Although Tony Abbott was never popular with voters, he began his term as prime minister two years ago with considerable goodwill. Australians were desperate to put the Rudd-Gillard soap opera behind them, and Abbott’s promise of “adult government” resonated. In his early days as PM, he had strong voter approval ratings — a rarity in his time as opposition leader — and support from business.
All augured well for a period of stable, reformist government from the conservative side of politics.
Instead, it’s been a series of missteps, bungles and disasters. In just two years in office, the Abbott government has managed to forfeit all goodwill, not merely from voters but also from its natural supporters in the business community.
Responsibility for this remarkable implosion rests with Tony Abbott. There has been no Rudd-like undermining of him by Malcolm Turnbull. Unlike his Labor predecessors, Abbott has had near-constant support and favourable coverage from News Corp. But time and again, his “captain’s picks” — from his decision to appoint just one woman to cabinet through to his resolute backing of Bronwyn Bishop — have displayed gross ineptitude and a political tin ear. His inability to communicate anything positive, or anything requiring nuance, has meant the government’s entire agenda has been framed in terms of relentless negativity. His apparent lack of any vision or leadership has left voters feeling deeply cynical and frustrated.
True, many of Abbott’s ministers have failed him — Joe Hockey most spectacularly, but also Christopher Pyne, Peter Dutton, the now-dispatched David Johnston and Barnaby Joyce have all been stand-out under-performers for various reasons. But that group could be removed tomorrow and the government would still be afflicted by its worst performer of all: the PM himself.
Abbott was handed a historic opportunity to deal with Australia’s key challenges — climate change, an ageing population, a changing global economic environment, and the military and economic rise of China — and he squandered it. Instead, Australia is marking time, waiting for the Liberal Party to muster the courage to replace its leader with someone who’s up to the job.