Even after the fact, it is important to establish the truth of things. That’s especially the case after the recent Liberal leadership spill, given that considerable acrimony remains about the removal of Tony Abbott as Prime Minister. There are a number of pro-Abbott and anti-Turnbull talking points still in active circulation – particularly on this site – that are just wrong. So let’s set the record straight.
But first, let’s go back to the reasons why Abbott’s leadership was terminal, why he was never going to win another election, and why he had to be removed. Any one of these four reasons was sufficient; none can be rebutted.
1. Government. He lost control of the nation’s finances. The budget deficit worsened under Abbott and he sent Australia to historic, record-breaking levels of debt.
2. Integrity. He broke numerous promises, including scripted pre-election promises made on-camera.
The most pathetic thing about this is that these promises were broken quickly and glibly, with no political payoff. Just to pick one example, he promised not to cut the budget of SBS, but then reduced it by $25 million, a drop in the fiscal ocean. No payoff, and his word was now worthless. In every single instance, his promises were broken unnecessarily, with no substantial win in either politics or policy.
3. Governance. He had a dysfunctional, chaotic, command-and-control leadership style reminiscent of Rudd, with numerous cases of policy on the run. He appointed mates and supported them even when they turned out to be duds. He gave his chief of staff unprecedented executive power and then mocked people who said that this was out of order.
4. The killer: Betrayal of colleagues. He attacked and denigrated his own parliamentary colleagues, in public, in the media, because they insisted that he fire his chief of staff. Removing him immediately became a matter of personal integrity for other members of cabinet. What politician of any character is going to support a leader who is out in public, calling them weak and sexist? Because of this particular error, removing Abbott was not only strategically right, but moral and just.
Why he chose to conflagrate his own political career defending a staffer is not a question we can answer here, but the sad fact is that he did. Each of the four points is damning, but the fourth point is the worst. It was an unpardonable political sin. There was never going to be any escape for him after that.
Okay, so that’s the case against Abbott, and it’s pretty much iron clad. I haven’t even included all the terrible political tactics and messaging, which, while bad, wouldn’t on their own have justified toppling him. Now that we understand why Abbott needed to be removed from office as fast as possible and with extreme prejudice, let’s turn to some of the the pro-Abbott, anti-Turnbull talking points that continue to circulate, so that we can debunk them.
“The media were never going to let him succeed.”
The media didn’t make him attack his own colleagues in defence of a staffer. The media didn’t make him appoint and keep Joe Hockey or Bronwyn Bishop. The media were following the story. And the big political story is summarised in the four points listed earlier.
Abbott was so bad at handling the media, he couldn’t even perform well in an interview with Andrew Bolt. Bolt was one of his strongest supporters in the Australian political media, yet Abbott’s “Bolt” interview was so wooden it was embarrassing to the point of being unwatchable.
“There were the leaks. They did him in.”
What cabinet leaks? Oh, the ones about how Cabinet had lost confidence in the prime minister? Thoseleaks? Yeah well, sorry but that’s pretty important information. If the nation is having a crisis of governance, I want to know, and I don’t want to find out after the fact.
Of course, there were also subsequent leaks from Cabinet about how Abbott went off at them about leaking. Which was actually kind of funny, except that again it illustrated that the Prime Minister had lost control of his own government.
“Turnbull white-anted Tony.”
Abbott blew the budget, Abbott lied to the public, and Abbott was irresponsible in governance. They are the things that brought him down, and Turnbull didn’t make him do any of them. Abbot was not brought down by “white anting.” That’s just a paranoid myth.
However, yes, it is true that there were occasions when Turnbull made trouble for Abbott. But he didn’t do it in a Rudd or Gillard white-anting way, he did it out in the open, in plain sight.
And anyway, what did Turnbull publicly oppose Abbott on? I’ll tell you what: Abbott’s lack of moral compass. I’ll give two examples.
It might gall conservatives that Turnbull defended the ABC against cuts by forming a pro-ABC group, but maybe – like many Australians – he was actually disgusted that Abbott had, it seemed, blatantly lied about it. Maybe, on election eve, Turnbull watched that interview and believed Abbott’s promises, like the one not to cut the ABC, and felt personally betrayed and humiliated by his association with someone with so little integrity that he would break his word on a whim.
Second example. When the Bronwyn Bishop affair hit the fan, Turnbull symbolically caught a train to Geelong. Again, this powerfully highlighted his opposition to, and distance from, the moral decay of the Abbott government. And any bloke who is prepared to catch a train (with a smile) to highlight the immorality of his own government has balls of steel.
“Turnbull banned light bulbs.”
Turnbull did regulate light bulbs. Whether it was good or bad idea, it was a minor, third order policy a long time ago. And remember, Abbott banned the super trawler.
I don’t hear conservatives ever say “Turnbull banned light bulbs, but then again, Abbott banned the super trawler.” Or, “Turnbull banned light bulbs, but then again, Abbott banned budget surpluses for the rest of our lives.”
That’s because it’s not really about light bulbs, is it? Turnbull haters who complain about the light bulb ban don’t actually care that much about light bulbs, because light bulbs aren’t really that big a deal. Anyone who is still upset about light bulb regulation ten years after the fact is obsessed, and possibly mentally unwell. If it was really about light bulbs, it would be also about the super trawler and various other bad Abbott decisions.
“The left loves Turnbull.”
No, the media loves Turnbull. For a politician, that’s a good thing. Anyone who thinks this is a bad thing needs to go back to their crayons.
If you want to know if the “left” like him, ask someone at the CFMEU what they think of Turnbull. You might be surprised that their opinion is a bit different to members of the press gallery.
“Turnbull supported the ETS.”
Yeah, several years ago. Howard also supported it for a while, once upon a time, and so did Tony Abbott. That’s a bit embarrassing for the Abbott loyalists who want to attack Turnbull over it.
“Turnbull supports gay marriage.”
What, like a gazillion other Australians, including Liberal party members and many of his Liberal party colleagues? What a radical! Is he going to change Liberal party policy on it? No.
“Turnbull is a leftist.”
Based on what… his previous support for the ETS that both Howard and Abbott also supported in the past?
Turnbull is a merchant banker and venture capitalist by vocation. That’s pretty much kryptonite for leftists.
“Turnbull once tried to join the Labor party.”
He hasn’t kept this a secret. It’s not like he’s an undercover agent with hidden affiliations.
The Liberal Party knew this, and yet judged him to be sufficiently “Liberal” to make him a candidate, then a minister, then PM. Obviously, this has been taken into account by his colleagues.
But Turnbull’s lack of Liberal heritage and one-time willingness to join the other team really galls people with a tribal affinity with either conservatives or the Liberal Party. And I guess they’re right: Turnbull obviously isn’t a party tribalist. But the key thing is, as hard as it is for tribalists to wrap their panicked heads around, just because he hasn’t had lifelong tribal loyalty to their team, doesn’t mean that therefore, he has some kind of secret loyalty for the other team. Some people are just more individualistic than others. Some people aren’t activists when they are young. That doesn’t mean they can’t be great politicians when they older.
“Turnbull has no track record of policy success.”
We can argue about the NBN all day, but my view is this: Labor locked the NBN into place with big, irreversible contracts. Turnbull found a way to scale the project back somewhat.
“Turnbull is not competent or capable enough to be PM.”
Maybe, maybe not. We’ll see.
But we do know one thing: He hasn’t been shown to be a brazen liar.
That’s got to be a plus.
Sinclair Comment: This will be the last post on the Liberal change in PM from Tony Abbott to Malcolm Turnbull. I have asked the other posters to move onto other topics – the Turnbull government will soon have to start making policy decisions that will need analysis and discussion. This thread will remain open for two weeks (as do all threads) so threadsters can vent all they like for another two weeks.