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February 25th 2017 print

Peter O'Brien

Betrayal’s Bitter, Inevitable Harvest

When colleagues cast Tony Abbott into the wilderness and endorsed Malcolm Turnbull's treacheries they pre-ordained the rancour and defections now dividing Liberals. Don't expect a change of heart, though. Those who trade in duplicity never forgive those they wrong

turnbull spider smileOne of my favourite authors is Patrick O’Brian, creator of Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin.  A memorable line from one of the novels occurs in the context of Jack Aubrey having been shafted by his enemies and lost the support of many of his supposed friends who disassociated themselves from him for fear of contagion.  The line reads:

They treated him very shabbily and can never forgive him for that.

It has often struck me that the same could be said regarding Tony Abbott. Today’s editorial (February 25) in The Australian opines that, whilst Abbott’s policy agenda makes a lot of sense:

The best that can be said for his efforts is that at least they are in the open — a shirt-front, if you will, rather than backstabbing — and they are based on policy. But offering ideas privately and constructively would be preferable, as the Coalition lays the groundwork for a crucial and difficult budget.

Abbott has made no secret of the fact that he would like to be back in Cabinet and the editorial goes on to concede

By leaving Mr Abbott on the backbench, the Prime Minister has freed him from the strictures of cabinet solidarity.

But then it has a two-bob each-way:

On the other hand, Mr Abbott’s behaviour might now tend to vindicate Mr Turnbull’s judgment.

There seems to be a protocol among political commentators that one political assassination, while not ideal, is acceptable but two is beyond the pale.  In other words, if you’ve won a huge majority and had some major victories but are not travelling too well in the polls, you must cop it sweet when you are betrayed and shafted ‘for the good of the party’.

Commentators are flaying Abbott for breaking his promise not to snipe, wreck or undermine.  But was that promise open-ended?  Is Abbott forever disqualified from speaking his mind because he is a former PM and the victim of political assassination? Even if he had resigned from Parliament, would his words be more acceptable to commentariat or government?  I think not.

Why didn’t Abbott’s backers and allies insist on him being given a place in Cabinet?  Even if they felt the blood was still too wet on their hands immediately after the coup, they had a perfect opportunity when Turnbull very nearly lost the last election.

Had he been an honourable man, a leader possessed of the same desire to see his party succeed that his allies now lament is missing in Abbott, Turnbull should have declared a leadership spill. Think about it.  He tore down a first-term prime minister in the full knowledge that his sniping, leaking and white-anting worked as much to Labor’s advantage as his own personal ambitions. He reduced a massive majority to one seat — just one heart attack or resignation away from disaster — and delivered a Senate just as, if not more, dysfunctional than the one it replaced.

But self-awareness is not in Turnbull’s nature.  He was not born with the humility gene, nor has a lifetime of being feted and flattered, the inevitability of his ascendancy tirelessly proclaimed by those for whom his magnificence was an article of unquestioned faith, done anything to encourage self-appraisal.

On that election night, when a shell-shocked Turnbull called on the Federal Police to investigate his party’s near-death experience, that was the moment Abbott’s supporters, and even some of the more astute traitors, should have realised that they had been tragically wrong to endorse or accede to Turnbull’s conception of himself. They should have insisted on a spill or, at the very least, that Abbott be brought back into Cabinet. Incapable of looking above and beyond the high walls of his ego, Turnbull needed to have reality thrust upon him by his team.

Like so many other soured aspects of Turnbull’s prime ministership, from the ill-conceived bid to seat a more amenable Senate to the ongoing and increasingly open revolt of those who, to use Abbott’s words, resent the Liberal Party’s devolution to ‘Labor Lite’ — Turnbull and his backers have only themselves to blame.

They won’t see it that way, of course. As Jack Aubrey discovered, none are so resolute in their enmity as those determined not to acknowledge their own culpability.

Comments [43]

  1. Bill Martin says:

    Not a single one of those who were parliamentary Liberals at the time of Abbott’s defenestration can be regarded as honourable simply because they did not vote for Turnbull. The genuinely honourable option at the time was to resign from the Liberal Party, if not from parliament. None did that. Consequently, the parliamentary Liberal Party consists entirely of traitors of varying culpability, ensuring the inevitable demise of an once great party. The current internal rancour is the symptom of its disintegration. One gingerly hopes that Cory Bernardi will succeed in establishing a new, genuinely and fearlessly conservative party. A very tall order, certainly, but far more likely to come about than a truly reformed Liberal Party in the Menzies tradition. Tony Abbott ought to join Bernardi instead of labouring on the hopeless task of trying to nurse a dying beast back to health.

    • Salome says:

      A lot in that. I think we’ve got to break people’s tribal attachment to the entity called the ‘Liberal Party’. It should be about policies and values, not entities. And this is an entity that has lurched so far to the left (especially in social policy) that it isn’t recognisable any more.

  2. Bwana Neusi says:

    A classic case of shoot the messenger – all the more because it is Tony Abbott. The message was on policy, not one ad hominem comment. The response was entirely predictable from the Labor Lite (LL) and the MSM “How dare he?”

    Ultimately I suggest that NSW in their factioned preselection process will try to assassinate Abbott again, at which time he will stand as an independent or join Cory Bernardi and it will guarantee excruciating pain for the LL heading into the next election.

  3. Trog says:

    I think a large portion of the media are developing a species of journalistic autism. Unable to get past the “just dont a get it” stage they seem determined to actually scorn the elephant in the room.

    Shorten and Turnbull are despised by most of the populace but feted by the luvvy duvvy elites in the media.

    I haven’t seen one story about the 3million we pay to provide extra security for his mansion because it suits Malcolm not to move. Didnt Abbott live in the army barracks in Canberra

    • PT says:

      Jody, Turncoat had his “Senate reform” and look where it left us. We live in a federation. The point of the Senate is to ensure the ruling party appeals across the country, not just Sydney and Melbourne (who decide the government).

      Seriously if Turncoat’s threatened assault on super doesn’t alert you to the snake in the grass that he is, what will?

  4. Steve Spencer says:

    All the above applies only if the people (Liberal MPs) in question had scruples and were likely to consider things in the light of reason, guided by principle and honour.

    Sadly, few in politics these days possess such qualities and are guided first, foremost and always, by self interest.

  5. Warty says:

    Just a couple of years away from election time, and one part of me says this is too short a time to implement significant change of any sort; but another part wishes it might be yet shorter still, with a Turnbull put out to pasture and the Labor/Green coalition nudged over a cliff, if possible.
    But, you know, with the degree of blood-letting gaining on at the moment, no-one is coming out smelling sweetly, and that includes Tony, whom I supported. The positive aspect is that he’s acknowledged some of his defects, and there is nothing like a fall from grace, to bring out a few mea culpas. But the truth of the matter is he wasn’t a particularly good listener when PM, and though one need not bend over backwards, the ability to listen to advice and heed the odd waring or two or three, ought to be seen as positive in a leader, rather than a sign of weakness. Surely I don’t need to mention Tony’s ‘captain’s call’, nor his half hearted attempt to get rid of s.18C, nor his increase in immigration levels, and allowing the party room to support the Safe Schools programme. The list of errors is greater than this, but the irrational inflexibility (think: an extraordinary exorbitant paid-parental leave scheme), was perhaps the greatest flaw of all, by no means insurmountable, indeed, but his colleagues were running scared by then, and I’m sure you’ve all seen footage of colonies of rabbits darting off in all directions when a peregrine flies over: it’s not an edifying spectacle.
    Like him, though many did and do, he was nevertheless still your quintessential ‘establishment politician’, it’s just the whiff of body odour had greater pretensions. It was still B.O. though.
    I have reluctantly joined Cory Bernadi’s Australian Conservative Party, though I do so with eyes wide open, with little in the way of expectations.
    My feeling is the system is broke. I hope I’m wrong.

  6. Jody says:

    Couldn’t agree more; Abbott is yesterday’s news. Bernardi is going nowhere. I predict either a hung parliament next time or a bare Labor win but with them also unable to deal with an intractable Senate any more than the Coalition can. Senate reform is desperately needed and it’s in the interests of both parties to promulgate this. On that score I’m totally in the hapless Abbott’s camp.

    • PT says:

      Jody, Turncoat had his “Senate reform” and look where it left us. We live in a federation. The point of the Senate is to ensure the ruling party appeals across the country, not just Sydney and Melbourne (who decide the government).

      Seriously if Turncoat’s threatened assault on super doesn’t alert you to the snake in the grass that he is, what will?

      • Jody says:

        An election isn’t “reform”. For years the ‘unrepresentative swill” have prevented the lower house from governing. Tin-eared Abbott knew that in 2013 and failed to act. He’s just hot air and I agree with Turnbull; it’s sad. He has few, if any, friends left now.

        I ask myself what a supposedly smart man is doing as a humble back-bencher when there are plenty of better jobs out there in the corporate world for a man of his so-called skills. Fact is, he has no people skills at all. I still have a mental image of his vile swearing at Nicola Roxen at the National Press Club that time!!

      • Jody says:

        As for the assault on super (would be far worse with Labor) we are spending like drunken sailors!! Pick up the new Merc on Wednesday. And that’s $15,000 in luxury car tax right there. I’d have to be earning over $80,000 to pay that amount of tax. So the government has never got any chance of forcing us to live on the same amount as the age pension. None.

    • Peter OBrien says:

      If Abbott is yesterday’s news, then today’s Insiders (the usual tripe) hasn’t heard the news. They did note that it is highly unlikely that he will ever come back as leader and what an absolute disaster it would be if he did. Rather like last time they wrote him off when he unseated Turnbull – that was the death knell for the Libs, as I recall.

      • Jody says:

        I agree with the ‘Outsiders’. Abbott’s policy ideas deserve consideration but he’s not the man to lead the party in that direction, having failed to promulgate any of it himself when elected PM. I won’t watch the ABC as I break out in hives.

    • Warty says:

      That we could well have a hung parliament, after the next election, may well be right: which ever party governs would be taking up a decidedly poisoned chalice. That there is a need for serious senate reform I could agree more. But that Cory Bernardi ‘is going nowhere’ needs further explanation, on your part. You clearly don’t like either Abbot or Bernardi, but I wonder why you think the latter ‘is going nowhere’?

      • Jody says:

        Warty, he has left his run too late and entered an already overcrowded field of minority parties. That phenomenon has a use-by date. Think DLP, Democrats…just to name two.

  7. MichaelinBrisbane says:

    This latest tirade against Abbott has been reported out of context.
    On Thursday evening he was launching the book edited and introduced by James Allen “Making Australia Right — Where to from here?”, Connor Court Publishing Pty Ltd, Redland Bay, Queensland, 2016. I haven’t found mention of this detail in any press I’ve read or heard in these last few days.
    This book features chapters by Judith Sloan, Brendan O’Neill, Gary Johns, Jim Molan, Roger Franklin, Rebecca Weisser, Graeme Haycroft, James Allen, Kerryn Pholi, Jeremy Sammut, Lorraine Finlay, Peter Kurt, Steven Kates and Alan Moran.
    I attended the launch of the book in Brisbane just last month. It was a lively affair — I can imagine Thursday’s launch in Sydney might have been even more so! I concede that I have only dipped into it so far, but I have now a clear impression that none of the contributors, each approaching the matter in their own way, are enamoured with the state of affairs of the Turnbull Government.
    In this circumstance, is it any wonder that Mr Abbott should speak critically of it and offer his well considered and sensible advice.

  8. Dallas Beaufort says:

    The bitter backstabbers can’t face their guilt.

  9. Keith Kennelly says:

    Want a bet on Abbott not returning as PM?

    You’re as sure of that as you were about Trump.

    • Jody says:

      Yes, I’ll take on that bet. Abbott is totally friendless in the Coalition. Even Matthias Cormann has stuck in the boot.

      • Jimbob says:

        Jody

        He might be “friendless” in the coalition but why should he care? With “friends” like these, as the saying goes, who needs enemies anyway….Julius Caesar comes to mind.

        More to the point he isn’t totally “friendless” amongst the populace (quite the opposite if what I hear in my travels is true) and certainly not “friendless” amongst a large swathe of conservative voters. He doesn’t need to be popular, liked or even loved. He just needs to be strong and fearless in the face of unavoidable opposition and articulate clearly and unequivocally, a conservative vision for the nation as an alternative to the wishy washy, moronic and civilizational threatening nonsense that is Labor under Shorten, trembling and principle less Labor Lite under Malcolm Turnbull and the cultural Marxism of the looney Greens. If he does this well, he will be more powerful than the PM. I actually believe that Tony Abbott is far smarter than his detractors and understands this more clearly than do his LNP colleagues.

        In a true democracy, real power in never with those who are most “popular”. True power exists at the “margins” – with those who make and break parties and leaders. Just look about you. Malcolm Turnbull and the ethically challenged Brutus’s which make up the Liberal party knifed their leader for someone they thought could carry them to unassailable victory! They got in by the barest skin of their teeth at the last election, squandering years of hard work to bring them back into contention as a viable government and are now so on the nose (and this is a fact at the “coalface” at which I work), if they ever again get on to the treasury benches they will depend on Pauline Hanson and Cory Bernadi and only the good Lord knows who else in the Senate to ever get anything done. Look at Hillary who won the popular vote but arrogantly called the minority “deplorables”. It was these same “deplorables” who held the real power. They handed it over, lock stock and barrel to the most “unpopular” leader. I could go on about Brexit too and I’m sure we’ll have a few more examples as the months roll by.

        Laugh at this if you will, but at the next election I can see a number of seats in the house of reps going to minority parties of the right and independents.

  10. If Turnbull and his backers in the Liberal Party and the media had have put half the energy into fighting Shorten and the LABOR/GREEN axis as they had put into undermining and fighting Abbott the ‘Turnbull Coalition Team’ would have had a far bigger election ‘victory’ than just falling over the line with a one seat majority. Especially when the ‘win’ was mostly due to the efforts of Barnaby Joyce and the Nationals [LNP in Qld].
    ‘Conservative’ is just another word that has been changed in Orwellian fashion by leftists, especially those in the media, to distort its true meaning. In economic matters the LABOR/GREEN axis take the ‘conservative’ position in that they want things to remain the same, i.e. they want an all powerful central government controlling everything. The ‘revolutionaries’ in economic matters are the ‘conservative’ sectors of the LNP because they believe in freedom/free markets.
    With regards to ‘social issues’ such as SSM/marriage ‘equality’ etc. the opposite applies, the ‘conservative’ sectors of the LNP [Abbott etc.] take the ‘conservative’ position only because it has been repeatedly demonstrated that the nuclear family is and always has been the most successful arrangement for rearing children and creating stable prosperous societies.

  11. Keith Kennelly says:

    So what odds are you offering Jody.

    • Jody says:

      I’d mortgage my house on Abbott never returning to the party leadership. They know he’s universally hated by the middle ground of the electorate. Pauline Hanson is a flash in the pan; she’s not articulate enough to understand ANY of the issues.

      What is her policy on Israel, for example, and has she read all the briefings and the history of Israel since its inception? All I hear from her is:

      Do you want salt or vinegar with that?

      • Jimbob says:

        So what are you saying Jody? If Abbott returns ALL the middle ground of the electorate will vote Labor? I just don’t really see your point. Being “universally loved” is not the same as being a capable politician. Anyway, does it really matter if he’s “universally hated by the middle ground of the electorate”? I just checked the very worst polls under Tony Abbott and they reached 53% – 47% to Labor with the Guardian gleefully baying for his blood. Under Malcolm Turnbull they have reached 55% – 45% to Labor (and of course, the Guardian is silent – why attack one of their own maybe?). Your thesis that Abbott was “universally hated” just doesn’t hold water.

        The truth of the matter is that some people (but not all) hated him with a vengeance and were quite vocal in expressing their hatred. I believe they hated him because he stood against everything they had (and still have) “planned” for a brave, new world order. But, it would seem to me from the polls, that the “middle” didn’t go anywhere under Abbott. Power was always going to depend on the “margins” rather than the middle – you know- that 2% – 3% who exercise real power. One doesn’t need to be a genius to see that this is how a true democracy works and if I can say in hindsight, Abbotts’ biggest mistake and the cause of his first downfall was that he tried to have it both ways with the “middle”. He should have stuck with his guns and told the bed-wetters where to go! All he needed to do was to keep the base who are now fleeing the Liberals in droves with no-one from the left is filling that void (ha ha as if they ever would – even for a latte society banker!)

        Malcolm Turnbull has no political astuteness or ability at all. He listened to that PR clown who convinced him that the “margins” didn’t matter. In moving left, he got good press from the Guardian, Fairfax and the ABC which fed his vanity but he just didn’t votes from what was his natural constituency. The left tends to be hateful and totally “rusted on” – 19th century class warfare ideology still holds sway no matter how much the world has changed so they were never going to jump ship and vote for “Turnbull’s Liberals”. The irony is that it is under Turnbull that some of the “middle” is finally beginning to shift as seen in today’s polls.

        The passion of hatred has clouded a lot of minds and turned adults into blabbering idiots. Plenty of those blabbering idiots sit on the government benches and quite thankfully many won’t be there after the next election.

  12. Doubting Thomas says:

    Jody, I agree with you that Abbott is unlikely to lead the Liberal Party again. I also suspect that this ambition is not what is driving him at the moment. I think that like most conservatives and liberals he is thoroughly disgusted with the state of the party, the abysmal standard of Liberal politicians at every level, and that what he is trying to do is similar to what Bernadi has done, drive a stake in the ground where he stands, hoping that like-minded stalwarts will rally round to at least form the nucleus of a new political party if, as seems likely, the existing Liberal Party is terminal. It certainly will be whilever Turnbull is leader – although having achieved his one major ambition I’m sure he’ll drop off like a sated leech when he loses the next election, inshallah.

    One good thing about this painful period is that, as has happened in both the UK and the US, there is no longer a single thread of credibility on most of the mainstream. The Australian is probably the only Australian paper worth reading in that it publishes competing views in its OpEd pages, but Fairfax and the ABC should be tarred and feathered for their utterly biassed monoculture.

    Pity our children and grandchildren.

    • Jody says:

      For every craven liar and self-server in politics there are decent ones, but this latter group understands that decency doesn’t win an argument. Turnbull will vanish into the ether, along with the current government – only to be replaced by another ephemeral group destined to fall foul of the Senate in much the same way.

      What I’m so tired of is hearing the shrill cries for Morrison to “fix the budget” and every single thing he does is howled down in one collective yawp from some vested interest group. In short, ‘fixing the budget’ means giving some groups more and placating those who have to pay for it. A total NO WIN situation and, honestly, I don’t know why he bothers.

  13. Keith Kennelly says:

    You know Jody once again you are showing you are thinking as the elitists think. Anti Trump anti Abbott anti Hanson anti conservative, anti deplorable.
    You support the leftie Liberals who are destroying the Liberal Party.

  14. Keith Kennelly says:

    You know Jody When Abbott was stabbed and Trump first announced he’d run. I had a bet at 100 to 1. Trump to be President and Abbott to return as PM.

    So what are your odds on Abbott not returning as PM?

    Just name your odds. No dodging or weaving.

    I see your evasion as you not being quite so sure.

  15. Keith Kennelly says:

    Give me those odds or we’ll see who is making things up.

  16. Keith Kennelly says:

    Name the decent politicians?

    • Jody says:

      Eric Abetz whose wife is dying of cancer and who is soldiering on trying to get the government’s agenda legislated. Morrison: a Christian and family man who isn’t engaged in rorts, corruption or philandering. Jason Clare – the same. Those people are there, but they are tainted by crooks, con-men and narcissists.

      • Philby says:

        No room for Ross Cameron now Jody and I thought you were sweet on him. I know he is not a sitting mp but your praise of that windbag was mind boggling.

        • Jody says:

          Ross Cameron is not a politician. When did you last watch television? He’s not a windbag but a voracious reader who brings his deep knowledge of history – particularly early democracy – to discussions about the polity. I and my whole family think he’s phenomenal. He has made some mistakes, sure, but he’s one of the very few calling things as they are. An all round champion and significant piece of eye candy.

  17. Dallas Beaufort says:

    Malcolm Turnbull a one seat wonder lectures Tony Abbott a 15 seat performer, what an upstart’

    • Jody says:

      The flat-footed, tin-eared Abbott could only iterate – parrot fashion – ‘cut the carbon tax/stopped the boats…” bla bla bla. No repeal of 18C, no senate reform, no cutting immigration. He’s an ideal back-room numbers man, that’s all.

  18. Keith Kennelly says:

    That’s 3 Jody

  19. Keith Kennelly says:

    Jody

    Try

    Scrap The HRC, Reduce the RET, no new spending, halve immigration

    That’s Abbotts promises at the next election