A funny thing happened on the way to Malcolm Turnbull’s 29th bad Newspoll, due next week.
Funny strange, that is, not funny ha-ha. Because after breathlessly reporting every utterance of Tony Abbott over the past two years, the political media this week seemed to collectively lose interest in the embittered former prime minister. Other than the ‘Abbott Network’, otherwise known as Sky News, of course.
Mr Abbott directed two major sprays at his own side during his weekly interview with tabloid radio this week, but you wouldn’t know this because it was barely reported.
After unsurprisingly labelling Labor’s plan to abolish cash refunds on dividend imputation a “great big new tax on retirees with shares”, Mr Abbott said the Turnbull government couldn’t effectively attack the move because it had a “credibility gap” on superannuation.
Noting “this isn’t the first hit on superannuation, and that’s the tragedy”, Mr Abbott helpfully emphasised the government’s credibility deficit was “because the last change to super was an adverse one and it was by the Turnbull government just before the 2016 election”.
Such a slap down would have been diligently relayed by the media in the past – at the very least by the Murdoch publications – along with a notation that PM Turnbull was only X-number of bad Newspolls away from the magic 30 that he invoked when he challenged Mr Abbott for the Liberal leadership.
But this week there was virtually nothing.
The media’s silence was made even more deafening by its almost complete disinterest in the other serve Mr Abbott delivered during the same interview – this time to his former ‘loyal deputy’, Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop.
When Mr Abbott was invited to comment on “lack of action” on the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 almost four years ago, the man who boasted he would shirtfront Russian president Vladimir Putin over the incident did not hesitate in taking the free kick.
Exposing his own tendency to shoot first and question later, Mr Abbott claimed it was “disappointing” and “not good enough” for Ms Bishop to say we should resist jumping to conclusions about who was responsible for shooting down the civilian aircraft because the investigation was still ongoing.
It was “absolutely clear”, according to Mr Abbott, that Russia was responsible for the attack, and that “for too long, the Russians have been getting away with murder. Literally getting away with murder”.
The former PM’s colourful MH17 reprimand got a bit more traction in the media than his line on the Turnbull government’s “credibility gap”, but even so, it wasn’t covered in one major newspaper and even Sky News didn’t cover the ‘story’ until 24 hours later.
The media’s reluctance to air Mr Abbott’s weekly self-indulgences is even more curious given we’re now only a few weeks out from Mr Turnbull clocking up 30 negative Newspolls.
However, the most likely reason for this turn of events is that the political news media’s loss of interest in Mr Abbott simply reflects the former prime minister’s loss of influence with his colleagues.
In recent times, the rogue backbencher has tried to foment dissent in the Liberal party room on a number of issues, but has only been able to rally the support of a small cohort made up of his rusted-on followers. The rest of the Liberal wagon train has moved on.
Without popular support in the community, such as that which sustained former PM Kevin Rudd during his campaign to be reinstated, Mr Abbott’s own campaign of redemption seems to have finally fizzled out, leaving him as the epitome of Yesterday’s Man.
This does not mean, however, that Mr Turnbull can interpret the welcome (and overdue) absence of Mr Abbott from the media as a sign that he’s safe from a future conservative coup.
If (or more likely when) the next generation of Liberal conservatives do come for the current PM, it won’t be because 30 bad Newspolls have occurred on his watch; it will be because they have a candidate who can do better than he can do at the next federal election.
Mr Turnbull’s only consolation, when that time comes, will be the knowledge that his replacement is not Mr Abbott.