The exit of Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott was all too characteristic of recent federal and state government “coups”. If unlike some similar political European phenomena based on party politics, Down Under the upsets are more related to personalities with their attendant policies but no less turbulent.
Abbott’s ouster – after an earlier attempt to push him out a few months ago — was the seventy-second leadership overthrow without an election at state or federal level since 1970. Furthermore, Abbott becomes the fourth Member of Parliament who won government control from the opposition in an election but were overthrown during their first three-year term. The Ozzie chief executive’s length in office is subject to his commanding a parliamentary majority [including a possible coalition] or successfully putting through a budget or failing a vote of confidence, much Westminster convention not written into the Australian Constitution. .
But Abbott put his finger on the problem in his parting remarks as prime minister:
The nature of politics has changed in the past decade. We have more polls and more commentary than ever before – mostly sour, bitter, character assassination. Poll-driven panic has produced a revolving door prime ministership which can’t be good for our country and a febrile media culture has developed that rewards treachery.
Ozzie politicians sometimes pay the price for such maneuvers; both the recent former Labor prime ministers, Kevin Rudd and Julia Rudd, the country’s first federal woman leader, toppled each other successively. In the process, they lost their political reputations, rarely to be heard from again although Rudd seems to have a following in international leftwing circles that might gain him the upcoming UN secretary-generalship.
In this most recent coup, the country got a taste of eloquence and humility from Abbott in his final remarks as leader:
Leadership changes are never easy for our country. My pledge today is to make this change as easy as I can. There will be no wrecking, no undermining, and no sniping.
I have never leaked or backgrounded against anyone and I certainly won’t start now.
Our country deserves better than that. … Yes, this is a tough day, but when you join the game you accept the rules…
Abbott seems to have had a knack for antagonizing supporters even when a policy involved a popular if difficult policy shift. His religiosity [Catholic] may have been out of sync with the growing secularist mood, as probably his adamant opposition to same sex marriage. He undid some of the Labor government’s attempts to meet climate change with carbon payment setups. For the moment at least, his tough line on blocking smuggling rings moving migrants in Southeast Asia toward Australia has been successful. Some in Europe have even suggested it as a model for their refugee crisis. And his handful of free trade agreements are going to help meeting the challenge of Australia’s best customer China’s falling growth rate and its impact on Australian and world commodity prices.
Hopefully, he will adhere to his promise not to harass his somewhat flamboyant successor, the millionaire “renaissances man”, Oxford-educated Malcolm Turnbull – Rhodes Scholar, journalist, lawyer, banker, venture capitalist. Turnbull, in turn, has indicated he will tred slowly in issues on which he opposed the more conservative Abbott. Turnbull’s success with Abbott’s assistance, hopefully will lead to a new calming of the political waters Down Under. It is of great importance to Australia’s friends abroad, for Canberra has punched above its weight in helping the U.S. and its other allies in attempting to maintain world peace and stability.
As Abbott said:
Australia has a role to play in the struggles of the wider world: the cauldron of the Middle East, and security in the South China Sea and elsewhere. I fear that none of this will be helped if the leadership instability that’s plagued other countries continues to taint us. …