The Commonwealth Observer

Embattled Australian PM, “dead man walking” in rattled Liberal Party

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Murray Burt
Written by Murray Burt

Australian national politics is in trouble. And that trouble seems to be a product of the management of Prime Minister Tony Abbott. It has generated some stinging media commentary.

Even a challenge to his leadership is fraught with problems: there is no viable challenger. Oh, there are some snarly critics like backbenchers Dennis Jensen, Mal Brough and Warren Entsch. And some of the polls place them above Abbott in popularity. But the other Liberal backbenchers show little sign of wanting to dump him.

A caustic column by writer Annabel Crabb summed it up well.

“For all the talk of the Prime Minister being a dead man walking, another move against him can only be triggered by further frustration at his failure to change or sustain pressure from a popular rival. And the latter doesn’t look likely”

Last week’s Liberal leadership vote wasn’t about Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Even to Malcolm Turnbull, it wasn’t about Malcolm Turnbull (and that doesn’t happen too often).

“ No, the vote … was a gruelling, nail-biting, and mutually costly battle between the Australian Prime Minister and himself, and it didn’t go well.

“Those with a good knowledge of these things recognized immediately that the margin —61 votes to 39 — was big trouble. Prime ministers with that degree of hostility among their own colleagues don’t tend to be a long-term proposition; especially when they’re in dire straits against a candidate called Not Specified.”

The decision was, right or wrong, to give the PM another chance, notwithstanding a naturally-occurring sense of panic and horror within the ranks of the Liberal Party, at the failure of a man they would like to be better at the job they gave him.

With the prospect of more than a third of his party openly against the future is far from promising. However he was cheery facing the music:

“Good government starts today!” the PM declared at his post-vote press conference (demonstrating at least that his talent for cheerful demi-clangers remains unbowed).

He assured his colleagues that Medicare changes wouldn’t be pursued without “broad agreement” from doctors, that there would be a further tax cut for small business, and that his office’s vetting of ministerial staff appointments and Cabinet submissions would be eased back, the better to hear the views of his colleagues.

“This is going to be a government which socializes decisions before they are finalized,” Abbott promised.

Source: Annabel Crabb, ABC chief online political writer

Photo credit: Real Big Tony / cc

About the author

Murray Burt

Murray Burt

Murray Burt has been a journalist for nearly 60 years, starting as a cadet reporter in New Zealand, and doing two stints with wire services on Fleet Street before settling in Canada in the newspaper business. He is a retired managing editor of the Winnipeg Free Press, and former city and national editor of The Globe and Mail in Toronto. He is a past-president of the CJA and has been a life member since 2003, participating in each of its conferences and CPU’s conferences since 1990. He is a director of the Advisory Council of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, based in New Delhi; president of Manitoba’s newly-reconstituted Royal Commonwealth Society; and has directorships in the Duke of Edinburgh Awards and the Canadian Forces Liaison Council (western Canada).

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