Today marks a fortnight since Prime Minister Tony Abbott, reportedly shaken by the number of MPs who had voted against him in the failed leadership spill, vowed to his colleagues and the nation to be a changed man.
The chastened PM promised he’d be more consultative in future, would “socialise” policy decisions before announcing them, and swear off making captain’s calls. But in the 14 days since then it’s become clear Abbott either has no intention of keeping those commitments, or is simply incapable of doing so.
Even in the hours leading up to the spill motion, Abbott was still making unilateral decisions. Without consulting Cabinet or the leadership group he promised to open up the tender process for building Australia’s new submarine fleet in order to secure the votes of wavering South Australian backbenchers. Unfortunately, this commitment held as much water as any other made by the PM, with Abbott backtracking on it ever since.
Since the vote Abbott has also continued to exercise his seriously defective political judgement, attacking the president of the Human Rights Commission, Gillian Triggs, over the children in custody report, and sacking senior Liberal Philip Ruddock as Whip for being less than effusive during the leadership non-coup.
The PM’s clumsy references to emergency aid previously given to help Indonesia recover from the Boxing Day tsunami have also potentially set back efforts to gain clemency for the Bali Nine prisoners facing execution. And then there’s Abbott accusing Labor of a jobs “holocaust” or his dog-whistling xenophobes on the foreign ownership of properties and land.
In fact, pretty much very effort Abbott has made to portray himself as the tough guy over the past fortnight has backfired, robbing him of the best opportunity left to turn his approval ratings around.
And while the PM’s poor political decisions and mis-speaks have continued unabated, Abbott’s shown no inclination to curb the unprecedented powers of his chief of staff, Peta Credlin, in anything other than a cosmetic way.
As a result, the PM’s supporters and detractors have taken to the media – particularly Abbott’s principal cheerleader News Corp – to fight it out.
It’s no coincidence that following on from Abbott choosing to ignore News Corp proprietor Rupert Murdoch’s helpful advice to sack Credlin, she should be controversially denounced in a New Corp expose over the weekend. The report makes that same mistake as Abbott supporters, blaming Credlin for the PM’s failures, and even going so far as to imply the PM’s most senior adviser was negligent by failing to dissuade Abbott from wanting to invade Iraq to combat Islamic State.
Even more damaging is the article’s conclusion, articulating the thought that no Abbott supporter dare speak:
It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that dysfunction is entrenched in the highest office in the land – and that Abbott and Credlin will survive or crash together.
Meanwhile Abbott detractors are continuing to leak like an open fire hydrant, providing the News Corp Sunday tabloids with pointedly damaging information about the PM, including that he’d insisted on young unemployed waiting six months for the dole, and had refused to limit the aged pension for wealthy retirees.
Both the stories against Credlin and those against Abbott are particularly inconvenient for the PM, who has been trying for a week to create momentum for a statement on national security that he plans to make to the Parliament today.
Abbott has been telegraphing this speech for a week, firstly with a video statement on the Valentine’s Day weekend, announcing that terrorists would no longer be given “the benefit of the doubt”, bookended with last weekend’s response to the inquiry into the Sydney siege.
This succession of statements would have been carefully staged to put the PM in the best possible light, as the “defender of the nation”, while Newspoll was surveying voters late last week and over the weekend. The results of that poll will now be tainted by the News Corp attack on Credlin, and the past fortnight’s damaging leaks against Abbott, which are contributing to a general sense of chaos in the Government.
Today’s statement on national security is therefore the last desperate attempt by Abbott to show his increasingly disillusioned colleagues that he should be retained as PM, by demonstrating that voters turn to tough and principled leaders in times of national adversity.
But the PM may already be too late. As this week’s Newspoll will likely show, the problem for Abbott is that his continued gaffes, stumbles and poor political judgement have already stripped away any authority or respect he might have once commanded as PM.
It’s likely no one will listen to PM Abbott or take him seriously from now on, even if it is a matter of national security – for a prime minister without authority is in no position to protect himself let alone the nation.