If there’s one message Tony Abbott should have received loud and clear by the end of this week it’s this – give it a break, Tony. We’ve had enough.
And that’s not just because an increasing number of the Turnbull government’s senior conservative MPs have lined up before TV cameras to tell the former PM to zip it.
A conservative cabinet member, who has mainly kept his counsel until now, unleashed on the former PM this week.
Energy and environment minister Josh Frydenberg challenged Mr Abbott to ask himself who was benefiting most from his “constant critiquing of the government”. Noting that it wasn’t Liberal Party members or MPs who profited, let alone the Australian people, the minister stated that Bill Shorten was “the one who’s benefiting most, unfortunately, from Tony Abbott’s constant interventions.”
But just like the other entreaties from his senior colleagues, these were ignored by the former PM.
Mr Abbott appears to have given up trying to get senior conservatives to abandon Mr Turnbull and focussed instead on whipping up a backbench rebellion.
It emerged this week that the former PM is headlining a growing list of Liberal party events hosted by conservative backbenchers and at least one junior minister.
According to the Australian, the former PM has “conducted a nationwide tour of marginal and conservative seats, visiting schools, RSL clubs and addressing branch meetings” at the invitation of Abbott loyalist backbenchers.
One such loyalist, Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar, claimed the recent event to which he’d invited the high-profile backbencher was a “standard” branch meeting.
But a leaked video of the event showed Mr Abbott had slammed the government’s “second-best, taxing and spending” budget, and argued that “a party that has to do what’s second-best because the Senate made us do it is a party which needs some help”.
Mr Abbott then encouraged audience members to agitate, because “our first responsibility is to fight so that the existing government, the existing cabinet and the existing prime minister are as good as they possibly can be.”
This confirms there’s an audience for Abbott’s conservative insurgency, but this doesn’t necessarily mean the audience wants Mr Abbott back in the top job.
That moment of truth emerged on Wednesday night when one of Mr Abbott’s most ardent supporters, Sky News’ late night host Paul Murray, asked a live audience in Townsville about the former PM.
The audience was made up of Paul Murray’s regular viewers, so it was representative of nothing more than the 50,000 or so people who tune in to Paul Murray Live each weeknight. To call this bunch right-wingers or conservatives would be an extreme act of understatement.
So Mr Murray was probably expecting a different answer when he polled the audience by a show of hands to indicate their views of Tony Abbott. It started out well, with much of the audience indicating support for Mr Abbott to stay in parliament. A smattering less than that thought the backbencher should “be promoted”.
But to Mr Murray’s demonstrable surprise, almost no-one in the room wanted Mr Abbott to be returned to the prime ministership.
Perhaps this message is starting to sink in. After being surprisingly grilled by another of his tabloid radio enablers this week, Mr Abbott defensively claimed “the last thing I want to do is be difficult”.
And in response to a question at an event in his own electorate, about whether his commentary would deliver government to Labor, the backbencher said it was a fair point “because these things are all a question of balance and judgement and sometimes all of us can get the balance wrong, our judgment can be awry”.
Mr Abbot appeared to concede that he’d eventually have to abandon his civil war, noting that: “At some point in time, whatever misgivings we might have, we swallow them and we get on with the job, which is trying to make sure that the Turnbull-Joyce Coalition government gets re-elected.”
Taken together, these comments make it clear Mr Abbott knows he’s being destructive. He knows that, while his wrecking behaviour plays out well with “the base”, it cruels any chance the government may have for re-election.
Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce said, in rare moment of lucidity this week, “for most people, the best person to control them is themselves”.
This is the best piece of advice that anyone can give Tony Abbott. It’s time for the former PM to control his impulses and shut up, for the good of the party he claims to be fighting for.