Many conservative commentators have rightly noted that Tony Abbott’s achievements in government were considerable. Stopping the boats, removing the carbon tax, ending (or at least curtailing) corporate welfare and re-setting the relationship with Indonesia are the four at the top of my list. The ousted leaders’ sympathisers also have noted his restraint and decency in calling upon all Liberal members to fall in line with the new government and concentrate on defeating Labor at the next election. Odious as Malcolm Turnbull’s plotting and scheming have been and regardless of an unsettling record that suggests he might have been happier on the other side of the House, Abbott’s advice is worth heeding.
Simply put, the current ALP is light years from representing a viable alternative government. In very short order, Turnbull will be the recipient of all the bile that Fairfax, the ABC and mavens of social media can inject into the nation’s political discourse. True, it might not plumb the depths of sheer, unadulterated hatred that Abbott had to endure, but it will be poisonous nonetheless. Critics within Turnbull’s party, if they wish to see the greater evil of Labor kept off the government benches, will eventually have to swallow hard and defend him, so I would suggest they start toning down the rhetoric now.
Like many, I am deeply saddened by the way Abbott’s prime ministership was cut short, but at the same time the memories of his inability and/or unwillingness to grow into the job are fresh and vivid. Fact is, his tenure was crippled even before he took office. Firstly by his making commitments that he did not need to make (“No cuts to the ABC”) and could not reasonably fulfil (paid parental leave) and, secondly, because he virtually ignored the Senate in his 2013 election campaign.
When Abbott took the reins as Opposition Leader in 2009, he had my support for one chief reason: his apparent stance on global warming and the need for the legions of careerist panic merchants it has spawned to find other, productive lines of work. The billions of dollars wasted could have been spent on real needs or, better yet, left in taxpayers’ pockets. Even under the Coalition’s half-pregnant approach, Direct Action, this waste will only get worse, and all for no tangible benefit whatsoever.
I had hoped that, over time, Abbott would unleash his inner sceptic (“It’s crap!” as he told a Liberal audience in an unguarded moment) and wind down the lemming-like rush to economic oblivion. He had plenty of evidence with which to argue that the “settled science” is anything but. The failure of Copenhagen, the Climategate scandals; the failure of models to predict the eighteen-plus years of no warming, the continued uncertainty about tipping points and climate sensitivity — each and every one presented an opportunity to pause and re-assess the real risks, perhaps focussing more on adaptation measures, such as dam building and more robust infrastructure. But he never did take that path. The loyal silence of known sceptics within the Party, such as Dr Dennis Jensen, has been most frustrating — not, mind you, that his reticence to address the climate scam saved him from the national broadcaster’s scorn.
Unfortunately, even if Turnbull sticks to the party line on global warming for the moment, he will never bring a level of objectivity to this question that would allow his government to take a pragmatic, hasten-slowly approach. One can only hope that the upcoming Paris conference will prove to be Son of Copenhagen, with the world’s leaders limiting their actions and activism to green pieties, not actual policy and mega-billion dollar transfers of the developed world’s wealth to tinpot kleptocrats and other holders of secret Swiss bank accounts. In any event, the distinct possibility that Turnbull will endorse some rash and expensive initiative in Paris is one more justification for conservatives to woo him, rather than eviscerate him. There will be plenty of time for that if he actually does prove as bad as many fear.
As for Tony Abbott, I have admired his personal qualities as much as his political achievements but, sadly, I am in the vast minority. Inexplicable as it is, Abbott is viscerally disliked by a majority of voters. Conventional wisdom among the conservative commentariat is that, come election time, voters would have set aside their dislike and concentrate objectively on the relative merits of the policies and achievements of the two sides. I am not quite so sanguine, believing that it would not have mattered what additional successes Abbott added to his considerable list of achievements as a phalanx of swinging voters would never have voted for any government led by him,not under any circumstances. Labor would have learned its lesson, they would have rationalised, and could be trusted once again. That Labor’s driving instinct is to invoice voters for the cost of meddling with every aspect of our lives would not have been foremost as Abbott’s detractors dropped their ballots into the box.
I don’t believe the Coalition could have won the next election under Abbott. And even if he did, it would be only a narrow victory. As far as economic reform is concerned, this term of government has been a wasted opportunity. The Coalition will have to start the process next term and will need at least another stretch in power to complete it. And, on top of that, they will have to win the Senate.
Tony Abbott has already given great service to the nation. I hope he can be content in that knowledge.