The spectacle of the leader of the opposition and alternative prime minister attempting to flee the House of Representatives chamber this morning, even to the extent of hammering on the doors to be let out, adds a particularly undignified note to the farce which the Craig Thomson affair has become. Only, in this case it is one that is entirely of Abbott’s making.
The opposition has been unable to get its story straight on this idea of a “tainted vote” — it was happy to accept the vote of Senator Mary Jo Fisher, who unlike Thomson was actually charged with an offence and found guilty of it last year. Fisher also continued to sit in the Liberal Party room. Joe Hockey at his recent budget reply speech (remember the budget?) didn’t rule out accepting the vote of Thomson. Now the opposition leadership team is bolting for the exits and pounding on doors.
Abbott decried Thomson walking across the aisle as a government stunt, despite Thomson voting against a motion to silence Joe Hockey. Instead, it is the opposition itself that has consistently relied on stunts in relation to Thomson: George Brandis (oops, almost forgot the “SC”), self-appointed Rortfinder-General of the parliament, dispatching letters offering his jurisprudential expertise to police on what they should be doing; Abbott theatrically declaring sympathy for Thomson and imploring him to leave politics for his own sake; Eric “Godwin Grech” Abetz yesterday declaring another “smoking gun” in Estimates that proved anything but.
There are great benefits for the opposition in driving Thomson from politics of course, and in creating a constant atmosphere of mayhem. But too often it appears to have let any sense of good judgment and an understanding that in politics what goes around comes around be overridden by Abbott’s conviction that just a little more chaos, just one more aggressive stunt will get him into the Lodge — not in 2013, but now.
In doing so he has not merely raised further questions about his own judgment but littered parliament with political precedents for future oppositions to use against him should he become prime minister. And now he has readily sacrified his own dignity in that cause as well.
The government, the labour movement and most of all Thomson himself have all been badly damaged by this affair. But Abbott has done himself and his party no favours either.
Cooler heads should have prevailed among the opposition. But Abbott, it is clearer than ever, is no cool head.