We predicted, regularly, (some would say, ad nauseam), that Tony Abbott would not make it to the next election, and we were beating that drum longer and harder than most, and that the very talented Turnbull would replace him.
So why were we so sure?
The answer is easy. As Prime Minister, from Day 1, Abbott was hoist by his own petard.
The very same ability that made him able to connect with the people over the terminally unpopular Gillard and Rudd governments – the ability to coin simple, aggressive phrases that seemed to sum everything up – was exactly the wrong ability to bring to The Lodge.
It is easily forgotten that Abbott did not really win the last election. Labor lost it, through a hideous morassive mixture of internicene squabbling, incompetence, and failure. In reality, this was the most “drover’s dog” election since Hawke defeated Fraser.
Here are the psychological moments that killed Abbott’s leadership:
Surrounding himself with the Australian flag as he constantly “stuck to message” on combatting the “death cult” of Daesh (ISIS) didn’t ring true with the Australian people, even as they simultaneously and constantly noted his “strength” on defence and security issues.
But Abbott was badly advised. The ridiculous tableaux-style presentations smacked of a gung-ho triumphalism that sat badly – deep down – with a people who have proportionately suffered more in war than most Western nations, and who understand that sending young Australians overseas to fight wars should never be a cause for celebration, even mutedly, and especially not in a manner that smacked of Americanism. He struck the wrong note, time and again, as social media went into overdrive wondering how many flags he could squeeze into every press conference. Would the photographers need to start using wide angle lenses?
In advertising we have a phrase to condemn clumsy communications. “Ooops, your strategy is showing.” While the flags were symbolic – and not in the way Abbott intended – the continual harping on about the threats to Australia eventually started to rebound on Abbott. That the PM’s Chief of Staff Peta Credlin and her crew couldn’t see that happening was just one of many mis-steps the Abbott team made.
Slugging pensioners to visit their Doctor
There is no question that Australia’s admirably robust health system is low on cash. The problem will have to be addressed.
Attempting to plug the gaps by hitting the poorest and most vulnerable customers of the system – who were over-heavily represented in the supporters of the Government – was an idiocy of breathtaking proportions.
The Paid Parental Leave Scheme nobody asked for, or wanted
Way to go Tony.
Announce an unfunded, wildly generous and extravagant scheme without any thought to how it could be implemented or even whether your own party agrees.
Then dump it when the very people it was supposed to help make it perfectly clear they think it’s madness, and anyway what they really want is more childcare places, not money in their pockets, because no matter how much money they’ve got they can’t find a child centre with room for little Johnny and Jane.
Big thinking, for sure.
Just big dumb thinking.
It makes you sick
Despite promising – repeatedly – before being elected that he would not cut health spending, Abbott duly introduced a vast range of cuts to the health budget.
Each one upset someone.
There’s no easy way to trim expenditure on health spending. But usually the public want to see it balanced by reinvestment in more modern facilities, in more efficient care, in better health outcomes. This was the story Abbott abysmally failed to sell.
Oi! That’s my tele you’re messin’ with, bro.
Abbott swore he wouldn’t inflict cuts on the ABC and SBS, both of which are national icons and hugely appreciated.
In the event, he cut $43.5 million from them. Needless to say the networks reported the pain, again and again.
It was not a big enough cut to make any major difference to the national plenty, but plenty big enough to hurt the corporations and enrage their loyal audiences. So why do it? Only Tony can answer that for you.
Children in detention
Abbott and his advisors were right that Australians, taken as a mass, were and are deeply concerned about refugee arrivals. Australians are a long way from anywhere, feel isolated in a sea of Asian countries, and from “the Yellow peril” onwards the population has had a dichotimal view of immigration.
When you add to that emotional confusion the horrors of the live trade in people across the storm-plagued seas around Aussie shores, “Stop the Boats” was a popular policy.
What was not popular, though, was the government’s tight-lipped refusal to comment on “operational matters”, for which the arguments were weakly made, and which simply made them look simply shifty and secretive. Why should we not know what was being done in our name?
What was not popular was the refusal to let journalists into the detention centres on tropical northern island nations from which leaked continual stories of mental illness, suicide, clashes with the locals, murder, rape, and worst of all, the distress of children left to rot behind barbed wire.
Australians are a generous and compassionate people. They might want to stop the boats, they were much less comfortable with the inevitable out-workings of that policy.
“Shirt fronting” Vladimir Putin
Outrage over the shooting down of MH17 by Russian-backed rebels in Ukraine was real and universal.
But as further evidence that Abbott could turn any gold into dross, his blokey threat to “shirt front” Russian president Putin just made him – and the country – look ridiculous.
When what was needed was austere, cold anger and statesmanlike comments, what we got was a one-time amateur boxer sounding like he was still holding court in the Students’ Union bar.
It is hard to overstate the utter derision of the Australian people at Abbott’s repeated preference for thought bubbles, publicly announced, over carefully-plotted policy.
When he revived Imperial Knighthoods people snorted in disgust. They are – and were always – a rotten echo of a colonial era that Australia has long since rejected.
At a stroke, he made himself look ridiculous – and looking ridiculous is the most damaging thing any politician can do to him or herself.
When he then proceeded to announce that his first choice for a knighthood was Prince Phillip, the die was cast. It was weeks before the hoo-ha died down, sucking vital oxygen from the Government’s agenda.
We’ve upset the old. Now let’s upset the young. Oh, and their folks.
Abbott forced students to repay their debt earlier by lowering the wage they need to earn before payments kick in and increased student debt by increasing the interest on their fees.
It wasn’t just the youngsters who were pissed off.
Up and down the country their middle class parents – most of whom remembered the days of free tertiary education they enjoyed, and which they knew full well current Government Ministers had enjoyed as well – were depressed and irritated too.
All they saw was life becoming even more un-affordable for their offspring, which would inevitably increase the burden on them too. The dramatic unaffordability of the first home market didn’t help.
The “economic crisis” disconnect
Abbott came to power talking about the “structural deficit” in the Australian budget, as an excuse for a stingingly brutal first budget which was duly heroically mishandled by both himself and Joe Hockey.
Whilst things hadn’t been exactly looking financially blooming for most Australians, in reality people were feeling reasonably well off.
To get people to go along with the budget, Abbott desperately needed to convince people that a Government taking in less money than it gives out – permanently – was an unsustainable proposition.
At the time, we advised him to focus on the credit card argument – to wit, you can’t live “on tick” forever, sooner or later the credit card payment falls due. Instead, demonstrating the tone deafness which characterised his hold on the highest office in the land, Abbott comprehensively failed to explain why such a dramatically recessionary budget was necessary. That failure to engage was the moment his fate was ultimately sealed, because so much else flowed from that glaring failure.
Abbott isn’t now out of power because of Turnbull’s shenanigins or, indeed, a “febrile” media or any other excuse. He’s out of power because he just wasn’t very good at his job.
Which will be the hardest thing of all, we are sure, for this intensely driven and self-critical man to accept.
We will now make our first prediction of this new era.
The Liberal/National Coalition will win the next Federal Election. You heard it here first.