News National Tony Abbott’s 2018 agenda: ‘On your bike Malcolm’?
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Tony Abbott’s 2018 agenda: ‘On your bike Malcolm’?

Even a recent cycling fall could not slow Tony Abbott's return to the frontline. Photo: AAP
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Tony Abbott has been invigorated by a summer of competitive bike rides. Not even a bruising fall on a “hill repeat” near Sussex Inlet has sapped his enthusiasm for the fray.

That spells trouble for Malcolm Turnbull.

The former prime minister is being helped back on his bike by old and influential friends in the media.

Radio 2GB’s Ray Hadley, whose morning radio show is also broadcast into Queensland, set the scene in his first interview for the year. He reminded Mr Abbott that Mr Turnbull was at 25 losing Newspolls and “well on his way to 30″.

The 30 figure was the excuse used by Mr Turnbull to challenge Mr Abbott for the prime ministership.

Mr Abbott corrected the shock jock, saying “it was 29 with 30 looming”, before adding: “It’s good government, not the polls, Ray, that count.”

Never mind that Newspoll measures the way in which voters perceive a government’s performance, Mr Abbott has his own checklist.

“If in the coming year we can have real action to lighten the pressure of power prices by perhaps further scaling back on our climate change pre-occupations,” he said.

“If in the coming year we can take the pressure off housing prices and make it easier for locals to get jobs by scaling back immigration, these are the sorts of things when it comes to an election a government would get credit for.”

This was no top-of-the-head musing from an innocent bystander. He flagged his pre-meditated intent in a high-profile opinion piece in The Australian.

There, he ominously warned: “Doubtless you’ll hear a lot from me this year …”

Mr Abbott has allies in wanting to end the “obsession” with climate change and emissions reductions.

Outspoken Liberal backbencher Craig Kelly, who is chairman of the Coalition’s environment and energy committee, has attacked Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg for signalling support for electric vehicles.

malcolm turnbull
Malcolm Turnbull may have a challenge ahead. Photo: AAP

Mr Kelly forced Mr Frydenberg and Mr Turnbull to ditch the Clean Energy Target carefully crafted by chief scientist Alan Finkel and initially enthusiastically endorsed by them.

The Australian headlined the story: “Electric car plans spark showdown.”

One Labor wit said it should have been: “Liberal internal combustion.”

Whatever you call it, there is already a sense of déjà vu for a Prime Minister who has spent much of the summer desperately trying to revive his Newspoll fortunes.

Mr Abbott, like most of the political class, knows Mr Turnbull, or whoever is PM, will go to an election later this year, probably ahead of the Victorian state election due in November.

The proximity of the two polls goes a long way to explain why Mr Turnbull has taken a boots and all approach to “out of control” African gangs in Melbourne.

That overreach has some Victorian MPs worried. If the PM owns the issue he will be expected to fix it even though street crime is not a federal responsibility.

“We can’t arrest one thug,” was the way one Liberal MP explained his concerns.

Labor’s Bill Shorten has been a huge beneficiary of the Liberals’ internal ructions. The government is hoping his luck is about to run out.

The trigger could be the High Court forcing two byelections in Labor marginal seats over citizenship doubts. One Shorten ally concedes a loss in one or both could put pressure on the leader.

Labor MPs have been noticing how hard putative alternative leader, Anthony Albanese has been working over the holiday period.

“He’s been shadowing Tanya Plibersek,” was one source’s observation as ‘Albo’ appeared to do as many doorstops as Ms Plibersek when she was filling in as acting leader.

A change of Labor leader is not Mr Abbott’s priority, a swap at the top in his own party more likely.

Paul Bongiorno AM is a veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery, with 40 years’ experience covering Australian politics.

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