It has been a long time coming, but Tuesday’s decision by the Coalition party room to support the proposed National Energy Guarantee (NEG) was a humiliating defeat for Tony Abbott.
Despite the former PM’s media proxy Peta Credlin warning the night before that there would be “blood on the floor” of the party room over the NEG, the promised revolution did not eventuate.
According to the stream of texts from participants to the media while the meeting was still under way, less than 10 Coalition MPs spoke against the NEG during the meeting and five reserved the vote against the government legislation. A few more naysayers have reportedly put their name to the floor-crossing list since then.
That’s less than 10 in a joint party room of 107 MPs. Not since 75 per cent of Mr Abbott’s electorate voted in favour of marriage equality has the former PM received such a resounding rejection.
The irony in the slapdown is that many of the Coalition MPs likely share at least some of Mr Abbott’s concerns about the ability of the NEG to cut power prices. The policy is geared to deliver reliable, low-emissions power, but the certainty it would bring should also reduce the cost of electricity.
However, very few of those MPs have any sympathy left for the man who “got them into government” as Ms Credlin is fond of reminding them, because the real motivation lurking behind every one of Mr Abbott’s policy battles is the bitter need to tear down Malcolm Turnbull.
Despite any concerns they may have about the NEG, the vast majority of government MPs have clearly concluded that their best chance for success at the next federal election is to remain united behind Mr Turnbull.
Of course, that doesn’t mean Mr Abbott or his enablers will give up the fight. Both Mr Abbott and Ms Credlin started agitating this week on the failure of Mr Turnbull to deliver on the religious protections review that concluded weeks ago.
And judging from the blistering media release he issued later in the day, Mr Abbott was unimpressed that leaks from the meeting had already framed his loss as a humiliating defeat before he and his media supporters had the chance to spin the outcome more favourably for him.
Labelling the leaks as the “rampant hostile briefing of journalists”, Mr Abbott seemed to have suddenly forgotten the media manipulation perpetrated by his own supporters, who aggressively peddle voodoo energy policy on Sky News After Dark.
The former PM also criticised his colleagues for preferring the “unity of lemmings” and had a direct dig at his successor by describing the government’s attempts to explain the NEG as “merchant bankers’ gobbledigook”.
The dummy spit will not go down well with colleagues. Mr Abbott claimed in a tweet on Monday that: “When circumstances change, sensible people change their opinion.” This was his justification for arguing the government should abandon the NEG, disavow its ‘emissions obsession’, and leave the Paris climate agreement that he signed up to as PM.
Little did Mr Abbott know that he was actually explaining why the colleagues who voted for him in the 2009 leadership challenge had changed their opinion of him.
His defeat in the Coalition party room on Tuesday demonstrates that whatever he had to offer as Liberal leader in 2009, his colleagues now think he has only bitterness and vengeance to offer now.