TONY Abbott and Christopher Pyne really put Olympic diver Greg Louganis in the shade this week with their triple backflip on the Gonski backflip.
Degree of difficulty – 11.
Something had to stretch, and it turned out to be their credibility, which was in short supply anyhow.
One minute the educational funding model was off the table moving forward.
Next minute it was hurriedly back on, moving in reverse, following a week of bad headlines running along the lines of “Conski Gonski Goneski Backski”.
The confusion, Abbott suggested, lay with the public. (It was always going to be our fault, right?)
It wasn’t a matter of core and non-core promises, he said, a la the weasel words of the John Howard days.
The new confusion was the result of “promises we [the Liberals] actually made before the election as opposed to promises the public thought we [the Liberals] made.” The fact NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell thought the Liberals had made those promises too didn’t seem to matter.
When Christopher Pyne went on national TV during the election lead-up and stated categorically the Libs would match Labor dollar for dollar on Gonski, that wasn’t a promise he made.
It was only a promise we thought he made. Silly us.
Pyne, one was left to assume, must have had his fingers crossed behind his back.
Probably in the hope the public would swallow his explanation.
What was clear in a pretty unclear aftermath was that the “unity” ticket the Libs had run on education during the election was now as rock solid as their policy on asylum seekers.
A policy, judging by the secrecy and panic surrounding it, best summed up in the word “Shhhhhh” (with a silent ‘it’ at the end).
Talk about men overboard.
It seems amazing that only a week ago the Libs were goading Labor on carbon tax to trigger a double dissolution.
Now just three months after kicking Labor’s butt, the Libs have fallen behind in the polls and could conceivably lose a double dissolution if they called it.
Now I want to think the best of Tony Abbott because, I don’t know, Labor were a joke for so long; they can’t have come good so quick.
I’ve searched long and hard for reasons why he fumbled over Indonesia the way he did, or backs his Environment Minister Greg Hunt, despite Hunt looking like the proverbial rabbit in the headlights every time he has to talk about anything outside his comfort zone, like the environment.
And the only clear reason I can think of for all the ‘‘distractions’’ (and that’s being generous) is perhaps Abbott wants to take the heat off Immigration Minister Scott Morrison who has set the bar high in terms of crazy talk.
Press conferences on border security have taken on a Monty Pythonesque tone as Morrison attempts to dodge tough questions like “good morning”.
(Over to you Rear Admiral.)
Slag him as much as you like, Morrison’s policy of “no information” about ‘‘on water matters’’ must seem like a master stroke to the back room boys after Abbott’s TMI on Gonski.
They tried to keep him quiet during the election campaign. But the time was always going to come once they won office that Abbott would have to open his mouth and speak, regularly. Uh-oh.
But it’s easy to be cynical. Who hasn’t tried to backtrack on a promise?
Parents do it all the time with their kids – mobile phones, pocket money, suggestions everything’s going to end happily ever after.
Individuals do it with themselves, too.
For example, last week I promised myself ‘‘no more potato chips’’.
Then I saw a two-for-one deal at IGA, and said to myself, “Self, that thing about chips was only a promise you thought I’d made, not a promise I actually made”.
(Cue telltale ‘‘crinkle crinkle’’ sounds when I got back home.)
The fact a person talks to themselves like this perhaps illustrates:
a) Why they shouldn’t be PM; b) Why they shouldn’t be in supermarket aisles; and c) How hard it is to choose between honey soy and light and tangy.
The problem for Tony and his team is this type of inner dialogue seems to go on between the ears every time they appear on camera to announce/backflip policy.
When you boil it down, Gonski is simply a manifestation of the chips dilemma on a billion-dollar scale.
And when the chips are down, what do you do? Panic, of course. It is Christmas time after all, and you haven’t bought any presents yet. Argghh!
Time to throw money. And it’s easier to throw money when you’re a politician, because it ain’t your money.
Another school of thought is that governments of all persuasion like to get all the bad news out of the way in the first year in office in the hope come election time the masses will have forgotten.
But with the form the Libs have shown in their first three months I’d argue they have enough ‘‘talent’’ in the bad news department to last well beyond a year.
A threat or a promise? Time will tell. It may well result in the most remarkable backflip of all; at the polls next election.