MUNGO MACCALLUM. Abbott waits for next ride on gravy train.

May 27, 2019

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, their Captain Catholic will forever be their martyred saint, treacherously brought down by the Turnbull turncoats and their allies – their once and future king. And the extreme left would wish he was still in parliament to continue his long career of undermining and disruption on 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 revolving door prime ministers. Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and Malcolm Turnbull are long gone; and 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 last ten years can 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 wherever he caught a glimpse of them, whether on the opposition benches or among his 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 was his mistakes: the disastrous 2014 budget, the authoritarian chaos of his office under his chief of staff Peta Credlin, and on course his knighthood of Prince Phillip.

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 streuously backed coal.

He snubbed their overwhelming vote to approve same sex marriage. And his performance as the local member just did not cut it. He was a energetic participant  as a cyclist, lifesaver and firefighter – although sometimes he appeared more interested in the cameras than the job at hand — but they 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 lack for a comfortable and well-paid job. But he can never regain the one for which he really lusted. Sic transit gloria Tony.

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