One thing to like about Tony Abbott is that he has a clear set of beliefs and is in politics because he wants to be the engine that implements these views. His numerous “gaffes” (in the eyes of the media) are generally just cases of him saying what he believes when it’s impolitic rather than actual mistakes. Therefore, with his advisors surely very keen to play up this image of a straight shooting man, it was odd to see two significant counter-examples on Four Corners last night
First was an odd comment from Minchin which suggests the entire #spill was a pre-planned coup. That isn’t the most surprising of suggestions, but Abbott was adamant up until the final weekend that the whole crisis“isn’t a leadership issue at all. It’s a policy issue”. Minchin doesn’t quite say it, but it’s pretty clear he doesn’t claim issues had anything to do with it:
LIZ JACKSON: Tony Abbott wrote that it was an ideas book and a rallying cry for Liberals, but not a leadership job application.
LIZ JACKSON (to Nick Minchin): At what point did you form the view that the party needed to change leadership because of your views and others’ views on the climate change issue?
NICK MINCHIN, LIBERAL SENATOR: Well, I didn’t form that view. I mean, the leadership issue arose because Tony decided that he would you know mount a challenge.
NICK MINCHIN: I like to pride myself on keeping my finger on the pulse both of internal opinion and the mood of our own grassroots and of public opinion at large. So I was talking to him on that basis on a number of occasions.
LIZ JACKSON: The politics rather than the science?
NICK MINCHIN: Yeah, Yeah.
Then comes the even clear admission with Jackson paraphrasing Abbott’s view (on this we must take her claims carefully) but with Minchin’s comments and Jackson’s reputation it’s hard to not see this as a frank admission that it was the politics not the science which drove their new position and the downfall of Turnbull and by extension that they don’t even have a position on the science.
LIZ JACKSON: The opportunity for Tony Abbott to challenge for the leadership was delivered courtesy of the climate change debate.
This is the township of Beaufort, north west of Melbourne. It was his trip here in September last year that Tony Abbott says in Battlelines, changed his thinking about the Government’s emissions trading scheme.
MALCOLM TURNBULL: Well, Tony shifted his ground a number of times. In the middle of 2009 he was strongly of the view that we should simply pass the ETS unamended; just wave it through, and he published an article in The Australian newspaper saying that.
LIZ JACKSON: But on his drive to a Liberal Party function in Beaufort , Tony Abbott recounts that the local MP told him there was a bush revolt against what country people saw as just a new tax.
LIZ JACKSON: Tony Abbott says that while driving back to Melbourne, he spoke with Senator Minchin and this crystallised his views.
He now accepted that voting for ETS would fracture the Coalition, while opposing it would give them the chance to campaign against Labor’s giant new tax on everything. Politically, it was the way to go.
LIZ JACKSON: Over the next two months Tony Abbott put this to his leader Malcolm Turnbull, sometimes he say on morning bikes rides in Canberra ,but Malcolm Turnbull was unpersuadable, and still is; and the word crap still rankles.
As I said, no one should be surprised that this was the case. But it is surprising that Minchin and Abbott, men who would know very keenly that their entire chance of winning office rests on Abbott seeming more honest and straight shooting than the PM would so freely admit that they had mislead the media and the public in their pursuit of the leadership.
It’s the kind of interview you almost expect post-election, not prior to while the image consultants are busily at work. There’s no add ready quote here for labor to use, but enough smoke to leave little doubt. Already people think his position both in calling it “absolute crap” while implementing a multi-billion dollar climate change policy is a bit of a joke. But allowing it to be made clear that Abbott and Minchin nakedly used the issue to get to the leadership risks what little credibility his policy has, and indeed his larger image. The Coalition has clearly decided that the election can’t be won if Climate Change is one of even the top 5 issues. Hence the focus on attacking the ETS on economic grounds, the paid parental leave scheme, and the focus on asylum seekers. That’s a sensible analysis, its just odd to see them freely admitting it while still running for election. The public won’t notice or care much, but expect the media to be a little bit harsher on Abbott over environmental issues. No one likes being taken for a ride or used for another’s benefit, let alone a prideful press gallery.