GASP: A Stone in Hockey's shoe

Sharman Stone gets emboldened, corporate Australia dons Liberal-style PR tactics and Julie Bishop suffers momentary memory loss.

Few Australians outside of her Victorian electorate had heard of Liberal backbencher Sharman Stone this time last week. Now she’s a national picture of rebellion and, for critics of the government, a beacon of disunity.

While Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Treasurer Joe Hockey were more than happy to point out the luxurious conditions to which SPCA workers had grown accustomed (gasp: nine weeks of holidays, a five-day Melbourne Cup break), Dr Stone was equally as happy to call out her superiors as liars.

"It's not the truth. That's right, it's lying," she said of the reasoning behind the government’s decision to deny SPCA $25 million in aid.

Just when it seemed SPC’s only chance of federal aid would be planting some cocoa trees and changing its name from Shepparton Preservation Company to Shepparton Produces Chocolate, the fruit processor followed the lead of the government’s other antagonist: Aunty.

Yes, SPC did an ABC and got all ‘fact check’ on Abbott & Co.

Nine weeks leave was really 20 days; no wet allowances were paid; and not since 2012 had sick leave been cashed out.

If Dr Stone was on a rampage before, the corporate fightback really emboldened her.

The outspoken backbencher ploughed forward with what has come to feel like a never-ending national press conference – all from the cosy confines of her electoral office. Still, Stone spent the rest of the week denying she would leave the party over the whole sorry affair, maintaining she could do more for her constituents from within the party than without.

But while turning a rural jobs issue into a soapbox for rebellion has added a certain ‘va-va-voom’ to Liberal Party politics, Stone may have inadvertently set back the cause of a second woman breaching Abbott’s cabinet even further.

Corporate Australia catches Abbott fever

Did Myer chief Bernie Brookes put in a call to the prime minister for some PR advice this week? That’s one conclusion you could draw from his claim the group’s bid for rival department store David Jones is “dead and buried”.

While the retail chief stopped short of adding the word “cremated” – as Abbott famously used to describe the Howard government’s controversial WorkChoices policy – the tenor was familiar.

But it seems Myer isn’t the only corporate heavyweight relying on the prime-ministerial media playbook. As part of its advertising blitz in the lead-up to the Sochi Winter Olympics – and I mean blitz! – Network Ten has recruited Abbott to appear in a nauseatingly patriotic ad. It’s the kind of overt nationalism you’d never see from those communists over at the ABC.

One can’t help but think of similarities between Abbott and Ten’s other Sochi plugger-in-chief, Stephen Bradbury. After all, both skated to victory after their opponents cannibalised each other.

Bishop bombs in bid for Bill

All of that tightrope walking over the continuing strains in the Australian-Indonesian relationship is clearly starting to take a toll on Julie Bishop. The usually unflappable foreign minister was, well, flapped by the time she arrived in Kevin Rudd’s old Queensland seat to campaign for LNP candidate Bill Glasson ahead of this weekend’s by-election.

Bishop told an enthusiastic crowd – including the ‘Glasson gladiators’ – that tomorrow’s contest was not a general election, it was a by-election. Cheers for that Jules.

"It's got nothing to do with my colleague Prime Minister Tony Abbott. It's certainly got nothing to do with Bill Shorten.

It’s also got nothing to do with attention to detail, if Bishop’s ensuing address is any benchmark.

Not once, not twice, but thrice she referred to seat of Griffith, as the seat of Griffin. You would think after all those years of chastising, prodding and making insinuations about the member for Griffith from the opposition benches that the name would have stuck.

Tweet of the week

Graph for GASP: A Stone in Hockey's shoe

One-line wonders

  • “My only fear is this self-proclaimed working hero won’t find the croissants up to his usual standard.” Julie Bishop on Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s trip to Paris.
  • “We might not have the mountains of Switzerland or the ice of Canada, but we have a deep pride in our country and a fierce determination to take on the best and win.” Prime Minister Tony Abbott narrating an advertisement for Network Ten’s coverage of the Sochi Winter Olympics.
  • “Any union official proven to be engaged in corrupt or criminal behaviour is a traitor.” The Australian Workers Union boss Paul Howes.
  • “My wife is an independent person. She doesn't vote for me, she votes for other parties. That's her business.” Clive Palmer.

The last gasp

In some years’ time we’ll look back at this week’s National Press Club address by Paul Howes as a defining moment in the former faceless man’s political ascension. It was a master class in posturing, but that doesn’t mean it was devoid of value.

Howes’ suggestion of an agreed set of facts for the national economic debate is certainly a good one. If executed, it might finally see the national economic discourse move beyond the minutiae of gross and net debt, or the obsession with surpluses and deficits, and instead into the substantial, reasoned conversation our complex economy warrants.

As economist Stephen Koukoulas told the Senate Select Committee for the Abbott Government's Commission of Audit in Canberra this week: "Only the economically ignorant would hanker for a surplus on all occasions.”

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