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Leading article Australia

Coup de (dis)grâce

19 September 2015

9:00 AM

19 September 2015

9:00 AM

The knifing of Tony Abbott will go down as one of the most destructive and arrogant acts of political bastardry this nation has yet seen. In many ways, it surpasses Labor’s two similarly bloody coups, so forensically explored in Sarah Ferguson’s superb Killing Season documentary, for the simple reason that Mr Turnbull’s treachery was done despite the knowledge that the electorate genuinely deplore such brutality. If there was, indeed, one clear lesson to come from the Rudd/Gillard danse macabre, it is that the voters prefer to do the knifings in the sanctity of the ballot box, and have little time for those who are egotistical and presumptuous enough to take the task upon themselves.

Tony Abbott PM was a class act, as the electorate will come to appreciate over the next few months and years. The measure of his achievements in less than two short, frenetic years in office eclipses by a country mile the achievements of any government, state or federal, since the early Howard years.

Mr Turnbull launched his disgraceful coup with a swag of self-contradictory statements. On the one hand, he claimed ‘economic leadership’ was lacking under Mr Abbott yet only a few breaths later brazenly proclaimed that Mr Abbott’s China Free Trade deal is ‘one of the most important foundations of our prosperity’. Sneering at Mr Abbott’s oft-derided ‘three word slogans’, the kingslayer failed to mention that it was Mr Abbott’s single-minded approach to ‘stopping the boats’ that not only saw the Coalition, including Mr Turnbull himself, elected to government, but probably stands as the most unambiguous success story of any government of any persuasion in many years. It defies credibility that a Turnbull-led government would ever have had the gumption, let alone the cajones, to take on such an herculean task – one deemed all but impossible by everyone other than Mr Abbott and a handful of his advisors. Messrs Abbott’s and Morrison’s successful border security policy is now not only the envy of the world but paved the way for our generous Syrian refugee intake.

But it is the economy that lays bare Mr Turnbull’s mischievous myth-making. With a con man’s dexterity, Mr Turnbull cunningly slipped from decrying a supposed lack of ‘economic confidence’ to the downward ‘trajectory’… not of any economic figures as one might expect, but of the Coalition’s ongoing slump in the opinion polls; as if the two were somehow connected and only his charismatic personality could bring about a reversal of both. Perhaps in the short term, but at the end of the day it is policy not salesmanship that matters. Mr Hockey may have been less than perfect, but the economy is doing better under him than under his predecessor, and, as was seen following the 2015 budget, he and Mr Abbott were capable of delivering popular measures that resulted in positive polling figures.

Yet again, the Australian people have been dudded. Mr Turnbull sells himself as a Great Communicator, yet in his role as Communication’s Minister he has not only delivered little of note over the last two years, he has failed to ‘communicate’ anything noteworthy about other portfolios. In fact, most of Mr Turnbull’s most-quoted ‘communications’ have involved childish, snide underminings of his own team either on twitter or on the stage at Q&A. Mr Turnbull sells himself as offering a ‘new style of leadership’ that ‘respects the people’s intelligence’… yet obviously doesn’t respect it enough to allow voters to judge his party on its record without relying on his ‘advocacy’ to ‘translate values’. (Values that clearly don’t include ‘loyalty’.)

Mr Turnbull’s claim to the throne is built on a single, fictitious and unprovable supposition: that ‘if we continue with Mr Abbott as Prime Minister… he’ll be succeeded by Mr Shorten.’ Says who? The opinion polls, apparently. The sort of opinion polls that led David Cameron to write a resignation script on May 7 whilst Ed Miliband prepared to announce his victory.

This magazine believes that although Mr Abbott’s personal unpopularity was a lead weight on the Coalition, when it came to the crunch the strength of key accomplishments and the self-evident lack of appealing ideas from Mr Shorten would most likely see this government creep back in with a reduced majority. On top of which, recent initiatives such as the plebiscite and the refugee intake would undoubtedly have broadened the Coalition’s appeal, as the ‘softer’ 2015 budget had already done. Indeed, a cynic might conclude that Mr Turnbull and Ms Bishop launched their brand-wrecking attack in order to pre-empt the positive bounce in the polls that the likely Canning win and these centrist measures were bound to elicit over the next few weeks and months.

Instead, the Coalition has embarked upon a risky Labor-style experiment, hoping Mr Turnbull’s sugar hit in the polls will see them all safely across the line. The wiser approach would have been to stick with Mr Abbott, and allow the voters to judge on policy achievements, not on the illusion of personal popularity.

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