The current pressure on Tony Abbott is merely the playing out of the inevitable. This was always going to happen. Everyone knew it. Liberal voters knew it, and their political opponents knew it.
When I sat with a glass of port in hand on the election night of 2013, celebrating the end of six years of Labor instability, I knew then that the man giving the victory speech would not enjoy a long stay at the Lodge. He would be no John Howard. There would be no long reign for Tony Abbott. Sooner or later, he will come undone.
Unsurprisingly, as events play out over the coming days and weeks, this will prove to be right.
As I have written previously, reservations about Abbott’s ability as leader were brushed aside by members of the party while he wrought devastating damage on the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd government. As long as power was in the Liberals’ grasp, recalcitrance in the ranks remained at bay.
After a series of policy mishaps and own goals (come on, Tony, Prince Phillip?! What were you thinking?), power is slipping. The Queensland election, while not solely Abbott’s fault, brought home the reality that the Liberal-National brand has a problem.
Opponents of the Liberal Party are currently having a field day. The instability that plagued Labor, and the subsequent electoral demise, is now being felt on the conservative side of politics. How quickly politics changes. It was only 15 months ago that Labor’s electoral fortunes were abysmal, and the Queensland LNP were enjoying an unprecedented majority in parliament, having reduced Labor to seven seats, where they could have their meetings in the back of a Tarago.
Yet gloaters and smirkers should take caution. If the past two years has taught us anything, it is that voter sentiment changes quickly. So any high-fiving in coffee shops on the banks of the Yarra should be done with reservation.
My prediction is that they will see their political rival, Tony Abbott, relegated to the backbench by the party within weeks. It should happen, and it must happen.
Such a declaration is not some panicked move in the face of pending defeat. Rather, it is the acceptance that Abbott was never the desired leader in the first place. His leadership is the product of circumstance, not of design. The Liberal Party traditionally rallies around the leader that will bring power and guide the party’s values. Abbott brought power, but his values were always a cause for reservation in the party. Those reservations are now presenting themselves.
Julie Bishop is being touted as an ideal successor. Undoubtedly, she has performed brilliantly in her role as Minister for Foreign Affairs. She presents well, she is assured, and she has authority. Yet two things need to be pointed out here.
Firstly, her ability to handle a domestic portfolio is yet to be proven. Remember, she only had four months in her role as Shadow Treasurer before getting removed. Secondly, Foreign Affairs lends itself well to good publicity, since there’s little the minister can say that the public will disagree with. She’s batting for Australia, which is far different to implementing complex policy solutions at home.
This brings me to the other name in the ranks, Malcolm Turnbull. He wasn’t a good opposition leader, unlike Abbott, but he is the perfect fit for Prime Minister in the current climate.
Turnbull is highly intelligent, moderate, and well spoken. He could not prosecute a case against the sitting government in opposition because he is not naturally negative, unlike Abbott. Yet as a government minister, he is highly capable of explaining complex policies and neutralising political issues. His role as Communications Minister has been handled with aplomb.
Turnbull is also accepted by political opponents. Sure, they might not vote for him, but at least voters traditionally against the party can see reason when he speaks. After more than five years of visceral, nasty party politics, it would be refreshing to have a centrist leader that can, as best as possible, bring forward some sort of constructive policy agenda that encourages bipartisanship.
Turnbull is also a man of conviction, a rare commodity in politics these days. Whereas Abbott has previously described himself as a weathervane on complex policy matters, Turnbull was prepared to fall on his sword in 2009 when he refused to back away from his principled stance on climate change.
As a Liberal member frustrated with the conservatism and populism of the current government, it would be great to see a leader that ushers a new path forward that embraces the party’s original purpose of small-l liberalism.
A leader that has faith in the free market and private enterprise, but also acknowledges the need for action on climate change. A liberal on social issues such as same-sex marriage, acknowledging that in the 21st century, people are autonomous beings that should be able to make important life decisions without restrictions from government.
It is my sincere hope that the party places its faith in Malcolm Turnbull. Do it not in the best interests of the party, but of the country.