News & Current Affairs
01 February 2015
by Michael Gordon
Tony Abbott becoming Liberal wrecking ball
Tony Abbott has a new title and it sure ain't a knighthood. He is now the Liberal Party's wrecking ball, leaving a trail of destruction across the nation.
After helping to seal Denis Napthine's fate as the leader of Victoria's first one-term government in more than half a century, the Prime Minister has helped Campbell Newman make even more inglorious history.
Three years ago, Newman became the first person to become a premier without having spent a single day in the Parliament. Now he has lost his seat, and could be the first state or national leader to do so while his party retains power.
Or, even more damning, the party that won 75 to Labor's seven seats in 2012 is facing the prospect of defeat. For this, Newman must carry the overwhelming responsibility, but the Abbott factor cannot be denied.
Whether it was the difference between Newman hanging on to his seat is arguable. What is beyond question is this: the Liberal National Party's shocking showing will dramatically ramp up the anxiety of the Abbott backbench and the pressure on his leadership.
If Abbott's Queensland colleagues were feral before the Queensland vote, they will be even more inclined to rash action after it.
Back in November, after the Coalition was despatched in Victoria, Abbott's spinners like Scott Morrison said federal factors had nothing to do with it, and pointed to how well Newman was doing in Queensland as evidence.
The Victorian campaign was topped and tailed by reminders of Abbott's failures to keep to his election commitments, from the increase in fuel excise to the cuts to ABC and SBS funding.
There were a couple of fleeting appearances by the Prime Minister in the campaign, including the hug he gave Napthine that Labor MPs dubbed the "kiss of death", and the "barnacle debacle" of mixed messages over whether another unpopular budget measure, the GP co-payment, would be scrapped.
While Abbott acted on advice to stay well clear of Queensland, this campaign was similarly replete with reminders of the federal Coalition's unpopularity, from another backdown on Medicare that did not solve the co-payment problem, to the Prince Philip knighthood fiasco, which I suspect will be remembered as the most spectacular own goal by a prime minister – ever.
Certainly, it would have hardened the resolve of those republicans in Newman's seat of Ashgrove who were inclined to punish those who do not listen.
What compounded Newman's Abbott problem is that both were guilty of the same sins: breaking election commitments, an inability to sell their policies and expending valuable political capital on ideological frolics. People know the difference between federal and state issues, but the differences are muddied when the narrative is the same.
What must send a chill down the Prime Minister's spine is that, right now, he would face a similarly harsh judgment.
The first question raised by the Queensland result is how potent the Abbott factor will be when New South Wales goes to the polls at the end of March, assuming there is no move against him before then. This time, invisibility will not be an option for Abbott. It's his home state.
While the Abbott factor in NSW will be offset by memories of how bad the last state Labor government was, and Mike Baird's solid start, Liberal strategists will not want any of the federal distractions of the Queensland and Victorian campaigns.
The second question is whether Abbott can arrest his slide and rebuild the confidence of the electorate. That is far, far less certain.