I have been thinking about this for a few weeks now. I believe Tony Abbott has pulled off one of the best political manoeuvres we have seen in Australian politics for some time. Here’s how and why.
Abbott is an ideological power broker on the right of the Liberal Party. Today Abbott has the support of many of his colleagues within the Liberal Party, but also within the National Party. This has not always been the case. In 2015 Malcolm Turnbull seized the reigns of the Party leadership by launching a political coup against Abbott. The general feeling was that Turnbull did what was needed, and this proved to be true when the Liberal National coalition was re-elected at the 2016 federal election.
Turnbull represented the political left within the Liberal Party and for some time seemed to dictate terms. His ideological standpoints were, however, sacrificed to maintain the support of the conservative faction – controlled by Abbott – within the Liberal Party.
Turnbull gained social popularity by being a staunch climate change advocate – at least as far as one can be within the Liberal Party.
Turnbull was reasonably popular within the broader electorate. However, due to internal pressure, he relaxed his views surrounding climate change. This was unpopular and gave Abbott the opportunity to question what Turnbull stands for as the prime minister. The ideological turning point came in August this year when the government sought to release its National Energy Guarantee. The Turnbull government claimed it would reduce power prices in line with Paris Climate Agreement targets. Although Turnbull tried to maintain some sense of environmental concern, he failed to convince his party of his standpoint, prompting Peter Dutton to make two failed grabs at the prime ministership. Climate change policy has been the ideological issue that has divided the Liberal Party
Abbott had been sitting on the backbench for some time, taking shots at Turnbull since he was ousted in 2015. Abbott released a book at the beginning of 2017 making the case to relax policy surrounding climate change. Abbott became the prime minister following his success at the 2013 federal election. He campaigned on the slogan ‘repeal the carbon tax’ which he did as soon as he possibly could. Abbott made some bad decisions as prime minister which led to his diminished popularity. Turnbull then launched his coup.
When Dutton attempted his coups, Abbott took an active role in undermining Turnbull. Abbott knew that the Liberal Party may well win government at the 2019 election under Turnbull, thus he felt the need to make his move. Abbott will fancy his chances of becoming the Liberal Party leader in 2019. Abbott understood just how unpopular Dutton was so helping him become the prime minster, that would ultimately lose the 2019 election, was essential. If Dutton lost the election, a power vacuum would open, and Abbott would fill it. However, Dutton obviously failed twice, and Scott Morrison is now the prime minister. Morrison will campaign better than Dutton could have and is somewhat more likely to lead the coalition to success, but this is a mammoth task. Morrison is unlikely to win the next election due to the political carnage that has taken place within the Liberal Party this year.
Abbott will have to work hard to maintain the seat of Warringah. But, if he does win the seat, I imagine he will make an attempt at the party leadership if Morrison loses the election. Abbott is a good opposition leader in that he seeks to undermine the government, he did this well in 2013. Abbott now seems to have his party under control and all that stands in his way is the potential success of Morrison at the next federal election. In my mind, the damage has been done and Tony Abbott will become the next leader of the Liberal Party, though as an opposition leader.