If you were to ask Malcolm Turnbull to tell you honestly
what was his most demanding and persistent political problem, Tony Abbott would most likely be his answer.
We are well aware of the legislative issues Turnbull faces, and the exultation he exhibits when finally he achieves a success – the passage of Gonski 2.0 is a recent example. We know too that he has dissention among the hard right elements in his party room. Cory Bernardi has already abandoned the Liberal Party to establish his Australian Conservatives
, but Turnbull still has Eric Abetz, Kevin Andrews, Ian Macdonald, Craig Kelly, Andrew Hastie, Chris Back, Rowan Ramsay, Angus Taylor, Tony Pasin, Michael Sukkar and Zed Seselja, regular irritants led by the pernicious and vengeful Tony Abbott.
But even without his henchmen, Abbott alone is a destructive force that bursts out into the open whenever an opportunity presents. If Abbott senses that he can make political capital out of anything that Turnbull does, or says, or proposes, he is out there shafting his leader.
How can he be stopped?
If you need any reminding, here are some media accounts of Abbott’s recent assaults on his leader:
In an article by Katharine Murphy in The Guardian
on 24 February titled: The postie always rings twice: Abbott and Fahour give Coalition the smell of death
, after dealing with the resignation of Ahmed Fahour’s from Australia Post, she gets to Tony Abbott after his unwanted intervention in the energy debate with these words:
“The right in Australian politics is currently hell-bent on consuming itself. Civil war keeps erupting before our very eyes.
“Tony Abbott dished it out to Malcolm Turnbull in a most extraordinary fashion, using a book launch to unveil a sweeping conservative manifesto for the next federal election, declaring the Coalition needs to cut immigration, slash the renewable energy target, abolish the Human Rights Commission, and gut the capacity of the Senate to be a roadblock to the government’s agenda.
“In a provocative speech that contained several pot shots at his successor, he warned that the government won’t win the next election unless it wins back the conservative base, declaring that “Politics can’t be just a contest of toxic egos or someone’s vanity project.”
Murphy goes on:
“His intervention was a precision strike against the man who took his job, with Newspoll in the field over the weekend, and federal parliament returning next week.
“Abbott wasn’t actually talking to the colleagues, which is probably wise, given many of them want to lock him in a cupboard and throw away the key.
“It was more vicious than a conventional party room courtship exercise.
“He looked over their heads, and spoke instead to the voters Malcolm Turnbull is currently intent on trying to woo back: white working-class voters in regional areas stranded at the fag end of the mining boom – the folks drifting dangerously in Hanson’s direction because they’ve had a gutful of the circus in Canberra.
“Abbott had one simple message for those people: the emperor has no clothes.
“He took the central pitch of Turnbull’s New Year strategy to put a floor under the Liberal party’s ebbing primary vote – the energy security offensive and the government’s big coal pivot (which resonates in the post mining boom regions) – and he demolished it.
“He said the government’s policy on climate and energy was an incoherent crock.
“Not content with yanking the rug out from under Turnbull and the government’s political ‘recovery’ strategy for 2017, Abbott then upped the ante in the political arms race for disaffected conservatives.
“He put immigration on the table. Apparently we need to cut immigration to help housing affordability – a complete nonsense, and incendiary to boot – but designed to hit the front bar ‘nod’ test. (“So that’s why I can’t afford a house. Bloody immigrants. Hogging Aussie houses.”)
“It’s a little fire you light in fractious times, and watch the embers burn. If voters have logged the substance of Abbott’s pitch, rather than just consumed it as colour and movement, his message will certainly resonate in some parts of the country, and it also reflects one view inside the government.
“The chairman of the government’s backbench committee on environment and energy, Craig Kelly, just to take one voice, agrees with most of what Abbott said on Thursday night, including the desirability of lowering the immigration rate.
“The Abbott 2.0 manifesto does, however, generate one obvious response for those of us still trying to reside in a fact-based universe: if this is the answer to what ails Australia, why didn’t you do it yourself? When you were ... you know ... the prime minister. With power.
“Abbott’s speech was, in a fact-based universe, mildly delusional, and almost entirely hypocritical. But as acts of rank political bastardry go, it was comprehensive.
“There is only one conclusion to take away from the performance, and that is that Abbott is hell-bent on Turnbull’s destruction, never mind the cost, never mind the casualties. If he can’t take him out in the party room because he’s a general without an army, then he will take him out with the conservative base, and drive a cleaver right through the heart of rightwing politics.
“If the political right shatters into shards, so be it. At one level it’s pure nihilism.”
In another article in the The Guardian
, this one on 17 April, Gareth Hutchens begins:
"The former prime minister Tony Abbott has again spoken out publicly, urging the Turnbull government to make changes to reconnect with the electorate and offering a plan to stop Labor winning the next election.
“In an opinion piece in News Corp Australia tabloids, and in a follow-up interview on Sydney’s 2GB radio, he outlined measures to stop Labor’s momentum.
“We have to do something about housing affordability, and I think scaling back immigration until housing starts and infrastructure has caught up would be a good way of doing that,” he told 2GB.
“We’ve got to do something about political correctness, because we’ve got political correctness running riot in our country right now.”
In response, veteran Liberal MP Warren Entsch called on Abbott to shut up or quit after he again offered his views on the performance of the Turnbull government.
“He was going to step down graciously, he was going to serve in the best interests of the country but he was not going to do a running commentary, he was not going to be critical. Well it has been anything but that.”
Entsch said that Abbott’s actions were ‘reinforcing all the negative aspects of his time’ and seemed aimed at getting back at Malcolm Turnbull who ousted him from the prime ministership.
“Abbott made it quite clear when he left office that he would not be a Kevin Rudd, that he would not provide a running commentary, he would positively contribute. He was very specific when he said that – and most of us believed him.
“But what he’s doing now is reinforcing all the negative aspects of his time. And if it continues like this, this will be his legacy – and he won’t be remembered fondly. He’ll just be seen as a wrecker, hell-bent on destroying an individual.”
Writing in news.com.au
the next day, Malcolm Farr in an article titled: Why Tony Abbott wants Malcolm Turnbull to become his clone
had this to say:
”Tony Abbott isn’t after Malcolm Turnbull’s job but he does want a new entity in the Prime Minister’s office – a Tone Clone.
“Mr Abbott is seeking that marvel of the science of politics, a full body policy transplant. He wants an Abbott-like figure doing the things he attempted as leader and at times failed to implement, a figure indistinguishable from his current self apart from the physical presence.
“His explosive column in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph confirms previous reports that Mr Abbott had accepted he would not succeed Mr Turnbull – at least not before the next election – and his sensible view was that a leadership change would further wreck the government’s chances of being returned.
“All delivered with an offhand barb: “Of course people are disappointed with the government ...”
“He has told colleagues he fears a Coalition wipe-out in Queensland producing a national rout. The Abbott answer is for Mr Turnbull to adopt the policy clobber of Tony 2017 and be quick about it.
“This message has developed to uninterrupted background noise of comparisons between the Abbott government and the Turnbull venture, from Mr Abbott himself and surrogates ranging from Eric Abetz to Peta Credlin.”
Let’s jump to more recent Abbott interventions:
When the Finkel Review surfaced, there was Abbott ready to exploit any opportunity to counter its recommendations and criticise his nemesis.
Writing on 12 June in The Guardian
in Tony Abbott fears Finkel's clean energy target could be 'a magic pudding'
, Katharine Murphy and Gareth Hutchens write:
“Tony Abbott has declared that the new clean energy target proposed by the chief scientist, Alan Finkel, sounds like a 'magic pudding' and he says the Coalition must not adopt a new tax on coal.
“Ahead of a discussion of the Finkel recommendations by the Coalition party room on Tuesday, the former prime minister used his regular radio interview on 2GB to sound a warning about the reforms proposed by Finkel to the prime minister and the premiers last week.
“My anxiety listening to reports of the [Finkel] review, and this statement [that] they are going to reward low-emissions fuels while not punishing high-emissions fuels, is [that] it is going to be a magic pudding,” Abbott said on Monday.
“If you are rewarding one type of energy, inevitably, the money has got to come from somewhere – either consumers or taxpayers.
“If it is from consumers, it’s effectively a tax on coal, and that is the last thing we want.”
How can Turnbull keep this man at bay? Abbott never gives up. He is determined to undermine his leader every time he can.
Just a few weeks ago, Abbott was at it again, this time in the terrorism arena. An article in Crikey
by Michael Bradley: Tony Abbott is helping the terrorists win
"There’s a lot of competition these days for the title of Politician Most Likely to Exploit Terrorism in an Appalling Manner, what with Trump, Farage and Hanson all jumping on the latest London atrocity in a matter of minutes to demonstrate their particular brands of hate. Still, Tony Abbott remains special for his ability to combine clarity with idiocy.
“Abbott’s been all over the media since London, just being helpful you know. He has two Big Ideas this time: militarising Australia’s response to terrorist attacks, and creating special courts to deal with suspects. Not new ideas, but they approach the outer edge of a response structure, which would ensure that terrorism achieves its ends.
“Abbott wants the Australian Army to be ‘the lead agency’ in cases of ‘multiple or complex terrorist incidents’. The vagueness of his prescription is no surprise; the point is its apparent robustness. Not for Abbott any of the constitutional or operational complexities of sending in the troops to deal with what are, when the rhetoric is put aside, crimes of violence rather than acts of war.”
Of course, fervent Coalition promoter, retired General Jim Moylan, backed Abbott's bizarre ideas to the hilt!
Even last week Abbott was out again, this time calling Christopher Pyne disloyal and treacherous because he suggested at a private Liberal Party function that same sex marriage would pass parliament ‘sooner than we thought’. Abbott was also outraged that his delaying tactic of a plebiscite was under threat, forcing Turnbull into a hasty disclaimer.
Although still burning with anger about Christopher Pyne’s ‘revelation’ that he had never voted for Abbott (leaked to Andrew Bolt), he was in Brisbane the next day reiterating his alternative political manifesto at an Institute of Pubic Affairs
event, as reported by James Massola in The Sydney Morning Herald
“He outlined three energy policy measures - freezing the renewable energy target at 15 per cent, a moratorium on new wind farms, and for the federal government to potentially go it alone and build a new coal-fired power station - to put downward pressure on power prices.
“He also called for immigration to be temporarily slashed to put downward pressure on house prices and upward pressure on wages, and advocated banning all new spending except on defence and infrastructure.
“Mr Abbott warned the Coalition can only win the next election if it draws up new political battlelines that will give the conservative side of politics something to fight for and, in a down-beat assessment of the nation, Mr Abbott said Australia "plainly, is not working as it should" and that "we are letting ourselves down".
“For conservatives: "our challenge is to stay the course, to keep the faith and to fight the good fight".
For his misdemeanour, Pyne is now being attacked ferociously by Abbott's conservative base, who are demanding nothing less than his removal from Turnbull's Ministry.
I could go on quoting example after example of Abbott’s treachery – my file on Abbott is loaded with examples, but these are enough.
Abbott sees himself as the protector of Abbott initiatives, of his own legacy, and of conservative values, and even if he can’t replace Turnbull, he wants at least to diminish him, embarrass him, humiliate him, and render him impotent, even if that results in the Coalition losing the next election, when the opportunity to oust him, and replace him, would arise.
Abbott’s venom towards Turnbull is inexhaustible. He flaunts it unremittingly.
But does Abbott realize what thin ice he's skating on? Has he got the electorate behind him? If he thinks so, he's seriously deluded! Of almost a thousand visitors to the AIMN
blog site, 61% voted Abbott as the worst ever PM out of nine choices from Whitlam on! Only 19% voted Turnbull the worst.
How can Turnbull and his loyalists counter Abbott?
Whilst it might seem comical to suggest it, perhaps a hypothetical ‘Abbott-proof fence’ might do the job!
Like Trump, Turnbull's Coalition is unlikely to cough up the funds for such a fence! Crowd funding may be the only way.
Donations for its erection can be forwarded to the Prime Minister’s Office.
Contributions of $2 or over are tax deductible.