Malcolm Turnbull said this when about to plunge the knife: ‘Now, if we continue with Mr Abbott as Prime Minister … he’ll be succeeded by Mr Shorten [who is] utterly unfit to be Prime Minister of this country and yet so he will be if we do not make a change.’
We all know that history is written by the victor and, in the case of Tony Abbott’s ouster, that victor appears to be media, which did more than any to tear him down and is now busy re-writing the story of Abbott’s mere two years in power.
Here’s what Turnbull said in 2015, the infamous quote seeing much repetition on this day of his thirthieth adverse Newspoll:
“The one thing that is clear about our current situation is the trajectory. We have lost 30 Newspolls in a row. It is clear that the people have made up their mind about Mr Abbott’s leadership.”
It was and remains an unequivocal statement, one that leaves no room to plead for a thirty-first chance at redemption. Replace ‘Abbott’ with ‘Turnbull’ and the switch of proper nouns in no way invalidates the sentiment of that appraisal. But the Turnbull cheer squad, and the Prime Minister himself, is now saying that the Newspoll angle wasn’t really at the heart of the defenestration of a sitting PM who had delivered a landslide victory barely two years earlier. No, none of that. In a blur of spin, the line today is that Abbott failed ‘to provide economic leadership’. This from the man who has done nothing to hobble the runaway cost of electricity, seems entirely unconcerned about the damage being inflicted and can only suggests that pumping water uphill at enormous cost will set everything to rights.
At the same time Turnbull uttered the quote above, he also said something nowhere near as widely being reported today:
“Now if we continue with Mr Abbott as Prime Minister, it is clear enough what will happen. He will cease to be Prime Minister and he’ll be succeeded by Mr Shorten. Surely one of the most important foundations of our prosperity, to know that he is utterly unfit to be Prime Minister of this country and yet so he will be if we do not make a change.”
Again, while one can replace ‘Abbott’ with ‘Turnbull’ without the slightest verbal legerdemain, the narrative parrotted by many of the same pundits who professed to recognise the magnificent potential of Turnbull, is that Abbott was a poor PM whose only achievement, the only one they are prepared to grudgingly acknowledge, was that he stopped the boats.
Unlike others who today have contributed to Quadrant Online’s package of essays on Turnbull’s rendezvous with the embarrassment of his own rhetoric, I have advocated for Abbott’s return. That may or may not happen — indeed, Abbott may not even wish to return as PM — but regardless of his ambitions or lack of them, his legacy is strong and worth preserving. This is particularly so since, in their indecent haste to excuse a clay-footed idol’s hypocritical refusal to live by the standard he himself set, I expect Abbott’s detractors on the opinion pages will whip themselves into a froth of invective hanging on the belittling of his achievements.
And they were substantial achievements. Let me enumerate: