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Tony Abbott is very close to going from a respected former prime minister to number one Coalition wrecker.
Tony Abbott won't 'rake over old coals'
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Tony Abbott won't 'rake over old coals'
Tony Abbott has said he won't "rake over old coals" after new book contains on the record accounts of MPs encouraging the then prime minister to sack Peta Credlin.
Abbott lost the prime ministership because he didn't listen. He didn't listen to his closest friends, to his opponents or the business community, and the public had given up on him. Of course politics can be rough justice and we can all see how he obviously feels being at the wrong end of the stick. I know the feeling: I lost the deputy leadership of my party when we lost in 1993 fighting for the GST.
But Abbott has no mandate to undermine Malcolm Turnbull.
Today, Abbott is the pugilist who seems unable to make a positive contribution without bringing out his boxing gloves. The signs are all too obvious; he wants to bring down Turnbull at any cost.
I watched the John Howard and Andrew Peacock contests in the 1980s, but compared to Abbott's destabilisation they were positively polite.
But Abbott still has time to change and should look to Howard's experience to guide his way.
Howard lost the opposition leadership in 1989 at the hands of Peacock. Virtually from that day forward to 1995, Howard's tactic was to wait until the party demanded his return. He played the team game when we lost the 1990 election under Peacock and accepted the party mood for a new leadership. Then throughout the Hewson years from 1990 to 1995, including Alexander Downer's brief stint, Howard had to endure the slogan that the party could not go back to Howard.
They were the years of near isolation for Howard. But they were also the years of reflection, patience and, most importantly, wisdom that allowed him to realise that his only way to return was to adopt a broad church approach and wait to be drafted by his colleagues.
The next election is just around the corner. Abbott is not about to win back the leadership. The only issue now is who wins the next election. And one big issue is whether the Coalition can erase Labor's claim that the Coalition lacks unity.
The first thing Abbott has to do is to shut down his handful of supporters in the Parliament and the Turnbull haters in the media. And, by the way, it wouldn't do any harm for Turnbull to try talking to Hadley, Jones and Bolt, just to even up the conversation.
If Abbott cannot or will not stop the destabilisation, it could be a bad result for the Coalition and more importantly very bad for Australia if Labor were able to return to the government benches.
The only other option is for Abbott to leave Parliament before the election, and to stay out of the campaign.
What I don't understand is why some people who were exasperated by Abbott's paid parental leave and its new tax, his support for changes to the Constitution, his captain's picks and many other shocking decisions now want him back, with Credlin and all.
The side issues are not helping, mainly because much of what is being said is wrong. The most trivial points are being used. At the Howard anniversary dinner last week, it was said that when Tony Abbott's name was mentioned the guests went "nuts" with support. I was there. It's not true. Yes, a group of perhaps two tables were very vocal but it's wrong to suggest that this reflected the mood of the dinner.
More serious is how some have used national security as a political means to advance Tony Abbott. The claim that Turnbull had delayed the development of the 12 new subs was comprehensively debunked by the highly regarded and experienced Dennis Richardson, the head of the Defence Department. Abbott's claim of being "flabbergasted" was just plain wrong and only exposed either his lack of knowledge or, more likely, his unwarranted mischief.
The second attack was an attempt to put down new Defence Minister Marise Payne over her level of experience for the role and an inadequate ministerial team. Of course, that can be said of any new Defence Minister. The issue is not new faces, but how long defence ministers are allowed to stay in the role. The real story was Abbott's decision to dump defence Minister David Johnston. He had been promoted to shadow defence spokesman by both Turnbull and Abbott, but in government, Abbott dumped Johnston after only about 15 months. Longevity is an issue and any fair comments would start with Abbott's behaviour, not Turnbull or his new minister.
In the aftermath of the leadership change, Tony Abbott started his new life as a backbencher by saying he'd not be sniping at Malcolm Turnbull. That didn't last long.
For his sake as well as good government, I hope he accepts that its time to focus on Labor and not the current Prime Minister.
Peter Reith is a Fairfax Media columnist and a former Howard government minister.