admire about Abbott’s transparency, Harper’s political career is the exact opposite. We know that he’s part of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, an evangelical organisation that believes the free market is divinely inspired, but we don’t know how deep the connection goes.
In The Tyee, Andrew Nikiforuk suggests that by hiding the depth of his ties to the Alliance Church Harper has been able to advance crazy shit like the erosion of environmental protections. Nikiforuk thinks Harper’s real beliefs lie somewhere close to a group called the Cornwall Alliance. These bros believe that because of divine sovereignty, God won’t allow the destruction of earth, so climate change is a bunch of bullshit. It’s all good that Abbott is out in the open about his beliefs, but it means being nefarious is out of the question and what good’s a conservative leader without that?
Keeping his religion on the down low is possible because Harper has his approach to the media figured out. While Abbott scurries away from the media, recently his Canadian counterpart kicked a cameraman off an upcoming Malaysia trip for asking a question (after a media outcry he was reinstated) and makes it a regular practice to not address more than a few inquiries at press conferences.
One writer describes it as going deeper than just ignoring journalists, “Soon after Mr. Harper won power, the Prime Minister's staff started deciding which reporters could ask questions, skipping those they suspected weren't in the government's favour.” The office also has around 1,500 “communications officers” whose job it is to “influence what we're saying, the approach we take to a story…They want to have the story cast in a way they want."
It’s not all Harper. Abbott’s only been in office for a month and he’s already given Harper some inspiration. The New York Times recently reported on the Harper government’s slow erosion of scientists rights. The government has ribboned on layers of bureaucracy, forcing government-funded scientists to “refer all queries to departmental communications officers.” This makes it impossible for them to have direct communication–especially with journalists–and allows the government to “monitor and restrict the flow of scientific information, especially concerning research into climate change, fisheries and anything to do with the Alberta tar sands.” This has had a debilitating and slow effect on climate change science and fits in with the Harper modus operandi of quiet, slow and steady; by ensuring scientific reports are “designed to make sure that the tar sands project proceeds quietly, with no surprises, no bad news, no alarms...” everyone will be on board.
Fuck that, says Abbot, who just shut everything down. He's working on fulfilling his campaign promise by scrapping the carbon tax and then closed the Climate Commission. Despite the protest of Climate Change Commissioner Professor Flannery, who believes “Australians have a right to know, a right to authoritative, independent and accurate information on climate change,” the action was swift and bold, and something Harper could learn from.
Both Governments are concurrently dealing with expense scandals. Abbott is busy defending his decision to bill the taxpayers for a thousand dollar trip to an Ironman competition. Abbot’s defending the expense because Port Macquarie, where “the Asia-Pacific region's leading and most enduring triathlon events” took place, is a marginal seat and he bundled in a visit to other community events. But even the $12,000 bill to fly to India as guests of Gina Rinehart – split between three coalition MPs – is humble compared to Harper’s Senate scandal.
The debacle involves Harper claiming innocence over a $90,000 cheque that was cut by his Chief of Staff to senator Mike Duffy so he could repay expenses he had claimed that were clearly not due to him. After snaring a few others in the initial investigation, the scandal has now grown to the point where the Auditor General of Canada announced on August 14th that it would investigate the expense claims of all Senators. While Canada melts down over a Senate scandal, Tony is all smiles and bicycling crazy 8s through our hearts.
Canada and Australia are both the genocidal spasm of the dying English empire and so forever linked. Abbott reaffirmed the connection to the crown last week when he claimed “today everyone feels like a monarchist,” to the alcoholic anti-Semite Prince Harry who was visiting to affirm the readiness of Australia’s Navy fleets. Harper has been called “one of the most monarchist” Prime Minsters in decades and reinstated the honorific title “Royal” to the Canadian Navy in 2011. These two are like the goofs at the bar who giggle about being tunnel buddies.
Before coming to Australia I was weirded out by the number of Canadians warning me that it was the hermit of the world and a backwards, far away forgotten land, led by a bunch of conservative yokels. I tried to scoff because generalizations like that are built on a reputation about the past and don’t really factor in the present. But I guess it’s true, what you say about others really may just be a reflection of yourself.
Follow Adnan on Twitter: @whotookadnan
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