THE UNHAPPY CONSENSUS across the Liberal Party that Tony Abbott has now irrevocably lost the majority support of the parliamentary party raises the prospect of resignation; we say — for pity’s sake — that the Prime Minister should go, and go now, for the humiliating spectacle of being cast aside in the indignity of a leadership challenge will demean this fine man, his party, the government that must continue, and the country at large.
I had hoped — I had always hoped — that it would never come to this; as an unabashed and enthusiastic supporter of Tony Abbott since his entry to federal Parliament in 1994 and through a career that took him to the Prime Ministership two decades later, I always thought that were Abbott to ever be entrusted with the leadership if this country he stood to become one of its best Prime Ministers: surprising many people in the process.
It seems that noble aspiration will count for naught, with reports that began to appear in the Murdoch press last night that Abbott has now lost the majority backing of his MPs mirroring reality to deadly effect: and rather than watch him being torn down in the next few days (or weeks, if he somehow survives that far) I would beseech the Prime Minister to resign; to go, and to go now with grace and dignity, to accept that the cards of future leadership will fall where they will, and to enable the party, the government and the country to move on.
Readers have shared the great attention we have given to the festering issues within the government that have led to this point, and I have taken great care not to sensationalise or distort their import, efficacy, or the destructive extent to which forces theoretically invisible to the public gaze have conspired to destroy Abbott’s tenure as Australia’s leader.
I make it abundantly clear to those readers who criticise me for simply discussing the real events, emotions, competing agendas and egos that have driven dissent with Abbott that a mere emphasis on “not being Labor” is not enough; that trite assertions that the Liberal Party cannot afford to replicate the indulgent farce of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years have been used as a pretext for, and justification of, other behaviour which has brought the party to its knees across the country, and which is little better than the farcical ALP government that preceded Abbott’s.
It is now clear that Abbott faces stark yet similarly unpalatable options: to bunker down and seek to remain in office in the face of the certainty of defeat in a leadership challenge; or to bring the curtain down on his own position at the head of the Liberal Party, and to resign, and this column reluctantly finds the latter course preferable.
After all, and despite whatever valid criticisms might be made (and irrespective of the vapid and personal hatred deployed against him for years by political adversaries), Abbott has still achieved some fine outcomes that represent a legacy that ought to be protected, not shredded on the altar of internal partisan politics.
The abolition of the carbon and mining taxes — as he is wont to regularly proclaim — have kept faith with the voters who elected him to office, even if the abolition of the latter came at great residual cost by virtue of the deal required to secure its passage through the Senate.
His government’s effective management of the flow of asylum seekers has seen the pledge to “stop the boats” summarily honoured, and whilst it is fashionable at present for the Left to kick and scream and shout over the continued presence of children in Australia’s detention centres, the irrefutable fact is that no children were in custody when the Liberals left office in 2007, the number in detention has fallen by 90% since the party’s return to office 18 months ago, and the number in detention will again fall to zero within a very short timeframe.
And as mishandled as the attempt has been, Abbott’s government has at least tried — and failed at the altar of the Senate, off the back of a horrific and poorly contrived budget — to redress the debt and deficits legacy bequeathed it by Labor: a reprehensible pattern of behaviour that has now left Liberal governments with a terrible mess to deal with in 1996 and again in 2013.
But the fatal mistake Abbott has made was to abrogate the government of this country in favour of loyalty to an unelected adviser; even then, had this unorthodox and politically fraught move worked, nobody would criticise it — and Abbott would stand vindicated for making it.
The reality is that abysmal decisions on personnel, strategy, tactics, policy, communications and management of the political agenda have flowed unabated from that single mistake, and whilst Abbott’s sense of loyalty to those around him is noble and in many respects admirable, it has led to the sequence of events that has now culminated in the loss of faith in his leadership across wide sections of the party — even those staunchly supportive of him personally — and the crushing reality that the party wants a new leader.
And a new leader it will have: the only variable now, quite literally, is whether before or after the impending state election in New South Wales.
The stark example set in Queensland of a state government that lost office despite a seemingly unassailable majority should be ignored at peril; the fact a similarly ensconced Liberal government in a second state now stares stonily at the growing prospect of suffering the same fate should sharpen the resolve of those placed to do something to avoid it — Abbott especially — and to do whatever is required to evade it.
And that — with an eye to the grim reality that his government, in its current and persistent configuration, faces not just defeat itself but has contributed to the defeat of other Liberal governments and will continue to do so — demands Abbott’s resignation.
An open ballot on the Liberal leadership runs the real risk that an outcome that is anathema to a wide section of the party may eventuate, with the attendant risk that dysfunction under Abbott will be superseded by open warfare under Malcolm Turnbull if he emerges the victor but that vote — coming as it will with the federal party also facing down a heavy eventual defeat — is one the party is entitled to have.
And there is no bar to Abbott in using his influence in resignation to work to ensure that a candidate arguably better aligned with the Liberal Party’s longer term interests than Turnbull emerges victorious from such a vote.
But the message from the weeks and months that the problems inherent in Abbott’s government have festered and percolated is clear.
Regrettably, it is time for Tony Abbott to leave office; and for his own good, and for the good of his party, the ongoing government it must form, and for the country as a whole, this column urges him to go now: for pity’s sake, to take the honourable if undesirable path of resignation, and to leave office with his own dignity — and the fabric of the party he has been privileged to serve, and which has been privileged by his many years of fine service — intact.