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Tony Abbott: man of the times for 1961

Does relevance deprivation syndrome need a public spokesperson? You'd land that gig in a heartbeat.

Dear Tony,

Look, none of us enjoy being dumped. It's humiliating. It's painful. We've all been there, buddy.

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'People aren't happy': Abbott

Former prime minister Tony Abbott delivers a stinging assessment of Malcolm Turnbull saying things are going so badly for the government, Bill Shorten could soon be in the lodge.

But if it's two years later and the dumpee is still whining about how unfair it all was and how the new guy's a stupid jerk while obsessively trying to exact brutal vengeance, then observers are going to correctly conclude that hoo boy, if anything that dumping should have come a lot earlier.

So now it's time to let the healing begin - not in the Liberal Party, who seem to be doing pretty well after 12 months of backing slowly away from your increasingly provocative public behaviour.

You need to spend some quality you-time to get better, away from the public spotlight, and probably away from politics altogether.

On Tuesday you decided to launch an election campaign where you persuasively articulated your point of difference from your hated political rivals. The problem was that there's no election, you're not leader of any party, and the political rivals at which you took aim was the government of which you are still ostensibly a part. 

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And it would be fun to play pretendies if you were a six year old, but there's something distinctly embarrassing about watching a 59-year-old man play acting at leadership by announcing policies he can't enact for a prime ministership he can't achieve. Even if its performed at the right wing fantasy camp which is the Institute for Public Affairs, which exists in an alternate universe where it's perpetually an overcast day in 1961 and there's a Robert Menzies on every corner. 

And your speech hit all the predictable conservative touchstones: lower immigration! No new spending! Reduce renewable energy target! Nationalise the coal industry by getting the government to invest in coal-burning pow… sorry, what? 

Didn't you declare that having the government subsidise struggling industries was a "bottomless pit", which is why you let the Australian motor industry collapse back when you were PM? Also, isn't spending on coal burning power stations exactly the sort of new spending you were objecting to literally seconds earlier?

But buried in there was also an idea so breathtakingly, ambitiously, magnificently foolish that it could be your new Knights and Dames - or, at least, would be if you had any chance whatsoever of enacting it. 

That idea? To amend section 57 of the Constitution to allow the government to force a joint sitting of parliament on any legislation that has twice failed to pass the senate, but without triggering a double dissolution. 

You point out in your speech that it was an idea first floated by the Howard government until they briefly enjoyed a majority in both houses of parliament, at which point this deeply urgent matter of sincerely held principle was abruptly ditched. 

And getting things through the senate it's not a problem for governments that know how to consult and negotiate - Julia Gillard's government were enormously successful at passing legislation despite their minority government status, for example - but for governments that either don't care for debate or discussion, or are especially bad at it, the appeal is obvious.

The problem, however, isn't section 57; it's section 128. You know, the bit that says that only the Australian people can change the constitution via a referendum.  

In fact, you'd struggle to get it that far since the bill to hold a referendum needs to pass both houses first, which would require the senate to vote in favour of utterly eliminating its own power. That seems… let's go with "optimistic".

Then, if that got up, you'd still need a majority of Australians and a majority of states to vote in favour of this amendment. Since the non-eastern non-mainland states have historically only prosecuted their interests via their senators, it might be slightly hopeful to think that a majority of South Australians would go "gosh, you know what? Tony's right: we should defer to the interests of NSW a bit more!"

And real talk: you're acutely aware that referenda rarely pass - after all, you'd hardly have suggested a plebiscite to decide same-sex marriage otherwise.  

Then again, this speech wasn't about actual solutions for legitimate problems facing Australia. It was a cry for attention, just like a Greens or One Nation policy launch: a bunch of symbolic ideas from politicians secure in the knowledge they'll never be called upon to actually enact them.

It was as cartoonishly ideological as your "Make Australia Work Again" slogan. When you're reduced to doing bad Trump covers, it's clearly time to get off the stage. 

And heck, maybe it would be nice to focus full-time on your true love - telling everybody how wrong they are for dumping you - without having to maintain the illusion that you're a MP with responsibilities to your party and electorate. And if the rumoured preselection challenges for your electorate should come to pass, the decision to leave politics could be made for you.  

It's time to put your feet up, enjoy that parliamentary pension and spend your twilight years writing op eds about entitled layabouts who expect the public purse to support them. 

Heck, it's a job you can legitimately expect to get. Unlike… well, you know.

Yours ever,

APS

Andrew P Street is the author of The Short and Excruciatingly Embarrassing Reign of Captain Abbott and co-host of the Double Disillusionists podcast, who have a live show at Giant Dwarf on Tuesday 4 July!

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