Tony Abbott’s grab for the leadership prior to Malcolm Turnbull even having the opportunity to test himself as Opposition Leader at a federal election will forever haunt their dealings.
Abbott has been a brilliantly effective holder of that office, possibly the most devastating political leader since Keating when he’s on song, but the price he’s paid is that tearing down a government much earlier than its natural cycle is not an activity calculated to make one more likeable.
Internal Liberal foes, mainly from Victoria and from the younger party room ranks who fear Abbott will be very slow to promote them after the election, say he “is a drag on the ticket.”
But there’s no evidence of that. Indeed, those same polls reveal Abbott’s brilliant political stewardship since the election he nearly stole in 2010 from under a first-term Labor government’s nose. Reports from the Ministerial Wing that there was (literally) high-fiving among the self-styled “Team JG” in the PMO after poll numbers showing they were a mere eight points behind in 2PP terms on the most favourable set of recent numbers shows just how desperate things have got for Labor. There’s much more fight in them than some would realise but it very much seems the voters (punters, if you wish to patronise the people who comprise our polity) have made up their minds. And this is mostly due, in our view, to Abbott’s devastatingly effective advocacy that has not the let the government make an error without it being shouted from the roof-tops.
We don’t say that to cheer-lead for Abbott, there’s a lot he could improve on, indeed, his failure to slap-down Barnaby Joyce on the vexed issue of Chinese state-pwnership of an iconic agribusiness Cubbie station reveals that while he’s very confident roughing up the government, he’s not so sure of his ground with the colleagues, especially, perhaps, the agrarian hand-out brigade in the National Party.
Regardless of the rights or wrongs of whether we should allow arms of the inherently corrupt and unstable Chinese communist regime (best recent example was the Ferrari-driving son of a powerful Beijing official who came to attention because his high-speed fatal car crash occurred while he was apparently distracted by admirable yet unwise in-vehicle sex acts with two naked “high-class” sex-workers) to buy Australian assets, and we think a genuine debate on that is important, the optics of a prospective senior Cabinet minister unilaterally disagreeing with Coalition policy are appalling. While they’re not governing, it might not matter so much. When they win, it will create an instability that will not go down well among voters who haven’t liked the sometimes sorry spectacle of minority government.
Joyce came to national attention by being a maverick, whose knock-about views seemed aligned with those prevailing in the bars of western Queensland. Born into great wealth, it is said, prior to a big dust-up with his uber-rich family, he is an unlikely but undoubtedly effective champion of the ideas of the disaffected of the bush who regard multi-culturalism with suspicion, foreign investment as invasion, miners as the occasional enemy of the farmer, government-ownership as virtuous, Labor as pinkos but unions as mostly OK.
Abbott has some sympathy with this old-school conservatism.
But that doesn’t excuse his failure to exercise leadership and give Barnaby the public slap he deserved for defying their internal process for devising policy and a co-ordinated response to events within the framework of shadow ministerial allocations.
In truth, he probably should have warned Barnaby and then sacked him if he persisted.
Instead, Abbott indulged Joyce and made feeble excuses. And it’s caused much whispering around the traps about Abbott. Much of it thought to emanate from the responsible shadow minister Joe Hockey and the young and the restless who are suspicious of Abbott’s commitment to free markets.
Which all makes the urbane and vengeful Malcolm Turnbull’s ears prick up.
He is the one who can “seal the deal” with voters, his friends say, which we think is code for “he’ll be less objectionable to the lefties in the Canberra Press Gallery than Abbott and they’ll put up slightly less resistance to the inevitable Coalition win.” We haven’t figured out why it matters but it matters to some.
It’s in that context that Turnbull’s speech decrying a lack of honesty in politics is very interesting:
“If you love your country, have an interest in politics or policy, and care deeply about our nation’s future, there’s nothing more certain to arouse your fury and invite your contempt than listening to an entire House of Representatives question time,” he said.
In comments that will sit uneasily with his own side, Mr Turnbull said question time should not be dominated every day just by people smuggling and the carbon tax.
Your judgments define you in politics. And all else. Abbott’s ongoing mishandling of Barnaby Joyce could be a trigger for serious destabilisation in the Liberal party room. There’s a growing number of the young and the restless who think they can only get ahead by promoting disruption, some of them apparently deeply annoyed also by Abbott’s failure to promote young talent while also talking up the ministerial ambitions of those not even in Parliament yet, the Liberals would be making a grave mistake to go there.
The Liberals would be wise to remember who they got to where they are now. Turnbull was leader. He bullied sceptical colleagues into supporting Rudd’s emission trading scheme despite a rising tide of rage from party members and supporters across the land. Kevin Andrews stood him up when no-one else was game. Behind the scenes, Minchin, Abetz, Andrews worked hard on a reluctant Abbott to persuade him to challenge. He won by one vote. From that point on, in stark contrast to the relaxed and comfortable approach of Malcolm, with exceptions on MP’s pay-rises and eventually on boats, it’s been total war against the government after just falling short in 2010.
Abbott got them back in the game. The Libs would be mad to go back to Malcolm now. But the old-school conservative surrounded by younger economic liberals and workplace relations warriors would do well to remember his margin of victory against Turnbull the next time freelancing Barnaby Joyce froths at the mouth.
Turnbull’s right, voters crave authenticity. But after these years of perceived instability in government they also crave a leader who can exercise authority and are entitled to ask “if he can’t govern his Coalition, how will he govern the country?”