Date: May 06 2012
LOVE HIM or hate him, in 18 months a newly minted prime minister Tony Abbott will be moving his family into The Lodge, according to some of the country's most respected political veterans.
But party elders are divided on how ready he is for the job.
One of Mr Abbott's firmest supporters, former prime minister John Howard, told the Sunday Canberra Times the former Rhodes scholar was well-prepared for the role.
''Indeed he has had more senior ministerial experience than either Kevin Rudd or Julia Gillard did before they assumed the office,'' Mr Howard said.
''He is highly intelligent, very articulate and has a genuine interest in people, a requisite skill for any successful prime minister.''
However, veteran politician and former Queensland premier Peter Beattie said Mr Abbott's negativity was a hindrance to becoming an effective leader of Australia.
''If there was a gold medal for whingeing at the Olympics, Tony would win triple gold in London,'' Mr Beattie said.
While Mr Beattie conceded the member for Warringah's combative approach had won the public's support, he said Mr Abbott needed to present himself as a real alternative prime minister.
''He needs to stop whingeing and set out clear policies for Australia's future,'' Mr Beattie said.
''He is obviously an intelligent man but he needs to be more positive.
''Australians have not seen his long-term vision for Australia and are keen to see his detailed policies on innovation, renewable energies, education and health.
''And he needs to be more bipartisan. Not all the good players are on the one side of politics.''
Mr Abbott's negotiation skills robbed him of the prime ministership after the last election, when he failed to woo the support of key independents to form a minority government.
He also has a strained relationship with the Greens, whose vote he may need to attract to pass legislation through the Senate.
Australian National University political pundit Professor John Warhurst said Mr Abbott's cause would be aided by wholesale change in the shadow cabinet, where many Howard-era favourites cling to senior positions.
''He's always spruiking the experience of his shadow ministry but some of them have had their time and he needs to be willing to promote newcomers,'' Professor Warhurst said.
''Tony has a tendency to hang on to people for too long; for example Bronwyn Bishop is still in the shadow ministry and now would be a good time to say 'thank you for the contribution' and move on to younger people.
''There's people like [Senator] Arthur Sinodinos, the former staff member for John Howard, [who] is an example of a newcomer who needs promotion.
''We're halfway through a term so if he's going to give people experience he needs to do it now.''
Former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett said Mr Abbott could be a three-term prime minister if he can address the negatives now.
''I think, once he takes the step from opposition leader to prime minister, the community will see a very different side to him,'' he said.
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