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Federal

Jan 25, 2016

Abbott confirms himself as the new (internal) opposition leader

Unsurprisingly, Tony Abbott will remain in politics, and his formidable fighting skills will be directed at Malcolm Turnbull.

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So it turns out that Tony Abbott’s party isn’t better than this, that his government isn’t better than this and, by God, that his country isn’t better than this.

That was Tony Abbott’s cri de coeur as Malcolm Turnbull advanced confidently against him on September 14, 2015 — that the Liberal Party wasn’t the Labor Party, in which Kevin Rudd had been knifed by Julia Gillard who was in turn knifed by Kevin Rudd. “The destabilisation just has to stop,” Abbott implored at the time, but Turnbull wasn’t doing any destabilisation, he was coming for Abbott and knocked him off, quick smart, in a lightning-fast coup.

Now Abbott is — in perhaps the least surprising Abbott move since he claimed he’d “stopped the boats” in response to Turnbull’s criticism of his reliance on three-word slogans — remaining in politics, clearly with the goal of doing to Turnbull what Rudd did to Gillard, albeit with the complication that Turnbull has already done that to Abbott.

At first glance the key difference between Rudd and Abbott — apart from how Rudd managed to survive longer than Abbott, and actually ran a competent government for a while, and was popular with people who’d never met him — is that Rudd’s revenge was motivated by his ego rather than significant policy differences with Julia Gillard, while Abbott is seen as ideologically much further to the right than Turnbull.

This is undoubtedly true, but it’s more complicated than that: as the self-described “weather vane” has long demonstrated, Abbott’s ideology is wholly malleable in the service of political purposes. Abbott and his coterie of dead-enders, supposedly distinguished by their obsession with national security, in fact are happy to undermine the country’s national security for their own purposes, in particular by demonising Australia’s Muslim communities, to the extent that security agency heads have specifically warned about the impacts of such recklessness on their capacity to usefully engage with families who are best placed to spot extremists. For Abbott’s quest to topple Turnbull, ideology is merely a means to an end.

The other complication is that Abbott’s real ideology is conflict. “I’m no good at fighting Liberals, but I’m very good at fighting the Labor Party,” Abbott said at the time of the February leadership spill motion. This summed up his attitude toward the prime ministership; he saw it as a tool to attack his enemies, and it was a crucial flaw that helped end his time as leader. No matter how often Abbott looked and sounded more prime ministerial when he dropped the aggro and tried, Howard-like, to appear above petty partisanship, he always defaulted back to aggression and attack.

Now it is Turnbull that that instinct to attack is aimed at, rather than Labor. Abbott — despite his modesty about his capacity for intra-party fighting — has become the internal opposition leader to Turnbull, and given his talent for it may even do a better job than the official Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, who must be delighted that the government’s divisions will continue to be on vivid display through until the election. And even if Abbott himself remains uncharacteristically silent — perhaps he’ll hunker down and pen Battlelines II, in which he’ll characteristically repudiate most of what he wrote in the original — his small clique of supporters will continue to leak, criticise and undermine on his behalf. Remember that not all of the destabilisation that went on in the Gillard years was at Rudd’s instigation; much of it was freelancing, not always productive, by his rusted-on backers. The likes of Abetz, Andrews and Nikolic — three duds whose only chance of further promotion rests with an Abbott return — are already busy on this front.

But having removed Julia Gillard, Rudd was visibly at a loss as to what exactly he wanted to do as prime minister; his life’s goal had been achieved. The same flaw would beset Tony Abbott in the highly unlikely event an unpopular, hard-Right incompetent was restored by Liberal MPs to the top job. That’s the problem with political revenge: the desire to tear down your enemy is so overwhelming, you forget what you actually want to do with their job.

Bernard Keane — Politics Editor

Bernard Keane

Politics Editor

Bernard Keane is Crikey’s political editor. Before that he was Crikey’s Canberra press gallery correspondent, covering politics, national security and economics.

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27 comments

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27 thoughts on “Abbott confirms himself as the new (internal) opposition leader

  1. crolly

    From where I sit Abbott has been a national embarrassment since he took over leadership of the Libs. His work as opposition leader has been lauded, but all I heard was relentless negativity, aggression and bad manners with no thought for the well being of the country. And those never ending slogans! Much of this carried through as PM, and contact with overseas leaders tended to be unhelpful to say the least. My overwhelming feeling when he stopped down was one of relief. No doubt his talents can be put to good use, but not in the Parliament.
    As a side issue, how is it that a man who is so physically fit walks so badly?

  2. morebento

    How enjoyable — I’m looking forward to the relentless Liberal infighting and sniping.

  3. Carole Tozer

    Abbott would seem to have become a national embarrassment once he took over the Lib leadership. It is said that he was a great opposition leader, but I remember non stop aggression and destructive commentary with no regard for the good of the country. And those never ending three word slogans! And then there were those cringe making comments to overseas leaders and dignitaries. There was a palpable sense of relief when Abbott stepped down.
    I am sure Abbott has a lot to offer – but please, not in the Parliament.

  4. Alex

    Yep, Abbott, Hokey et al are vindictive bastards, and that’s probably one of their more endearing qualities. Oh, and they’re dumb, which can also have appeal, e.g.red setters.

  5. klewso

    A martyr to his own self-delusion.

  6. philro

    The problem with Tony Abbott is that he thinks God has ordained him to be PM so he wont go away until he is PM again.

  7. Bohemian

    As when in office – is it Tony Abbott or his Chief of Staff that is calling the shots on this issue?

  8. Peter Lincred

    Where is Paul Keating when you need him?

  9. Iskandar

    I’m reminded of Paul Keating’s words in reference to another vacuous LNP aspirant to the top job: “A souffle only rises once”.

  10. sang froid

    I don’t agree that Turnbull fears Abbott in any way – his worry is the distracting Abetz et al circus.

  11. Peter

    If Abbott had half a brain (somewhat doubtful) and has aspirations to be PM again he would be best served by letting Turnbull win the next election and then trying to unseat him.

  12. AR

    Kfix – The better one knew Krudd, the more they disliked him. The reason people take an instant dislike to Abbottrocious is that it saves time.

  13. Kfix

    At first glance the key difference between Rudd and Abbott — apart from how Rudd … was popular with people who’d never met him …

    Not sure if this is a bigger sledge of Abbott or Rudd, but either way it’s an excellent sledge. Welcome back, Bernard.

  14. bushby jane

    I’m with Bill, how else can he receive such a salary and perks while apparently pedalling around the countryside?

  15. AR

    Pseud – another small difference is that Gillard was extremely successful in government, passing over 400 pieces of necessary (and occasionally even good) legislation.
    She is currently enjoying great success post politics.
    The Abbottrocity couldn’t even get a Budget passed and no-one offered him the smell of a jockstrap once deposed so, being unemployable & personally loathsome,his only chance of paying off that 2nd mortgage is to be re-elected by the deluded of Warringah. .

  16. Bill Hilliger

    It’s the pension stupid! Furthermore, Sky News nor NewsCrap have offered him an opportunity post politics. Besides Rupert is now being entertained by Bryan Ferry / Mick Jagger’s ex.

  17. klewso

    “The Suppository of Misery”.

  18. Jaybuoy

    Tone’s was bound to continue he’s got his eyes firmly fixed on the major prize.. leading the peloton in the pollie pedal..

  19. klewso

    Hang on in there Toady – they need the likes of you, Ghoulie, Homer, Erica and Handy Andy to make the rest of ’em look almost normal.

  20. Dogs breakfast

    “Abbott and his coterie of dead-enders”

    Crikey should start a competition for the most graphic phrase, both collective and noun, to describe these no-hopers.

    Parliament of scowls. Murder of dopes. Colony of bat-shit crazies. Thicket of thickheads. Tribe of troglodytes. Litter of Luddites.

  21. zut alors

    Turnbull, having just moved into The Lodge with kit & caboodle, now faces restless nights in his newly renovated quarters.

    Having Abbott in parliament is like having an eastern brown snake hiding in the woodshed – you know it’s there & you know it’s potentially lethal. One way or another.

  22. David Hand

    I think Abbott is quite legitimately seeking to stay on in parliament. Though much has been made of the NSW Liberal pre-selections, they are much more to do with generational change than to do with a purge of conservatives.

    That the younger set is more progressive, is simply another aspect of generational change.

    Abbott has no chance of returning to the leadership. He fluked it the first time, surprising everyone including probably himself. He performed spectacularly well against Rudd and Gillard but when in the prime ministership, failed to win the confidence of the country. He was rolled because he is toxic in voter land and that is why he can’t return to his old job.

  23. William Pemberton

    How is it that a guy as unpopular as this guy can even have the audacity to try to reinvent himself.
    I guess his puppet master in PETA CREDLIN must be missing the lime light!
    And how is it that the fools are looking for easy answers in punishing the public for repaying the debt and leaving businesses alone. I also notice they do NOT even look at there own over exorbitant lurks and perks along with the hangers on
    They look at hitting the taxpayer in every way possible and hide behind excuses to do it, this Government is out of control and inept!

  24. Aethelstan

    When will this obnoxious and divisive man get real about his situation of epic fail and leave Parliament …

  25. sang froid

    Let’s hope that the good folk of Warringah share the feelings of the rest of the country and send Abbott packing ….

  26. Lord Muck

    Tony, there is no time like now to change your career path. For instance, the position of Groom of the Stool at Buck House is currently vacant.

  27. pseudomys

    Isn’t there more of a parallel between Abbott and Gillard than Abbott and Rudd?

    Popular Turnbull (Rudd) was knifed by Abbott (Gillard). Turnbull (Rudd) then proceeded to take back the leadership from unpopular Abbott (Gillard) bit by bit.

    In my view Turnbull / Rudd and Abbott / Gillard comparisons are much more valid.

    The difference now of course is that whilst Gillard took the opportunity to exit gracefully, Abbott as predicted has instead opted to stay and fight – continuing the destabilising cycle that he was so disgusted by last September…

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