We hear a lot from commentators about Tony Abbott’s allegedly reprehensible inclination to “defend his legacy”, with the punditry dismissing his post-ouster interviews and comments as the bitter fruit of mere vanity and self-indulgence. But Abbott’s defence of his record and legacy is much more than that of a spurned leader seeking credit and justification: it is about ensuring that those achievements endure. This is vital and important work, as recent remarks by Gillian Triggs, president of the Human Rights Commission, suggest. With Abbott gone, she has crowed, Malcolm Turnbull has welcomed her back to the ‘corridors of power’.
Can anyone imagine an action more likely to further inflame the conservatives of Turnbull’s own party? Can anyone imagine an endorsement more likely to be seen as a slap in the face of Tony Abbott? Viewed pragmatically, there is absolutely no political upside to this detente. Triggs long ago nailed her colours to the mast with blatantly pro-Labor/Greens politicking. Her public position on illegal immigrants puts her completely at odds with the government on one of its signature and most successful policies, regaining control of our borders.
Under Abbott and George Brandis, who remains Attorney General under Turnbull, Triggs’ position was, with complete justification, declared ‘untenable’. Now, apparently, she is back in the tent. If Brandis believed her position was beyond suffering just six months ago, what has now changed? It would be appreciated if he were to explain.
Has Triggs resiled from her views on illegal immigrants? Has she apologised for politicizing her office? Has she apologised for statements and testimony many might conclude were apt to mislead? Has Turnbull received any kind of assurance from Triggs that she will now carry out her duties, frivolous though they are, impartially and without an eye to grabbing headlines and attention?
More worrying, is Turnbull contemplating renewing her contract?
Triggs is an anathema to conservatives and, I imagine, even many Liberals within the Coalition. She has advocated outrageous monetary awards to some very dodgy supplicants, decisions the government has rightly ignored. She is a cipher and a left-wing progressive. Politically, there is absolutely no benefit to the government to be drawn from bringing her in from the cold. But there is a definite downside, as her rehabilitation lends an undeserved credibility to views on illegal immigrants.
Conservatives need Abbott to remain in Parliament. If Turnbull’s hubris is so evident at this early stage, what might it further implement in the months, perhaps years, to come? That is why Abbott, who says he has not yet made up his mind about going or staying, must be urged to remain in the Parliament. There is no better or more cogent voice to exert, perhaps, a moderating influence on Turnbull’s ego and frolics. Beloved in his electorate and secure on the backbench, he has nothing left to lose by speaking up on behalf of what he and many, many supporters see as the party’s core, its conservative conscience.
And who knows what the future holds? A few more prime ministerial private meetings and words of praise for Gillian Triggs, and the Liberal party might even decide he is worthy of a second turn in The Lodge.