There is a scenario that could see embattled Aussie Prime Minister Tony Abbott overturned as quickly as next week.
This weekend, the election in Queensland will be a disaster for the governing Liberals, or as they are in Queensland, the merged Liberal National Party. Such an outcome is hard to imagine, given their massive majority in Brisbane, but disaster it will be nevertheless, in this most reliably conservative of conservative Australian states.
We think it unlikely that the LNP will lose Government, although it is just possible. Labor needs to achieve a 12 per cent swing to gain 36 seats if it is to win a majority government and recent polls have put the party within striking distance. But we think the swing is likely to be nearer 8-10%, especially as we expect Newman to do marginally better than Opposition Leader Annastacia Palaszczuk in the leader’s debate in Brisbane at 1pm today.
In that case what will happen is their majority will be slashed and loads of their seats lost. And we expect their leader, Campbell Newman, to lose his seat, too. Already desperate right-wing constitutional nerds are taking to the airwaves to argue he can stay as leader even if he’s outside the Parliament, ignoring the obvious fact that his personal standing will have been effectively rubbished by such an outcome.
Given the scale of the debacle, the blame will inevitably be sheeted home to Abbott on analysis TV and all the major talk shows on radio, worsening the standing of a man who is now so noxiously unpopular that he was effectively banned from campaigning in Queensland during the election.
What will make the sting deep and enduring is that Palaszczuk’s campaign has focussed repeatedly on health and education – the very areas Abbott has been foolish enough to attack repeatedly at a Federal level. The contrast can hardly be more stark or more telling if the Queensland election plays out as we expect.
But amongst all this gloom, what is even worse is that Abbott is slated to talk to the influential National Press Club lunch on Monday immediately after all that sickening analysis.
Never at his best when challenged publicly, there is no doubt that he will be embarrassedly umming and erring his way through a barrage of amused questions first of all keeping the “Why knight Prince Phillip?” hare running, (which he will seek, but fail, to deflect), but then, more importantly, questions seeking to pin the blame for the Victorian election, the Queensland election, and the Government’s low standing on him personally.
Speculation on his leadership will not be put to his ministers, as in the last few painful days, it will be put to him personally.
In response, he will seek to combattively state that, “Er, um, I will be taking our great party to the next election, I am focused on selling the Government’s successes”, and end up sounding, in other words, exactly like every other party leader has sounded just before they’re rolled. And reminding everyone that selling his Government’s “successes” is exactly – precisely – what he has failed to do.
There will be nowhere for him to hide from this grilling, (we could almost feel sorry for him if he had not brought this all down on his own head), and he will wilt under its blistering heat, looking ever more uncertain and strained as it wears on.
Journos in the audience will have been assisted by plentiful leaks and background briefings from anti-Abbott forces in his party room, manoeuvring to get their preferred replacement into a position where the crisis has become so awful as to prompt their immediate elevation to the top job.
If, by some miracle, Abbott performs strongly at the Press Club, the inevitable chippy-chippy-chop may be delayed a little, but we repeat our oft-stated opinion that his metaphorical decapitation is now inevitable. Indeed, as we stated before he won the last election, it always was going to be.
He just has the wrong skills to be PM – always did have – and he has not managed to curb those elements of his personality that make him so self-evidently unfitted for the role. The Liberal Party is infinitely more ruthless than its Labor opponents, even though that is not generally understood. They know any replacement – and it would take a miracle for them not to choose the country’s most popular politician in Malcolm Turnbull – will need time to settle the ship before the next election. They will not risk losing what should have been an unloseable election against the largely inoffensive but also un-inspirational policy-lite Bill Shorten.
Time marches on, but Abbott’s Prime Ministership will not. Like some awful, inevitable Shakesperian tragedy, he will pay the ultimate price for the hubris that saw him persuaded to stand against the infinitely smarter and more electorally appealing Turnbull in the first place.
And if Turnbull does take over, we don’t expect to see Hockey moved from the role of Treasurer, in which he has been an unmitigated disaster. One thing will save him. If he were moved, we think Julie Bishop will put her hand up for that role – a step too far for the mad-eyed Western Australian in our view – and she would fail in it just as Abbott has failed as PM. It’s one thing to blather on aggressively about how rotten Vlad Putin is for shooting Australians out of the sky. It’s quite another to steer the ship of state’s financial well-being. Nothing in her period of Opposition or in Government shows her up to such a task.
Turnbull will not risk her messing things up for him, so will be inclined to leave Hockey in place.
In which place, he will be told to smoke no cigars in public, to stop shooting from the lip about the poor driving less than the rest of us, and essentially to shut up and leave it all to Malcolm. You’ll hear a whole lot less about “structural deficit” under Turnbull and much vaguery about “good management”. The great irony of the Abbott experiment for him and his backers like Nick Minchin is that his failure will kill hard right economic solutions for a decade.
Australia will return quietly comfortably to “tax and spend”, and not even notice the difference. and all of Abbott and Hockey’s painful Thatcherite striving will be forgotten. Shakespearian indeed.
The one thing against Abbott being moved against next week, of course, is that Parliament is not sitting again till 9th February. Liberal MPs would have to be called back to gather specially for a party room spill. Such an outcome is rare, but not unknown. It could, though, just save his bacon. But not for long.