The latest in the Transformers movies is called Age of Extinction.
Perhaps it was the drubbing his Liberal colleagues in Victoria suffered on Saturday, or the “ragged week” his government had last week, but Tony Abbott has begun transforming into the sort of prime minister he helped consign to political extinction.
Consider this perfectly reasonable statement at his marathon news conference on Monday morning: “I accept that what we are doing with the ABC is at odds with what I said immediately prior to the election but things have moved on and circumstances are different.”
This from a man who slammed the breaking of any promise under any circumstances as a betrayal of the people.
Three years ago in his previous guise as an uncompromising new age warrior for truth, he flayed Julia Gillard in parliament.
“It is an absolute principle of democracy that governments should not and must not say one thing before an election and do the opposite afterwards,” he said at the time.
Now he pleads: “I think sensible governments are not only entitled but, indeed, expected to change when circumstances change.”
He points to the deterioration in the budget since the election. Even though that was not an excuse he once promised to allow himself.
Labor’s Bill Shorten won’t let him off the hook.
“Ordinary Australians don’t like this government attacking health and education, breaking promises, telling lies … making cuts without a case,” he says.
The transformed Tony Abbott has now become something of an evangelist for leaders to break promises.
He is urging Victoria’s new premier-elect Daniel Andrews to ditch a major election undertaking.
Just last week he described the weekend poll as “a referendum on the East West Link”, a $3 billion road project backed by him and rejected by Labor.
The people voted no but now, apparently, there is no virtue in accepting their verdict.
The prime minister, in an extraordinary thumbing of his nose at the voters, is still threatening to withhold the $3 billion from other infrastructure projects Victoria might nominate unless Andrews breaks faith with his electorate.
Maybe Abbott is hoping to pocket the $3 billion in light of dire signals coming out of the treasurer’s office that the iron ore price is likely to be 40 per cent lower in the mid-year review than was forecast in the budget.
Iron ore, as Joe Hockey reminds everyone, accounts for one dollar in every five Australia earns from exports. So even the treasurer’s conservative forecasts are looking every bit as “overblown” as he used to accuse Labor of.
Adding to the government’s fiscal difficulties, respected forecasters Deloitte Access Economics in its latest Budget Monitor predicts “budget deficits as far as the eye can see”.
Beyond the Coalition’s promised return to surplus in 2017-18.
The prime minister doesn’t accept that the chronic revenue shortfall is permanent. But economist Chris Richardson says the “rivers of gold” in company tax returns at the level of the last mining boom are a thing of the past. That can mean only one thing: more pain, either by way of tax rises, or more cuts, or both.
While the transformation was going on in the PM’s courtyard, his education minister was busily schmoozing crossbench senators and agreeing to compromises that could cost the budget $3 billion.
One of them, South Australian independent Nick Xenophon, says the government is desperate to get a win, any sort of win, in the senate before the year ends.
Paul Bongiorno AM is a veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery, with 40 years’ experience covering Australian politics. He is Contributing Editor for Network Ten, appears on Radio National Breakfast and writes a weekly column on national affairs for The New Daily. He tweets at @PaulBongiorno