Van Onselen: Abbott best of the rest

Julia Gillard and Bill Shorten

Julia Gillard and Bill Shorten during Question time. Picture: Gary Ramage
Source: The Daily Telegraph

WITH 2011 over, Peter Van Onselen assesses the best and the worst performers in Federal politics.


Judging performances in 2011 is made harder by the varying degrees of difficulty each politician faced.

Julia Gillard presided over the worst sustained set of polling numbers in our national history. Yet despite leading a minority Government she has implemented much of her difficult agenda.

Tony Abbott failed to inspire as an alternative prime minister, but no one could deny his outstanding job at tearing down the Government’s credibility. Taking into account such paradoxes we give you the best and the worst performers of 2011:

Top 5

1. Tony Abbott – 9.5/10

The Opposition Leader was without doubt the standout performer of the year.

Put aside your opinion of his (lack of) policies and his negative tactics. Indeed put aside his poor personal ratings, too. Abbott can single-handedly take credit for the pressure the Government is under.

Despite coming heartbreakingly close to winning the 2010 election he continued to work every day to expose Government failings. So good has Abbott been it is hard to distinguish between Opposition spin and how Labor is really travelling. Can he keep it up for another two years?

2. Bill Shorten – 9/10

We will find out soon enough whether Shorten can continue to do well when under pressure.

The new Cabinet minister’s degree of difficulty will now rise sharply. In 2011 he deserves applause for quickly mastering the assistant treasurer brief and pushing for a disability insurance scheme. Superannuation is also within Shorten’s ambit of responsibilities – one of the few positive policy areas for Labor, forcing a backflip by the opposition.

3. Julie Bishop – 8/10

Once the butt of jokes, the deputy leader of the opposition earned her stripes in 2011.

She stood up to internal critics and held the line in media interviews supporting her leader. Bishop used 2011 to come to terms with her shadow foreign affairs portfolio and now looks comfortable as one of the senior players in the leadership team.

Bishop’s next challenge will be to ensure policies developed in 2012 do not isolate the Liberal moderates given Abbott’s conservative tendencies.

4. Anthony Albanese – 8/10

The Infrastructure Minister perhaps should have been reshuffled into another portfolio to make better use of his talents.

Nevertheless, the reason Albo sits in fourth place comes back to his role as manager of Government business in the House of Representatives. He ensured Bills passed, the independents were satisfied and the Government didn’t fall. In short, his control of parliament kept Labor in power, it’s that simple.

5. Wayne Swan 7.5/10

How could we not squeeze Euromoney magazine’s world’s greatest treasurer into our top five? 

Despite ballooning debt and Budget blowouts, and despite the trickery of a 2012/13 forecast surplus (courtesy of cooked books), Swan’s big picture economic strategy is the right one for the times.

Short-term stimulus followed by fiscal restraint, and a path back to surplus, is the way to go when other nations are bordering on debt defaults.

Swan is easily mocked for his media performances but he also deserves credit for the job done in difficult economic times.

Honourable mentions: Julia Gillard, Christopher Pyne.

Bottom 5

Craig Thomson – 1/10

Allegations surrounding visiting prostitutes, misusing union credit cards and general skulduggery all add up to a poor year for the member for Dobell. 

He survived the year politically but still must survive an ongoing police investigation.

Kim Carr – 3/10

Dumped from Cabinet and believed to be doing the numbers for Kevin Rudd, Carr didn’t have a very good 2011. 

He is also at war with a number of union leaders he deals with in his manufacturing portfolio on a daily basis and they don’t think much of the job he did last year.

Andrew Robb – 4/10

The head of the Opposition’s policy development committee would likely make this list whoever that person was. But Robb is there for other reasons. He has been cut out of the Abbott inner circle and has become a maverick on the front bench. 

Once touted as a future leader Robb’s 2011 saw his standing with colleagues take a major hit. He also needs to sharpen his media performances.

Chris Bowen 4.5/10

Bowen had a very tough degree of difficulty in 2011. 

His Malaysian solution was axed by the High Court, split the Labor Party and would have been defeated in parliament had the Government brought the legislation forward.

Bowen has long been highly regarded by colleagues but 2011 was a year he would rather forget.

Chris Evans 5/10

Stripped of his IR portfolio in the recent reshuffle, the Government’s Senate leader was likened to the dead guy in the movie Weekend at Bernie’s by one of Labor’s most senior union figures, Tony Sheldon. 

But Evans narrowly achieves a pass mark for his 2011 performance because in the back half of the year even his harshest critics say he had begun to lift his game.

Dishonourable mentions: Peter Slipper, Mary Jo Fisher.

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