News National Why Tony Abbott must go quietly into the night
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Why Tony Abbott must go quietly into the night

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Make no mistake: Malcolm Turnbull’s excoriating assessment of Tony Abbott’s prime ministership and his subsequent victory in the party room vote is a judgement shared by the Australian people.

Mr Turnbull referred to 30 successive negative Newspolls, but Mr Abbott’s woes were broader than that.

There had been 177 consecutive polls by six different pollsters and the Coalition did not lead any of them since April last year.

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Self-preservation was the clincher argument that Turnbull’s backers put to Liberal fence-sitters. Especially those more conservative Liberals who were against marriage equality or a price on carbon.

There’s nothing like the prospect of losing your seat to focus politicians’ minds.

tony abbott and andrew hastie
Tony Abbott campaigns with Andrew Hastings in the crucial by-election seat of Canning. Photo: Getty

And that’s where Canning comes in. Two polls at the weekend, Galaxy and Ipsos, found the Liberals ahead but sustaining a swing of almost 10 per cent.

They were in line with ReachTel polls earlier in the campaign and they offer no comfort to the 42 Liberal MPs on margins of 10 per cent or less.

Prior to the vote, Abbott supporters were arguing strongly that to dump a prime minister is to pass a searing judgement not only on him but also on the Liberal Party.

This was the problem Labor never really recovered from after the axing of Kevin Rudd.

In that case, of course, a vengeful Mr Rudd set about tearing down his successor. The Liberal Party cannot afford a similarly bloody transition.

It puts up in lights a sadly disunited party of government.

“Do we really want to be as bad as the Labor Party?” one Liberal asked.

Too late.

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The Liberal Party has triggered memories of the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd leadership changes of the Labor Party. Photo: AAP

While there has been nothing like the behaviour of Kevin Rudd from Turnbull, Abbott has more than done his bit to divide his own government.

The tricky way he handled marriage equality is but one of the manifestations. That had senior ministers arguing publicly against the various propositions he was putting.

Turnbull homed in on these vulnerabilities promising better cabinet government, no more captain’s picks and advocacy instead of slogans. His disdain for Abbott’s style was scarcely hidden.

He promised not to treat the intelligence of Australians with contempt.

The way ahead will not be all plain sailing. He still has to deliver the sort of performance that has consistently seen him ahead as a preferred Liberal leader: middle of the road, contemporary and inclusive.

There is a template. New South Wales Liberal Premier Mike Baird. But Baird came to the leadership bloodlessly. His predecessor quit parliament and the party united behind him.

Will Tony Abbott be so magnanimous?

Take a look back at his political career and decide for yourself.

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

Read all of his columns here

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