It would be unrealistic to ignore the recent attacks on Tony Abbott. They were extreme and personal, had nothing to do with policy, were bizarre in dredging up events of 35 years ago and had a nasty anti-Catholic tone about them. Fortunately, some of Abbott’s colleagues have come out to defend him and it is unlikely that the allegations which sparked this torrent of abuse will have any effect on how people vote at the next election. Look, for instance, at how quickly Gillard’s dubious setting up of a union slush fund 20 years ago has been forgotten, under cover of her defence that ‘I was young and naive at the time.’ But before we file the attack on Tony Abbott away under ‘Dirt, miscellaneous’, we should see if there are any other things about it worth noting. I think there are at least two.

First, these events show that the Left has a great network of supporters that conservative forces lack. Look at how everyone sprang into action to perform their allotted tasks as soon as the interview was off the press. Abbott gave his off-the-record interview to David Marr and Robert Manne was in place to interpret the whole thing; two witnesses, one of them anonymous, were wheeled out after 35 years of silence; social commentators fell over each other to express their outrage at Abbott; Q&A was ready with more experts and anonymous tweeters. It was a co-ordinated blitzkrieg of abuse from the Left. The lesson for conservatives: don’t remain silent watchers reacting to events; be participants and promote your cause whenever you can.

Second, the attacks on Abbott show the ALP and its camp followers are getting ready for a fight and, I suspect, earlier than we thought. Sustained and organised attacks of this sort do not occur spontaneously and I suspect we have just seen the first salvo of the coming war. This fits in very neatly with the clearing of the decks that has been underway for the past few weeks. We have had the breathtaking change of attitude to offshore processing of refugees, once the most evil scheme devised by man, but now a noble attempt to stop people from drowning. The carbon tax regime has changed so often that bits are falling off it at regular intervals; the most recent changes were clearly to neutralise opposition from business to the floor price and from voters opposed to closing their local brown coal power stations. Then there has been a crude attempt to buy votes with a battery of lavish new schemes for every part of the body, from the teeth down. What next? The National Chiropody Scheme, at another few billion dollars a year? The only obstacle to an early election is an opposition leader so effective that ministers cannot tell you the time of day without attacking him. The government may not have expected the free kick from the Marr interview, but the motive behind the recent attacks was to destroy Abbott before the election campaign began. Memo to the Coalition team: get ready. If I am right and an early election is on the way, what should the opposition do? A general reshuffle would be a sign of panic, but one area needs urgent attention: defence. In a world of increasing tension and uncertainty, defence has forced its way up the election agenda in the US and the same will happen here. So far, the opposition’s response has been subdued and it is not turning the heat on the government. What a prime target it presents: a scandalous inability to deliver hardware and equipment on time, confusion about who the enemy is and a training environment that seems more like a Billy Butlin camp.

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There are two things about Australia’s new refugee policy that annoy me and, I wonder, how many others. The first is the complete abrogation of all responsibility in delegating this matter of national significance to an unelected committee of so-called experts. If it is possible to do something worse, government and opposition have done it by supporting an increase in the number of refugees we will now take. The argument is apparently that fewer refugees will try to get here in leaking boats. But the opposite will happen, and has started already. More places to be filled will bring more candidates to fill them. Potential refugees will rightly think that as there are more places to be filled, there will be more chance of them being allowed to stay. In any event, for whose benefit is this uplifting policy being introduced? Australians (no matter where they have come from) do not want more refugees; they want fewer of them.

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I remember that, when I was 21, President Kennedy told us that the 1960s would be the decade of Africa and that it would see the eradication of poverty, oppression and disease. I was young and naive at the time, but I believed him. My generation threw themselves into foreign aid, volunteering for youth projects and supporting independence for the remaining colonies. We all did our bit to ensure that JFK’s promise came true and I think we were genuine about it. Alas, for the following 50 years we had to watch those hopes dashed one by one and Africa subjected to a new regime of oppressors, while corruption, dictatorship and tyranny became the most prominent features of that benighted continent. It all came back to me a few weeks ago, and seemed to close the circle, as I watched on television the instruments of the black majority government of South Africa gunning down their own people over an industrial dispute, many of them shot in the back. At Sharpeville, in 1960, 69 blacks were killed; but in sophisticated, liberated 2012, only 36. Some progress. Sorry, Jack.

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