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September 18th 2015 print

Peter Smith

Abbott’s Long Walk on a Short Plank

No leader is successful for too long with a coterie of the dim and tin-eared for a retinue. Abbott clearly had fools about him and a lot of them are still around to undo Turnbull, if he lets them -- a prospect that doesn't give me unbearable pain

thrown overboard smallI must now have read any number of articles written by conservatives about the demise of Abbott and the elevation of Turnbull, including here at Quadrant Online. Most of the points they make I agree with. I, too, am disappointed at the outcome. I don’t think there has ever been a leader deposed by his colleagues who has been nearly as successful as Tony Abbott. Maybe, perhaps, Margaret Thatcher; I am not sufficiently knowledgeable to gauge that finely.

I ask who else, but Abbott, would have had the courage to protect our borders by taking on the Labor Party, the Greens, Fairfax Media, Their ABC, the refugee lobby, the Australian Human Rights Commission, the United Nations, Q&A audiences, Geoffrey Robinson and the rest of the limp-wristed bleeding hearts, not to mention the Indonesian Government. No one is the answer.

Scott Morrison got the credit for administering Operation Sovereign Borders, but there is absolutely no reason to think that he would have had the necessary courage to lead the charge. Look around at the leading lights in the Liberal Party. None of those who voted Abbott down would have taken it on; laden as it was with such high political risks. Abbott is a giant in my eyes.

Under his leadership, the government had many other significant achievements. And the starker they become when set against the shambles of the previous six years. And to tell the truth, I don’t give a fig in the scheme of things whether he stuck overlong to his madcap scheme to enrich working mothers, or that his chief of staff was nasty to a few precious souls, or that he gave a knighthood to Prince Phillip, or dithered over sacking his old friend Bronwyn Bishop for, let us remind ourselves, doing nothing more disreputable than had a lot of her hypocritical parliamentary critics.

But, and it is a big but, ultimately it was not his Liberal Party colleagues – ninnies though many of them are – who did Abbott in. Some 487.000 voters (based on the polls) have changed their allegiance since the last election. They did him in. I would suggest that most do not read conservative commentaries — or any commentaries. All of the conservative angst about what has happened will pass completely over their heads.

Broken promises resonate. In this case, that comes down to the budget. The first one was a disaster. Sometimes I feel like a broken record, but hitting pensioners and poor people visiting the doctor – having given no hint that you would – simply loses you all of those voters not rusted on.

Not once in the 26 federal elections since 1949 has the Coalition gained less than 46% of the two-party preferred vote. All of the opinion polls, month after month, had the Coalition’s support down to 46% (from 53.5% at the last election). Only the rusted-on were left. The rest had deserted the cause and with good reason to their way of thinking. I am surprised the dip wasn’t more pronounced; after all, many pensioners are loyal Coalition voters.

Abbott needed to address the situation. He had to admit the mistakes made and reverse course. Instead, his government through Joe Hockey and then, more recently, through the unduly-lauded Scott Morrison, issued threats: We will only change course if we are allowed to introduce other onerous measures, they said. Morrison then proceeded to do just that by attacking 327,000 older people on part pensions. How delusional can you get and remain outside a mental-care facility?

I predict that if the Labor Party changes leader it will win. Malcolm Turnbull can be as collegiate and consultative as he likes with the political in-crowd and business leaders. The common folk will not vote for a government which has broken its promises and which is not willing to reverse course and admit it was wrong. John Howard has freely provided a script that can be used in these situations. We have listened to the people, he would have said before sharply changing direction.

The great pity is that Abbott was burdened with people around him with tin ears. Joe Hockey, for example, believed his own spiel that the age of entitlement is over. It isn’t and those who believe it is, and act on it, are destined for electoral oblivion.

Of course, Abbott should have had the nous to understand what was happening. But how many leaders have been saved by having savvy people by their side? I suspect that no leader is successful for too long with fools in their retinue. Think of Whitlam’s ministry, compared with Hawke’s. Abbott clearly had fools about him and a lot of them are still around to undo Turnbull, if he lets them. I have to admit, that won’t give me unbearable pain.

Peter Smith, a frequent Quadrant Online contributor, is the author of Bad Economics

Comments [12]

  1. Bill Martin says:

    The above article is all common sence, characterestic of the author. The salient point of it is the reference to the nature of the electorate. Einstein is credited with declaring that everything has a limit except human stupidity. That, laced with a generous dose apathy, sums up the population of this and most other countries. A good indication is the fact that all branches of the media, particularly television of all varieties, increasingly concentrate on disseminating trivia, such as sport and “reality” shows. They do that because such fare is the most popular. Politicians are blamed for the standard of polity and the most vocal critics are the devoted fans of frivolous entertainment. Small wonder that most politicians treat the public with the contempt they deserve. Those who attempt to relate to those they govern without that contempt need a stupendous degree of carisma – think of Ronald Reagan – to be successful. Tony Abbott didn’t quite have it.

  2. Jody says:

    I agree with much of this, particularly the “Stop the Boats” initiative – of which Scott was the chief agent. Don’t underestimate Morrison, please. He’s a strong conservative, right-winger and people have said Turnbull will fail without his support. And he’s also charismatic. Today’s disastrous interview with the execrable Ray Hadley was damaging and testament to the old maxim that “if you lie down with dogs you get up with fleas”. Scott shouldn’t go anywhere near this galoot in future.

    The electorate. Paul Kelly has written extensively on the culpability of the electorate, their greed, entitlement and unwillingness for change.

    The greatest fear I have is the lobby Peter Smith discussed in his opening gambit about the boats; the execrable left and its “oligarchs of hate” (I coined that phrase). I am pessimistic because I think we are going to be dictated to by the likes of Julian Burnside, QC and Cruella de Ville (Sarah Hanson-Young) because Turnbull will prove to be a soft touch.

    The only point of disagreement I have with Smith’s article is the Medicare co-payment, which I think was $5 or $7. When people pay twice that much for one bag of dog bones every week at the supermarket – as well as the overall high cost of pet ownership – I think you’ll find it’s all a matter of priorities, not poverty. If somebody can get another person to pay their way they’re always going to try that route.

    • Peter says:

      Jody, Scott Morrison might be okay but his reputation was built on stopping the boats and to my way of thinking that was down to Abbott – he rode on Abbott’s back. In my view, Scott Morrison is still(relatively)untested. We shall see when he becomes Treasurer. As for a Medicare co-payment; yes it is a sensible step, but announce it before the election and don’t spend the proceeds on new highfalutin medical research. Peter

      • gardner.peter.d says:

        Obviously the politicians make the final decisions and take the flack in public but I think it more likely that the effectiveness of such a difficult and risky policy (stopping the boats) is due to some very smart and sound advice from the serving officers of the armed services and a bunch of good lawyers. Without that no politician would have been prepared to face the public opposition but it is that advice that is the foundation of an effective policy. I don’t know for sure.

  3. Jody says:

    You make a very valid point on the medical research point and I certainly concede that point willingly. A broken promise is a broken promise and no amount of window dressing can alter that fact.

    It may be a little too soon for Scott Morrison, that’s what concerns me. Whether or not he rode on Abbott’s back is immaterial; without a firmness of purpose and a refusal to be cowed by the likes of the “Hate Oligarchy” he carried on regardless. A weaker person would have caved in long before.

    Please have some faith in the Coalition under Turnbull; so very very much depends upon it.

    • PT says:

      I don’t. Turncoat is a “progressive” and an egotist. In the unlikely event of him winning the next election, his more conservative Partyroom will lose any hold on him.

      • Bill Martin says:

        Me, neither. Go to “stopturnbull.com” and see if after reading that you can still have faith in the coalition under Turnbull. It is not just that he is a “progressive” lefty, but more disconcertingly he is a man of no principle, motivated by nothing other than his unbridled egomania. He will initially stick with policies established under Abbott, but only until he got rid of a sufficient number of those who insist that he does, then he will remake the agenda according to his progressive preferences. My most immediate concern is the upcoming climate alarmists conference in Paris in December, where Turnbull and Bishop are very likely to sign us up to some extremely onerous and costly commitment. I, personally, will endeavour to find a suitable alternative to support come election time, failing that, my vote will be an informal one. I just could not, in good conscience, vote for a Liberal candidate under the leadership of Turnbull. Admittedly, this resolution is made easier by the fact that my electorate is a safe Labour seat, so my vote only ever has statistical value.

        • Steve Spencer says:

          I too will be torn come the next election. While I naturally support conservative parties, I am damned if I will play a part in rewarding treachery. But who to vote for? Maybe there will be a conservative independent candidate in my electorate, but independents are notoriously fickle, and what they say and do can be chalk and cheese. One idea that attracts my sense of principle would be for erstwhile Lib supporters to ask their local candidate if he/she voted for Abbott, or Turnbull. If the latter, choose the least worst option among the other candidates.

        • LBLoveday says:

          Go to “michaelsmithnews.com” and play the brief Jason Morrison report to hear Turnbull’s opinion of the clearly expressed will of the Australian people.

  4. Bran Dee says:

    Let’s help Turnbull and the Party win the next election and then the Party Room can depose him,again, if he is taken by a flight of fancy.

  5. Jody says:

    Well, these are disturbing responses. What makes you certain, given what you’ve said about him, that his ‘progressive’ agenda is any more real than his current Conservative one? I remember what Peter Cousins said about him during the last election – about him being an expedient.

    Remember that politics is saturated with ego-driven people who have burning ambitions. Turnbull is not alone. Remember Paul Keating and what he did to Hawke, stalking him for years.

    You only serve Labor if you refuse to vote for the Coalition.

  6. DRW says:

    Dear Effwit and his retinue of vain glorious sycophants at the ABC, Channels 7/9/10 and Fauxfacts will be ignored as all their mantra of hate has been directed at Tony Abbot and the usurper is not undoing any the policies he introduced. Tony Abbot while betrayed he will be vindicated.