There have been a couple of incidents recently that have led commentators to question Tony Abbott’s judgement. The first was his performance at Davos and the second was his criticism of the ABCs reporting of the spying scandal Indonesia and the torture claims against Australian Navy. It’s highly likely that the bulk of the Australian population is not particularly concerned about either of these issues despite the fact they have been widely canvassed by the commentariat.
Many commentators recognise that Abbott had regressed to being the Leader of the Opposition at Davos rather than the Prime Minister of Australia. There has been a predictable response to his criticism of the ABC, much of it noting that while he was unhappy with the coverage of the Indonesian and naval episodes he was very happy with the exposure of alleged corruption in the CFMEU. However, much of this was predictable.
Whether or not Abbott’s criticisms of the ABC were justified is not the point here.
The point is rather that the constituency that is concerned with the role the ABC plays in Australia is probably relatively small and not electorally important. The important point about this constituency is that, for the most part, it probably regards the ABC is being a relatively independent news reporting service, not above criticism, but generally fairly evenhanded. Criticisms from the Prime Minister about the ABC’s coverage will only be interpreted as an attempt by the Prime Minister to influence the ABCs coverage for his own political advantage. The constituency that engages in this discussion and debate will only ever regard the prime minister’s comments as an attack on the integrity and independence of one of the most respected news services in the country.
But Abbott doesn’t get this. He doesn’t recognise that his comments on this particular topic are completely politically counter-productive, in the same way that his comments at Davos were.
Are we left with the impression that Abbott is simply not up to the job of being Prime Minister, that he hasn’t been able to make the transition from being Leader of the Opposition?
Malcolm Turnbull’s intervention in support of the ABC indicates that at least one member of the Cabinet is prepared to contradict his leader in public. I suspect that concern about Abbott’s performance is beginning to deepen within the Parliamentary Liberal party. Not that it is likely that Malcolm Turnbull will replace Abbott. But Abbott will be replaced before this Parliamentary term runs if he continues to demonstrate ineptitude that is becoming a pattern.
And where will that challenge come from if not from Malcolm Turnbull? Put your money on Julie Bishop. She has made the transition from being a head-kicking politician to being a diplomatic Foreign Minister with consummate skill. The succession planning team with the Liberal party must be considering her pretty seriously.