Like Kevin Rudd before him, he is a liability, more interested in his own hurt than in the good of the country.
In the three weeks since he lost office, Abbott has lied twice. The first lie was exposed by the second one, and both were grounded in his delusion.
Tony Abbott lied when, deposed by his party room, he stood in the courtyard beyond his office and said: “There will be no wrecking, no undermining and no sniping.”
He lied again when he told Ray Hadley’s radio program that had he stayed as prime minister he would have led the party to “really quite a convincing victory”. The statement is disproved by the polls and by political reality. As a lie that proves a lie, it constituted wrecking, undermining and sniping, as did the rest of Abbott’s interview and his subsequent turn on Neil Mitchell’s program.
“I’ve never leaked or backgrounded against anyone,” Abbott had said in that final press conference. “And I certainly won’t start now. Our country deserves better than that. I want our government and our country to succeed. I always have and I always will.”
These are empty words. Abbott spoke this week without the country in mind. His interviews were a howl of wounded desperation. They eclipsed even the pursed bitterness of Rudd in the immediate wake of his leadership loss.
The sense of indignity was entirely personal. It had nothing to do with a vision for the country. At best, Abbott’s interviews were sulking and self-serving, the cry of a hurt little boy; at worst, they were vicious and deliberately destructive. Either way, they showed a man unable to put the government ahead of himself.
“I have often said that Malcolm didn’t stay in the parliament to be someone else’s minister,” Abbott told Neil Mitchell. “He’s now got his chance at the top job. He’s a very capable person and let’s hope he makes the most of it. Certainly the point I make is that my government, my ministerial team, have given him an outstanding foundation on which to work. A helluva lot of very good things were done in two action-packed years.”
It’s a tawdry legacy that Abbott defends, and he makes a tawdry spectacle of himself defending it. The insincerity of his interviews, the faint praise and pointed qualifications – each are a reminder of how unfitting he was for the high office he inexplicably held.
“I always knew that politics was a pretty brutal business. It’s a game of snakes and ladders, and yes, I’ve hit a snake. It’s a bruising business to lose the prime ministership but on the other hand it’s a tremendous honour to have the prime ministership,” Abbott told Hadley, adding: “I’ve never believed in watching my own back. I always thought that the important thing was to focus on those who are supposed to be your opponents and in government and opposition that’s exactly what I’ve done.”
Abbott’s problem is that he no longer has a clear view of who his opponents are or what is his role. It was a messy and unedifying week as he tried in radio interviews to resolve this, and in the end it didn’t matter: he had already proved how little he had to offer, how incapable he was of rising above his immediate circumstances. His wet-faced grief did nothing to change this.
Abbott was given an office ruinously beyond his own capabilities. He failed in that office, and was sensibly replaced. Out of deference to his party and his successor, the decent thing now would be to resign.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Oct 3, 2015 as "Bitter resignation".
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