Contributed by Jim Hayes
Tony Abbott has is moving in on prime minister Malcolm Turnbull again. It seems he still has dreams about rising to the helm once again. And for his part, Turnbull has never looked so vulnerable. Each day is looking more like a dead man walking.
Every time there is a decision to be made, Turnbull comes out looking indecisive and like someone who has little control over the situation. Turnbull’s life as prime minister mainly consists of stumbling from one crisis to another. So strong is the public perception of incompetence that he has become one of the most unpopular prime ministers ever.
Abbott was overthrown because of the unpopularity of his government. Turnbull’s problem is that the only thing that he has excelled in, has been to become even more unpopular than Abbott. This is an obvious signal for Abbott to step up the pressure..
The Liberals have seen defections to One Nation, or like Bernardi, towards the forming of a new conservative party. But this is only the tip of the iceberg. In the Party Room, politicians consider the options. Politicians have an instinct for personal and there are more than a few in the party room who feel that the party agenda is not being implemented as they would like.
Abbott has positioned himself as a backer of Brexit. This has the purpose of positioning him to win him credibility with the most conservative of the government’s base, as it works to distance Turnbull.
The Abbott view on Brexit was in spelled in a forward to a report published by the Free Enterprise Group, an influential Conservative Party think tank in Britain.
In late-January, Abbott accused Turnbull in a newspaper column in The Australian, of abandoning economic reform.
Abbott wrote “As always, our challenge is to maximise economic growth. That means getting taxes down and regulation down so that we can get productivity and profitability up. But getting taxes down responsibly means a ferocious clamp on all new spending other than that with a clear growth (or necessary national security) dividend. It’s a pity that Malcolm Turnbull abandoned the tax reform and federation reform white papers that had been well under way under my government. This process was the best hope of securing a shift from taxing production to taxing consumption”.
At the recent Young Liberals conference, Abbott attacked Turnbull for making it “harder and harder” to use coal and gas, because of the renewable target. H also called on the government to cut public service jobs.
The latest salvo is over marriage equality. He has attacked any move towards allowing a free vote in parliament and insisted that there must continue to be a commitment to a plebiscite. Divisions in the government over the issue add to Turnbull’s vulnerability.
While Abbott maintains major ambitions these are not limited to being prime minister for a second time. He wants to lead a government in his own image, which is, more militantly wedded to ultra-neoliberalism, government cuts, tax cuts for big business and the big brother approach to implementing them.
Unless there is a turnaround, the more the fortunes of Malcolm Turnbull fall, the closer we come to an Abbott style government. What we have now may not be good. But what might come will be a damned sight worse.