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Liberal Party's best bet: switch to Turnbull

Date

Self-interest suggests the Coalition should replace its unpopular leader.

The Liberals would be wise to at least consider replacing Tony Abbott.

The Liberals would be wise to at least consider replacing Tony Abbott.

It would not be surprising were Liberal members of Federal Parliament feeling nervous, even skittish. Only days ago, they were considered all but certain to win the coming election. Tony Abbott now looks an even bet to emulate his former boss John Hewson (Abbott was Hewson's media adviser), who in 1993 lost what was widely considered an unloseable ballot against Paul Keating.

The game-changer, of course, has been the painful and pragmatic decision by the ALP caucus to return Kevin Rudd to the prime ministership. In so doing, they followed advice Keating was given long ago by former NSW premier Jack Lang: in politics you should always back the horse named self-interest.

In their own self-interest, the Liberals would be wise to at least consider replacing Tony Abbott with Malcolm Turnbull. It has long been clear the two leaders Australian voters would like to choose between are Rudd and Turnbull.

Malcolm Turnbull and Kevin Rudd.

Malcolm Turnbull and Kevin Rudd.

The greatest impediment to Rudd's return was that so many of his colleagues dislike him. But they knew that their best chance of holding power was to make the change. Similarly, the greatest impediment to Turnbull's return is that many of his colleagues do not like him. He has, it is said, given too many of them free character assessments.

But the pivotal assessment is which leader would maximise the Coalition's prospects of winning office. Many Liberals must be thinking their chances of winning a seat or holding on to one would be better were Turnbull reinstalled in the position he only lost by one vote to Abbott, primarily because Turnbull supported a market-based system to put a price on carbon emissions. However since then, while there remain pockets of scepticism about the degree to which human activity is contributing to climate change, more and more voters favour action that is based on putting a market-based price on carbon emissions.

By many accounts, Abbott is a decent, hard-working and intelligent man, but poll after poll suggests he does not resonate with voters. Like Gillard, Abbott is preferred by his colleagues, but not the voters. Like Rudd, Turnbull is preferred by voters, but not colleagues. Not yet.

Most politicians are motivated by making life better and fairer, and all politicians know that such change can only come when they are in power. Many politics aficionados might say it is fanciful to argue the Liberal Party should consider replacing Abbott with Turnbull, but should the polls continue to suggest the ALP could retain government, the idea of change could readily gain momentum. The Liberals have seen, and should be troubled by, the fillip the change to Rudd has given the ALP.

The only thing more painful to them than having to cut down an electorally unpopular but internally well-regarded leader would be spending the next three years in opposition.

As a former leading businessman, Turnbull has appeal in the corporate sector. As a former leading internet entrepreneur, he has appeal to younger people. As a moderate, he appeals to the many voters who are uncomfortable with what they feel are unduly harsh policies on asylum seekers, to those who suspect Abbott would screw down on workers' entitlements by toughening up industrial relations policy and to those who favour action on climate change.

Once the election campaign proper begins, it is hoped there will be increasing focus throughout the community on policy rather than politics, and on ideas rather than ideology. Abbott has excelled in opposing, but has not inspired voters with policy ideas.

Rudd has surging momentum as a result of the very change in leadership and also because he has moved to address policy concerns. One might disagree with what he is doing on the carbon tax, schools funding, party reform and the like, but he gives the impression of being active and in charge, and voters are responding.

So, if Abbott is to win this election, he will need to convince voters he has the policies that will improve their lives. A large part of that will be determined by the substance and detail of the policies. But much, too, will depend on sales skills, and it appears Turnbull cuts through better than Abbott. Outside of the corridors of Canberra, people like Turnbull. There is a lingering, almost intangible, hesitation about Abbott, if the polls are to be given credence.

Elections are won at the margin; they are decided by swinging voters in tight seats. I suspect there are many who will not vote Liberal with Abbott at the helm but who would readily support the party were Turnbull leader.

This prospect might well become increasingly enticing should the Coalition continue to see polls telling it that it may be poised to lose an unloseable election primarily because its leader lacks appeal.

There is an X-factor in political leadership. Turnbull has it. Rudd has it. Julia Gillard lost it. And Abbott probably does not have it.

Michael Short is editor of The Zone. @shortmsgs

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418 comments

  • Time to show Tony the door and bring back Turnbull. As the article highlights, Abbott doesn't have traction withe the electorate. Also need to remember that his win over Turnbull was far from overwhelming. Would be interested to know the poling in the party room. Rudd v Turnbull on policy would be a much more interesting proposition.

    Commenter
    Jock
    Location
    Overseas
    Date and time
    July 16, 2013, 6:47AM
    • The last thing Rudd wants is a Turnbull return to Lib leadership and for good reason. Turnbull guarantees a Coalition win vs a 50/50 proposition under Abbott.

      Commenter
      Tim of Altona
      Date and time
      July 16, 2013, 9:17AM
    • I would support a move to Turnbull. I fear the Liberal machine is starting to fall apart and a quick decisive move to Malcolm would give us a chance to minimise the damage, not win but at least save some seats.

      Commenter
      Hacka
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      July 16, 2013, 9:36AM
    • If the Coalition wants to meet Labour on even terms it requires a statesman to do it. The writing is so clearly on the wall for Tont Abbott, invisible of not he must be made to see that. Turnbull is the only man who in immediate terms can stand toe to toe with Rudd and show him for what he is, an opportunist. The Coalition can not wait it must remove Abbott now or Australia will pay a price that my children will spend the rest of their lives paying for.

      Commenter
      LNB
      Date and time
      July 16, 2013, 9:56AM
    • Mr Rudd here is your time to stand up and be a leader of Australia. The Indonesian forgein minister has publically said the will not accept the boats back.

      A real Australian PM would call an immediate news conferenc and state

      1. These are Indonesian boats that have strayed into Australian waters.
      2. They contain Indoneasian that are breaking Indonesians our laws
      3. The Other people on the boat have flown into indonesian so if he wishes to stop them then the Indonesians should tighten up it's own immigration policies.

      the Australian government should contract out a Indoneasin shipping company. Any boat that is intercepted the people on it are transfered to a mordern Indonesian register vessel and shipped back to Indonesia. No laws brocken, boat people safetylooked after, Marty would not be able to say a thingas transfer would be ininternatl waters done for the saftely of people and all with Indonesian vessels

      TIME TO BE A MAN RUDD

      Commenter
      abc
      Date and time
      July 16, 2013, 10:01AM
    • I don't think so, Rudd's policy is no match to Abbot's policy.
      Rudd's policy is a fruit salad of thought bubbles mixed with arsenic and Rudd himself is all theatre and cover up.

      Commenter
      Now you see him
      Location
      Soon you won't
      Date and time
      July 16, 2013, 10:14AM
    • No, Abbott is the Lefts best asset.

      Commenter
      A country gal
      Date and time
      July 16, 2013, 10:16AM
    • You lot must be using Fraudband ... that's what makes you so slow.

      Labor now on track for a non stop win by 13 seats.

      Try and make that "invisible".

      Commenter
      J. Fraser
      Location
      Queensland
      Date and time
      July 16, 2013, 10:24AM
    • The Libs wont go back to Malcolm, they have drifted far too the Right, and Mal actually believes in pricing carbon, which the Libs dumped him for. Mal is far too progressive for guys like Joyce, Bernadi, and Mirebella, Bishop, and the National party hacks. Tones has taken the Libs too the Right on asylum seekers too, and Mal would have one hell of a job hauling them back. The Libs have made their bed, and Tony the invisible man, is the Leader, end of story.

      Commenter
      Piesnchess
      Location
      Mt Evelyn
      Date and time
      July 16, 2013, 10:31AM
    • Rudd will never stand up to Indonesia. He is too much of a wowser and poser. He actually believes in increasing our population and if this is the way it is done, he will never stop the boats.

      Commenter
      J.G.
      Date and time
      July 16, 2013, 10:37AM

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