AFTER YET ANOTHER self-inflicted political strike that will do the government far more damage than a mere sick joke, the aggregation of own goals, mistakes, snafus and staggering displays of bad judgement raise an inevitable question: when does this reach critical mass, the tipping point at which political survival becomes a greater imperative than the presentation of unity? Without change, the #69 bus will call on Tony Abbott soon enough.
First there was the election, won in a landslide.
Won in the wake of senseless promises that should not have been made.
Then came the staff: hand-picked to obey, not to perform; not to contribute, but to enact.
And the Prime Minister’s Office, the supposed flagship of the government fleet, in oversight of them.
Next came Gonski, in a preview of trouble, and a test of the senseless promises.
For the first time, not the last time, the government was forced to back down.
The cuts it promised, foolishly, it would not make had been scuppered.
Just a month after winning, its numbers collapsed; its fortunes early in the slide.
But worse was to come.
The budget — the great opportunity for reform — was squandered.
Spending cuts botched, taxes hiked, its initiatives senseless, this budget targeted the government’s own supporters.
For almost a year, the government persisted, wasting political capital and breeding public resentment.
And a Prime Minister’s Office wielding a deliberative veto over it all.
And all the while, uproar: travel entitlements, botched policies, abandoned promises, ministers justifying bigotry.
A total lack of tangible acumen around political smarts, tactics, strategy or communication.
An inability to bring a hostile Senate to heel, and a refusal to frame dealings with it in advantageous terms.
The political strength and authority of a mugging featuring a wet sock.
And the Prime Minister’s Office giving sanction to it all.
All the sacred cows have been attacked — Medicare first and foremost — along with those promised to be left alone.
The Abbott government is a disappointment to its supporters and a red rag to its opponents.
Yet still the unbelievable fuck-ups come fast and thick.
A “reset” to divest the government of “barnacles” that seems instead to have left it wallowing in excrement.
A ministerial reshuffle that squibbed most of the hardest — and most crucial — changes.
Abuse of critics of the head of the Prime Minister’s Office, who must be sexist or misogynistic.
A refusal to heed constructive feedback, listen to the public, or show it recognises mistakes.
Rumblings of serious disquiet from government ranks over the head of the Prime Minister’s Office.
And the Prime Minister’s Office, true to form, retaining control over the government with an iron fist.
A new year and a new approach, with Tony Abbott pledging consultation and inclusion.
A stated persistence with the budget that may well prove the harbinger of the government’s electoral doom.
A “fix” to its Medicare policy, conceived by the Prime Minister’s Office, hastily dumped in the glare of public hostility.
Calls to backbenchers framed publicly as an exercise in shoring up the Abbott leadership.
Pledges to sail into treacherous waters — IR and the GST — without the requisite political navigational skills.
The ridiculous charade of the investiture of Prince Sir Philip of Australia, on Australia Day.
And the Prime Minister’s Office remaining smugly in the thick of the action.
The mutterers are muttering, and the whispering has commenced.
Among the contenders — and the pretenders — is a ready-made potential replacement.
Someone acceptable to both the liberal and conservative wings of the Liberal Party.
Someone public opinion has revealed to be acceptable to the Australian public as Prime Minister.
Someone — almost (but not quite) alone of her ministerial peers — who has been an unqualified and standout.
Someone known to have little time for the methods of the Prime Minister’s Office.
Someone who could be expected to fashion a competent outfit that might salvage the Liberals in office.
Across the country, people know that if Abbott falls under the bus, Julie Bishop is the best option to replace him.
Today Australia returns to work, and Abbott — and the Prime Minister’s Office — resume the task of governing.
We hope the new week turns a page; but for every fresh start to date, a fresh disaster has ensued.
And the capacity of the Prime Minister’s Office to fashion and approve political ineptitude seems endless.
The snafus may continue and the damage to the Coalition may compound, but it will not drag on to an election.
At some point (it may have been yesterday) a call will be made by key Liberal Party figures: enough is enough.
At that point, the numbers will be worked and the calls will be made.
At that point, the proverbial karma bus will pay the Prime Minister a visit.
Tony Abbott is almost out of opportunities to fix his government.
A good candidate as Prime Minister risks squandering it on misplaced loyalty and an aversion to hard calls.
Another good candidate awaits.
And this column, if push should regrettably come to shove, will back Julie Bishop to the hilt.