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Day to Day Politics: Forces that drove Tony Abbott to stay in parliament

Thursday 28 January 2016

I don’t normally read The Australian newspaper because it’s behind a firewall and it’s owned by Murdoch. But mainly because of its bias and poor journalism. Here is an example. My comments are in italics.

Greg Sheridan THE AUSTRALIAN JANUARY 26, 2016

Tony Abbott agonised over whether to stay in parliament or to leave. He got a lot of conflicting advice. The case for leaving was substantial.

No politician in modern Australia, at least since Malcolm Fraser in 1975, has been subjected to such sustained, vitriolic and personalised abuse as Abbott.

When you look at the abuse handed out by Tony Abbott. Alan Jones, Andrew Bolt and others to Prime Minister Julia Gillard during her tenure you have to wonder at the objectivity of such a statement. There was hardly a day in the Parliament in which Abbott didn’t label her a liar. Even members of his own party, at times shook their heads in shame at the sexism. Anyone with any sense of perspective would find this statement just so totality biased as to be deliberately misleading.

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If he left politics, this would subside. The former prime minister is a strong and resilient person, but this kind of abuse takes its toll not only on the person ­directly affected but also on their family. It is also the case that the sooner he left, the sooner it was likely his record of substantial, perhaps historic, achievement would be reassessed.

Could you please repeat that? I’m really struggling.

No other prime minister could have stopped the boats.

The catalyst in stopping the boats was Kevin Rudd’s deal with Papua New Guinea. And we know the boats didn’t completely stop. He was paying people smugglers to turn them back.

The Abbott prime ministership prevented Australia from being engulfed in a tidal wave of uncontrolled, illegal immigration, as Europe has seen.

He was a Prime Minister who demonised those legally seeking asylum. A Prime Minister who tossed the subject around like a political football extracting from it every ounce of political mileage, never once seeking a regional solution .And look at his legacy of allowing innocent people to be incarcerated for the rest of their lives without recourse to the law.

Then there were the free-trade agreements, the abolition of the carbon and mining taxes, the attempt to address the growing budget contradiction.

The abolition of the Carbon Tax is looked on by the rest of the world as a dreadful decision. One that left our nation in the embarrassing position of taking a laughable policy to the Paris talks. A policy that will have to be seriously reconsidered in the near future if we are to seriously address the climate issue.

Addressing the budget contradiction. So his answer was to almost double the debt. A strange way of addressing a problem he described as a debt crisis of monumental proportion.

All of this will be reassessed and revalued more quickly if ­Abbott is outside parliament. Moreover, while he stays in politics almost everything he says will be misinterpreted by a lazy media through a leadership prism.

Yes they might, in the same way The Australian hounded Julia Gillard. You can speculate as much as you want as to the motives of him staying. May I suggest though, that a good place to start might be his historical political behaviour? It makes for good profiling.

In some measure, the same problem afflicts Malcolm Turnbull. Everything he says is freighted by foolish commentators as somehow containing some secret anti-Abbott significance.

Lenore Taylor got it right when she said:

‘The public liked Turnbull because he seemed different to Abbott, but his colleagues voted for him because they were eventually persuaded he would be – in essence – pretty much the same’.

Then there were the purely personal considerations. First, the miserable prospect of sitting mute as a backbencher in Canberra. Also, political life affects family life. It is extraordinarily difficult to be an attentive husband and father with weeks away in Canberra, and more weeks away interstate and overseas in the constant travel of political leadership.

It is something they have lived with all their married life. He is after all a career politician who has had little experience outside it. His wife seemed to accept her position. Except for one daughter they have all moved on. If sitting on the backbench was indeed a miserable prospect then why do it. What other motive could he possibly have?

Abbott had been prime minister for two years, party leader for six and before that a minister for a decade. It’s a long record of service. No one could reasonably ask him for more.

Who is? The fact is that he lost his job because his party felt he wasn’t up to it.

And, if he had the slightest interest in making money he would make much more outside of parliament than in. His parliamentary pension as a former prime minister would be substantially more than his salary as a backbencher.

On top of that he would be free to earn money in the private sector. He has enough close supporters in business to guarantee a board appointment or two. He could give lucrative speeches on the US conservative speakers’ circuit. He could write newspaper columns, the odd book, perhaps do some TV. There is always a consultancy or two on offer.

I seem to recall that he took time off from his job as an MP (with pay) to write a book. And isn’t he now making a few quid on the speaker’s circuit now. This gets worse the more I read.

 But Abbott has never been motivated by money. He always wanted to give his family a decent life, but had no interest in trying to pile up money.

This is downright dishonest.

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We know that this feeling is universal, because it’s exactly how Tony Abbott felt, after losing 40 per cent of his income in 2007 when the Howard government lost power and he went back to a basic backbench salary.

“What’s it called? Mortgage stress? The advent of the Rudd Government has caused serious mortgage stress for a section of the Australian community, i.e. former Howard government ministers!” he said at the time.

“You don’t just lose power … you certainly lose income as well, and if you are reliant on your parliamentary salary for your daily living, obviously it makes a big difference.”

Mr Abbott was notoriously knocked-around by his change of circumstance, which obliged him to take out a $700,000 mortgage on his northern beaches home, and fostered a period of gloom and introspection in which he remained mired for more than a year.

When Kevin Rudd announced a salary freeze for all politicians in early 2008 – a decision greeted with bipartisan loathing around the corridors – Mr Abbott remarked that it was “all very well for politicians who have other sources of income or who have very high income from their spouses”.

Mr Abbott’s spouse, of course, works in the child care sector, which is notoriously under … oh, stop me if I’m repeating myself.

He was not the only one to complain; quite a few former Howard ministers felt the sting of their reduced circumstances, and discreet approaches were even made to the new Labor Government to fiddle things so that shadow ministers might be paid more.

It never happened, of course. Governments are bastards like that, don’t you find?

The arguments for staying essentially boiled down to duty. His supporters had invested so much hope in him.

If he left, it was as if conservatives would be admitting that none of their number could ever serve in the highest office. It would be a great victory for the Left if their lynch mobs had chased him out of town. As a nation we are not blessed with a super abundance of politicians of the first rank. We can’t afford to lightly throw them away.

If Abbott stayed in politics, he would signal an intent to advocate the broad political values that have motivated him all his life. And, in the long run, he helps the government a great deal by staying.

By staying, indeed he would advocate the political values he aspires to. The problem is that they are not the same as the leaders. Therein lays the problem. The Coalition now has what the public wanted. A less feral leader but he is controlled by Abbott’s men.

You might also countenance the thought that he has little experience at doing anything else.

Turnbull went through a dark night of the soul when he lost the leadership of the Liberal Party in 2009. He initially decided to leave politics and resign at the next federal election, but then changed his mind. As the next few years rolled by, his presence was actually a very big plus for the then Abbott opposition.

Correct. He often had to step in and demonstrate that there were some in the party that could be reasonable when Abbot continuously showed his ugly side.

It showed voters of a ‘small l’ liberal persuasion that they had a place in the Liberal Party. It helped stop the party from leaking votes to the centre.

How gratuitously silly is that statement. Robert Menzies would turn in his grave at the thought that any of today’s Liberal members even understood the term.

The Liberal Party has no serious competitor on the right of politics at the moment and therefore no imminent prospect of leaking votes to the Right.

But the centre right is always in danger of fracturing, just as it has in most Western nations, just as we see so many effluxions of right-wing populism in Queensland.

A coalition that can accommodate a Tony Abbott as well as a Malcolm Turnbull is inherently much stronger, and seems much broader than either factional Labor or sectarian Green politics, no matter that each man might find such coexistence disagreeable at times.

He is and will be in the run up to the election a thorn in Turnbull’s side. And an intentional thorn at that. It is naïve in the extreme to think otherwise.

Turnbull and Abbott are both grown-ups, both volunteers. We pay them to give us good government. We expect them to manage things between them well.

We pay for good Government and expect it from day one. Tony Abbott said that we would get it 12 months after the ball had been bounced. Even then it didn’t happen. We are still waiting for Turnbull to stop talking about it and start delivering. By the time the election comes around the electorate will be entitled to ask whether the Coalition can ever deliver on it.

Abbott is no Kevin Rudd. He is not motivated by revenge or any delusion of return to the prime ministership. His decision to stay in parliament is the latest episode in a lifetime of doing what he thinks is right.

After reading this last paragraph I am thinking I will give Tony the benefit of the doubt. Maybe it isn’t him who is deluded. It’s Bill Sheridan.

My thought for the day

‘Lying in the media is wrong at any time however when they do it by deliberate omission it is even more so. Murdoch’s papers seem to do it with impunity’.



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  1. Jaquix

    Thank you for dissecting the drivel in that Sheridsn “article” – which gobsmacked me with its blatant and outrageous statements. You are right, Murdochs papers do it with impunity.

  2. my say

    There should be a law against any journalist being able to print garbage like this .This should prove once and for all ,what power Murdoch has over politics in Australia

  3. flohri1754

    Extremely good dissection of that Sheridan apologia of Abbott’s reign horribilus …..

  4. Terry2

    Those who are supporting Abbott’s right to go where he likes and address whomsoever he wishes ignore one important point : he is a former Prime Minister of this country and as such he represents Australia when he goes overseas.

    Agreeing to speak to a far right group in Arizona reflects badly on him and on us.

    Greg Sheridan has allowed his objectivity to become sidelined by his admiration for his mate : a fatal error for a journalist.

  5. The Oldefellah

    I admire Tony for restanding at the next election. It gives you leftie pricks the target you continually crave. And the comment from Terry2 is typical selective memory crap. KRudd is leaving the rest of the Ex PMs for dead pushing his bloated ego to the limit. Hopefully the UN takes him off our hands. They’re made for each other – talk way too much, deliver far too little.

  6. urbanwronski

    Incisive treatment of one of our most unapologetic apologists for one of the world’s worst Prime Ministers. Sheridan is doing his mate no favour, however. When Greg declares his love for you, then you know you are done for. Apart from his noisy and obsequious champions who are suffering relevance deprivation, Tony Abbott has risen without trace. The suppository of all wisdom is now just a pain in Malcolm’s backside.

  7. Matthew Oborne

    Ending what people saw as a problem with Asylum seekers coming by boat would have been a simple as opening a few offices in countries like Indonesia, that were properly staffed to deal with demand. That is cheaper than what we are currently doing in terms of patrolling intercepting and detaining.

    Only problem with that is the problem has to be maintained in order for them to have a solution they can get mileage from.

    We continue to appease the nuts and Bolts.

  8. thebustopher

    Hey, Oldfellah, could it be that attacks on Abbott were so frequent because they were actually justified?

  9. Susan

    Thank you John.

  10. Florence nee Fedup

    I thought Howard stopped the boats with the Pacific Solution. Gillard followed by Rudd put in place much of present refugee policy. Boats nearly stopped when he came into government,

    Must admit Abbott has proven he can be even crueler than Howard was. Good reminder of those days. http://www.sbs.com.au/ondemand/video/11806275555/The-Man-Who-Jumped

  11. Florence nee Fedup

    Abbott was great at handing it out for over two decades. As they say, live by the sword, die by the sword.

  12. Florence nee Fedup

    Will someone do same to PM’s wonderful Australian Day speech. The one he himself doesn’t live up to.

  13. David

    Cheers John, top dissection of the stupidity, incompetence and author of fantasy that is the sicko Sheridan. Were I still in the profession and Sheridan a colleague of mine, I would either avoid him like the plague or end up smacking him on his idiotic mouth. Not something I have ever done in my 60 yrs.
    Only Murdoch would employ such a loser. His comment… “also, political life affects family life. It is extraordinarily difficult to be an attentive husband and father with weeks away in Canberra, and more weeks away interstate and overseas in the constant travel of political leadership” Sheridan ‘conveniently’ forgets a certain COS as in Ms P Credlin.

  14. sandrasearle

    The reason that all we have left in the MSM is right wing ownership is because of the LNP relaxing the ownership rules that we once had that were put in place to enable us to have the much broader and diverse opinions. The only thing we are left with now is to follow the 5th estate.
    Perhaps the ALP could also make this control an issue as we are all getting stuck into the Murdoch multi media ownership.
    That along with making sure that they stop the LNP from defunding Medicare, Education, Hospitals, social welfare etc.
    There is so much criticism that can be heaped onto the worst government this nation has ever had and we all need to forward on all of the great articles by the wonderful thinking bloggers who contribute to TAIM!
    Good work you guys and gals!

  15. Clean livin

    Who is this Sheridan character? I knew someone of the same name who was a top class Foreign Correspondant.

    Must be the same one, as I haven’t heard from him on that subject lately.

    Ah, now I remember, I cancelled The Australian after 50 years because of all the crap they now preach.

    Fancy losing your credibility over Abbott. Crazy stuff!

  16. cornlegend

    Clean livin January 28, 2016 at 4:48 pm

    Who is this Sheridan character?
    Take no notice of this fool ,
    The only Sheridan that makes sense is in the Big Bang Theory

  17. Lincoln Schultz

    It will be interesting to hear Turnbull attempt to trumpet the Government’s ‘achievements’ in the the lead up to the next election.
    They have done nothing but deport, defund and destroy – not exactly a great record and certainly nothing of substance to convince voters.
    3 wasted years.

  18. Sen Nearly Ile

    oops I mean not to offended thee lord, but perhaps, sheridan believes the abuse for gillard was not against a politician it was because she being unmarried and unfulfilled in her gender duties was not due the respect such men have for women (once again showing how little, apart from the ‘exceptional’, women count).
    There is no doubt whatsoever that the rabbott has “spent a lifetime of doing what he thinks is right.”. In his eyes he cannot lie and that truth is steeped in the opus dei of his religion, which has still the largest number of Australians in its grip.
    Loved your passive lying. Although, isn’t the use of selective truth to support an argument, the strength in a debate?
    Disingenuous is the descriptor tool of a modern ‘opinion’ journalist, although when the weather man/girl is heard to say ‘us journos…’ the term ‘journo’ is loose.

  19. Bronte ALLAN

    Another great article, John! This Sheridan “person” has very obviously been well schooled in the traditional Mudrake style, tell such blatant untruths & distortions of facts, that somebody (anybody??) will somehow believe you! The entire so-called “news” piece from him is so untrue, so biased & really would be so laughable, if it were not printed in the Oz! Another fine example of just how “good” (NOT!!) all these Mudrake so-called journalists are! I even hesitate to call any of them journalists, they show such gross inability to tell facts from lies & distortions almost every day, especially where they write about Unions, the Labor Party & Climate change etc. Thank goodness we still have a different view on most things by the Fairfax Press, even if their journalists & photographers & many of their regional papers have been made redundant or closed down.

  20. cuppa

    It’s still the same obnoxious Liberal government. Turnbull and Abbott – there is no difference in policy.

    Vote for Turnbull, get Abbott policies or even a return of Abbott himself.

  21. Michael Taylor

    The voters who hated Abbott and his policies just don’t get it, do they cuppa? They don’t see that even with Turnbull as PM they still have Abbott’s policies.

    Oh well, let them learn the hard way.

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