Night of the long knives

Tuesday, September 15, 2015 - 15:57
It seems as if Australia finds it impossible to stick to one leader.
Last night for the first time the Liberal Country Party coalition replaced a Prime Minister in office. One of their mandates for winning from the Labor Party at the last election was because they did not replace their leaders. Bad luck.
So among the rhetoric which has flown in the media and on talk back radio since the spill, asks how can you have a Prime Minister who took his party to power through a successful election and who has achieved a great deal since then, suddenly disappear?
Now Tony Abbott as Prime Minister is a thoroughly nice guy, has a great family, is well respected in the community, is a voluntary life saver, runs marathoins and lives with aboriginal communities for a week a year to show his commitment. In fact he is almost the Catholic Priest he earlier trained to be. And that nice guy is the problem. The knives out last night demonstrate that nice is not enough.
Along with nice is the loyalty Tony Abbott showed to a whole range of used by date Ministers he kept in office while the voters cringed. Last week his Treasurer Joe Hockey, another seemingly nice guy was quoted as saying a billion dollars laid out for Syrian refugees was money well spent, this at the same time as figures showed massive numbers of elderly Australians living below the poverty line. This on top of indelible images of him with a drink and cigar after bringing down a budget which cut pensions. Gaff after gaff but Tony stuck with him.
Abbott also supported his Chief of Staff who happened to be the wife of the Liberal Party President even after his own people complained that she was too bossy. And then there were his so called “Captain’s calls” referring to a cricket term, where he made ill informed decisions without consulting anyone, such as awarding a knighthood to the Queen’s husband as if she needed it. The list goes on.
What had the media in a frenzy last night was that the plot against Abbott by Malcolm Turnbull the now Prime Minister, was done in such secret that the Canberra Press Gallery who normally can sniff out what deodorant someone is wearing, were completely in the dark. The journos did not know where to jump not wishing to be later proven wrong. Graham Richardson, a former Labor power broker now commentator was the only one who seemed to predict the outcome without reservation.
Turnbull who had been defeated by Abbott as leader while in opposition was never going to forget the slight and has finally had his personal revenge. He now asserts Abbott was not doing a good job but there is no sign that Turnbull had helped him. The inference is that this was all about ego and not about the welfare of the country.
On the other hand the Liberals were having difficulty getting many policies through Parliament blocked by extreme left wing policy even when the opposition made no sense. The left just hated Abbott for being such a nice guy because it was hard to shoot at someone so nice you had to invent issues. Now with Turnbull at the helm, someone who had been Labor before switching to the Liberals, he at least understands the opposition’s language and perhaps he can stop the policy blockade. Should he be able to do this the switch, though repugnant could be justified. If that does not work and his Mark Anthony “He was an honorable man” will have been for naught.
The most interesting part of the assassination was in the role of Julie Bishop, the well respected and powerful Foreign Minister. It was her call on Abbott yesterday afternoon before Parliamentary Question Time which gave the Press the first inkling that something was afoot. It has since come to light that she told Abbott there would be a call for an internal election in the party room (spill), and Turnbull would challenge. If Abbott remained she would not stay as Foreign Minister. Pretty brutal.
After Question Time Turnbull called on Abbott to say he would challenge for the leadership and resigned as Communications Minister. Abbott then called a Party Meeting for 9pm that (last) night. This tends to demonstrate that he realised that the Bishop move meant the game was up. Just as with Turnbull’s ego, Julie Bishop had her nose put out of joint some time back when Abbott sent a minder with her for an international conference, a slight not forgotten. Logically Abbott should have waited at least until the normal Party Meeting the next day to give him time to regroup but he either knew he was lost or again wanted to be that nice guy and leave gracefully. In any event the deed was done and he will now be remembered in history.
The big question now remains whether a Turnbull PM can win the next election. Turnbull is a good communicator but although with his legal training he can spin a convincing argument, does the electorate trust his legalising issues and will they forgive him for his night of the long knives? The answer really is that the Liberal voters don’t under a two party system really have anywhere else to go and by the time of the next election anything can happen. A day is a long time in politics…