Sunday 23rd August 2015 - 2:46 pm

Tony:too clever by half?

by Alan Thornhill


He’s not stupid.

So why has Tony Abbott been getting into so much – unnecessary – trouble lately?

Bronwyn and Choppergate, for example.

Then – sometime this week – Dyson Heydon will decide whether he can continue to preside over the Royal Commission into alleged corruption in Australian unions.

But aren’t we talking about Tony?

Not those others.


But remember that old saying.

“By their fruits ye shall know them.”

Bronwyn Bishop and Dyson Heydon have much in common.

Tony Abbott chose each of them to do a particular job for him.

He wanted the former Speaker, Bronwyn Bishop, to run Federal parliament, his way.

And, by June this year, shortly before her time as Speaker came to an end, Ms Bishop had expelled Labor MPs from Parliament for misbehaviour no less than 393 times.

Just seven government members had been thrown out.

If anything begs for a sniff test, that’s it.

It all came to an end, as you will recall, when Ms Bishop thought it would be acceptable for her to charter a helicopter, to take her from Melbourne to a Liberal party fund raiser in Geelong.

The public disagreed.

And that was that.

Dyson Haydon had a spot of bother with a Liberal party fund-raiser, too.

He – clearly – thought it would be acceptable to accept an invitation to speak at one – while he was presiding over that Royal Commission into alleged union corruption.

That, also, may have been a mistake.

Both appointments have been described, quite accurately, as “captain’s picks.”

And both the now retired Mr Justice Heydon and Ms Bishop have, like Mr Abbott, himself, well earned reputations as arch-conservatives.

Both appointments, ultimately, damaged the Abbott government in the polls, when things went bad.

These weren’t the only cases, either, in which the Prime Minister’s judgement has been called into question, directly, over recent weeks and months.

His usually loyal lieutenant, Christopher Pyne, for example, accused the Prime Minister of “branch stacking.”

He did that after Mr Abbott invited National Party MPs into a Liberal party meeting, called to discuss the delicate issue of same sex marriage.

Mr Pyne – and other Liberal critics – believe Mr Abbott did this to prevent government – and particularly Liberal – MPs having a free vote on this matter, when it is debated in parliament.

That, in Mr Abbott’s mind at least, would have made his leadership look weak.

But the government has been running behind Labor in the polls for some months now, and that trend seems to be strengthening.

So some serious questions have to be asked.

And that that is now happening.

Predictably, a reporter asked Mr Abbott, while he was out campaigning for his party in the upcoming by-election, in the West Australian seat of Canning, if that poll is really is test of his leadership.

Mr Abbott’s reply was unusually frank.

“Look, there’s a sense in which everything’s a test,” he said.

“Every day the national Government, the Prime Minister, every Minister is being put to the test.”

“We’ve been put to the test every day since we won back in September 2013.

” The test of could we get the carbon tax repealed, we passed.

“The test of could we get the mining tax repealed, we passed.

“The test of could we stop the boats, no one thought it could be done, we did it.

“The test of could we get the Free Trade Agreements passed, we did.

“So, look, we’ve passed all the tests up until now and I’m confident we’ll pass the next one.”


But politicians, including Prime Ministers, have also been known seek comforting, rather than penetrating explanations, in troubled times, like these.

Hasn’t Mr Abbott really been too clever by half, in pushing too hard, appointing arch conservatives like himself, to get the results he wants, even if that means using people who step beyond what the public finds acceptable.

Those poll results might well be telling him something very like that.

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Alan Thornhill

Alan Thornhill is a parliamentary press gallery journalist.
Private Briefing is updated daily with Australian personal finance news, analysis, and commentary.

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