Abbott looks terminal, but what about policy?


Dennis Atkins talking to the ABC on Tuesday afternoon said that on the weekend Abbott asked Julie Bishop and Malcolm Turnbull to say that they wouldn’t challenge for PM, or so the story goes. Bishop refused, apparently. This became a story on Tuesday morning. Bishop came out with the necessary words, but it took her 9 hours to do it.

Atkins reckons that the chatter will continue. Abbott can’t afford to make a mistake from here and must turn the polls around.

There are two problems with this. Firstly, opinion amongst the backbench is so sour that whatever he does will be seen as a mistake by some. For example, when Gillard announced the election date in early 2103, I thought it wasn’t a bad idea. To her backbench critics it was self-evidently the stupidest thing ever.

Secondly, the backbench revolt is no longer anonymous. Dennis Jensen and Warren Entsch have demanded a ballot on the Liberal leadership and say the PM’s position is ‘terminal’. Mal Brough says the leadership issue “needs to be resolved”.

The ABC was told that cabinet ministers have urged Abbott to resign.

Under these circumstances Abbott can’t get enough clear air to say anything that will not be seen through the leadership filter. Lenore Taylor wrote of his Press Club speech:

Tony Abbott’s press club speech had little to do with charting a path forward and everything to do with circling the wagons around his prime ministership.

But a path forward – a way out of its political mess – is the only thing that can save the prime minister and his government. Circling the wagons might hold his critics off for a while, but it doesn’t address the cause of their concern.

The speech was reported as much or more for its political intent – telling the backbench he was going nowhere – as for its policy content.

“the point of the speech was to tell agitating backbenchers that he would stare them down and that they were doing the country a disservice by the very act of leadership agitation.”

Ben Eltham laments the media role in this. The larger problem, he says, is that Abbott is wedged between the hard right agenda, favoured by backbenchers that put him there, and the fairer more humane deal that the electorate wants.

What could he do? Abandon university deregulation. Give up on the GP co-payments. Restore some of the family payments Joe Hockey cut in 2014. Fashion a 2015 budget for the middle class, not big business.

On these substantial issues, Abbott stayed the course. Perhaps he has to: ideologically wedded to a hard right agenda, the Prime Minister relies on right-wing backbenchers to stay on as leader. Such policy changes would never be acceptable to the bulk of the party room. Nor would the conservative pundits and commentators who wield so much influence on this government be pleased with such concessions.

And this is the real problem faced by whoever runs the Liberal Party in 2015. Conservative ideology has drifted well to the right of the general electorate. For a long time, the timidity of the ALP disguised just how toxic the neoliberal brand of conservative politics has become. But, in office, the nastiness of the Coalition’s attacks on the welfare state has become impossible to conceal.

As the ALP gropes towards a rediscovered belief in fairness and slowly rebuilds its grass-roots campaign base, the Coalition’s dominant political ideology looks increasingly out of touch. There is no sign that Julie Bishop understands this, or, if she does, can do anything about it.

As occasional commenter wpd indicated recently, it is the whole Institute of Public Affairs agenda that needs to be defeated.

Meanwhile the latest Essential poll has a lot of colour and movement about personalities, but the bottom line is that it has Labor ahead 54-46. That is what is scaring the backbench, and may it continue to do so!

14 thoughts on “Abbott looks terminal, but what about policy?”

  1. Arthur Sinodinos says his support is conditional and Kennett says Abbott’s leadership is terminal.

    The ABC has been doing some counting and though there is significant unrest it looks to me as though a leadership spill motion will fail.

    That’s probably the best outcome for Labor. Keep Abbott there, he is eminently beatable.

  2. Brian: To regain credibility the membership needs to genuinely change their thinking and elect a leader who is not strongly connected with recent policy.
    It won’t work if they elect the right leader then stop him/her making the changes that need to be made.

  3. a leader change won’t solve the policy problem. You get a sense of how this might work when you realise that the WA backbenchers promoting the spill are climate change denialists, while the favoured replacement in the electorate holds views that these MPs would find anathema. Go figure

  4. It should come as no surprise that Tony Abbott says that this spill motion is “not about me,….it was never about me”.

    Wowee. Delusion central, it is wonder that there is not ektoplasm oozing from the all screens displaying Abbott as he spouts his words.

    My bet is that Abbott will use his discretion as leader to call the challenge a “no show” and not allow it to got to a vote.

  5. My “bet” is looking “better” by the hour. Right after Turnbull gave Abbott credit for respecting party tradition and giving LNP members the time to work things through properly, Abbott shifts the field by moving the spill to 9.00 am Monday (instead of Tuesday).

    Dirt is as Dirty does (re: Forrest Gump’s mother…seems Doubly appropriate here). I’m now sure that Abbott will attempt to declare the spill has no support in the party room from the stage, and if that does not work, he will make it a show of hands.

    Cross posted from JQ Blog:

    “Listening to Senator Ian MacDonald right now you have to come to the conclusion that Tony Abbott is a functionally disadvantaged person being encouraged through some kind of political training camp.


    …and then they have the hide to talk about the best interests of the country. MacDonald pairs Labour with Debt Deficit and Dysfunction,……wait on……It is the Liberals who are in control and we have all of those things right now, …..only more so. But on top of that we have Denial, Dishonesty, Deviance, and Debility.
    How blinkered can these Neo-Liberal Nutjobs be???”

    ….only add Dirty Dealings to the list of LNP D scores.

  6. The vote was an “informal” one. ie show of hands, maximum intimidation.

    Abbott true to form.

  7. Oops, I was wrong. It was a secret ballot. I heard Ruddock saying that there was one informal vote.

  8. Shorten will have problems keeping the stupid grin off his face. However, it is worth remembering that Frazer called the 1983 election as soon as Hawke replaced Hayden.
    It is also worth remembering that some sources claim Newman called the Qld election to block a challenge by Springborg. Abbott may be capable of calling a suicide election to block the next challenge.

  9. Abbott may be capable of calling a suicide election to block the next challenge.

    He may even try to ” one up ” The Great Negotiator ” and name a date in 18 months instead of 8.
    To, how did she put it, ” …so everyone can focus on policy, not on speculation and get on with the business of Governing for our children, and our childrens children and our…….” or something.

    Our current opposition Leader put a spanner in those work ay ?

    Wasn’t Albo more popular with the rank-n-file than Shorten when he got the job ?

  10. Wasn’t Albo more popular with the rank-n-file than Shorten when he got the job ?

    He’s certainly more popular with me.

  11. He’s certainly more popular with me.

    Right, it’s official then, “There is talk on social media for a spill for the Opposition Leaders job “, ” are there moves behind the scenes to oust Shorten ?” , ” Shadow front bench declare support ” !!!

    Someone email Barry Cassidy ( in an unnamed, high ranking ALP MP kinda way )

    He’ll wet himself.

  12. Not just yet Chuck, Shorten’s approval rating needs to go into the basement first. Then it’ll be on.

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