tip off

Don’t write Tony Abbott off yet. But if you do …

Tony Abbott only a limited time to turn around his poor personal polling numbers, in order to blitz the election. Is his leadership in trouble?

So what is the size of the Abbott Discount? How much is the presence of Tony Abbott as leader weighing down the Liberal vote? And in what circumstances would his colleagues move to dump him?

Well it’s not that simple, and here’s why.

Labor’s, and Julia Gillard’s, recovery in the polls has been the story of the last three to four months. It has coincided both with the barely-noticed introduction of the carbon price and with a significantly more disciplined performance by Labor, which has at least for now lost its habit of shooting itself in the foot at least once a month.

The Prime Minister has also benefited from a virtuous circle: the better she has looked in the polls, the more assured her performance has been, and the less impact her critics have had. Kevin Rudd is now a virtual fixture in the media, but no one is talking about him replacing the Prime Minister. Directly or indirectly critical tomes from Lindsay Tanner and Maxine McKew have come and gone. This week, Gillard moved swiftly to establish the institutional child abuse royal commission, then went to Perth to catch up with Hillary Clinton.

Meantime, Abbott has been enduring another round of bad personal polls and saying bizarre things about one of his own MPs. The contrast between them is being reflected in her growing lead as preferred prime minister.

But Labor is still not back to where it was when our current political cycle began: February 2011, after the government announced its intention to adopt a carbon price. From the 2010 election through until that point, the parties had been locked together in the polls. The carbon price announcement smashed that deadlock, sending Labor, and the Prime Minister’s, polling plummeting. After more than 20 months, only now is Labor limping back to where things were at the start of last year. So Abbott’s supposedly poor position has to be seen in context.

But many observers, and a few MPs outside the Rudd camp, thought there was no way the Prime Minister could recover (nor did I, I readily admit). And yet, Labor suddenly looks competitive again. Moreover, it can reflect on a positive agenda. It has bedded down the carbon price, put in place a punitive solution for asylum seekers (criticism of which is confined to the media and commentariat, and certainly not shared by voters), and signed up for a big picture agenda — education, disability, Asian century — that has coloured in the space where people used to wonder what the government stood for. It has also, finally, drawn a bead on Abbott, successfully identifying him as a man who has a serious problem with women.

The only response from the Coalition and its media cheerleaders has been to complain about unfair personal attacks, smear Gillard and suggest there’s a looming budget crisis. Asking questions about the AWU in 1995 and insisting Tony’s a lovely chap after all isn’t going to get them to August, although it will probably be the only thing we get from The Oz until then.

Abbott can turn his bad numbers around. Gillard turned around even worse numbers. But he has less time to do so. It took around 18 months for the Prime Minister to reverse the negative tide caused by the carbon price. Abbott has just over nine months until the election, but probably less given we’re already drifting into the summer politics-free zone. In any event, he needs to use summer to recalibrate his strategy and give voters some broad impressions of a positive Abbott agenda. That’s not to suggest there are timelines or hurdles that he must somehow meet: remember how often pretty much everyone in the press gallery has set Gillard a “crucial test” which she seems to have moved past without too much difficulty.

He might also benefit from some more Labor mistakes — but Labor’s initial response to Abbott was to wait for him to stumble, and he never did, at least not in a way that damaged him with voters. The Coalition brains trust should assume Gillard has now hit her stride as PM, and take any Labor stuff-ups as a bonus.

On the other hand, when Abbott is being Abbott, as he was yesterday, and saying ridiculous things that suggested Ken Wyatt somehow isn’t the real deal when it comes to Aboriginal politicians — core and non-core Aboriginal MPs, perhaps? — he starts to seem only one major gaffe away from becoming a figure of ridicule whom even News Ltd will start undermining.

At which point, it becomes a question of Joe or Malcolm. Turnbull would deliver victory, most certainly, but like Kevin Rudd the electoral popularity is offset by the long list of casualties and enemies accumulated the first time around as leader. Joe Hockey has performed the thankless task of being shadow Treasurer in a miracle economy with some skill, and turned around perceptions that he is a lightweight. But whether he can deliver victory against Gillard is a mystery. For a party that has, against the advice of its leader, taken victory for granted for so long, the choice may not be a difficult one, however much Turnbull drives colleagues mad.

38
  • 1
    zut alors
    Posted Wednesday, 14 November 2012 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    ’ Joe Hockey has performed the thankless task of being shadow Treasurer in a miracle economy with some skill, and turned around perceptions that he is a lightweight.’

    Whaaaat, when did this happen? I must’ve missed that episode.

  • 2
    Peter Ormonde
    Posted Wednesday, 14 November 2012 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    But many observers…thought there was no way the Prime Minister could recover (nor did I, I readily admit).”

    You don’t have to admit it Mr K - we remember. But we forgive you.

    Locked away in the Press Gallery down there surrounded by pundits, polls, precognition and prediction one can be lured into the delusion that one actually knows what’s going on out here - even worse, what will go on in future.

    Thank heavens Gillard has given her poll-enslaved spin jigglers the flick and has started just doing the right thing. Carr is doing the job on the Right they have their own issues anyway, at least in NSW.

    Simple really. This is how one regains popular support, not by following polls or the Press Gallery’s exhortations. If they were any good at it - they’d be in cabinet at least.

    But you’re doing it again Bernard - making rash assertions and predictions - when you say “Abbott can turn his bad numbers around.” History and precedent is no guide. Not easy to re-invent yourself when you have staked the Coalition’s entire strategy on automatic negativity, photo opportunities and slogans. Tony has really painted them into a corner with very little wiggle room.

    How does an Opposition leader “do the right thing “? What can they actually “do”? They can only tap the climate of complaint.

    Without the enthusiastic marketing effort of the meeja, without the odd policy or principle, the Coalition is entirely dependent on Tony’s “charisma”, style and persona.

    Now this is precisely the same personality and charisma that saw the Coalition effectively write itself out of negotiations to form government after the 2010 ballot.

    I suspect that the Libs are too far gone, too lazy, too scared, to be developing a new strategy based on someone else so we’ll probably be seeing something like “Tony, Tony, Tony” as the slogan for the next election.

    But if not - I doubt it will be the Hockster or Malcolm - too much baggage for the latter, too many clownish gaffs for the former (and Tony casts a long shadow over him).

    I’d be putting a small wager on a roughy… a woman, a clean-skin, young, photogenic and eminently credentialled by focus groups … yes, the appalling Kelly O’Dwyer. Get good odds at the moment. But heck no one in the Press Gallery would be backing her so what would I know?

    Either way I’m booking a holiday somewhere suitably foreign without media for the entire campaign period. You should too.

  • 3
    Barry Tucker
    Posted Wednesday, 14 November 2012 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    It seems Mr Keane has given away some of his independence. In this article he glosses over a few things and ignores some others, producing something that is too favourable towards the PM. Those who are following the national debate closely will know what I mean.

    Having just paid almost $200 for a subscription to this supposedly independent publication, I hope Mr Keane will get back to the incisive and balanced commentary he is known for.

  • 4
    zac spitzer
    Posted Wednesday, 14 November 2012 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    I doubt Tony Abbott will last last long enough to be the butt of Carbon Tax jokes at the Melbourne Comedy Festival

  • 5
    paddy
    Posted Wednesday, 14 November 2012 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    Lulz. Bernard, you were doing fine till we got to Joe Hockey turning around perceptions that he’s a lightweight.

    To be fair, I doubt Joe is half as silly as the nonsense he regularly spouts for the camera. But he still manages to give the *perception* that he couldn’t run a corner milk bar.
    I suspect it’s a bit late in the electoral cycle for the Libs to slot him in as leader and let him come up with a few realistic policies. The delicate dance required to ditch the toxic legacy of Abbott’s last few years, makes Julia’s about turn on carbon pricing look trivial in comparison.
    So it’s probably going to come down to just how much the Libs still loathe Turnbull.
    Despite his smooth lines and undoubted oratorical skills, he wasn’t exactly a roaring success at hearding the dinosaurs last time.

  • 6
    paddy
    Posted Wednesday, 14 November 2012 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    (sigh)Seems I’m also useless at herding=hearding words

  • 7
    Posted Wednesday, 14 November 2012 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    put in place a punitive solution for asylum seekers (criticism of which is confined to the media and commentariat, and certainly not shared by voters)”

    Definitely shared by this voter, her family, her friends and acquaintances, both online and off. Check your sources.

  • 8
    DonM
    Posted Wednesday, 14 November 2012 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    a punitive solution for asylum seekers (criticism of which is confined to the media and commentariat, and certainly not shared by voters)”

    Bernard, is this assessment really fair?

    Amnesty International staff arrive on Nauru in coming days. Are they and their many members “just” the commentariat? Sure, the number of voters who oppose offshore processing is far from a majority. But so was the number of voters who supported Aboriginal rights in the 1950s / the number of voters who opposed the White Australia policy when it was in place.

    I, for one, do not believe that government policy is driven by compassion and concern about deaths at sea. Instead, much as deaths at sea have been appalling, I think other political calculations are driving this.

    Do you agree?

    And if so, doesn’t this whole policy area with its “children overboard”, its dark victories, its dark political calculations, its double standards (concern for Cornelia Rau but what about people of colour fleeing war zines in countries where Australia is at war… etc etc) and all deserve greater scrutiny?

  • 9
    CHRISTOPHER DUNNE
    Posted Wednesday, 14 November 2012 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    Three word slogans aren’t a substitute for policy?

    Who knew?

    The reality of the carbon price was always going to catch up with Abbott, and just as the public got over the GST pretty quickly so his strategy was the shortest of short sightedness one could conjure.

    Pity the NBN is a bit behind schedule, because that’s another thing the public will more than warm to when they actually get it, that is.

    I’ve never doubted Gillard could play the long game to Tony’s ‘instant gratification’ of trying to bring the government down. But I’ll admit the odd moments of despair that it all looked way to easy for the LOTO, what with Murdoch and friends giving him a free pass. But as we saw in the US, Murdoch’s immense power can come to nothing, and it might well come a cropper here too.

  • 10
    zut alors
    Posted Wednesday, 14 November 2012 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    Christopher Dunne, my suburb in South Brisbane has fibre-optic cable and the locals love it. If the rest of Oz suspected how good the NBN is they’d fall about laughing every time the (otherwise sensible) Malcolm T talks it down.

    We can thank KRudd for this innovation. Ironically I don’t believe his own suburb of Norman Park has been cabled for fibre-optic yet.

  • 11
    John Anderson
    Posted Wednesday, 14 November 2012 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    I’m glad you admitted that you also thought Gillard couldn’t recover. Like all the others in the media herd, you underestimated Gillard. That’s not say she will win next year, but it has always seems silly to me to write off Gillard & Labor in a two-horse race lasting three years. And nearly all of you did. Moreover, noting this three year timeframe and the time left for Abbott to adjust, the Parliament doesn’t expire until 28 September 2013. Writs have to be issued within 10 days of that expiry date. So an October 2013 election seems probable. Maybe 2 November, just before Melbourne Cup day and any [unlikely] increase in interest rates. The only reason for holding an earlier election is that Gillard would think she can win.

  • 12
    Zeke
    Posted Wednesday, 14 November 2012 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    @zut alors

    I live less than 2km from the centre of Newcastle NSW and yet there is no date and no plans yet to rollout the NBN in my area. I’m extremely worried that if Abbott gets in power that he’ll dump the NBN leaving some of the country connected and other parts (including my suburb) unconnected.

  • 13
    CHRISTOPHER DUNNE
    Posted Wednesday, 14 November 2012 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

    @zut alors The recent take up figures confirm what you observe too, and although we are slated for 2013 it cannot come soon enough.

    @zeke Exactly what I’m expecting a lot of others to think when it comes to a choice between the Mad Monk or a govt that has actually done some BIG infrastructure. That NSW’s second biggest town doesn’t even have fibre was the legacy of Telstra and its monopoly. The NBN is the chance to fix that and the voters will be sure to know it at the next election.

  • 14
    tmhayes2
    Posted Wednesday, 14 November 2012 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    I wrote Tony Abbott off a year ago I told friends and family that he is unelectable Now it seems that this fact is slowly dawning on the media When will the Liberals get it

    margaret Brennan

  • 15
    Mike Smith
    Posted Wednesday, 14 November 2012 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    @Zut: Me too.

    @BK: Tony Abbott? Strategy? Is that not an oxymoron?

    Where have NewsCorp’s and the Coalition’s sock puppets gone? Are they suffering political indigestion?

  • 16
    Peter Ormonde
    Posted Wednesday, 14 November 2012 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    Mike… they’d all be off having intensive trauma therapy after the awful, dreadful, tragic events in the USofA. Or are they off buying guns and foil?

  • 17
    klewso
    Posted Wednesday, 14 November 2012 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

    They’re digging around in Gillard’s past again - for a red herring or two? And if the ABC doesn’t join in their chorus-line they’ll be labelled “pro-Labor” - as biased as their mob is “pro-Limited News Party”?

  • 18
    Mike Flanagan
    Posted Wednesday, 14 November 2012 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    Some of it is well said Bernard. While many of us do forgive you, we hope you recover to full health from Murdochian clonning virus. I do understand recovery can be slow and difficult.

  • 19
    Mike Flanagan
    Posted Wednesday, 14 November 2012 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    The Aggott will resolve this problem, with a summer of lycra, bicycles, surf swimming and running to promote his answer to the Asian century by introducing export subsidies on budgy smugglers.

  • 20
    David Allen
    Posted Wednesday, 14 November 2012 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

    You had me until you mentioned Joe, Bernard.

    If Labor allow the coalition to win after having so clearly demonstrating that they can’t understand an electricity bill, let alone the national economy, then gawd help us!

  • 21
    Ned Manning
    Posted Wednesday, 14 November 2012 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

    I saw Joe (or a Joe look alike) checking his wallet by the side if the road yesterday. Is this an omen? Malcolm never checks his wallet. Maybe Joe is having a punt on himself.

  • 22
    jamie crain
    Posted Wednesday, 14 November 2012 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

    In the same way Turnbull cocked up by tying himself to an ETS which was not supported by colleagues, Abbott has tied himself to repealing the carbon tax. This means that if the tax ends up being not so bad, then Abbott will be forced to go through with his threat anyway. How this is perceived at a late stage in the campaign is anyone’s guess. “In blood” he said, he might regret that…

  • 23
    Lyn Gain
    Posted Wednesday, 14 November 2012 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

    Two things Bernard. Firstly, what is your evidence that criticism of the asylum policy is “certainly not shared by voters”. The last time I looked the majority of Australians were against offshore processing. And every voter I know is appalled - but maybe these are just Labor voters. And secondly, some evidence for why Joe Hockey is supposed to have “turned around perceptions that he is a lightweight”.
    An additional point that springs to mind is that Gillard seems to be making Abbott look like a big wuss, since the mysogyny speech - she stood up to him, beat the crap out of him, and her colleagues, e.g., Greg Combet, are going in hard on the carbon tax ‘bullshit’ - who’s the liar now. I can’t see Joe doing much better, too ready to try to please everybody since his initial principled stand on climate change, and you know what they said about Mitt Romney trying to be all things to all persons. I’m also assuming that the liberals are too bogged down in their internal history to ever bring back Turnbull. So - Abbott should be going into the next election, which I think is a plus for Labor.

  • 24
    Peter Ormonde
    Posted Wednesday, 14 November 2012 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

    Jamie,

    I reckon the truly awful thing about elections is how twitchy it makes elected folks sitting on 5% margins from either side. Bad polls and critical focus groups, in-house polling and the likes are ALL they can can talk about or even comprehend. They gibber. Like rabbits frozen in the headlights - sheer panic to the point of immobility.

    That’s not to say that policy issues won’t play a part - there will be votes… new things to be opposed. But the closer we get to judgement day the less these rabbits can move.

    It’s necessary to give a replacement a decent run at getting established - otherwise it risks being a suicide mission.

    On climate change and the carbon tax at least Abbott now holds a position out in front chanting slogans to the Convoy of No Consequence. He’s bolted the Libs to the ratbag vote.

    More, with the new Inquiry into he faces the prospect of being regularly grilled regarding his support or views on the comments and role of Cardinal Pell - his confessor and adviser. Awkward.

    A lot of Libs will be feeling most uncomfortable in coming months.

    Tony - who cannot - could never - stop letting everyone know how he thinks - is very expensive… discounted to the point of remaindering. Let’s all hope they don’t.

  • 25
    zut alors
    Posted Wednesday, 14 November 2012 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

    Jamie Crain, yes, he did say “in blood”… but he didn’t put it in writing. In Rabbott Doctrine, that’s his ‘out’ clause.

  • 26
    Achmed
    Posted Wednesday, 14 November 2012 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

    I think the problem Joe Hockey has is that he doesn’t really believe what he is being forced to say in order to support Abbott. He is saying things he does not believe in order to show “unity” within the Liberals. Something sadly lacking among the Labor Govt. First chance they get they are out there leaking information and publicly denouncing fellow MP’s. Such disloyalty is undermining Labor and making them look like a bunch of rank amateurs debating who is going to be the class prefect in grade one

  • 27
    Achmed
    Posted Wednesday, 14 November 2012 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

    zut alors I’m sure that if Abbott gets in and the NBN stops he will compensate you with an abacus, quill pen and ink….

  • 28
    Peter Ormonde
    Posted Wednesday, 14 November 2012 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

    Achmed,

    That’s just typical of the namby-pamby nanny-state marxism that has so infested the Liberals under Abbott! Just featherbedding isn’t it? Incentivise the kiddies to make their own. Or better buy one from Hardly Normals. Set something up like the Holden deal.

    And an abacus at that!!! Just blatantly Bowing down and scraping it up before China and the Middle East!

    Liberals In Name Only! LINOs.

    Jig Jig Jiggling!

  • 29
    AR
    Posted Wednesday, 14 November 2012 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

    Despite your mea culpa BK, you just slip back into the press corp meme in your final paragraph. Sloppy not a light weight?! is this some sort of fat joke?
    And Malcolm could win? - amongst the North Shore set perhaps but amongst ..people? I doubt it.

  • 30
    Peter Ormonde
    Posted Wednesday, 14 November 2012 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

    AR,

    He’d do better out in the electorate than he will in the party room. Too smart. Too NSW. Wrong party. Too Liberal. Too urbane. A Republican. A step back. A mea culpa. A discrediting of the Abbott adventure. Buckleys and none boyo.

    They’re right of course. Not even a souffle of that calibre.

    I wish he’d defect. To the Independents.

  • 31
    wilful
    Posted Wednesday, 14 November 2012 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know about “people” but Malcolm Turnbull is a more appealing idea as PM to me than Julia Gillard is.

  • 32
    beachcomber
    Posted Wednesday, 14 November 2012 at 10:20 pm | Permalink

    Abbott’s dismissal of an “urban aboriginal” suggests his problems are wider than just with women. And gays. And Muslims. And greenies. And unionists.

  • 33
    beachcomber
    Posted Wednesday, 14 November 2012 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

    Joe Hockey is as inspiring as limp lettuce. He failed to win the leadership when he couldn’t decide where he stood on Climate Change. Or couldn’t develop a position that would appeal to the Liberal Caucus on Climate Change. So they ended up with Abbott, who ran around impersonating Chicken Little for 2 years, only to end up with egg on his face. Turning to Hockey now, because they fear Turnbull would not be a “real” Liberal PM, would ensure they lose the next election. Turbull’s sin is that he appeals to the middle ground, rather then the Far Right. If the Liberals believe pandering to the Far Right is their best course, they deserve eternity in Opposition.

  • 34
    MJPC
    Posted Thursday, 15 November 2012 at 7:32 am | Permalink

    Mr Abbott has core and non-core aboriginals as a problem now, during the Howard era it was core and non-core promises (which I seem to recall Mr Abbott was not averse to spruik also). As Australia goes into the election year the LNP are going to be under pressure to give their policies and Mr Abbott is not good under pressure. Already I have heard some interviewers starting to put the heat on.
    Reference the NBN, why did the Government take so long to roll out the TV adverts, explain succinctly why the NBN is so important in simple language?

  • 35
    SBH
    Posted Thursday, 15 November 2012 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    Joe Hockey - oh let it be so. That would ensure a labor victory and a trouble free term. His difficulty on ‘The Insiders’ in differentiating between ‘flat-lining’ and 3% growth one of many examples of his lack of talent

  • 36
    Damien
    Posted Thursday, 15 November 2012 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    Abbott has painted himself into a corner and the reality is dawning on the Parliamentary Libs. He can’t turn to a positive agenda without moving away from his stated aims of repealing the carbon price and slashing $50 billion in expenditure. He’s committed to flagellating the community in these ways and I’m not sure the community will sign up to it without some major crisis - like a recession - to push them there. They’ve seen the Newman slash and burn and the O’Farrel equivalent in NSW.

    One thing Abbott has done which may benefit the ALP is to talk down the Greens which, together with Bob Brown’s retirement, has arrested and perhaps reversed the longer-term growth in Greens support.

    Autumn or Winter election. ALP by nine seats. Watch the LNP tide roll out in Queensland.

  • 37
    Recalcitrant.Rick
    Posted Thursday, 15 November 2012 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    The obvious answer is for Malcolm to defect to Labor! The middle is where all the undecideds are.:-)

  • 38
    Dogs breakfast
    Posted Thursday, 15 November 2012 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

    But many observers, and a few MPs outside the Rudd camp, thought there was no way the Prime Minister could recover (nor did I, I readily admit).”

    Ah yes, if I can just blow my own trumpet here, along with others on here who clearly saw that the Gallery mindset was way off target.

    I remarked, as others did, that the carbon tax would be hardly noticeable, that Gillard would have 12 to 18 months after the world didn’t end to secure some credibility, that the actual policy achievements of this ‘dysfunctional’ government were as good if not better than the Hawke Keating years, that the NBN not only upturned the usury of the Telstra monopoly but also set us on a course for the future, and that people at least subliminally understand the difference between spending money for genuinely needed infrastructure is entirely different to just going into debt without nothing to show for it.

    The only variable was whether Gillard could find her feet, and it seems since the misogyny speech that she has. I hope that she took my advice, and the advice of so many others here and sacked her PR team, or at least stopped listening to them.

    Say what you like, but this government has achieved some substantial things. They could have done so much better, sure, but the NBN, the carbon tax etc are HUGE reforms. Better to go to the electorate with a policy record than a record of just saying no.

    It’s still anyone’s game, but the ascendancy is with Gillard. TA has painted himself into a corner, and it was always the case that he was accident prone and that the MSM might turn on him if Gillard and Labor could just stop making headlines for their stupidity.

    Momentum is a significant thing in politics.

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