Alex Mitchell’s Weekly Notebook – Abbott’s operational HQ centres on Defence Dept

As predicted, Tony Abbott, aka The Revenant or the Mad Monk, is on a vengeful mission to destabilise Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. As a bonus, he’d also like to reclaim the nation’s top job from which his own party room sacked him six months ago.
It’s still early days, but the main elements of his comeback strategy are already in evidence.
Firstly, he has won the backing of media magnate Rupert Murdoch, the devout born-again Catholic and papal knight soon to be married for the fourth time. The spacious columns of The Australian are Abbott’s for the asking.
Secondly, he is gathering a group of like-minded Liberal and National backbenchers to form his Praetorian Guard. The high-profile “maddies” are Menzies MP Kevin Andrews, Bass MP Andrew Nikolic, Hughes MP Craig Kelly, Wannon MP Dan Tehan and Senator Cory Bernardi.
Thirdly, the first targets of the Abbottstanis’ attack are:
1. Defence Minister Marise Payne, a leading member of the “wet” faction who is married to Stuart Ayres, Minister for Sport, Trade, Tourism and Major Events in Premier Mike Baird’s NSW government.
2. Defence Department secretary Dennis Richardson, a former director-general of ASIO, ambassador to Washington (2005-2010) and secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Wonderfully, their first “clandestine” assault has been Pythonesque in its execution and appears to have backfired.
On Wednesday, March 2, The Australian’s Greg Sheridan, Abbott’s amanuensis (Latin word meaning someone good at taking notes when someone else is talking) wrote a front-page “exclusive” declaring that Turnbull had delayed for a decade the replacement of submarines for the RAN. (“PM pushed back Abbott subs dates – Boats delayed for decade under Turnbull”)
Sheridan wrote: “The Turnbull government’s defence white paper delays the acquisition of replacement submarines for the Collins-class boats by nearly a decade compared with the draft produced by Tony Abbott, in a result the former prime minister says has left him ‘flabbergasted’.”
The shirtfronter gave credibility to Sheridan’s piece by saying: “I’m flabbergasted at this decision.
“It’s the biggest decision we face. It needs to be made swiftly so that we get the new subs from the middle of the next decade. This is vital for the defence of the nation, it is vital for our national self-respect, it is vital for our national security.”

Abbott’s little mate

Last year Sheridan wrote a cringing book on his 40-year friendship with Abbott called When We Were Young and Foolish describing their antics in student politics at Sydney University and later in journalism. They had “a shared distrust of communism and admiration for B.A. Santamaria”, the leading Cold War Catholic obscurantist.
In parliament this week Turnbull announced the Australian Federal Police would investigate the leak of highly classified national security information to Sheridan. Helpfully, Sheridan has publicly ruled out Abbott – “my best mate” – as the source.
The police inquiry was initiated by Defence Department secretary, the aforementioned Dennis Richardson, who will no doubt engage his former colleagues at ASIO to assist “plods” from the AFP.
Abbottstani MP, “Brigadier” Andrew Nikolic, has close friends at the Defence Department where he served as assistant first secretary between 2008 and 2011 before becoming a hard right Canberra politician.
Labor shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus tried to block Nikolic from the chairmanship of the Joint Intelligence Committee because his “extreme right-wing views” would wreck the committee’s long-standing bipartisanship.
Dreyfus’s objections were dismissed and the Coalition-dominated committee appointed Nikolic who is now embedded in the Russell Hill Mob.
And in the past couple of days The Guardian Australia has reported that between the Liberal party room coup against Abbott on September 14 and the announcement of the first Turnbull ministry on September 20, then defence minister Andrews tried to secure a top defence job – inspector-general of the Australian defence force – for one of his top advisers.
Ms Payne squashed the appointment when she succeeded the odious Andrews.
From other sources, it is evident that defence’s Russell Hill complex is a giant antbed of amateur conspirators, monarchists and toadies. Many have close associations with the Pentagon, Whitehall, Tel Aviv and global defence contractors, the so-called “merchants of death”, and some appear more concerned about promotion, retirement income and future directorships than Australian defence needs.
The latest defence white paper gives them plenty to share: a bill to taxpayers of a staggering $195 billion between now and 2021 which includes commitment to 12 submarines, nine frigates, 12 offshore patrol vessels and the first of 75 US-made Joint Strike Fighters, a winged white elephant frequently described as the most expensive joke in aviation history.
Australia’s late entry into the arms race has alarmed China and other Asian neighbours. However, the Coalition (and the ALP) are trying to shoehorn Australia into the aggressive gendarme role once played in SE Asia by Washington. All without public debate or disclosure of defence agreements, of course.
STOP PRESS: Senator Bernardi’s membership of the Bring Back Abbott Club (BBAC) will be interrupted while he travels to the UN headquarters in New York for a three-month holiday … I mean workplace secondment.

Trump channels Il Duce

Votes were still being counted in US presidential primaries on “Super Tuesday” when Donald Trump’s campaign language altered dramatically.
He stopped talking about the Republican Party, the GOP, whose presidential nomination he is seeking and he started referring to the Trump “movement”.
The shift is not semantic. The New York billionaire knows that the Republican convention in July in Cleveland, Ohio, may not be a glorious coronation and the election contest with the Democrats in November will be a very tough affair.
Team Trump has corralled all the nutters – Christian fundamentalists, racists, homophobes, climate deniers, Islamophobes and gun lovers – but they don’t constitute a winning number of voters. They need the votes of disillusioned Democrats as well, voters who are ABC – Anyone But Clinton.
As the Trump bandwagon surges onward, watch for the emergence of his “movement” and its “unstoppable momentum”. The spin doctors will be in overdrive.

Murdoch’s helpers

Rebekah Brooks, the acquitted phone hacker and CEO of Rupert Murdoch’s News UK, has signed a five-year commercial agreement with an offshore betting company called Playtech to supply The Sun with a bingo game.
Playtech is an Isle of Man-domiciled company with a chequered history. Its billionaire founder is Israeli Teddy Sagi who was convicted of bribery and securities fraud in 1996 and served nine months in jail.
Just before reaching a deal with News UK, Playtech’s attempt to buy an Irish online trading company was blocked by the Central Bank of Ireland.
Ms Brooks, 47, is one of Murdoch’s favourite executives. Another was
Michelle Guthrie who was recently appointed the next managing director of the ABC.
For more than a decade, Ms Guthrie was employed as “senior counsel” to Murdoch, a serial tax avoider, in various well-paid roles at BSkyB in the UK, Asian-based Star TV and Australia’s Foxtel.
Her first assignments will be 1) to merge the corporation with the advertising-accepting SBS, and 2) erect a pay wall for public access to iView, the ABC’s highly successful “live” streaming service.
The result will be a weakened, commercialised ABC – the manic objective of Murdoch’s News empire. His corporate strategy enfeebled the BBC in Britain, so now it’s full speed ahead in Australia.

On the buses

Overheard on a Sydney bus: “I think it’s terrible that the royal commission (into child sex abuse) is putting Cardinal Pell through an inquisition in Rome.”
Bad choice of words.


  1. Best journalism of today. Rivalling the significant yet still underrated New Matilda. Thanks Alex,, and the humour a fillip too !!

  2. And we Poms thought we had problems…depressing to see that the corruption, venality and lack of purpose or foresight that characterizes Whitehall and the Ma of All Parlies is being reflected so assiduously in Canberra

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *