AUSTRALIA POLITICS: Abbott Comeback Takes Center Stage
Tony Abbott has delivered a manifesto he will never get to implement as Liberal leader. The nasty edge to his new book and the commentary used to launch it will not embellish any leadership bid.
It makes it almost certain he never gets that opportunity. The Liberal Party substantially has run out of patience with what some see as his 16-month sulk and his posturing as the king in exile.
Abbott is portraying his book, “Making Australia Right”, as merely a policy discussion, a back bencher taking a pew in the Liberal broad church and raising urgent matters.
Few will be fooled, including the obvious target of the book, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
“He knows exactly what he’s doing and so do his colleagues,” said Mr Turnbull on Melbourne radio today.
The Prime Minister said he would not be provoked. Others will not be as disciplined. They take the same view of Mr Abbott’s hopes of regaining the leadership as Labor front bencher Anthony Albanese who today said, “Tony Abbott is delusional”.
This bitter response to an Abbott outing isn’t new. Late last year a prominent Liberal expressed frustration at being restrained from taking on the former Prime Minister.
“I want it to be hunting season but I’m told not yet,” said the Liberal, who was obedient but not satisfied.
That hunting season has now been declared, and the opening shot came a few weeks ago when he blasted possible tax increases, only to have his own significant tax rise record read back to him by Mr Turnbull and others.
Last night Mr Abbott dismembered the Turnbull government in his round of book launch activities, and increasingly is being seen as disloyal to the party, not just the Prime Minister.
It is unlikely he could bring about the removal of Mr Turnbull before the next election but his comments could damage re-election chances.
His warning of a “drift to defeat” was seen to be aimed more at his Liberal opponents than fortifying the party’s election chances. His criticism of the Government for not being far-right wing enough will be seen as encouraging the transfer of Liberal voters to One Nation and other minor parties.
Ministers lined up to reject the Abbott policy prescriptions, often by throwing the author’s own performance back in his face.
Mr Abbott said the Government should “ensure that our armed forces are about protecting the country and not just creating jobs in Adelaide”.
Defence Industries Minister Christopher Pyne, responsible for the $50 billion submarine project and as member for Sturt a prominent Adelaide MP, quickly responded on the Nine network.
He said all back bench policy contributions were welcome but, “We won’t be slashing spending. Tony Abbott tried that in 2014 Budget during his leadership but of course a whole lot of zombie legislation sat in the Senate unable to be passed.”
And he pointedly noted: “The last time Tony Abbott was leader one of the last polls had him at 30 per cent, to Bill Shorten’s 48 per cent as preferred Prime Minister.
“So we are on the right track with our policies and Malcolm Turnbull.”
Mr Abbott also demanded the Government’s renewable energy target be cut, because it was expensive and pushing up power prices.
That produced a softly-spoken barb today from Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg on Radio National.
“Just 18 months ago Tony Abbott’s government reached agreement with the Labor Party on a 23.5 per cent RET by 2020,” said the minister.
“Now that was heralded at the time by (Opposition Leader) Bill Shorten and the Labor Party as restoring investor confidence.
“And we are seeing the support for renewables which is bringing down price and ensuring it comes into the system as a source of new (electricity) generation.”
Meanwhile, Labor is delighted, as front bencher Anthony Albanese made clear on the Nine network.
“The Government doesn’t have an agenda, doesn’t have a sense of purpose and Tony Abbott’s solution is to say, ‘Take what I did in the 2014 Budget and go more extreme’,” said Mr Albanese.
He said: “Tony Abbott is delusional and the Government is dysfunctional.”