Tony Abbott loses the Prime Ministership
John Howard understood how important the concept of trust is to the electorate. Mr. Howard knew that whilst Australians generally view their politicians and leaders with a sceptical eye, they also expect a fundamental degree of honest intent from those who have the privilege of running the country.
Today Tony Abbott has been overthrown by his own party after just two years in the job as Prime Minister. He has suffered the same fate as Kevin Rudd. I suspect that much of that has to do with broken trust and general incompetence.
In opposition, Tony Abbot made much of the perceived dishonesty of Julia Gillard. He charged Ms. Gillard with being a liar after she promised that no government of hers would introduce a carbon tax, only to then introduce one when the ALP relied on Greens votes to remain in office.
Mr. Abbott ran hard on the lying theme and promised a new direction once in office. Unfortunately, it seemed, Abbott had no intention of honouring most of his promises and swiftly made cuts to the ABC, slashed spending on health and education, tried to cut welfare and introduced other austerity measures that obviously contradicted stated promises made in opposition. To many, it appeared cynical and profoundly more dishonest than anything that Gillard had ever done. Australia had never seen anything like it before. It was so brazen as to be an insult to the electorate.
With plummeting polls and rising malcontent within his own party, Mr. Abbott claimed that the government had failed to communicate its message clearly. I believe that Sydney Morning Herald columnist Waleed Aly summed it up best when he said:
In time, (Abbott’s) first budget will become legend for the sheer breadth of its political self-destruction. It’s not that the electorate didn’t understand the suite of policies, or was distracted by personality politics. It’s not that it was poorly explained (though on several levels, it was). It’s that the electorate grasped the underlying values of the government’s maiden offering and found it repugnant. It still does.Waleed Aly, 6 February 2015
With all his political capital destroyed and a budget that felt more like punishment than necessary economic medicine, Abbott’s additional blunders just made matters worse. Knighting Prince Philip may have looked absurd, but that is not the decision that cost Abbott his job. The anachronistic knighthood simply symbolised Abbott’s distance from reality.
What cost Abbott his job was his chronic foot-in-mouth disease.
Whether it was describing aboriginal people living in their traditional (remote) communities as having made a “bad lifestyle choice” or claiming that Australia was sick of being lectured-to by the UN, Mr. Abbott showed a striking insensitivity to others. His savage attack on Ms. Gillian Triggs, the Human Rights Commissioner, following an unfavourable report stunned many for its sheer viciousness. The panic-stricken handling of the same-sex marriage issue, which resulted in a series of bizarre impromptu joint party room meetings before deciding upon a a referendum (or plebiscite) confused both liberals and conservatives. Comments that mothers who access taxpayer-funded maternity scheme entitlements in addition to employer benefits (as is their right) were “double dipping” offended many. Meanwhile, another budget was released which this time suggested that the “debt and deficit crisis” was suddenly over and we could go and enjoy our lives again whilst the economic numbers had hardly shifted.
Evidently, the Australian community had suffered enough insult, stupidity and non-consultative decision making (“captain’s picks“) and the government endured abysmal polling. As many in the back bench read the writing on the wall and polling for the upcoming Canning by-election showed a massive swing against the government, something had to give.
Tony Abbott was not only considered untrustworthy by the electorate, but by the members of his own party.
Yesterday Mr. Turnbull resigned as Minister for Communications and challenged Mr. Abbott for the leadership of the Liberal Party. Saying that the government needed an economic vision rather than three word slogans, he launched a blistering attack on the Prime Minister telling journalists that
(Mr. Abbott) has not been capable of providing the economic confidence that business needs… we need a different style of leadership. We need a style of leadership that explains those challenges and opportunities, explains the challenges and how to seize the opportunities. A style of leadership that respects the peoples’ intelligence, that explains these complex issues and then sets out the course of action we believe we should take and makes a case for it. We need advocacy, not slogans. Malcolm Turnbull, 14 September 2015
Mr. Turnbull won a late night party room ballot 54 votes to 44, less than six hours after announcing he would challenge. Following his victory, Mr. Turnbull stated
We need to have in this country, and we will have now, an economic vision, a leadership that explains the great challenges and opportunities that we face, that describes the way in which we can handle those challenges, seize those opportunities and does so in a manner that the Australian people understand so that we are seeking to persuade rather than seeking to lecture.
It will be a thoroughly Liberal government committed to freedom, the individual and the market.
It will be focused on ensuring that in the years ahead, as the world becomes more and more competitive and greater opportunities arise, we are able to take advantage of that. The Australia of the future has to be a nation that is agile, that is innovative, that is creative.
We have to recognise that the disruption that we see driven by technology, the volatility and change, is our friend …if we are agile and smart enough to take advantage of it. Malcolm Turnbull, 14 September 2015
Mr. Turnbull will be sworn-in as the 29th Prime Minister by the Governor-General this morning. Australia has now had five prime ministers in 7 years.
Whether Mr. Turnbull can turn the fortunes of the Liberal government around and bring it into a winning position for the next election (due 2016/17) remains to be seen. Whilst this episode would make for an excellent sequel to The Killing Season, time will tell whether this move restores credibility or damages the government further.
Some might argue that Mr. Turnbull will suffer the same fate as Julia Gillard, who was perceived as lacking legitimacy when she ousted first-term PM Kevin Rudd from office in 2010. Perhaps the key difference is that Mr. Rudd never suffered such poor polling as Mr. Abbott, nor did he offend so many people. There will be a great number of Australians celebrating Mr. Abbott’s removal. I suspect many of them are Liberal Party members.
As for Labor leader Bill Shorten, he can no longer take an election win for granted. Mr. Abbott was an easy opponent, but Mr. Turnbull will be formidable. Unfortunately for Mr. Shorten, he has about as much acumen as Ms. Gillard and I suspect that Mr. Turnbull will easily out-manoeuvre an opponent who doesn’t mind a three word slogan himself.
Interesting times lie ahead.