Tony Abbott tells his MPs,Hold your horses, but have they already bolted?

February 2, 2015 4:46 pm

tried his best yesterday to appease disaffected Coalition
backbenchers, as well as ordinary Australians ” but more bad polls, on
top of Saturday’s disastrous Queensland election result, only served to
heighten leadership speculation.
In a speech to the National
Press Club billed as “make-or-break”, the Prime Minister offered policy
retreats, sweeteners and promises to consult more. But even as he spoke,
his Liberal deputy, Julie Bishop, and the man he deposed as leader,
Malcolm Turnbull, were said to be “actively considering their options”.

Tony Abbott. Photo / AP
According
to a Fairfax-Ipsos poll, Abbott’s Coalition trails Labor by 54 per cent
to 46 per cent after preferences, while his own approval rating has
plummeted to 29 per cent. A Galaxy poll for Corp on Sunday was even
worse for the Government, showing Labor leading by 57 to 43 per cent.
A
prospect which seemed inconceivable just a few weeks ago is now
hardening by the day: the unseating ” for the second time in less than
five years ” of an elected Australian prime minister.

However, Abbott made it clear in his speech ” much of
which was directly aimed at mutinous Coalition MPs ” that he intends to
fight to retain power. Recalling the “chaos” of preceding Labor
governments, he warned: “The Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years cannot become the
new normal, least Australia join the weak government club and become a
second-rate country living off its luck.”
In key concessions, the
Prime Minister dumped his signature paid parental leave policy, flagged
a tax cut for small businesses and promised not to change the GST
without bipartisan support. Acknowledging that “I probably overdid it on
awards” ” a reference to his knighting of Prince Philip ” he also
pledged that all future honours would be decided by the official awards
committee.
But for many, the speech came too late. Conservative
commentators are baying for blood, and politics-watchers believe it is
no longer a question of if, but when, Abbott steps down ” or is pushed.
Two key dates loom: tomorrow, when the Cabinet will hold its first
meeting of the year, and a week tomorrow, when the Liberal party room
meets.
While ministers are putting up a loyal front, backbenchers
are reportedly intent on change, particularly after Queensland’s
stunning rejection of Campbell Newman’s Liberal National Party state
Government. The most common scenario being touted has Turnbull as leader
and Bishop his deputy, with Scott Morrison as Treasurer. Joe Hockey’s
fate is considered to be irrevocably intertwined with Abbott’s.
No
one, though, it is said, wants a transition as sudden or brutal as
Julia Gillard’s knifing of Kevin Rudd in June 2010. Instead, MPs are
hoping Abbott may go quietly. Andrew Bolt, the News Corp columnist who
until recently was one of Abbott’s main media cheerleaders, yesterday
listed several examples of political fortunes improving after parties
changed their leader ” including following Rudd’s ousting of Gillard in
2013, which, he said, had “saved a dozen Labor seats”.
The
Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, called Abbott’s address “a desperate
speech from a politically drowning man aimed at pleasing his MPs”.

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