Politics

The view from Billinudgel

Thus passes the glory of Tony Abbott
The former member for Warringah will mainly be remembered for his mistakes

Source: Twitter

With his political death, Tony Abbott achieved something he had never managed or even attempted in his political life: bipartisanship.

Only at the fringes was there wailing and gnashing of teeth. For the extreme right, Captain Catholic will forever be their martyred saint, their once and future king treacherously brought down by the Turnbull turncoats and their allies. And the extreme left would wish he was still in parliament to continue his long career of undermining and disruption from the government backbench.

But for the vast majority of both Liberal and Labor supporters, there is only relief. Abbott’s demise marks the end of the era of revolving-door prime ministers. Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and Malcolm Turnbull are long gone; now Abbott, the last and most active of the barbershop quartet, will join them. Finally the feuds, vendettas and revenges can be consigned to history.

This does not mean that all will be sweetness and light, that parliament can live happily ever after. The great rifts between both sides of politics – conservatives and moderates on the right, traditionalists and progressives on the left – will not be healed with the departure of the most prominent actors.

Ideology is not just about personalities. But at least some of the bitterness and acrimony that has tarnished the past 10 years can now be ameliorated. Abbott’s greatest legacy will be his defeat on May 18.

Of course that is not the way he will see it – one of the reasons he gave for hanging on was to secure his legacy, his record as a leader. So perhaps it is the right time to take a hard look at just what that was. Don’t worry, it will not take long.

The first and most salient point is that Anthony John Abbott was a lousy prime minister. He was a devastatingly effective attack dog, savaging his enemies whenever he caught a glimpse of them, whether on the Opposition benches or among his internal rivals.

He sent off two Labor leaders and one of his own, and at least one potential leader in Julie Bishop. He ceaselessly claimed to have stopped the boats and ended the carbon tax – both dubious assertions but, more importantly, negatives. And when he gained office, the habit persisted. He was always keener to destroy than to build.

In his truncated term as prime minister his major positive proposal was an attempt to bring in an inequitable and unaffordable parental leave scheme, eventually discarded. But what he will mainly be remembered for were his mistakes: the disastrous 2014 budget, the authoritarian chaos of his office under his chief of staff Peta Credlin, and of course his knighthood of Prince Philip.

And that last was an indication of what finally caused his downfall: he was simply past his use-by date. The electors of Warringah knew that the science of climate change was not crap, as he once called it, and his lame and belated efforts to backtrack on his denialism were unconvincing.

He strenuously supported coal. He snubbed his electorate’s overwhelming vote to approve same-sex marriage. And his performance as the local member just did not cut it. He was an energetic participant as a cyclist, lifesaver and firefighter – although sometimes he appeared more interested in the cameras than the job at hand – but his constituents would have preferred something more concrete.

When this became clear, Abbott, as he always did, fought; when he finally conceded, he said defiantly that he would “rather be a loser than a quitter”. He died on his feet, although he will almost certainly be awarded a lavish government post to console him – one mooted is the embassy at the Vatican, appropriate for the man they called the Mad Monk. 

He will never want for a comfortable and well-paid job. But he can never regain the one for which he really lusted. Sic transit gloria Tony.

Mungo MacCallum

Mungo MacCallum is a political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy. Visit his blog, The View from Billinudgel.

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