He's Behind You! Malcolm Turnbull rolls Tony Abbott with ruthless efficiency. Ain’t it always the way? Politicians like Abbott and his Treasurer, Joe Hockey, are invaluable in the ruck, kicking and gauging where the ref can’t see their infringements. But they’re not the sort of guys you send up to receive the cup from the Governor-General. Team captains have a certain look – and poor Tony Abbott never had it. Just a little too excitable. Too much the true believer. Unable to compromise. Not really clubbable.
YOU CAN’T HELP ADMIRING the Aussies. There’s a raw energy about them that grabs, and holds, your attention. A brutal kind of honesty, too, which is equally compelling.
The way Abbott’s loyal ministers were rotated through the Sky News studio, each one just a little more desperate than the last, seemingly unable to believe that they were in the middle of the very thing they had railed against when the hapless Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard were hacking away at each other on prime time – a leadership spill involving a sitting Prime Minister.
“Good God! As a country we’re better than this!” Was Abbott’s anguished observation as the realisation that Turnbull was about to remove him from power finally beat its way past his emotional defences and made contact with the rational centre of his brain.
Paul Murray, a big, burly, bearded bloke, who makes his living telling Sky’s right-wing viewers “what’s really going on” spent the night acting as Abbott’s emotional proxy.
Right-wing Commentator, Paul Murray. Abbott's emotional proxy.
Alternately flailing his arms about in a balletic combination of anger and despair, and roaring defiance at a studio full of journalists and commentators who were clearly relishing the slow demise of the “Mad Monk” (as Abbott’s less charitable fellow citizens were wont to call him) Murray more and more came to resemble a baited bear. It seemed inevitable that the smooth young fellow seated well within range of Murray’s agitated paws would offer one acerbic taunt too many and end up smearing claret all over the studio floor.
I couldn’t help feeling sorry for the poor joker. Especially when he blurted out the obviously painful question about whether it was any longer possible for conservative politicians like Tony Abbott to survive in the tolerant culture of twenty-first century Australia. You could read the anguish plainly on his bluff features as he internally answered his own question.
Because, of course, the answer is “No, Paul, it’s no longer possible.”
Not that his sort of Aussie is easy to convince. Not even when the Irish – yes, the Irish! – vote in favour of Marriage Equality. That’s right, Rome’s most dutiful daughter, snapping her fingers at the Clergy like she just didn’t care anymore about who did what, where, and to whom – just so long as love got a look in there somewhere.
Why couldn’t the Liberal Party Right see it? Why didn’t Abbott just declare a free vote on the Marriage Equality issue and save his rapidly diminishing supply of bullets for something that really mattered – like getting the deficit down and keeping all those tailored suits in the high towers of Sydney and Melbourne smiling their special, self-satisfied, squatocratic smiles.
Sacking the bloody useless Joe Hockey was the easiest way to do that, but Tony just wouldn’t. Loyal to a fault, poor fella. As Murray put it: “He was loyal in a game where loyalty no longer counts.” Honestly, I thought the guy was going to cry.
The other journos in the studio just shrugged. They knew it was all over for Abbott when reports from a weekend corporate shindig started filtering back to the Canberra press gallery. Turnbull had been present and, apparently, he had the more than 400 business leaders present eating out of his hand.
Secure in the knowledge that the mood of the boardroom was solidly behind a change at the top, the silver-haired millionaire locked and loaded his supporters for a leadership spill on Monday afternoon.
Ain’t it always the way? Politicians like Abbott and Hockey are invaluable in the ruck, kicking and gauging where the ref can’t see their infringements. But they’re not the sort of guys you send up to receive the cup from the Governor-General. Team captains have a certain look – and poor Tony Abbott never had it. Just a little too excitable. Too much the true believer. Unable to compromise. Not really clubbable.
Not that anybody’s ever going to say that about Malcolm Turnbull. Like that other Malcolm, the late Malcolm Fraser, he fits right in – a leader in the Menzies tradition.
Not a pair of Speedos in sight.
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 18 September 2015.
Energy? Honesty? Perhaps – but a mean-spiritedness that makes New Zealanders look angelic by comparison. Loyalty no longer counts? Pick me up off the floor Daphne, before I rupture myself laughing. I don't think loyalty has ever counted in politics :-).
I agree with Guerilla Surgeon, I have known quite a few NZ MPs and lawyers connected to them. Loyalty only exists as long as there is something to show for their loyalty, if not then its a wait until they can see what can be gained by a fence position. If forced then then a MP will take a position that is the best for themselves and not for the principle. All political parties in NZ have this culture.
This morning on the Paul Henry show Phil Goff said that he was tired of the flag debate, this was a most un-loyal kick in his leaders guts who is still arguing points on the matter. Phil Goff was publicly telling his leader to sit down and shut up. Andrew Little will ignore this advice at his peril.
so its style over substance yet again......if theres one thing you could say about Abbott, what your saw was what you got, a phrase strangely (and incorrectly) attributed to Key
It appears to me that he's the matching twin for the arsehole prime minister on this side of the Tasman. He and John Key will be the perfect Anzac pair...
A bit of Seinfeld's tv show has stayed with me. George, a self-confessed loser bemoans that everything he does fails. So Seinfeld brightly advises if that is true then do the opposite. Then he must win most of the time.
So also with Goff and other Labour losers of elections, and the erstwhile Labour voters, (who want politicians with texture and crispness to chew on). Andrew Little should do the opposite to advice from old politicians who have passed on but still haunt the corridors of power.
I am uneasy about this Turnbull, and fear that Australia has got its first unalloyed neoliberal the helm. Old Howard, in comparison, was a tory nationalist, who did what he needed to do to stay in the club. It looks as if they tried an Abbott/Hockey duo, with Abbott being the down-home conservative while Hockey transformed the economy. Exxcept it didn't work - no one bought it. So now they have their version of Key, from Goldman Sachs rather than Merrill Lynch. I can already see him using the downturn in mining and his alleged commitment to addressing climate change to take down the miners' union, while urban liberals, sitting on their terraced balconies, inwardly applaud the fall of the cashed-up bogans while outwardly saying "At last someone is doing something about climate change." My hope is that he has missed his moment, and is faced with more critical scrutiny than Key was at the same stage.
After writing my last comment, I spoke to a relative in Australia, one who would never vote liberal, who disagrees with me about Turnbull. They pointed to his long support of the arts and his independence of thought. By their account, Turnbull is committed to neoliberal capitalism, but also believes it can be pursued in ways that avoid inequality and hardship. I do not say that this person is right, but Turnbull's first sentence on gaining the leadership, his shared nickname with Key and his stated admiration of the bloke may have caused me to judge him too harshly. We will see in due course I guess.
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