When sitting Liberal Prime Minister John Howard lost his seat in the 2007 Federal election, three people raised their hand for the leadership of the party the next day. By Wednesday, one of them, Tony Abbott, had withdrawn due to lack of numbers, leaving Brendan Nelson and Malcolm Turnbull to contest the leadership ballot the next day.
That night, November 28 2007, Abbott appeared on Lateline with Tony Jones.
He blamed, in part, his close relationship with John Howard as a reason he did not have support for the leadership.
“I think it is true just at the moment, the Party thinks that it is important to move on from the Howard era. And I obviously have always been very closely associated with John Howard. I think history will judge him very well. But just at the moment, the Party is devastated understandably by the loss and wants to distance itself from the recent past.”
But Tony said he had “staked a claim”.
TONY ABBOTT: This time does not suit me. Who knows what the future might hold…. I’m certainly not guaranteeing that I won’t in the future challenge for the leadership.
TONY JONES: You mean during the next term? Because, we know what conservative governments in defeat were like in Britain: revolving doors for leaders.
TONY ABBOTT: And let us hope that that doesn’t happen to this conservative opposition.
Brendan Nelson won the leadership ballot. Less than 10 months later, he was rolled by Malcolm Turnbull. Fifteen months on, Turnbull was rolled by Abbott.
Jones went on to ask Abbott about Turnbull’s proposed ‘symbolic changes’: “an Australian Republic, sorry to the stolen generation, ratify Kyoto, he is sympathetic to the gay agenda and he now rejects WorkChoices outright.”
When asked if he accepted the symbolism of saying sorry to Indigenous Australians, Abbott replied
“Look, I think John Howard successfully moved us beyond that. And frankly, if Kevin Rudd wants to get into that quagmire, I think he is making a big mistake.”
Tony had just attended a lunch at the Lodge, the last hosted by Howard for his government colleagues. When asked why Peter Costello and his wife were not at the lunch, he had no answer.
Jones then asked about Howard’s state of mind, did he think the loss was his fault.
“He knows that there were many decisions that he made in the last term that will inevitably be called into question. And maybe he got some of those calls wrong….. I think that he has come to the conclusion that it wasn’t really him. It was the fact that the government was 11.5 years old.”
They then went on to discuss one of the lowest examples of Liberal gutter politics, something that derailed the dying days of the Howard campaign – the Lindsay pamphlet scandal.
Liberal Party volunteers, including the husbands of retiring member Jackie Kelly and Liberal candidate Karen Chijoff, distributed fake election pamphlets alleged to have been printed at taxpayers’ expense in Kelly’s office in the western suburbs seat of Lindsay. Knowledge of the stunt allegedly went right up the chain to the state executive.
The pamphlet claimed to be from “The Islamic Australia Federation”, a non-existent organisation. It strongly urged support for the Labor party in the upcoming federal election and went on to praise the ALP on a number of divisive issues, including:
- [forgiving] our Muslim brothers who have been unjustly sentenced to death for the Bali bombings, referring to the Labor party’s opposition to the death penalty (in particular Robert McClelland’s comments) and the Liberals’ argument that this policy supports the Bali bombers themselves
- Supporting the construction of a new mosque, as well as the opening of a new mosque in St Marys with the help of local and state government funding
- Support for controversial former Grand Mufti Sheik Taj El-Din Hilaly (spelt “Al-Hilaly”)
The pamphlet also misspelt Allahu Akbar as “Ala Akba”, with the ALP logo on either side. The logo used was an obsolete one that had been retired after the previous election in 2004. There was also no authorising statement, which all political advertising is required to include.
Interestingly, it was Luke Foley, current NSW Labor leader who was then assistant secretary of the ALP, who, acting on a tip off from an anonymous member of the Liberal Party, organised a sting operation which caught the miscreants red-handed.
Jackie Kelly, who Abbott described as “my best friend in the Parliament”, spoke about it on radio on 22 November in spite of a party directive not to do so. She said her first instinct when she saw the pamphlet was to laugh because it was a parody of some things that had occurred during the election campaign and compared it to a prank by the satirical comedy team The Chaser.
“When I first read it I had to laugh . . . pretty much everyone who has read (it) chuckles, in terms of the parody it does make of various things that have happened during the campaign. My view is that it’s a bit of Chaser-style prank.”
The police disagreed and five men were charged with distribution of unauthorised electoral material resulting in three of them being issued with small fines.
Abbott admitted he had spoken to Kelly before she gave what was described as the worst interview ever done by a member of parliament and there was some suggestion that the Chaser defence had been his idea.
The Sydney-based chairman of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, Ikebal Patel, said falsification of election material created a further rift between mainstream community and Muslims. The Mufti of Australia, Fehmi Naji, said “When people read stuff like that, they say ‘why are we putting up with Muslims?’ We want to stop that thought, and show that we can live together and carry out our duty to our country together.”
Whipping up fear about Muslims is not a new sport for the Liberals.
The Lateline interview concluded with Jones thanking Abbott.
TONY JONES: Tony Abbott, we thank you once again. A hard day at the office. I’ve got to say, you always come in on hard days – some of the hardest days – to talk about it. That is one thing to be admired about you and we thank you very much for coming in once again.
TONY ABBOTT: Part of the political process and democratic accountability, Tony.
Sadly, under a Credlin led government, democratic accountability is no longer part of the political process.