How long can Abbott last?

Judging by the tone of media coverage, Tony Abbott’s Prime Ministership has now entered its terminal phase. Everything he does and says is being judged on that basis, with every slipup a potential disaster.

But having just beaten a spill motion, and with at least moderately good news from the polls, he can scarcely be removed immediately. On the other hand, as long as he stays in office, the government is effectively in lame duck mode, with its every decision open to reversal by his successor. To take the most recent example, if Abbott were replaced by Turnbull, the attacks on Gillian Triggs would cease instantly.

The big timing issue relates to the Budget, due in May. It’s obvious that, if Abbott goes, so does Hockey, which would be highly problematic if the removal took place after the budget was delivered but before it got through Parliament. Yet some reports I’ve read suggest that a lot of senior Liberals want to give Abbott & Hockey a chance to make a success of this Budget, then dump them if it fails.

On a side issue, the fact that the Prime Ministership is decided only by the Liberal Party members of the coalition is quite a big deal. Abbott would obviously do better if the two parties merged, or even if the Queensland LNP were part of the federal Liberal party rather than the bizarre camel it is now.

136 thoughts on “How long can Abbott last?

  1. @wmmbb
    There was supposed to be a “not” to the attribution I made to Professor Triggs.

    The Abbott-Brandis attack on the President on THRC is a radical departure from the established norm of civility. There was an alternative approach as suggested by Jonathon Green. The sacking of Phillip Ruddock as chief whip was another example. This violent approach is guaranteed to deepen divisions in “the broad church”. It will prove to be easier to get rid of the wrecking ball than to repair the damage he leaves in his wake once Tony Abbott is in due course is despatched to the backbench to fester in his ignominy.

    I wonder why people like Tony Abbott and Kevin Rudd, allowing for the very different context of their removal don’t just say: “If you don’t want me to lead you, I am out of here”. By adopting that approach they would retain their dignity and respect. Such an approach would never occur to Tony.

  2. @Megan

    I see that on the substantive points at issue you agree with me that Uncle Milton was wrong.

    Does Australia have a system of compulsory voting? Uncle Milton’s answer was ‘No’; yours is ‘Yes’, and so is mine.

    Does Australia have a system of compulsory attendance at polling places? Uncle Milton’s answer was ‘Yes’; yours is ‘No’, and so is mine.

    All the rest is froth on the surface.

  3. > I see that on the substantive points at issue you agree with me that Uncle Milton was wrong.

    There is no substantive dispute

    “Substantive” means “pertaining to substance”, and “substance” means — in this context — not the labels applied to actions but the precise

    Since everyone agrees entirely on the specific actions that people take — turn up or not turn up, get issued or not get issued ballot paper, find name marked off or not marked off, issue or not issue infringement notice — the dispute must be _entirely_ about labels.

    There is no dispute of any substance whatsoever. You cannot be on the correct side of any substantive dispute because no substantive dispute exists: your dispute is and is solely about what-to-call-things, not on what the things are.

    What you have advanced here is the exact and precise epitome of “semantic dispute”. A dispute not about the substance but about the meaning-of-words.

    [words are symbols, which means that the relation between the “sign” — word — and “signifier” — thing-referred-to — is arbitrary. A semantic dispute is a dispute about the “proper” signifiers that a sign points to… but because the relationship is arbitrary the notion of a “proper” meaning is vacuous. mkay? This isn’t obvious, it’s easy for people to not realise this, but it is nevertheless true; it’s a really good idea to learn to spot incipient semantic disputes so you can shortcut them.]

  4. “Substance” means not the labels but the [delete “precise”] acts under discussion.

    [A dispute of substance is “what happened” and “what should happen”; a semantic dispute is “what should we call it”. But because we call different things different names a dispute about “what happened” manifests as [inter alia] a dispute about what a certain event should be called; to tell the difference you need to check whether the act — not the label — is asserted to be different. Keep your eye on the ball — the physical-world acts — not the man, the words.]

  5. @J-D

    Unfortunately turning up is compulsory, given that using postal ballots is a form of turning up.

    Aged people will have a ballot box coming to them.

    I have yet to see any case of anyone being forced to vote. You would need physical force to achieve this. It would create a very unpleasant scene.

  6. @Ivor

    I have never seen anybody being physically forced to vote, but I’ve also never seen anybody being physically forced to attend at a polling place (which would be much harder): if that’s what is meant by ‘compulsory’, then neither is ‘compulsory’: but many things are described as compulsory even if people aren’t physically forced to do them.

    If at the next Federal election I attend at a polling place, get my name marked off by a polling official, and receive a ballot paper;

    and if I then in full view of everybody present, so that there’s no doubt about what I’m doing, tear up the ballot papers and scatter the pieces on the floor;

    and if the AEC subsequently sends me a penalty notice for ‘apparently failing to vote’;

    and if I dispute the penalty notice and the matter proceeds to court;

    and if I offer at trial the ‘Uncle Milton’ defence that in Australia it’s not compulsory to vote, it’s only compulsory to attend at a polling place and have your name marked off the roll, which I did, so that my subsequent actions are no concern of the law;

    do you think I would be acquitted or convicted?

    I am confident that in such a case the ‘Uncle Milton’ defence would fail me entirely (I expect the judge would give it the shortest of shrift) and I would be convicted.

  7. @J-D

    Given your crazy behaviour, the AEC would never send a penalty notice.

    They would just laugh at you.

    There is no provision under which a notice could be sent. You compiled with all compulsory elements.

    A police officer may arrest you for destroying Commonwealth policy as ballot papers remain the property of the government.

    If it went to court, and you continued your stance, you would end up in jail or community service like Derryn Hinch.

  8. @Ivor

    There does exist a provision under which a penalty notice could be sent to me in the circumstances I have described: section 245 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918. If you have not read it, I am happy to quote the exact words for your edification.

    Whether the AEC actually would send me a penalty notice in the circumstances I have described, I don’t know; I don’t know if there’s ever been a case like that. However, even if the AEC happened not to send me a penalty notice, that would prove nothing about the legality of what I had done. People are often able to get away with breaches of the law, but that doesn’t mean they stop being breaches of the law.

    You suggest that if I took the stance I have described in court, I would end up in jail or community service, but the only way that could happen would be if I were convicted, which is exactly what I said would happen. The ‘Uncle Milton defence’ would not save me.

  9. As I have explained – the AEC would not send a penalty notice.

    They would just scoop up the torn pieces, and deal with them as a “discarded paper”.

    You are quite within you rights to not action a ballot paper.

    There is no penalty.

    Your partial reading of the Act is not relevant.

    Everyone knows that you only end up in jail etc if you are convicted and this is the penalty.

  10. alfred venison :
    this might be of interest:-

    Exactly right, the test to initiate a penalty notice, is the result of computer scanning of certified lists.

    Provided you get your name crossed off, it is not possible to get a penalty notice because you would not be classified as apparently not voting.

    Presumably this was the intention behind the amendment to the Electoral Act to provide for discarded papers.

    Only those with a totalitarian mindset would ever go down the path of compulsory voting.

  11. If you “tear up the ballot papers and scatter the pieces on the floor” then your vote would be “discarded” and section 238A of the Act would apply:

    (1) This section applies if:
    (a) a ballot paper has been issued to a voter; and
    (b) an officer is satisfied that the ballot paper has been discarded by the voter.
    (2) The officer must:
    (a) immediately cancel the ballot paper; and
    (b) write “discarded” on the back of the ballot paper; and
    (c) place the ballot paper in an envelope, seal the envelope and write on the envelope an indication of the type of ballot paper enclosed and that it is discarded; and
    (d) sign the envelope.
    (3) The envelopes containing discarded ballot papers that have been cancelled under this section must be:
    (a) sealed up in a parcel; and
    (b) given to the Divisional Returning Officer for the Division after the close of the poll.

    Since you got your name marked off you would not be caught up in the penalty provisions.

    End of story.

  12. @Megan

    Yes. I hope our slow learner catches up.

    It is necessary to have some compulsory element so that people who do not vote at least get their name crossed-off so others cannot use their vote elsewhere.

    This is necessary as Australia does not have national ID cards.

  13. @Megan

    Yes, section 238A would apply. But section 238A does not exclude the operation of section 245, which would still also apply.

    Rather than quote parts of section 245, which anybody can read online, I shall quote from two emails I received from the AEC in response to email enquiries I made last year:

    ‘The Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (Electoral Act) requires an elector to place their completed ballot papers into a ballot box and staff are allocated to each polling place to ensure that electors do not exit the polling place without having done so.
    ‘Staff are instructed to remind any electors who are observed leaving the booth without depositing their ballot paper(s) in a ballot box(es), of the requirement to do so. …
    ‘In those cases, which seem similar to the incident you have described, the officer in charge would record as many details as possible and report back to the Divisional Returning Officer. …’

    ‘If the non-voter’s name is recorded by the OIC, the DRO would proceed with the non-voter notice …’

  14. @J-D

    Obviously, having picked up a ballot paper – you cannot take it out. It is Commonwealth property.

    You can place a ballot paper, with no vote, in a ballot box, or you can hand it back to an electoral officer, or you can tear it up into little pieces and throw it on the floor.

    Such papers are then dealt with as discarded papers or, if they end up in the box by whichever pathway, as informals.

    A discarded ballot paper is not a completed ballot paper. Everyone would want strict controls over completed ballot papers.

  15. @Ivor

    Provided you get your name crossed off, it is not possible to get a penalty notice because you would not be classified as apparently not voting.

    While we’re splitting hairs, it is possible to get a penalty notice even after your name has been crossed off, which is what happened to me.
    However, the remedy is very simple. On the back of the letter is a declaration which, from memory, you can complete with details of where you voted. I presume AEC officers check the rolls from that booth since I have received no further correspondence.

  16. About a week ago I made a prediction that the anti-Abbott liberal media frenzy would cause a contrarian reaction and a back-lash of sympathy for Abbott:

    I don’t have much sympathy for Abbott’s policy program, which is basically austerity, tax-cuts for billionaires and some mild Muslim-bating. But I have some sympathy for Abbott himself and this is being nurtured by Fairfax’s one-sided diet of scurrilous rumour, confected outrage and beat-up non-stories.
    If the Fairfax media feeding frenzy keeps up I would not be surprised by some sort of public backlash of sympathy for Abbott. It will be interesting to watch the next few polls for L/NP rebounds. The Idiot Left could snatch a Turnbull defeat from victory. Worse still, I could lose my bet against Abbott’s premiership prospects.

    Today’s Age presents the second public opinion poll in a row that is consistent with this prediction:

    Australian voters have thrown Tony Abbott a lifeline just as his internal opponents were shaping to dump him, with a Fairfax-Ipsos poll confirming a pro-government shift is under way.

    In a result set to strengthen the Prime Minister’s hand in the short term, the Abbott government has staged an unlikely recovery and, while still trailing, is now within striking distance of overhauling the ALP lead at 49-51.

    I still stand with my prediction that Abbott will be dumped before the next election. But, like Howard, he is lucky in his enemies.

    The liberal media are like an under-nine football match,with all the players running after the ball at the same time. But the ball is always somewhere else.

  17. Very good comment Jack Strocchi. Also the media, probably due to lack of resources , rely too much on twitter(all 140 characters) for their news and views. What seems like a groundswell of opinion turns out to be some slackers on a train!

  18. @Jack Strocchi

    There was a winger on my under 9 team who must have been Tony Abbott’s first cousin. First, time he got the ball he turned around and ran it to our dead ball line. The opposing team started to give chase and then stopped, hands on knees, laughing their heads off. Fortunately, our coach made a coach’s call and replaced him.

  19. @Jack Strocchi

    At the risk of pointing out the obvious, Abbott’s net sats, better PM, best to lead the LNP, and ‘has confidence of his party’ slid further in Fairfax Ipsos, which doesn’t recommend your claim. Voters may be thinking he is gone and are pricing in a Turnbull led party.

  20. The Australian public prefer to think they are the ones who get to sack the PM, rather than have the corrupt media and ‘insider’ political class usurp that role.

  21. I feel like we have fallen into the trap of believing that this is about Tony Abbott. It is not about him per se. It is about governing for the good of the people of this country with special attention to those who need the most help. We all remember that Abbott’s problems began last May with a very unfair and poorly thought-out budget. The Treasurer’s name is Joe Hockey, a man with few skills and a sense of entitlement to rule not matched by his lack of inclusiveness or subtlety. Let’s say he’s a thug for the selfish rich. Instead of doing the consulting they had failed to do previously, they dug in for a slugging match. Australians weren’t buying it then or now.

    Abbott was elected for his pugilistic style which unfortunately, a large number of people admire, just as long as he can point to threats against which he can protect us – so he says. He carefully ignores the fact that his responses to what he calls threats makes us less safe, less secure and lowers our confidence in the economy and the job security of our jobs. Business confidence also plummeted – and we are told that the LNP is good at managing the economy, if nothing else.

    The country stopped listening to the LNP by June 2014. There is nothing to buy. Rog says, “Abbott as the battle scarred victim, will they buy that?” Not only are we not buying any soppy melodramas, we should remind Abbott and gang that it is about governing for the good of the people of this country, which they are unable and unwilling to do.

    While the bleeding wreckage of the Abbott government cling on to power, it is us that suffer, not the blue tied leaners. Let us learn to make Tony Abbott the last PM foisted upon us by the overly influential Murdoch chip wraps. Clean up the donations racket and set up a federal ICAC with real teeth.

    If we have to talk about a possible Labor government, we have to point to the many failings they have and help them to shape up.

  22. @Ivor

    Consider this question:

    ‘Is the AEC supposed to issue penalty notices to people who have not voted, even when those people have attended at polling places and had their names marked off the roll?’

    I have received two answers to this question.

    One answer comes from an employee of the AEC whose job functions including answering public questions, and that answer is ‘Yes’.

    The other answer comes from an anonymous blog commenter, and that answer is ‘No’.

    Readers are free to decide for themselves who they consider a more reliable source of information on this point, an Assistant Director with the Election Services Delivery Section of the AEC, or Ivor.

  23. Fran Barlow @ #29 said:

    At the risk of pointing out the obvious, Abbott’s net sats, better PM, best to lead the LNP, and ‘has confidence of his party’ slid further in Fairfax Ipsos, which doesn’t recommend your claim. Voters may be thinking he is gone and are pricing in a Turnbull led party.

    At the risk of pointing out the obvious, this is indulging in political spin-doctoring, not political science. Spin-doctors impose preferred interpretations on events after they happen. Scientists make (sometimes unpalatable) predictions about events before they happen.

    Fran Barlow’s desperate need to draw solace from the latest poll results reminds me of Billy Snedden’s spin-doctoring on the night on the night of the 1974 federal election in which he led the L/NP to defeat against the Gough Whitlam-led ALP: “We were not beaten. We just didn’t win enough seats to form a government, but I do not believe what has occurred was in any sense a defeat.” Even then Fran Barlow fails to get her after-the-fact “facts” straight. Abbott’s net approval rating has also improved over the past month, from – 38% (29/01/15) to – 30% (26/02/15).

    Over the past week or so I’ve been pointing out that the media leadership frenzy, driven largely by Canberra insiders in general and Fairfax’s pathological Abbott-haters in particular, would probably engender a temporary back-lash in the polls in favour of Abbott. The latest Ipsos-Fairfax poll bears this out. I predict that the next few polls will be in a similar range and will stabilize Abbotts position for the time being.

    For a ripe example of insider pontification preached at the ecclesiastic level of punditry I can’t do better than point to Peter Hartcher who, ever since crossing to the SMH, seems to have been channelling the burnt-out shell of Paul Kelly and become the living incarnation of the Conventional Wisdom in all its plodding, eye-glazing and yawn-inducing glory. His latest fatuous and tendentious effort – “Tony Abbott’s ‘positive’ poll shows he’s a dead man walking” – is really an attempt to salvage something from the wreckage of the past month’s press feeding frenzy. But it rapidly descends into self-parody as he strains to extract some bad news for Abbott from the latest couple of poll bounces. He, Fairfax’s in-house pollsters and Fran Barlow all seem to be reading from the same contrived script:

    Elgood has a similar reading of her poll data: “It possibly indicates that the voters have already moved on from Mr Abbott. “But they have not despaired of the Liberal Party,” anticipating a change of leader. This is the central point. After the Liberal Party spill motion, the people see Abbott as being on the way out.

    Talk about substituting Occam’s Razor for Occam’s Bread knife! A simpler explanation of the poll movements is that popular antagonism to the L/NP has softened, due to recent and highly publicized back-downs on unpopular policy (eg Medicare co-payment, paid parental leave). The issue of Abbott’s personal leadership style is a secondary or even tertiary consideration in the mind of the, typically disengaged, swinging voter. (It obsesses the insider class who think politics is a beauty contest, have a thwarted will-to-power and therefore use leadership speculation as a means of treating their attention deprivation syndrome.) Leadership is not usually a decisive factor in conditioning partisan alignment. So the idea that the L/NP’s poll bounce is a kind of public reward to the L/NP for almost getting rid of Abbott is about as tortured as rationalizations can get.

    Science, as Mill intoned, starts with intuition but ends with induction. Back in DEC 2014 I made a prediction/bet that Abbott would be replaced by Turnbull before the 2016 election. This prediction was based on my intuition that on the l/NP Cabinet were indulging on Right-wing policy over-reach, they had started to believe their own spin-doctoring of the land-slide victory over the ALP. The 2010 and 2013 elections were populist rejection of the Labor party, not social-democratic policy.

    I also predicted/bet on an L/NP defeat in 2016, which was a bit speculative but really a hedge against caucus loyalty to Abbott. An L/NP defeat would violate standard assumptions of psephologic theory which gives post-WWII governments a minimum of two terms in office. That assumption is now being tested.

    I still predict that Abbott will not lead the L/NP to the next election. But I give him at least till the mid-year Budget and possibly the end of the calendar year. The L/NP caucus would be mad to go down the same path as the ALP’s poll-driven eadership tussles. Expecially since the pariliamentary ALP has has subsequently, and quite sensibly, chosen to tie its own hands by reforming its leadesrship choosing rules to raise the caucus threshold for a leadership spill and broaden the decision making base by giving party members a vote in the process.

    And lets not forget that Abbott is a pretty good political in-fighter. He engineered a cumulative ten per-cent swing against a sitting pretty government, knocking over Turnbull, Rudd, Gillard and then Rudd again in the process. I would not under-estimate him.

    So Abbott’s position is safe in the near term. Quite apart from the normal human sympathy to someone who is getting an unfair hammering there is also the little matter that AUS is a democracy where the voting public can, and should, have the final say in who is the nation’s leader. Not the collection of half-baked wannabes, innumerate pundits and back-room apparatchiks who comprise the political class.

  24. That’ it’ all been a Fairfax led jihad against poor Tony is a wonderful delusion. I guess they forced all those Liberal MPs to leak….

    The same delusion has taken a fierce grip over at The Oz, where they suddenly discovered it’s all been fomented by the ABC / Fairfax/ ‘leftist media’. Ain’t the lizard brain grand? – all that raging at the dysfunction of the PMO and the evil Peta, just forgotten….

  25. Tony Abbott is completely irrational and undependable. At the time of the G20, the Medicare co-payment was so important he had to tell all the world leaders about it. That issue and parking in Sydney were apparently the crucial issues that world leaders needed to hear about.

    Now, he simply ditches the co-payment and declares it, as another one of his pet policies, dead, buried and cremated. I guess it joins all his other pet policies. It’s quite a “Pet Semetary” that Tony the Seminarian is building up.

    All of Abbott’s captain’s calls are great ideas… until they aren’t. Can anyone think of a policy that Abbott has actually carried through? Or an idea of his that hasn’t been a complete cock-up? I can’t. But he still believes he’s the great captain who makes captain’s calls. Talk about the Dunning-Kruger effect.

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