Leading article

How Australia's Tony Abbott pulled off a great conservative victory

7 September 2013

9:00 AM

7 September 2013

9:00 AM

By conventional wisdom, Tony Abbott should not become Prime Minister of Australia this weekend. He ought to be too conservative, a throwback to a bygone age. He is sceptical about global warming, and proposed to abolish a carbon tax on the grounds of its expense and uselessness. He is a churchgoer who is against abortion and is sceptical about gay marriage. He is a former boxer, who tends to back America in foreign policy disputes. He is an Anglophile and an enthusiastic monarchist. He ticks almost every unfashionable box in modern politics.

His victory is not inevitable, but those wishing to place money on his rival, Kevin Rudd, can find bookmakers willing to give odds of 26-1. The Australian Labor party, which enstooled Mr Rudd ten weeks ago, regarding him a charismatic Blair-style centrist, is facing not just defeat but humiliation. When Rudd first took power, in 2007, the idea was that he would consign the Liberal party to the wilderness of irrelevance for at least a decade. Something has gone very wrong for the left, and very right for Australian conservatives.

It is worth noting what did not work for the Australian right. Its ‘modernisers’ first attempted to jettison remnants of the Howard era, believing the way forward was to embrace the Rudd approach. They wanted to reverse pro-market employment laws. They embraced the global warming agenda, and grew more relaxed about immigration.

They did not quite go quite so far as to copy Labor’s spending plans, but they did everything but. As if to demonstrate their fitness for government, they cosied up to Mr Rudd, rather than do what opposition parties are supposed to do and oppose him. Australia did not suffer so badly in the crash, thanks to the surpluses which John Howard had built up before his 2007 defeat.

Rudd’s crash was of his own making. It happened when the bubble of climate change hysteria burst around the time of the failure of the 2009 Copenhagen global warming summit. Rudd, who had placed much political capital on the event, was furious. He referred to the Chinese, Australia’s most important trading partners, as ‘rat-fuckers’ before tottering away in a daze from what he had piously called ‘the greatest moral challenge of our times’. Abbott moved for the Liberal party leadership, winning by a single vote. As with Margaret Thatcher’s victory in 1975, this delighted the left, who considered the opposition leader too vulgar and rebarbative to be elected.

Abbott, a former seminarian and Rhodes scholar, did what none of his contemporaries dared: he opposed the progressive consensus. His opposition to the carbon tax and plans to turn back unlawful boat arrivals resonated with his party’s conservative base as well as Middle Australia, where the political gravity remains right-of-centre. With simple, unequivocal slogans and policies (‘Stop the boats’, ‘Stop the carbon tax’) Mr Abbott ruthlessly attacked Labor’s indecision and obfuscation. It worked, Labor panicked and replaced Rudd with Julia Gillard. When she failed, they put Rudd back in. Australian voters seem unconvinced.

Several British Labour party figures are now in Australia, offering advice in official and unofficial capacities. They are about to witness a rout. Rudd has tried to terrify voters with stories about conservative cuts (the vast majority of Rudd’s adverts have been negative) but this hasn’t resonated with an electorate that suspects the Labor-Green coalition was living beyond its means. Rudd offered fiscal stability, but did not deliver. It helps that Australian memories of conservative government are of good years (1996-2007) — the long period of Liberal government was ejected more out of ennui than exasperation. And Australians are certainly sick of this long election campaign, which effectively started in February when Gillard pre-announced the data.

Abbott is betting, correctly, that Australians have had enough of charisma. Rudd may be good at politics, but he has not been very good at government. Abbott was a minister in the Howard government, as were 16 of his frontbench colleagues. He is offering quiet competence, not dazzling charisma. He says that he wants ‘to be known as the infrastructure Prime Minister’, which sounds deeply unsexy but works in a country searching for substance. His closest British counterpart is perhaps Theresa May, the Home Secretary.

To be sure, Abbott is not the perfect conservative pin-up. His plans for a Nick Clegg-style expensive paternity-leave programme, for example, suggests a paternalistic streak. But Abbott has been defined by his decision to do what so many British Tories have shied away from doing in recent years: to focus on broadening the appeal of a conservative agenda rather than copying the policies of his opponents. As a result, Australians have a real choice when they go the polls this weekend. Every indication is that Abbott will profit from having given them this choice.

David Cameron ought to take heart from this. The aftermath of the financial crisis vindicates conservative arguments, and leaders bold enough to make them are rewarded. Abbott may soon go down as one of the most successful conservative politicians in the English-speaking world. The Prime Minister would do well to keep his number on speed-dial.

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  • Mathew Cole

    This article is bullshit top to bottom. To say that “conventional wisdom” has held that Abbott should lose the election is lying – virtually the entire media has been treating him as the Prime Minister in all but name since the 2010 election. To say that Abbott – who presided as Health Minister over the gutting of the PBS – offers “quiet competence” is lying. To say that Abbott won’t cut social services to the bone is lying – he’s openly admired the US Republican Party and it’s line of “the poor deserve to be poor”.

    While Abbott will almost certainly win in a landslide, it won’t take long to be clear that Australia made an even worse choice than John “never ever will there be a GST” Howard.

    • the midatlantic

      “US Republican Party and it’s line of ‘the poor deserve to be poor’ ”

      Ahem. Surely you’re thinking of the Democratic Party’s paternalistic attitude towards the destitute.

      Lefties like you live on keeping the needy as needy as possible. All the better to keep them dependent on you…

  • AndyB

    “The Australian Labor party, which enstooled Mr Rudd ten weeks ago…” lovely turn of phrase. Accurate in every sense, I believe. Will he be ‘evacuated’, subsequently, if he loses?

  • Rush_is_Right

    “David Cameron ought to take heart from this. ”

    You what? The entire article up to your final paragraph has expressed how well Tony Abbott was doing by rejecting the facile politics of Labour and NOT doing any of this Me Too stuff, including the whole climate change agenda nonsense. Abbott, as you rightly say has opposed the progressive consensus. Only today he announced that he was going to reduce overseas aid. Catch Cameron doing any of that. He won’t listen to anybody with conservative instincts. He is not one of us at all. In fact, what the hell is he doing here?

    The Conservative Party has to come to its senses and dump this idiot. As John Redwood said in 1995… “No change, no chance.” He was right then, and (were he to say it again) he would be right now.

    • cyllan

      75% of conservatives are this idiot……., i can only stand 2-3 of his cabinet ministers..

  • The BBC Sucks BBCs

    Perhaps with this guy in charge we’ll get Boris Johnson’s idea of a free movement of people between the 2 countries which would be a good thing but I’d like to extend it to New Zealand & Canada.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Vote Julian. Write in “Julian”.

  • Suzanne Ennazus

    What I have noticed about Conservatives is that they pretend to care about
    the people of their nation, but really they would sell off their nation
    if it made their tax dodging corporate donors more money, and they give
    them all the breaks, while making life more difficult for the less well
    off. In fact, they even help the people at the top live in luxury from
    the money they make on poor people. Such as raising sales tax, while tax
    cuts for the people at the top.

    • george

      Labour was worse.

      • Zack

        All political parties are worse as one another NONE of them give a shit about the people all they care about is their overpaid political salaries.


  • george

    ‘Skeptical about global warming’: love him already!

    Probably it’s not just the warming (bbrrrrr) that he’s skeptical about. Probably he wants to see alarmists/Leftists prove the spread between what man contributes through his luxurious capitalism (as Leftists see it, conveniently forgetting that a high tide lifts all boats, even the little ones) and what nature is doing anyway. Also it has been argued that carbon dioxide does not necessarily increase temperatures, but rather that warm temperatures stimulate plant life which in turn produces more carbon dioxide. So: man’s culpability cannot be established by pointing to ‘more CO2’.

  • george

    As for gay marriage, it’s hopeless. The point-scorers have won their point, and I hope that the 10% of the 2% (or whatever tiny percentage it is) are happy at having caused so much trouble. Most gays won’t bother to ‘get married’ because they know perfectly well that in civil partnerships they have all they need and no more. (Marriage ain’t a Caribbean cruise: it does have downsides.)

    In my view, if there is no Mister and Misses, there is no marriage. If there is no bride and groom, there is no marriage. If there is no husband and wife….

    What does the vicar say at the end of one of these pious frauds? ‘You may kiss the bride, whoever that is’?

    • First L

      I’m a conservative, but Gay Marriage is right and proper. Anything else is simply enfeebled fear of change and discriminatory. There is no need for anyone on the right to be discriminatory.

      • george

        Your view has won, as acknowledged. I don’t share it.

        As for ‘discrimination’, the ability to tell the difference between or among kinds is essential to high civilization.



  • RPrior

    Leave the Wet David Cameron out of this discussion.

    Tony Abbott
    If ever one could wish for a type of politician for Britain.

    Here is a chap who is bright (Rhodes Scholar), down to earth (Doesn’t waste words), well organised to get the job done & rolls up his sleeves and gets his hands dirty.

    Also Finding time to be a Charity worker, Good Family Man and a Volunteer Fireman.

    Well done you straight talking bastard………….. If Australia ever votes you out of Office, you are welcome in Britain.

    • george

      ‘welcome in Britain’

      Or America…. Oh wait, we had Romney and look who won instead (though only just).

  • AQbbott will end up as one of AUST’s best PM’s despite the vile and unfounded attacks on him …..and that will be joy to see the marxists squirm as they sink into well deserved obscurity

  • Adam__Hill

    Get Tony Abbott over here at once and replace David Cameron now!
    If this is the way to vindicate conservative arguments, I am all for it.
    Wait a moment. He doesn’t sound like any Conservative in the UK. So what has happened to the UK?

  • paulus

    It is because the man is a conservative.. where decency is bred into his bones, and principles are not something transient to be conveniently forgotten.

    I just love the way the liberals try and portray him as ignorant…he was educated by jesuits, the multi dimentional way of thinking they imparted to him is something they could never begin to understand.

  • alabenn

    Good riddance to half the Aussie Labour Party one can only hope that we can get the same result here, even better news from Oz the Greens have been wiped out.
    Get rid of any green policy driven agenda and send any Husky hugger to the vet for spaying and the same can happen here.

    • Mark

      The Australian Greens are far from wiped out, and Labour only lost about 22.5% of their MPs

  • Jupiter

    Can we get someone like him here?

  • moderate Guy

    “Abbott is betting, correctly, that Australians have had enough of charisma. Rudd may be good at politics, but he has not been very good at government.”
    Remind you of someone? Were Americans only to follow the example of their enlightened cousins down under.

  • Shineon83

    …David CAMERON??? Good grief — the David Cameron of the “vomit-inducing ‘lovefest’ speech” to Obama on his first State visit (stopping just short of a romantic kiss at the end)?; The David Cameron who has described conservative Tories as “crazy loons”?; The David C. who snubbed a US Presidential candidate he viewed as “too conservative” on his visit to the UK (Mitt Romney), breaking protocol, which dictates the PM should never “take sides” in another country’s elections; The David Cameron of the “Never-met-a-gay-couple-I-personally-didn’t-adore” quote? The David C. fighting his own party on a vote on EU membership???………………PLEASE–David Cameron isn’t anywhere NEAR the same league as Tony Abbott………………..

  • Augustus

    “By conventional wisdom, Tony Abbott should not become Prime Minister of Australia this weekend. He ought to be too conservative, a throwback to a bygone age.”

    An outlook we could do a lot more with in this part of the world.

    Labor = failure. Just like over here.

  • Annie Easby

    Australia woke this morning to find the Labor/Socialist experiment is over. How good it feels! Despite the scares, lies and hubris and potential voting fraud, Labor has been soundly defeated. Mr Abbott’s win will give the Obama heavies and UK advisors something to take back with them: conservatism and decency are not dirty words. Australians have shown we will not tolerate spin and baldfaced lies and have relegated the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd government to the political dustbin where they belong.

    • Augustus

      Entirely agree. Good on ya!

      Socialism/Liberalism has been a very expensive failure. With their disdain for traditional maxims of faith, family, and hard work, forcing schools to remove a daily prayer or a pledge of allegiance to start the day, supporting abortion on demand, gay marriage, expanding so-called ‘entitlement programs’, and putting as many people as possible on some form of government hand out, this should be obvious to anyone.

  • NotYouNotSure

    Now if only Britain could have an election where a conservative could win…

  • Roger Vincent

    He’s not that good at keeping promises. He swore a vow of chastity. He squirmed out of his shotgun wedding. He stood up Bernie Banton, who had at some inconvenience come to his office to see him in the last week of his life. He agreed with his hero Howard that global warming was real then called it ‘crap’. He defended a convicted pederast, Nestor, in court, and got him out of prison, and begged a friend of pederasts, Hollingworth, not to resign. He concealed, according to his uncontradicted biographer, acts of homosexual rape by trainee priests at St Barnabus’s, his college.
    He gave up the priesthood because friends were making more money (he told Annabel on Wednesday). He was elected Leader by Peter Slipper’s lone vote, and went to his wedding. He ran from the chamber to refuse Craig Thomson’s vote, then later accepted it. He employed David Oldfield, then tried to destroy him. He framed Pauline Hanson and put her in gaol till she was proved innocent and let out. He did the same to her business partner David Ettridge. He alleged Cheryl Kernot was a pederast and ruined her.
    Some of his closest allies were homosexual – – but he won’t, if elected, let gays marry. He claims to love his sister but believes she will fry in hell for abominable practises punished by stoning in the Bible.
    The worst he did was to Kathy Donnelly. He used no contraception on her. When she was pregnant, he agreed to marry her. The church was booked, the guests invited. A week before his vows, he decided to call it off, and train instead for the priesthood. Scared to tell her, he asked his mother to make the call. Devastated, Kathy had the baby, a boy, and suckled him for five days. Then he was taken away by a Catholic agency and sent to Perth.
    Ruined, she then became pregnant again, had another baby, decided to keep this one, and raised him as an unwed mother. Abbott did not become a priest for another seven years, and after four years, during which he was ‘not as celibate as I should have been’, he gave it away.
    He married, had three daughters, pined for the son he had not kept. The boy turned up as a sound man around parliament house. Abbott embraced and acclaimed him. Kathy met him for the first time in twenty-six years. It then turned out he wasn’t Abbott’s son, but the by-blow of a one-night-stand. Kathy, disgraced, defended herself on national television. She soon grew ill, and began to die.
    Abbott did not visit her deathbed, or call her or write to her. He did not go to her funeral. At the Apology For Forced Adoption, however, he praised her as the ‘finest person I ever knew’.

    • Deborah

      Defamatory lies copied from the website of a delusional AustralianLabor Party mendicant.

  • Christopher Wakefield

    “Abbott may soon go down as one of the most successful conservative politicians in the English-speaking world.” LOL.