It was the day the Liberals and the ETS died in a head-on car crash befitting the spectacular fireworks of an ridiculous last week in Canberra. Christmas had clearly come early for hyperactive politicos who gathered around TV screens to watch the carnage unfold.
As the leaders hit the phones before 9am, Malcolm Turnbull declared to Sky News’ Kieran Gilbert that “I will win” as Antony Green jumped into the fray on ABC 1 to “analyse” the non-existent results, without the usual benefit of either exit polls or trickles from the early booths.
With the Liberal party room frisked for mobiles outside the 9am meeting, there was no prospect of anyone repeating the now infamous Kevin Andrews “Tweet spill”, leaving the talking heads to endlessly speculate on “soundings” that would soon become irrelevant.
Finally, after about 55 minutes in the bunker, Liberals’ whip Alex Somlyay arrived to greet the media and declare the results of the secret ballot — 35 votes to Abbott, 26 to Turnbull and 23 to Hockey in the first round and 42 to 41 in the run-off, with the obvious problem that the two votes totaled different amounts.
A third vote to delay or junk the emissions trading scheme was then passed 54 to 29, Somlyay relayed solemnly.
But the real drama was yet to come. As the scrum broke up, Sky News reported that unnamed party room member, possibly taking literally media speculation that the spill was a referendum on the ETS, or perhaps a devious attempt to remind Turnbull of his other major poll defeat over the republic, had scrawled “no” on their ballot paper.
Fran Bailey was mysteriously absent with a “middle ear infection”, but one might assume that Bailey would have voted for Turnbull on broad ideological grounds or perhaps for Abbott if her recent attempt to wound her former leader on the front page of The Australian is any indication. Add the informal “no” and Bailey’s vote to Turnbull’s column and the Member for Wentworth would have squeaked over the line.
About 10:25am, the vanquished leader strode out into the courtyard, with only the slightest hint of resignation.
“It’s been difficult times and there’s been a lot of drama going on, and I want to thank all of them for their loyal support,” Turnbull said, clearly enjoying this last pow-wow with the gallery. His wife, Lucy, stuck firmly by his side.
Then, at 10:55am, a flushed Tony Abbott emerged with the still-anointed Julie Bishop into the glare of the joint party room.
“The job of the Opposition is to be an alternative, not an echo,” remarked the keen cyclist, in yet another indication that the whole debate was more a scavenge for the non-existent soul of the Liberal party than anything to do with policy.
The Frontier Economics ETS report would get another read, Abbott claimed, obviously unfamiliar with one of the main alternative policy options.
The new leader promised rigorous scrutiny on the ETS, despite the 13 inquiries and exhaustive amendments agreed to by Ian Macfarlane.
“It’s been a tumultuous week for the Liberal Party and obviously it’s been a big day for me.
“There are some wounds that need to be healed”, Abbott said, in an ominous portent of the disastrous 10-year exile still to come.
Abbott the triumphant left to applause from the media, unsurprising given the bonanza the coalition has gifted the assembled hacks over the last week.
Bronze medallist Joe Hockey was the last to front the press pack at 11:50am. “I am not a climate change sceptic,” Hockey said.
“I shouldn’t be afraid to hide behind the skirt of another person.”
“There was always a surprise in these ballots, and I had one today”, Hockey burbled, adding weight to claims that he either believed he had the numbers, and that Malcolm Turnbull wouldn’t run, coupled with the other explanation that anti-Abbott forces had over-reached by attempting to “soften the blow” for Turnbull after he threw his hat into the ring.
A Turnbull withdrawal or a second-placing for Hockey in the first vote would have almost certainly secured him the leadership.
But in the end, the party-room wrangling will be eclipsed by the coming collapse of conservatism and the spooky beginnings of an effective one-party state.
As Crikey‘s deadline approached, Centrebet had the coalition as rank $5.15 outsiders for the coming federal poll. A semi-coherent sound bite from the Prime Minister on tonight’s 6pm bulletins should see that blow out to double figures.