News National The PM defies his critics – and the opinion polls

The PM defies his critics – and the opinion polls

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Tony Abbott’s worried backbench MPs will have to blast him out of the Lodge if they want a change of leader.

A defiant Prime Minister even went so far as to suggest the party room would be defying the will of the people if they dump him.

Speaking at the National Press Club in a speech many saw as make or break, the Prime Minister harked back to the chaos of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd leadership merry-go-round.

“We were elected because the Australian people rejected chaos and we are not going to be taken back to that chaos. We really are not,” Mr Abbott said.

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He believes he is best to lead the party and he has given no thought to resigning.

And there is a new Abbott doctrine on the role of the party room in choosing its leader.

“An election changes everything,” he said.

The people elected an Abbott government, only they have the right to reject it, his unequivocal message.

Great theory but it’s no consolation to backbenchers already nervous after 10 months of appalling opinion polling.

Their worst fears were re-enforced at the weekend with the rout of another first-term coalition government.

One-term government is rapidly becoming the new norm.

A big majority of seats has proven no buffer against an unpopular leader.

And Tony Abbott, according to the latest Ipsos Fairfax poll, is desperately unpopular.

The most unpopular on record with an approval of just 29 per cent against a disapproval of 67 per cent.

Abbott removes defining policy

Mr Abbott set about removing one of the biggest barnacles on his ship of state in the speech.

His signature and defining Paid Parental Leave scheme is now “off the table”.

Opposition families minister Jenny Macklin was critical of the PM’s backflip on paid parental leave. Photo: AAP

Labor’s Jenny Macklin opportunistically but accurately asked if the Prime Minister can ditch that policy, what does he believe in.

Of course, it was the first of his “captain’s picks” and though he tried to make a virtue of necessity – “what’s desirable is not always doable” – this policy was always judged in the coalition as undesirable and misjudged and therefore not worth doing.

He blames the tough budgetary times, but coalition MPs, especially in regional and outer metropolitan seats, were reporting back deep resentment in their electorates at the prospect of taxpayers handing out $75,000 to high-income women to have babies.

The “I have listened and I have learned” mantra of the speech didn’t impress all of his target audience in the party room.

“We’ve heard it all before,” was one reaction.

Change would be ‘messy and bloody’

The view of many – the exact number is yet to be tested – is that the Abbott enterprise is so far behind that it would take a new leader the rest of the term to repair the damage.

But here’s the rub.

Any change will be messy and bloody.

Julie Bishop and Malcolm Turnbull are seen as the most likely to usurp Tony Abbott as Liberal leader. Photo: AAP

Tony Abbott is already defining it as a return to the worst of the government he replaced.

Any thought that Mr Abbott would not do a ‘Kevin Rudd’ and begin undermining his successor could well be pie in the sky.

There is a visceral distrust of likely front runner Malcolm Turnbull.

The darling of the Liberal moderates and the preferred leader in opinion polls has been there once and failed.

Queen of the conservatives Bronwyn Bishop said after Mr Abbott’s one-vote leadership win five years ago: “We lent our party to them (the moderates) now we’ve taken it back.”

The rumblings are ominous that an attempt to undo that putsch is under way.

The Prime Minster appointed one of his closest allies, Kevin Andrews, as Defence Minister in the recent reshuffle.

But his biggest task is to defend the leader’s back.

“The only one I can trust”, may be called upon sooner rather than later to show he’s up to the task.

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

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