I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion that the knifing of Tony Abbott could be the best thing that has happened, politically, in recent years. After all, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and, hopefully in Abbott’s case, wiser as well. And he will need both those qualities when he resumes the Liberal leadership.
Let’s be honest, in his term as PM, Abbott achieved some very good things but he also jettisoned some important conservative principles.
On the repeal of Section 18C, surely a conservative issue if ever there was one, Abbott was conspicuously missing in action, fallen at the first hurdle.
On climate change, I accept that political reality dictated that Abbott toe the warmist line to some extent, and he gets credit for scrapping the carbon tax, renegotiating the RET and scrapping the Climate Commission. But on the negative side he allowed himself to be rolled on the critical question of an audit of the BoM temperature record and, just as importantly, he failed to seize the opportunity, in the face of mounting evidence that the whole CAGW scam is just that, to start to shift the narrative. This boondoggle should be a stake in the ground to all true conservatives, yet how many in the Liberal party room have come out and vigorously prosecuted the case against?
On the economic front, given the mixed messages, it’s hard to know if Abbott is really a conservative or just another version of the old ‘tax and spend’ paradigm. His pet paid parental leave scheme suggests the latter.
Abbott sidelined Cory Bernardi, the most prominent conservative in the government, presumably because he was embarrassed by Bernardi’s conservatism.
And, of course, Abbott is front and centre on the need to ‘recognize the first Australians in our Constitution’. I am not a philosopher, much less a political scientist, but surely the essence of conservatism is that, while accepting that some change is inevitable, changes should be for the good or, at the very least, that they should not cause harm. Arguably, Abbott let the genie out of the bottle on this one and it can only end in tears, regardless of whether a future referendum succeeds or fails.
Had Abbott continued in office it’s probable that this drift to the Left would have continued, albeit slower than under Turnbull.
So having played the Devil’s Advocate, now let me explain why I think Abbott can and should return to the leadership.
At the time of Turnbull’s coup it was argued that any Coalition government, regardless of who leads it, is better than a Labor one. Those conservatives who espoused a different view viz that a serious bloodletting was needed, were excoriated and dubbed ‘delcons’, a term that since seems to have fallen out of favour except in the hands of Niki Savva who clings to it like a talisman.
Well, we now know that the difference between Labor and a Coalition government in Turnbull’s image is negligible and the delcons are having the last laugh – albeit a pretty hollow one.
And Tony Abbott has had an opportunity, if not to re-invent himself (God forbid!), at least to hit the reset button and rediscover his true conservatism.
Now the battlelines have again been drawn on ‘climate change’. This is where the next election will be fought and, with the Finkel Report, Turnbull has effectively thrown in his only winning hand. Abbott has triumphed this arena twice before and he can do so again. This time he will need to jettison some of his ‘liberal’ baggage – take a hard line on such things as repealing18C, abolishing the HRC and reining in ABC bias. He must also go back to his ‘climate change is crap’ days. The best way to get energy policy back on track is to expose the underlying CAGW myth for the sham that it is. It is not enough to repeat that Australia only emits 1.4% of global emissions and anything we do is meaningless. That argument applies to almost every country that has signed up to Paris and if CAGW were real then there would be a moral argument for us to do our bit, however symbolic – this is just the sort of thinking that Greens promote.
Today, Barnaby Joyce is reported as saying that Tony Abbott ‘could be doing more to help the government’s cause’. Damn right he could – they just have to ask him. One of the objections to Abbott’s return that some, like Niki Savva, have proposed is that he has now made himself unpopular with many in the Party room. Well, we have seen how much that counts for among the rank and file when their seats are at risk.
And the deal clincher is that there is no one else.