It’s time for Malcolm Turnbull to deal with Tony Abbott



It’s time for the Prime Minister to stop kowtowing to the man he ruthlessly toppled in the long-awaited leadership stoush last month.

Malcolm Turnbull’s hollow accolades are not only hypocritical and embarrassing – they’re starting to worry those who initially welcomed the change.

The PM isn’t fooling anyone when he insists on singing Tony Abbott’s praises.

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Not the conservatives pining for Mr Abbott’s return, who grind their teeth at the fulsome accolades Mr Turnbull flings at the vanquished PM and certainly not the progressives, who frankly expected better from the person who essentially campaigned on being everything Mr Abbott was not.

Voters remember the words uttered by Mr Turnbull the day he finally moved in for the kill. He said Mr Abbott had “not been capable of providing the economic leadership our nation needs”, and that “we need a different style of leadership”.

Instead of Mr Abbott’s approach, Mr Turnbull offered Australian voters leadership that “respects the people’s intelligence, that explains … complex issues and then sets out the course of action we believe we should take and makes a case for it”.

And yet, since becoming Prime Minister, it’s as if he’s taken every opportunity to backtrack on those welcome words.

Tony Abbott Thatcher lecture

Tony Abbott’s controversial speech at the Margaret Thatcher Centre has called for Europe to get tough on asylum seekers. Photo: Twitter

Even when Mr Abbott was moaning to the media about losing the leadership, urging “disgruntled” Liberal supporters to vote for the new PM with “gritted teeth”, Mr Turnbull claimed this dummy-spit was Mr Abbott showing “great dignity and loyalty” and being “generous and gallant”.

Then in the Parliament, PM Turnbull argued the government owed “a great debt to Tony Abbott”, and that Australia had been “improved” and “better led” during his time as prime minister.

Yet he was paying tribute to the same man he’d described just weeks before as being incapable of providing the leadership the nation needs.

If the PM was hoping to keep everyone happy with such transparent doubletalk, he badly misjudged Australian voters.

Mr Abbott’s supporters don’t need a reason to see the usurper as facile, inauthentic and untrustworthy. In their eyes, Mr Turnbull proved to be all this and more when he moved on their man.

But the rest of the nation, the vast majority of voters, are becoming alarmed at the tyro PM’s patent unwillingness to dissociate himself from the leader who oversaw some of the worst political and policy decisions Australia has seen.

Asylum seekers arrive at Kos

The European refugee crisis could “change Europe forever”, Mr Abbott warned.

Now Mr Abbott has taken his twisted logic and flawed morality to the international stage, audaciously lecturing other nations about their handling of the refugee crisis, saying European governments have been too compassionate, and narcissistically claiming the challenge can be solved with an Australian-style closure of borders. Oh, and also by going to war.

And what was the Prime Minister’s response?

According to media reports, he declined to reprimand Mr Abbott for meddling in the affairs of other sovereign nations, and defaulted to praising the man who should be a pariah with the claim the former PM’s views are “in hot demand everywhere in the world”.

How does that lame response fit with Mr Turnbull’s pre-coup promise of a style of leadership that respects the people’s intelligence?

Perhaps the PM expects us to take the praise of Mr Abbott at face value?

That’s what new Prime Minister Julia Gillard did when she deposed Kevin Rudd, leaving voters mystified about the change with waffly comments about a good government having “lost its way” instead of laying the fault squarely at Mr Rudd’s feet.


Julia Gillard struggled to properly explain why she ousted Kevin Rudd. Photo: Getty

Ms Gillard’s failure to explain the removal of Mr Rudd allowed him to exploit the uncertainty of voters puzzled by the change.

In Mr Turnbull’s case, progressive voters thought they understood why he brought down Mr Abbott. And according to the early opinion polls, a majority of voters welcome the move.

But the new PM’s continued refusal to criticise his predecessor – as Ms Gillard initially refused to criticise hers – is starting to wear thin.

Like Ms Gillard, it could lead to Mr Turnbull’s undoing if disenchanted progressive voters conclude they’ve been sold a pup and consequently vote against the government at the next election.

Enough is enough, Prime Minister Turnbull. It’s time for you to decide what is more important – is it placating Tony Abbott and his supporters, or being the leader you promised the rest of Australia?

Paula Matthewson was media adviser to John Howard in the early 1990s and then worked for almost 25 years in communication, political and industry advocacy roles. She is now a freelance writer and communication strategist. Paula has been tweeting and blogging about politics, the media and social media since 2009 under the pen name @Drag0nista.

Read more columns from Paula Matthewson here


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