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. 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.

  2. 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!

  3. @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.

  4. @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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. @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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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….

  10. 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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