The Ross Cameron Moment
Tony Abbott's ego will always trump the self-discipline necessary to lead his party, let alone the nation. The Liberals only now realise what they're stuck with, and that the ride won't be worth the fall.
In this interview, Abbott claims that you can believe him in prepared and scripted remarks but otherwise he just runs off at the mouth. However, look at the context of the question: Abbott said in a scripted and considered speech that there'd be no new taxes under a Coalition government. Abbott then said, in another supposedly considered and scripted speech, that paid parental leave will actually require a Great Big New Tax - even bigger than the ETS. Whether he's considered and scripted, whether he's talking off the cuff, Abbott doesn't know what he's talking about but you're supposed to take him on trust anyway. That moment will turn out to be as politically fatal as John Hewson's moment on chocolate cake.
Whatever tribulations Kevin Rudd was going through are now over: thanks to Abbott the clouds have parted. Thanks to Rudd's own flash of passion over climate change earlier this week, and now this, Rudd can now go to the people saying: I might not be perfect, but golly gosh I'm doing my best. Even if it only happens in the last week of the election campaign, people will rally to Rudd over Abbott because people will forgive a change of tack if there's a core of integrity. Attacks like this or this or even
this sorry effort have no force now.
Abbott might think he's John Howard, insisting that you know what he stands for and demanding to be taken on trust: but Tony Abbott isn't John Howard. Howard had been through the ups and downs of public life, in public, over many decades. Abbott has cruised along as Howard's pet. Howard did his time in the valley of the shadow, Abbott has not experienced anything like what Howard went through and thus deserves none of the respect. Any difficulties Abbott may have experienced are entirely of his own making: the Daniel O'Connor adoption thing is long past and doesn't matter now.
It's one thing for politicians to play the public for mugs, it's another to be blatant about it. What Tony Abbott has done to his party in the coming election is similar to what Ross Cameron did to the voters of Parramatta in 2004.
Ross Cameron was a Liberal MP elected to represent Parramatta in 1996. Both Howard and Abbott thought highly of him, and he of them; Cameron used to follow Abbott around like a puppy, raving on about how he was going to be in the Abbott Cabinet. Like Abbott, Cameron was unabashedly religious, but unlike Abbott was unable to trim or hide his religiosity to suit Australian conditions.
Like many in the American Bible-bashing right-wing Cameron's religiosity was a cover for his personal weaknesses. Religion should provide, and does for many, a structure by which frail individuals can get over themselves and help redress their personal weaknesses; not for our Ross. Cameron's main weakness involved sexual fidelity: the Liberal Party (one of whose main planks involves Keeping Up Appearances) insisted that Cameron be married before he could be endorsed and go to Parliament. In marrying - a public display of his private life - Cameron's challenge was to find an avowedly Christian woman who did not mind his sexual infidelity but did not practice it herself: a tough ask, impossible for our Ross. When the inevitable happened in 2004, Ross decided to go public.
Accept me as I am, he insisted: I'm going to talk family values but I won't practice it. Mrs Cameron realised that there was more dignity in abandoning this farce than standing by to prop it up. The people of Parramatta, not averse to voting Liberal, decided not to be represented by a man who could not act in his own interests let alone theirs. Cameron's political career is over and so it should be. His supporters, people who believed in some sort of synthesis between what he said and what he'd do, turned out to have been fools.
Accept me as I am, says Abbott. I might talk parental leave but I'll drop it if I feel like it. I might talk tax cuts and no-means-tests but I'll also talk reducing deficit, and you can't bullshit a bullshitter. I might do something for the environment or I might not. I might cut public service numbers to the point where debacles like school halls and home insulation become more common rather than less. Hell, I might appoint my old mate Ross Cameron to a plum job, because I'm Tony Abbott I'll do what suits me. Abbott's main weakness is the importance he places on an office to give his life meaning, in a way that family and church and even sport have clearly failed to do, while at the same time being careless about the needs, wishes and hopes of others who do not hold it from the office of Prime Minister.
Howard did the "non core" thing after he won office, he was not so stupid to do so beforehand as he'd been though too much. It was a small element in Howard taking the third-biggest majority ever and going to preferences less than three years later; no Liberal who went through the white-knuckle ride of 1998 wants a repeat of it. Liberals like certainty, none more so than those who raise funds and run election campaigns. Abbott offers himself as leader and whatever he says goes: you can't have Falstaff and have him thin, you can't have Abbott and instill him with an integrity that he not only confesses that he lacks - but the real slap in the face is that he regards consistency and integrity as unimportant.
Like Ross Cameron in 2004, the game is now up for Tony Abbott. It's one thing to lose an election with dignity, having done your best; but Abbott's Liberals look like mugs whether they strive their guts out or whether they cruise along like Tony Smith. The easy road back to office, Howard without Howard, is now revealed as the dead letter it always was. Never mind the polls, the Abbott Liberal peak has already passed.