Features Australia

I come to praise Tony, not to bury him

Despite the flaws, Tony Abbott was a proper conservative

19 September 2015

9:00 AM

19 September 2015

9:00 AM

Senator George Brandis did a nice impression before the last election of wanting to be a latter day incarnation of John Stuart Mill, the go-to man to protect the core Western value of free speech. He was going to rid us of that troublesome section 18C. Of course that didn’t actually pan out as planned, as you will all know. Still, this past week did see Brandis doing a pretty nifty impersonation of Brutus, stabbing Tony Abbott in the political heart. Okay, maybe the Brandis betrayal wasn’t as powerful as Julie Bishop’s, or indeed a good many other frontbenchers and former Speakers to whom Mr Abbott had shown nothing but loyalty – too much loyalty as it turns out. And no one does treachery and bastardry and leaking and social media photos from train platforms and the whole self-serving catalogue of Dante’s sins quite like our new Prime Minister.

So now the King is dead, long live the King. Except I have to confess that I can’t bring myself to vote for King Turnbull, ace destabiliser and self-promoter extraordinaire. Large chunks of this Liberal Party now make me wonder who selects these candidates and why are they in politics (other than the business class flights and assorted other perks). Or put differently, where is there now a conservative option on the ballot paper? It’s now Labor and Labor-lite. Whip-dee-do!!

I know that some right-of-centre commentators figure the Coalition had become so inept that Turnbull had to be an improvement. I don’t agree. There is no doubt that Abbott wasn’t half the man he was as Opposition leader. He lost his mojo along the way and stopped facing down critics and actually fighting for things. The rot started with his idiotic capitulation over the hate speech repeal push. Imagine not even putting the repeal to the Senate to force them to block it (and so have to show their anti-liberal colours, not to mention providing another double dissolution trigger.) Tony the fighter just stopped fighting. He never directly took on an out-of-control ABC that said things about him that were a disgrace and that was basically acting as the propaganda wing of the Jeremy Corbyn fan club. Nor did our just-defenestrated PM seem to know how to handle a Senate so feral that calling its MPs unrepresentative swill would actually be too nice to them. Personally, I’d have introduced a Bill to go back to the pre-World War II voting system. There is a reason that we in Australia have now had five Prime Ministers taken out in just five years: our Senate. In Canada, NZ and Britain when you win an election you have nothing to stop you from enacting your entire pre-election package, and just about anything else. You serve your full term and the voters have their say. But here we have a set-up where the intelligentsia thinks a PM with a huge mandate has to negotiate with fools like Jackie Lambie, with PUP buffoons, with people who like cars, with puffed up libertarians, and more who have barely pulled in a minute fraction of the government’s votes.

But I come to praise Tony, not to bury him. Despite the passivity and lack of mongrel his government basically got most of the big stuff right. Free trade? Yep. Stopping the boats? Yep. Killing the carbon tax? Ditto. National security? You bet ya. Foreign affairs? Ya baby.

Sure, raising taxes was a mistake, but a well-intentioned one. But Abbott’s was an identifiably conservative government. It was flawed. It could be infuriating when it sold out the base to appease some mystical group known as ‘Team Australia’ (whose members, not surprisingly, were nowhere to be seen when Abbott needed them most). But you could walk into a voting booth and think you were voting for something other than an enervated version of the latest progressive nostrums, recycled via the overwhelmingly biased ABC as some sort of unquestionable truths. No longer, alas. So to those Coalition supporters who backed this Turnbull treachery here’s why I don’t think I’ll be able to bring myself to vote for the man. He simply shares so few of my values. Let’s go down the list. He’s for a republic. (Not me, on basic ‘costs massively outweigh the benefits’ grounds.) He’s for a carbon tax or ETS. (Not me. What a waste, for all the Bjorn Lomborg reasons.) He doesn’t want a plebiscite on same-sex marriage. (I do.) I don’t trust him not to raise taxes. I don’t trust him on federalism, which Tony had begun to move on in a decentralising direction.

Then there are the boats. Does anyone think Malcolm as solid as Tony? Of course not. He will sell out the conservative base on the ‘Recognise’ referendum, you just wait and see. He will be worse on free speech, if that’s possible, than Tony was. Basically now that we have Turnbull we have two parties led by men whose core views cannot be separated by a piece of paper. Okay, the Coalition hasn’t been captured by unions, not to mention unions that have flirted with some pretty dodgy stuff. But there’s basically now so little differentiation between the main parties – which is why the twittersphere and the ABC like Malcolm. He leans a long way left – not as far as they do, but not bad.

So why vote for the Coalition? So that our debt will come down a few years earlier? That’s it? And to get that I have to throw in the towel on all those just enumerated things, or at least have to take my chances on a leader who – if he ever gets a clear mandate himself – cannot be trusted on any of them. So beware if you vote for him. His promises to the Party today will evaporate like a globally warmed lake.

Of course, Shorten is so bad, so Ed Milliband-like, that maybe Turnbull can win. Then again Tony might have won.

So let me finish with this bit of advice for any readers who feel as I do. Here are some options for you. 1) Donkey vote. 2) For the House, do NOT preference the Coalition first, even if you give the bums your second or later preference. If you don’t give them a first preference they will lose campaign money. If lots of us don’t they will lose lots of it. 3) As someone who has regularly handed out fliers on election day and done a few other party tasks (as a non-Party member), I won’t be doing any of that. You might want to throw that in too. 4) Resign your party membership. 5) Remember that if you feel you have to vote for them in the House, you don’t have to in the Senate. Some of the big ringleaders of Tony’s downfall were from the Senate. I definitely will not vote for any Coalition Senators. Period. 6) If your MP was one of the notorious defenestrators, let him or her know you are mightily mad.That’s just a start, but it’s a pretty good start. One thing no one can say about Turnbull is that his ambition should be made of sterner stuff. But for the Liberal caucus, well, there are 54 of them who should be made of sterner stuff. What a disgrace the whole cohort of them.

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  • Sholto Douglas

    C’mon James, had Abbott stayed he would have trashed the Liberal brand for a decade. At best he was a Catholic conservative, not a Liberal, as evidenced by his feeble abandonment of 18C reform. And he was certainly no economic liberal. Howard said Abbott was the least enthusiastic economic reformer in his Cabinet. In fact Turnbull will probably be far more committed on the economy and debt reduction.
    He had some good ideas (and a host of dreadful ones) but his wobbliness, gaffes and general incompetence all too often meant did not have enough political capital to enact them.

  • Gilbert White

    You said it yourself the answer is easy as ABC. son of BBC.