Tony Abbottâ€™s bold and decisive declaration that he would â€œshut the borderâ€ to asylum seekers coming to Australia illegally by boat makes it very clear that he is a formidable political street-fighter.
His policy might not be fully thought through. It might have been a desperate move to re-seize the agenda from the commanding worm-friendly post-debate Prime Minister Rudd.
But the truth is that there a deep, visceral unhappiness about the number of boats appearing on our shores bearing asylum seekers from the worldâ€™s trouble spots.
And the run he got on the front page of the Herald Sun from Steve Lewis and Ben Packham vindicated his call. Lib insiders were delighted in their celebrated air-punching this morning.
HOWARDâ€™S BATTLERS COMING HOME
That unhappiness seems to be at its most profound in the outer suburban and regional seats that swing sometimes wildly in elections. This is a pitch to Howardâ€™s battlers who were alienated by Keatingâ€™s government by interest group, loved Howardâ€™s values but hated his Workchoices. The view among Liberal insiders is that if anyone can create that reconnection, itâ€™s Tony Abbott whose political heroes include BA Santamaria, the dark prince of economic populism. (Please note on VEXNEWS that â€˜dark princeâ€™ is not an insult)
This is not an issue about immigration policy. Itâ€™s not an issue about whether we should have a big Australia or suppress the population to conserve our resources. Itâ€™s about law enforcement.
And thatâ€™s what makes it so potent politically for the conservatives. Many voters trust them to get these things right. And certainly Howardâ€™s previous mix of asylum seeker management policies were effective, even if aspects of their detention made many Australians worry that we were acting in a draconian fashion.
This is not the forum for a moral debate about how to treat those desperate enough to pay to come to our shores and get on rickety boats to do so.
The politics of the matter is clear.
Itâ€™s an unambiguous winner â€“ and in the right circumstances with thousands of arrivals a game-changer â€“ for Abbott.
EVEN HIS CRITICS SAY TA KNOWS HOW TO PLAY
Itâ€™s interesting to look at what one savage critic said of Abbott. The annoying armchair quarterback of Sydney small-l Liberal politics, former federal Leader Dr John Hewson told 4 Corners:
LIZ JACKSON: Despite their differences Dr Hewson acknowledges his former press secretary knows how to use the media.
JOHN HEWSON: What you’ve got is constant colour and movement, and he’s very good at it. His strengths are, he’s… he’s obviously very bright, but he’s very cunning, and I think that cunningness shows.
And he can see and issue and he can grab an issue. And how does he handle it? He gets right in your face. He exaggerates; he grabs the headlines, even if he knows that the next day he’s gonna have to back that off.
And thatâ€™s why, despite the prevailing view that aggression will cost him support with women voters, despite the difficulties of bumping off a first-term government, despite the public opinion reflecting worm hating his every health debate pronouncement and despite the general messiness and apparent anarchy, Tony Abbott is going to continue to be more slippery than a bag of eels.
If Rudd and those dependent on him underestimate him, theyâ€™re in for the shock of their lives.