A FRESH ATTEMPT to remove Tony Abbott as Liberal leader and Prime Minister could be a matter of days away, as anger builds in the parliamentary party over his failure to meet commitments given to elude defeat a fortnight ago; a second move against Abbott is likely to succeed, and for even Abbott loyalists who wish to see the Prime Minister succeed, the reality must be faced that if he is brought down he will really only have himself to blame.
Another relatively quick post from me this morning, as I am on the run again today: and with a cracked tooth of all things to contend with, I have a lot to pack into a truncated day ahead of a meeting with the dentist late this afternoon.
I wanted to draw readers’ attention to an article being carried in sections of the Murdoch press today, which relates the developing story of a further attempt by Liberal MPs to oust Prime Minister Tony Abbott ahead of the state election to be held in NSW one month from now.
Readers know that despite decades of active support and advocacy for Tony Abbott, I have all but given up on him in the wake of the failed spill motion against him a fortnight ago; horrified by his retention of the incendiary Peta Credlin as his Chief of Staff and his failure to move Treasurer Joe Hockey to a different portfolio, the prospect of a second strike against Abbott has, in my view, rapidly escalated from “likely” to “certain:” and almost guaranteed to succeed.
It seems Abbott’s reticence to honour the commitments he made in return for being permitted to remain as leader has brought enough of his MPs to the same view for another challenge to be pulled on — and pulled on fairly quickly.
And I can’t say I am surprised.
It seems assurances, understandings, undertakings — however carefully nuanced or otherwise cleverly contrived — to get Credlin out of the Prime Minister’s Office were worthless; some minor fiddling around his divisive adviser’s role was never going to hoodwink MPs into failing to see that, in the main, this most malignant of tumours was always intended to remain embedded deep in the government’s internal organs: and that its politically counterproductive effects would continue to be felt.
The sacking of Liberal Party hero Philip Ruddock was, despite Abbott’s protestations about renewal and doing Ruddock “a favour,” was never going to hide the fact that the Liberal elder had been singled out and executed as a scapegoat for the first challenge.
The issue of shipbuilding firm ASC — apparently dealt back into consideration to build a new generation of submarines to placate MPs from South Australia — looks a bit too clever by half, with nondescript suggestions that 500 jobs will be thrown ASC’s way as part of an eventual contract that will nonetheless still go to a foreign firm as the dudded MPs in that state now realise.
And with details of acrid, hostile meetings of MPs with Abbott, who is said to “slap down” continuing criticism — and who has seen to it that press reports of him since the abortive putsch have described him as being at “the peak of his powers” — it was only a matter of time before we returned to the issue of the Liberal leadership.
Indeed, it seems Abbott and his junta have gone out of their way to poke the very MPs who voted down the spill attempt in the eyes.
As we discussed the other day, the NSW election is a real and salient problem; the Baird government’s polling has moved onto a virtually identical trajectory to the one Queensland’s LNP followed at the same stage of that state’s electoral cycle, and it presents a painful consideration in terms of any fresh move on Abbott.
Leave it too late — in the name of giving Premier Mike Baird some clear air — and the risk is that the percolating enmity over the federal Liberal leadership helps cost the party government in NSW; pull the challenge on now and get it out of the way quickly, and the risk is that NSW Labor is handed a potent “disunity” card to play against the Premier as it seeks to achieve a win as unlikely as that pulled off by its northern cousin last month.
If the change has to happen, I think doing it sooner rather than later is the cleanest and smartest option: at least if the boil is lanced, the wound may heal enough before NSW voters go to the polls to mitigate the risks of cross-infection.
It would also allow a new Prime Minister to quickly remove Treasurer Joe Hockey, in whom I believe voters, Liberal MPs and the party rank and file can have no confidence that a second federal budget delivered by him would be any better or more politically adept than his first disastrous and toxic effort was.
We will follow this as it develops, and let me assure people that far from taking any joy in this, the “here we go again” sentiment in which I write this is tempered by great disappointment that of Abbott — who I think could have been an excellent Prime Minister — it is a tragedy that it should all have come to this.
In the end, however, he has abrogated government in this country to an unelected adviser: and from that single reprehensible error, virtually all of the Abbott government’s problems, directly or indirectly, have sprung.
I would encourage those resolutely opposed to the prospect of Malcolm Turnbull becoming Prime Minister — as I am — to do all they can to voice support for Foreign minister Julie Bishop in their respective circles; and to contact the offices of Bishop and Trade minister Andrew Robb to encourage the pair to run a joint ticket in order to put down any move on the top job by the member for Wentworth.
In the end — for conservatives — the Right has no plausible candidate to replace Abbott, and no plausible leadership prospect for the first time in decades.
The next best thing is to do the deal with Bishop to retain one of its own as deputy, along with promotion for a handful of additional up-and-comers from the Right, to ensure it is better placed at future leadership contests.
I will say more as this percolates away in coming days and will be back this evening to talk about something else.
But if Abbott is now cut down, he will have only himself to blame: and with the chances of a second move against him almost certain to succeed, this column restates its view that a Bishop-Robb leadership team represents the very best alternative open to the Liberal Party at this point in time.