Next year, Tony Abbott will rack up 25 years as an MP. And the best way for him to celebrate it — for his party, for the government, and most of all for Australia — would be to retire. 2019 should be the election at which he calls time.
Abbott said to one of his media friends on Monday that he still sees himself as a young man. In fact, Abbott has always been an old man; he is the classic example of Keating’s “young fogey”, from his days as a student politician through his stint as a seminarian and his devotion to BA Santamaria, through his entry into politics first as a staffer and then as an MP. Abbott has only ever seen the world through the eyes of an old man furious at the changes wrought by young people, determined to reverse the desecration of all that is sacred in his world where Christian white males hold unquestioned authority.
It has been said so often that Tony Abbott is at his most effective when destroying something. More accurately, he is only effective when doing so. His quarter century of public life is untainted by any hint of positive achievement, good governance or lasting legacy. His causes have all been negative ones: against an Australian being Australia’s head of state, against women being able to control their own bodies, against government stimulus to prevent recession, against ending discrimination against same-sex couples, against mining companies paying a more rational level of tax, against climate action of any kind. And his record as an administrator is an abysmal one — a poor minister in the Howard years whose indulgence by the then-prime minister annoyed more competent and economically and fiscally literate colleagues; a shockingly inept prime minister who oversaw a budget deficit blow out, a surge in unemployment and wage stagnation, constant bungles and routine cabinet leaks.
It is only when there is something to attack does any semblance of political competence stir within Abbott. Then the clever, cut-through attack lines emerge; the knack for knowing which electoral button to push comes to the fore; the devastating lies are deployed — Abbott has campaigned as doggedly against truth at least as often as he has campaigned against anything else.
And after his ouster as prime minister, Abbott finally found the one great negative cause of his life, destroying those whom he believed wrecked his prime ministership. Having previously destroyed Malcolm Turnbull, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, Abbott devoted himself to again tearing down Turnbull, and to do so jettisoned any policy position that might have been a hurdle to vengeance — after all, consistency, like facts, was never of any particular importance for Abbott. He blew spending out from the <24% he inherited from Labor to over 26% of GDP, but attacked his successor’s more restrained spending; he boasted of his government’s commitment to a 26-28% emissions reduction target for the Paris agreement, but demanded it be abandoned as a mere frippery when Turnbull tried to implement it. He slashed protectionist spending as PM but from the backbench demanded handouts to coal-fired power stations. He — a migrant himself — maintained Labor’s immigration level of 190,000 in government but demanded massive cuts when he was out of power.
All in the name of causing trouble for Turnbull
So now, Abbott has got his way. Turnbull is gone. So too is Julie Bishop, who loyally served Abbott for nearly six years as his deputy, but who was deemed to have somehow failed him. He didn’t get his man Dutton up — they were hopelessly out-manoeuvred by Turnbull, who found some political smarts at the death — but he’s the last one standing. Problem is, he’s standing in a smoking ruin of a party, that must now start convincing voters — those who haven’t tuned out of this monumental shitshow — that it is genuinely interested in leading the country.
It can only do that if Abbott leaves and brings this wretched saga of vengeance and ego to an end. If he does not, he’ll sit there, like some sort of unexploded bomb, ready to start destroying the joint again.
And most of all, the nation needs him to go. His rancorous obstructionism to literally anything that smacks of life after the mid-20th century — most of us just have our musical tastes frozen at 20; Abbott had his entire world view frozen — is inimical to good policymaking in a range of areas crucial to Australia’s future: on energy, on climate, on economic growth and population, on national security.
This man who accomplished nothing but destruction in a quarter century of public life would finally do the polity a favour by taking his massive parliamentary super and going home. Literally nothing would become Tony Abbott’s public life more than his ending of it. For your party’s sake, for Australia’s sake, for pity’s sake, go.
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