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Brendan Nelson: Nowhere Man – A video essay

A video essay by PF Journey.

He came from nowhere, stands for nothing, is going nowhere, will get nowhere and the real contest that we deserve is nowhere in sight. It is so obvious that he is the real nowhere man. He bought us $6.6 billion worth of aeroplanes that are flying nowhere. He is taking his party to nowhere. How can the Liberal Party got it so wrong? because the Liberal Party is also sitting in a nowhere land at the moment. We need and want a real contest for the Rudd Government, not an easy ride. Nowhere Man, please listen, You don't know what you're missing, Nowhere Man, Australia won't be at your command.

"A Liberal MP says party leader Brendan Nelson made the wrong decision in his previous role as defence minister when he ordered 24 Super Hornet jet fighters for the RAAF. Western Australian backbencher Dr Dennis Jensen, a former defence research scientist, says the Rudd Labor Government should try to get out of the $6.6 billion deal. Dr Jensen told the National Interest program on ABC Radio National that the Super Hornet can not compete with Russian-built fighters being deployed in Asia" - Pull out of jet deal, Govt urged, ABC, 9/12/07</a>

"Ah, Brendan! Where to begin? His party room speech after his three-vote leadership ballot win is as good a place as any. Instead of delivering an inspirational pep talk to inject some fighting spirit into the defeated and demoralised Liberal army, Nelson went all teary. Small wonder Turnbull felt the need to deliver a pep talk in Nelson's office immediately afterwards in an attempt to inject some fighting spirit into the new leader. Then there is the character issue. Nelson appears to believe in nothing. Or rather, when it suits him, he can believe in anything. He can be Liberal or Labor, moderate or conservative. Former Treasury secretary John Stone recently described Nelson as "like Andrew Peacock but without the substance". Clever, but Stone actually got closer a few years ago when he dubbed Nelson "a political hermaphrodite" - Talent quest - By Laurie Oakes, 7/12/07</a>

"Moderates were increasingly disillusioned. One moderate frontbencher I interviewed for the Howard biography in 2006 told me: "Who knows what he [Nelson] stands for? I don't. I don't think he knows himself." Earlier this week a former cabinet minister told me, "Brendan stands for Brendan, that's all ... He is one of the most self-interested members of the parliament". It is clear that Nelson's tenure in charge of the Liberal Party will be a rocky one unless he can quickly carve out his own ground and take the party with him. That, however, will be difficult. To overcome Turnbull for the leadership, Nelson needed to cobble together a motley crew, using cross-factional backing" - Half-Nelson position, Peter van Onselen, Howard biographer, 4/12/07</a>.

"THE Liberal Party may have chosen the wrong man as its new leader, with Brendan Nelson only half as popular as beaten rival Malcolm Turnbull among voters. A Newspoll conducted exclusively for The Australian at the weekend also found 61 per cent of voters named Kevin Rudd as their preferred prime minister, with Dr Nelson rating only 14 per cent. The poll showed that Mr Rudd had almost as much support as prime minister among Coalition voters as Dr Nelson. The Newspoll figures emerged last night after Dr Nelson, the former defence minister, confirmed that Mr Turnbull had given him a "pep talk" moments after last Thursday's leadership ballot, in which Dr Nelson scored a narrow victory over Mr Turnbull by 45 votes to 42". -  latest Newspoll, 4/12/07</a>

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The Big O

Fiona: "Only the Lonely" ..... dum dum dum da di do wah, yeah yeah yeah yeah di do wah". Told you I flunked my English in my HSC.

Cult Of Personality

Paul Kelly's piece is most informative but shouldn't he have written this sort of stuff before the election? Yet again, Kelly shows he bends with the wind too often. His recent attacks on the so-called "elites" was just bizarre.

He's written what was glaringly obvious to so many people for a long time but especially those clever minds behind many successful Labor Party campaigns.

The Coalition deluded themselves for so long that the reason they kept winning was because of Howard. I never thought so. It was despite Howard. Even more delusional was Kelly's claim (as did the Liberals) that Downer was a master of diplomacy on the world stage. Here was a Foreign Minister detested in most countries, particularly the South Pacific that viewed him as an arrogant pompous ass.

The massive landslide in '96 was because of media driven campaign against Paul Keating. The "too arrogant" phrase used repeatedly – especially by News Ltd publications and Packer's 9 network was the most un-democratic, Goebbels' style propaganda of recent times, that had its effect. Any person on a suburban street asked about Keating would repeat mantra like: "too arrogant" yet had no clue why. Thus we were deprived of at least, entertaining Parliamentary question times.

Successive campaigns surely demonstrated that Howard wasn't the great electoral master continually claimed in the media. The following election produced a massive swing back to Labor under Kim Beazley.

And at the next Beazley won the popular vote that could easily have seen him as PM if those votes had occurred in a handful of the right seats .

Then we had catastrophic and terrible disasters like 9/11 after which no government would be voted out, and a Labor sacrificial candidate in Mark Latham offered up in an election Labor knew it would lose. It explains Latham's bitterness as he knows he was used.

But over and over – and it would seem the entire Coalition believed in Howard's self delusion that it was all about him.

But if the Australia's most popular Prime Minister in the history of the country – Bob Hawke – still had to be removed with a fork-lift truck as he tried to cling on, the Liberal Party, like sheep, believed in the Howard myth.

Power had corrupted the entire Liberal Party process where not only where they were under the spell of one man ( as was he) – they hypnotised themselves into believing a media driven myth. Talk about mass delusion !.

Two things stick out in Kelly's piece. At no time does Paul Kelly comment on the media's role in the Howard myth nor does he explain the extraordinary statement that "Australian's columnist Janet Albrechtsen" was called in. Why? And why is a columnist so close to one party, who has been given a seat on the ABC board in the most blatant partisan act, still writing on a supposed national newspaper?

Paul Kelly's article is important for all the things it doesn't say.

Only the lonely...

Love him or loathe him, Phillip Adams does come up with extraordinary insights. I haven't been visiting the Oz blogs much since the election wrapup, so only came across the Man in Black's Tuesday oped piece this morning. Well worth reflection, in my opinion.

THIS is the story of two teas. Milk, no sugar. I’ll pour the first one later. The second marked the end of John Howard’s public life. “Never say no to a cuppa,” said Howard after the declaration of the poll at Bennelong last week. After the fatal vote had been confirmed. After Maxine McKew had shaken his hand. After he’d said to her, oddly, “Stay well.”


Instead of a rapid exit, Howard accepted the invitation to approach the urn, one of those stainless steel samovars full of hot water beside a pile of cheap tea bags. It was a courageous act. As was being at the declaration. While I’ll never budge from my belief that Howard was our most mendacious, cynical, divisive, bigoted and generally appalling PM, I admire his bravery at the end.


Have you ever seen a lonelier figure than Howard at the declaration? I have. And here’s the story of the first cup of tea. It’s a Monday morning in Sydney in 1989, in a small private lounge at the airport terminal. The place is chockers with Liberal MPs heading for Canberra: their Labor counterparts are a few metres away in another private lounge.


Those two cuppas tell the Howard story for me: one of the loneliest men in Australian politics. Other pollies have been as hated - Keating went close - but no PM has been less loved. Keating was as adored as he was despised, but not even the Howard huggers really liked their leader. They just went along for the ride. His supporters on the front bench - the likes of Alexander Downer - were fairweather friends. His backers in business were equally opportunistic. Have you ever heard of Howard having real go-to-the-wall-for-you mates? Intimates? Confidantes? All those roles, it seems, were filled by his wife.

Perhaps Howard’s isolation goes some way to explaining his consenting adult relationship with George W. Bush. It certainly explains his determination to stay in office at any price. Does anyone imagine he’ll be rushed with offers to join boards? Max “the Axe” Moore-Wilton might take pity and find him something but business won’t see Howard as a trophy.

All our ex-PMs have struggled to find a role. We don’t fuss over them as Americans fuss over ex-presidents. We leave them, as with Gough Whitlam, to fuss over themselves or, as with Malcolm Fraser, to seek redemption. The local lecture circuit doesn’t pay like the US. Memoirs? Can’t see the publishers fighting over Howard’s.

Last week’s image of Howard playing a lonely round of golf will probably be endlessly repeated. And there’ll be lots of cups of tea. Remember the single tear that rolled down Fraser’s marmoreal cheek on the night of his defeat in 1983? It was as miraculous as tears from a plaster statue of the Virgin Mary. You won’t see tears from Howard. His fierce pride and stoicism prevent it. He is used to being a solo act, surrounded by colleagues too scared to take him on, let alone turf him out. He’s better prepared for wilderness years than anyone else in the game. He’s been there before.

Even More Iluminating

Hi Michael, this article by Paul Kelly is even more incredible. It's called The Defeat, for some reason the Oz decided to bury it rather than given a prominent place. Maybe it was too painful for the OZ.

It clearly shows that those who cannot govern themselves cannot govern the country. It shows the sham of the last three years of the Howard Government. It shows Howard never had the best interest of the country in mind. He only had the interest of himself and his family in mind. I salute the Australian people for having the wisdom to see through of these and kicked him and his Government out.

Never again. I think we should never allow another PM to serve more than 2.5 term regardless of how good he/she is. Are you listening Mr. Rudd? or should I say that in Mandarin as well.



Most Iluminating

The Crikey graph is quite extraordinary.

So is Alan Ramsey's piece on Saturday in the SMH where he describes comments at the Opposition's first front bench meeting (presumably leaked to him). It's apparent when Joe Hockey after hearing that the party knew Howard was on the nose and says "why weren't we told", we have a party that has been in serious denial for a long time.

The Coalition, having won two elections purely on good fortune - and remember, in '96 Howard defeated Paul Keating in the most crushing disaster for Labor only to be brought back to the brink by Kim Beazley in 2000, were an accident waiting to happen.

If Keating could be described as Captain Wacky by his critics, then Howard was most certainly the captain of the Titanic sailing onwards into an ice field, certain because they hadn't yet hit an iceberg, that all was well.

And they think it may get better for them over the next few years? Here is a party that allowed itself to be beholden to an ambitious clutz who wanted to create a record-for himself. Most of those who were in that crew are still there including a new leader who has botched every portfolio he has held.

What an utter disaster the Howard government and his enablers - the Coaltion - have been for Australia. Even more so that because of their sheer lack of discipline and straight out cowardliness to confront a silly little suburban solicitor, we in NSW have been landed with the Carr government (Morris is, after all, just a caretaker).

Remember, it was Howard who allowed walking disasters like his good mate Bill Heffernan to roam free and after several disgraceful moments (Justice Kirby) to attack Bob Debus on completely phony information and de-rail the Liberal's campaign within a couple of weeks of the state election. Just as that Howard acolyte and favourite Jackie Kelly - promoted beyond her wildest dreams and competence - happened to be married to a man who also produced the final dramatic headlines of the doomed Howard regime.

John Howard's Achievement

This is the Crikey graphic on its free site


Another Howard Legacy for the Liberals

This is really an incredible piece of fact here.

According Christian Kerr of Crikey that "When John Howard returned as leader of the federal parliamentary Liberal Party on 30 January 1995, his party was in power in every state and every territory".

Year -  States or Territories where Libs was in power
1995  - NSW, QLD, TAS, VIC, WA, NT, ACT, SA
1996  -            QLD, TAS, VIC, WA, NT, ACT, SA - Howard Elected
1997  -            QLD, TAS, VIC, WA, NT, ACT, SA
1998  -            QLD, TAS, VIC, WA, NT, ACT, SA
1999  -                                VIC,  WA, NT, ACT, SA
2000  -                                         WA, NT, ACT, SA
2001  -                                         WA, NT, ACT, SA
2002  -                                                                  SA
2003  -   None
2004  -   None
2005  -   None
2006  -   None
2007  -   None                               
As we all know at the end of 2007, it is wall-to-wall Labor. This is the real legacy of John Howard. If I were on the other side, I would be really pissed-off with Howard.

Nowhere No hope

As Andrew Bolt would put it: "Gerard, don't sit on the fence, just say it".

"It is too early to assess Nelson. But it is fair to say that, judged by his brief time as Liberal leader, there is room for improvement". Come  on Gerard, just say it. he's a dud.

"Wow. When even Gerard Henderson is declining to close ranks around the candidate, you know you're in trouble. There must be more than a few 4am's-of-the-soul over the choice of Brennie the 'ring, at Liberal central. Putting a stooge in charge is one thing, but you should at least try to get Moe, not Shemp. Fact is Nelson is already running dead, and the geniuses who put him there have simply delayed the Liberal revival for as long as he's there. What sort of party selects as leader a man who was a member of its opposite number for years? - Crikey, 11/12/07, Guy Rundle (Subs needed)

Great stuff

You're inspired, PF. Creativity unleashed in Ruddworld.


I'm told that Malcolm did frighten the chooks with mention of the "s" word and republican tendencies, not to mention his none-too-Liberal public exclamations before the vote.  Prior to that he was a better than even chance.  Call it a rush of blood to the head.

That said on reflection he is possibly quite content he didn't win the leadership as unless Labor really, really screws up the Libs are no chance for the next election.  So: Brendan loses, falls on his sword and an older, wiser and hopefully more discreet white knight appears from the direction of Point Piper to seize the leader's rapier and gallop into the vanguard...

...or something like that.

A Minor Blip

Brendan won't last long. I've met him a few times and he's an amiable bloke. I think it's difficult to dislike Nelson even though he's made a hash of each portfolio he's been in. But he's certainly no John Howard although he would match him in ambition.

The Coaltion have a real problem on their hands. Malcolm Turnbull is certainly the most competant person to lead the Liberals - smart, intelligent and not extreme. He came up with a superb housing policy just after he won his seat which was dismissed by the Coalition and Howard. But for some reason the general public just don't connect with him and I find that a mystery.

Perhaps the Libs have decided to let Nelson test the waters and warm the leader's seat for a while.

It's pretty clear the Liberals are in a real mess. As they line up - as Downer has now done - to trash Howard's reputation, the thought that this party can get themselves together over the next two years to face an election in 2010 is fanciful.

Lazarus with a triple by-pass

Ha, I know! Stupid Liberals made the same mistake with John Howard back in '96.

the shortest leadership in history.

Am inclined to believe Nelson did the political equivalent of Gerald Ford in 1976. His first act as president was to pardon Nixon, which was the price Ford paid for his presidency and morally crippled it before it ever had a chance to get going.

Nelson was put in place after a factional deal arranged by Minchin, on behalf of the conservative faction involving the WA voting bloc. This arose out of fear that Hockey and Turnbull were leading the party too close to the centre in trying to distance it from SerfChoices and other disastrous ideologically-driven policies, after the election debacle.

The price was the harsh upholding of the No Apology to Aborigines sacred cow, which as far as I'm concerned prevented the Liberal party from moving away from the past and becoming credible in the here-and-now and finished Nelson himself, before he ever got started.

A Hokey-Pokey for the Liberal Party!

On another thread I posed a question about why the members of the Liberal party didn't throw John out well before he gloriously led them into oblivion. I suggested, politely of course, that they didn't have the cojones to do what needed to be done.

A thought has come to me, one inspired by Kevin Rudd doing the hokey-pokey.  At the next meeting of the Liberal Party they should do the dance which Kevin again made famous. However two new verses should be inserted: "You put your left ball in, you...etc." Obviously the other verse would mention the right one! You get my drift.

This dance, from which ladies would be excused (I'm not sure about Bronwyn) would establish beyond doubt which male members of the Liberal Party have balls and, of those who do, how well they stack up!

Once the dance is over the party may wish to change its Ministerial line-up and leader!

Yes, but

I think Brendan's job is to get the party happening again, rather than win the next election.

Those who prefer Turnbull haven't met him.  By all reports he is horrendous even by the standard of other politicians.

Those I know who have personally met Nelson found him approachable and less egotistical than most politician (not exactly hard to be, of course).

If he can do trade-offs with the different factions this may be what is required for the moment.  I just wish he'd steal Turnbull's policies - junk SerfChoices, sign Kyoto.  Doing these I think would put the Libs back in the game immediately.  At the moment it is the Greens who look like being the opposition. 

I think it was SerfChoices that did for Howard and that there is much re-writing of history going on in the media at the moment.  Read Judith Brett in the SMH talking about the weakness of the Strong Leader etc (of course she is an academic), interest rates, and whatever else.  What do others think about this?

The weakness of the Strong Leader

I think hubris was what "did it" for Howard.

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