With the gravity of an undertaker, Chief Government Whip Phillip Ruddock announced the Liberal Party room had rejected a spill motion of the leadership positions – 61 no, 39 yes, and one informal.
But it was no ordinary informal vote. It had a message. In capital letters the word ‘pass’ was on the ballot paper.
Whatever the motive, it’s a nice analogy for what’s happening.
The fact is the party room vote has delivered Tony Abbott a hospital pass and it’s only a matter of time before he gets tackled to the ground, ball and all.
The Liberals are tying themselves in knots to avoid appearing like a reprise of the Labor years.
An innocent bystander would be hard-pressed to spot the difference right down to the incumbent walking to the party room flanked by supporters.
Unlike Julia Gillard this Prime Minister did not voluntarily spill his position.
He was confident of a crushing vote of confidence – 70 or more – with the disgruntled scraping to get more than 10.
When he was handed the result on a piece of paper, he hesitated.
One MP says it was as if he had received a kick in the guts.
He then announced the result and assured his colleagues he had learned from this “near death experience”.
Others in the room say he asked for six months to turn the ship around.
Like Ms Gillard, he will now be hostage to the opinion polls.
Even before the vote, Don Randall, the WA backbencher who seconded the spill, was saying it won’t go away.
“I suspect this is just the beginning of the process to sort it out once and for all,” he said.
Some are urging Malcolm Turnbull to strike at Tuesday’s party room.
The precedent five years ago saw two Liberal leadership ballots in the space of a week. The argument goes the Communications Minister should strike while he has momentum. He is resisting the temptation.
But the temptation must be great.
The latest Newspoll has Mr Abbott sinking deeper in the mire.
The government is trailing Labor by 14 points and the PM’s approval is a disastrous 24 per cent.
His disapproval is a whopping 68 per cent.
Mr Abbott is one more embarrassing captain’s pick away from being given his marching orders.
Many who voted for him this time feel they have discharged their obligations.
Forty per cent of his MPs already believe he is beyond recovery.
You might remember when Ms Gillard dispatched Kevin Rudd in a lightning strike in 2010 she said a good government had lost its way.
Tony Abbott has chosen a different tack.
His government hasn’t been up to the task. He is now promising: “Good government starts today.”
And in case you missed it he repeated it.
Maybe a fine act of contrition for a lost year but feeding perceptions he’s as bad if not worse than the administration he replaced.
Will the real Opposition Leader please stand up?
Labor leader Bill Shorten didn’t miss him in Parliament.
He said Mr Abbott promised in Opposition to deliver a mature and adult government: “The promise to run a stable and mature government is the biggest broken promise of this sad government in the past 16 months”.
And a sure sign Labor believes Malcolm Turnbull is not far away the Opposition Leader took out some insurance resorting to ridicule: “Never has a member wanted so much but done so little to get it.”
Mr Turnbull is a Hamlet he taunted, vacillating between Liberal and Labor policies, not sure what he wants to be.
The task ahead, as Mr Abbott admits, is daunting.
But he’s not helping himself.
In Parliament he still sounds like an Opposition Leader fighting the last election.
Pink batts, carbon tax, mining tax, stopping boats all get a run for the millionth time along with the gibe: “Labor’s idea of economic growth is to spend money they don’t have.”
Raises the question where is he going to get the money when this year’s budget is sure to show deficits as far as the eye can see.
The chaos he accused Labor of is now engulfing him and Monday’s vote ensures it’s here for a while yet.
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