Six months after the failed Abbott leadership spill, the Coalition remains vulnerable, writes Dennis Atkins
SIX months after Tony Abbott begged for six months to get his leadership and the Government back on track, his authority has eroded and his grip on the prime ministership remains steady but not secure.
There’s every likelihood and probability Abbott will lead the Coalition to the next election, but he has failed to fix the problems that took him to the “near-death experience” in his party room in February.
That was when one in three colleagues wanted him out and, if there were a rerun of that ballot today, the result might not be much different.
The extreme behaviour that infuriated colleagues – from first-term MPs to his deputy Julie Bishop – has been dialled down, but the fundamental change hoped for hasn’t eventuated.
There has been a level of greater consultation and the highhanded “captain’s picks” have been mostly parked.
Chief of staff Peta Credlin has lowered her profile and is not as meddling in the affairs of other ministers and the backbench as she had been – although her presence is still felt everywhere.
Three things in the last six months have reignited doubts among some, reinforced them with others and caused commentators to again question Abbott’s future.
The first was the attempt to strip citizenship from Australians who fight for or give support to terrorist groups, even if they are sole nationals.
The proposal was knocked back by Cabinet’s security committee, but Abbott persisted with it – to the point of encouraging backbenchers to lobby on his behalf.
It was scuttled after Malcolm Turnbull intervened, arguing for a constitutionally sound response that did not render people stateless.
Second, a new front in the war on the ABC opened after Q&A foolishly gave a platform to a convicted criminal with terror links, prompting Abbott to call for heads to roll.
While most Liberals believed Abbott was justified in firing a shot at the ABC, to keep it running for weeks and arbitrarily banning Coalition MPs from appearing on the program was overkill.
By the time Turnbull found a way out for the ABC and the Government, it was Abbott’s judgment being questioned.
It was revisiting an old culture war of no interest to mainstream voters.
Most damaging for Abbott has been letting the Bronwyn Bishop travel-excess saga drag on too long and his refusal to see anything wrong with the former Speaker’s behaviour.
While MPs fielded angry complaints about the issue, Abbott stuck with his close friend.
By the time the light went on for Bishop and Abbott, the Government had taken a pummelling in the polls, and any deserved odium attached to Labor MPs like Tony Burke paled in comparison with the damage done to the Coalition.
Monday’s Newspoll – which put the Coalition’s primary vote below 40 per cent for the first time since the Budget and gave Labor an election-winning eight-point lead in preferred terms – was not a good report card for Abbott after his six months on probation.
The message from the polls is clear and ominous. Voters do not like – or respect – Abbott any more than they did in February, and the Coalition remains vulnerable to defeat.
The fact an election is due in about 12 months, at most, and could be as early as
MOST DAMAGING FOR ABBOTT HAS BEEN LETTING THE BRONWYN BISHOP TRAVEL-EXCESS SAGA DRAG ON TOO LONG AND HIS REFUSAL TO SEE ANYTHING WRONG WITH THE FORMER SPEAKER’S BEHAVIOUR