How many of you out there, like me, long for the day when the most destructive, the most venomous federal politician in living memory is finally expunged from public life, if not erased from memory? He will not be easy to forget. History will record in harsh detail his tawdry reputation, his vengeful nature, his deep-seated nastiness, his misogyny, and his shameful verbal assaults on Julia Gillard. Any success he might claim as his own will forever live in the dark shadow of his malignancy, his meanness.
Nobody believed him when, after his upending by Malcolm Turnbull in 2015, he said: “My pledge today is to make this change as easy as I can…there will be “no wrecking, no undermining and no sniping. I’ve never leaked or backgrounded against anyone. And I certainly won’t start now.”. Immediately afterwards he set about doing all of those things, again and again. His most recent wrecking effort, successful as it turned out, was when he used his proxy, Peter Dutton, to mount a challenge to PM Turnbull. His desire for vengeance against his nemesis was satisfied; Turnbull was gone, and he was still there, smirking from the backbench.
As if to dash our hopes that we might soon see the end of Abbott, he continues to insist: “I certainly don’t intend to retire anytime soon”. He believes that he still ”has plenty of public life” left in him. But his Warringah electorate is not so sure.
Writing in The Sydney Morning Herald, Bevan Shields says: ”A meeting to endorse Tony Abbott’s re-election to Parliament [three years to the day from when he was ousted] descended into an angry shouting match after the former prime minister was hit by a rare and substantial protest vote. More than 30 per cent of grassroots members voted on Friday night to oppose Mr Abbott’s nomination as the Liberal Party candidate for the Sydney seat of Warringah, which the former leader has held since 1994”.
Shields went on: ”Mr Abbott ran unopposed, which makes the size of the protest vote ‘highly unusual’, according to members who now believe the former prime minister’s grip on the blue-ribbon northern beaches seat is not guaranteed. Everybody with any degree of commitment to the party and its long-term future wants to see this guy go, he’s just useless,” said one local member. Moderate Liberal Party members are deeply unhappy with Mr Abbott’s failure to honour his “no wrecking, no sniping, no undermining” pledge. The meeting erupted when officials refused to read out the numbers from the secret ballot. Members were heard shouting: “disgrace”, “transparency is dead”, and “release the results”.
Scared to face up to his dwindling support, Abbott dismissed the protest vote as “the work of a small minority”.
Even when told of the depth of feeling against him, Abbott responded with characteristic arrogance: “You may have voted against me, but I will continue to be your member”! Speaking to Ben Fordham on 2GB, he reinforced his intention to stick around with: “Reports of my political death are greatly exaggerated…I am very much politically alive and kicking and expect to be alive and well for a very long time to come.”!
Members of his electorate no longer afford him the respect they once did. They are aware that he is out of step with the views of the wider electorate on issues like climate change, renewable energy and same-sex marriage. Although he made it clear that he would vote NO, Warringah recorded a 75 per cent YES vote in favour of same-sex marriage in last year’s postal survey – the 10th highest in the country and the fifth highest of the Liberal Party’s 76 seats in Parliament – an indication of just how out of touch this man is. It is a matter of record that in the end, he did the cowardly thing, scarpering out of the House as the marriage equality vote was being taken, so that he did not vote at all!
Even his own party members want him gone. Nationals backbencher Damien Drum has urged him to quit Parliament: “He vowed he wouldn’t be a wrecker and that’s exactly what he’s been, a wrecker…He needs to get out of the joint.”
The straight-talking veteran Warren Entsch, a member of the Queensland LNP, says the same: “I think his mission is accomplished; he has gotten rid of his nemesis. Everything there was purely about revenge.”
Several party members blamed Abbott for provoking the leadership carnage, and urged him to quit. Other colleagues despair but dare not go public.
I suspect that, with his characteristic arrogance and stubbornness, he will continue to leer from his backbench possie if for no other reason than to prove he can’t be removed, that he is still relevant, that miracles are still possible, and that he could still return to his rightful place as Liberal leader, and of course PM. He believes that he has the winning way, and could restore the Coalition to its former glory – just give him the reins again. He regularly boasts of his achievements when in office. He was particularly pleased with his initiation of the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption, declaring that: “A spotlight is being shone into the dark and corrupt corners of the union movement and Labor’s party-union business model.”Although he would never admit it, the Commission failed dismally to nail his political enemies.
Excluding Kevin Rudd’s second stint as PM, Abbott’s prime ministership was the shortest since Harold Holt. His net satisfaction rating dropped almost immediately after he became prime minister and remained poor, and as we all know, he suffered 30 adverse Newspolls in a row before Turnbull toppled him in 2015.
Tony Abbott is a unique politician. He seemed unmoved by adverse publicity, awful opinion polls, and the low regard in which the wider electorate, and now his once-loyal supporters in Warringah, hold him. But in his final speech as PM, he complained he had been the subject of sour, bitter, character assassination. His response was to wrap himself in a protective cocoon, deaf to the outside world, blind to political reality. There, in denial, he still reminisces about his political perspicacity, his superior insights, and the grand achievements of his ‘illustrious’ career. Pitiably, he dreams of a future full of promise.
Sadly, we may have Abbott around for a while as an ugly and laughable cartoon character that amuses the voters. For political tragics though, so long as he leers from the backbench, he will be an object of merciless ridicule.
This article by Ad Astra was originally published on The Political Sword.
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