Malcolm Turnbull's election campaign doesn't need Tony Abbott and the del-cons

Only the delusional would think throwing Tony Abbott into the Liberals' election campaign would be a great idea.

Reading the media you could be forgiven for thinking that the main Easter news was all about whether Tony Abbott should, or not, campaign in the forthcoming election. The political reality is that whatever Abbott says during the election the chances are that it will be another story of dysfunction within the Coalition. In other words it will be a help to Labor. 

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Only the "del-cons", otherwise known as the delusional conservatives, would think throwing Abbott into the election is a good idea. And anyway, let's face it: Abbott has never been popular with the electorate. 

Yes, he won the 2013 election but remember what he was up against. The Rudd-Gillard-Rudd team kept on giving to the Coalition. Abbott knew what he didn't want but as opposition leader he never had a comprehensive plan for the future. Being opposition leader is never just about being negative. It also requires the leader to bolster the credibility of the party so that the mandate from a future election win can be used to pursue the public interest. Abbott's lack of preparation was spelt out in the dying days of the election when he promised not to cut spending on education, health and the ABC.

Liberals would like to think that Abbott is going to support Malcolm Turnbull but the evidence of Abbott's behaviour does not back up their hopes. It's much more likely that Abbott thinks he is preparing his return, with his former chief of staff, Peta Credlin, helping him by apparently joining Sky News. If that is his real ambition, he will be remembered as the leader of the del-cons, all three or four of them.

If Abbott wants to ever get back into a useful role in politics he needs to preserve the respect that many have had for his past efforts. If he keeps undermining Turnbull, especially in an election when MPs are working hard to keep their seats, then the former prime minister will soon find that his legacy is seen as a present to Labor and a disaster for good policy. 


I suspect that the story of when Treasurer Scott Morrison first heard about the change of the date for the budget also came from the del-cons. The story was laughable. The July 2 election was so obvious that it was publicly announced by Graham Richardson on Sky News at least three weeks before the formal statement. It was hardly a surprise and the change of the budget to May 3 was inevitable, given the time constraints set out in the Constitution. 

Of course there is often some tension between a prime minister and treasurer. There was plenty of that between Bob Hawke and Paul Keating, particularly in their first five or six years. There was also some between John Howard and Peter Costello. In both cases it'd be a worry if there was not some tension from time to time but it did not seriously impact on the performance of either government. Costello had his moments of frustration: I know because I sat next to him for years and I agreed with him, especially on the need for fiscal restraint. Turnbull and Morrison get on pretty well and neither of them will take their focus off the tasks ahead.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has committed to traditional cabinet process which seems to be working well.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has committed to traditional cabinet process which seems to be working well. Photo: Andrew Meares

Discussion about who is in the inner crowd and those who are on the outer is another media interest. Most of that commentary misunderstands how the system really works. My experience is that prime ministers have a big say on all the major decisions. When a specific policy is being considered the relevant portfolio minister plays a key role. Rudd and Gillard certainly had their favourites and kitchen cabinets but these arrangements generally do not work well. For this reason Turnbull has committed to traditional cabinet process which seems to be working well. Rather than thinking of who is favoured, the better way to know who is doing well is by watching how they perform in the glare of public scrutiny.

What is striking over the long weekend was how little discussion there has been about terrorism and the migration crisis in Europe and why it is relevant to Australia.

Tony Abbott is looking forward to working on infrastructure projects that affect his electorate.
Tony Abbott is looking forward to working on infrastructure projects that affect his electorate. Photo: Andrew Meares

Australia's situation is different to other countries but immigration, asylum issues and security are interlinked.  

Personally I'd like to hear less talk about political minutiae and more on the opposition Bill Shorten is facing from his own frontbenchers, who want to return to Labor's previous policy that brought more than a thousand to drown trying to get to Australia.

Peter Reith is a Fairfax Media columnist and a former Howard government minister.


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