Is Peter van Onselen the most inveterate Abbott hater on the supposedly centre ground of political debate? (OK , it’s a dead heat with Niki Savva but she’s been strangely quiet of late.) And has there been anyone more obsessed with the 30 negative Newspoll issue? For at least the last eighteen months, he’s been anticipating it on almost a fortnightly basis, road testing various justifications for Turnbull to hold himself to a lesser standard than he applied to his predecessor.
Here’s a good example, in which PvO postulates that things were worse for Gillard:
The 2013 election victory was enormous, and Abbott’s prime ministership started with strong personal and two-party figures, but quickly collapsed and never recovered. In contrast, Turnbull’s 2016 win was only narrow, off the back of prolonged poor polling under Abbott, and the data reveals that while Turnbull’s numbers have fallen, they haven’t collapsed nearly as dramatically as Abbott’s did.
Is there no disaster that cannot be sheeted home to Abbott? By the beginning of November 2016 the Coalition was in front, according to Newspoll, 53 to 47 and stayed there until 22 Feb 2016 – almost 4 months. Words fail me!
Writing in Monday’s Australian, van Onselen has this to say:
I recall ahead of the 2015 removal of Abbott writing in this newspaper that Abbott should be left in the leadership despite his poor performance. Let him lose and become a one-term PM, because if he was removed the Coalition would fall victim to the same cultural quagmire that Labor suffered from when it replaced Kevin Rudd with Julia Gillard.
Very prescient of him and, of course, it gives him cover to recommend the same pragmatic stay of execution be extended to Turnbull.
But could his memory be playing him false?
I have not been able to track down that article. The Australian’s online archive has eluded me and a Google search yields only two articles that van Onselen wrote in 2015. Perhaps it was in another journal.
What he said in those articles, at least, does not gel with his ‘recollection’ of yesterday.
Some of the things van Onselen did say were, in February 2015:
Recovery will be difficult, if not impossible, given Abbott’s own colleagues are openly briefing against him, with a growing number prepared to go public and use a microphone to question their leader’s credentials.
That more and more Liberal MPs are willing to risk the unthinkable — sooner or later — speaks volumes for their lost confidence in the Prime Minister. Abbott has no one to blame but himself.
Here, clearly, is an acknowledgement that the knives were out for Abbott, from among his own tribe. Sort of puts paid to the idea, promulgated most assiduously by van Onselen himself, that Turnbull has had a rougher ride in this respect than his predecessor.
And the second paragraph is hardly a clarion call for unity in the best long term interests of the Party.
And here in September 2015, on the eve of Abbott’s ouster, referring to a possible loss of the seat of Canning:
The transaction costs of changing leader wouldn’t continue to be the barrier they are now because such a result would confirm in the minds of government MPs that the next election was unwinnable under Abbott’s leadership, so they might as well risk a change at the top. Whether this is the right call would cease to matter: Abbott’s failures in policy and strategy would convince colleagues that he couldn’t turn around the result at a general election.
Again, rather at odds with what van Onselen now claims he said back then.
Van Onselen regularly derides Abbott supporters as delusional. That is clinging to a dream that will never eventuate. He may be right. But, on a delusion scale, I can’t help thinking that van Onselen’s dream that Turnbull will bounce back puts him in LSD territory.