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OPINION

The Pack Circles

Tony Abbott is looking a bit beaten down these days. He has been for a little while actually.

People who watch these things closely — and that means almost everyone in this merciless place — are noticing and reacting.

In the press gallery, that means lots of speculation over coffee, if not yet so much in print and on air, about who might replace him. Give it a couple more of those dreadful poll results showing souring public perceptions of the opposition leader, and he’ll be in their sights, just as Julia Gillard was a few months back.

<p>Mike Bowers/The Global Mail</p>

Mike Bowers/The Global Mail

Tony Abbott at the start of Question Time today in the House of Representatives in Canberra.

On Abbott’s own side of politics, it means the backbench becoming increasingly unruly in Question Time; like barrackers for a team that is squandering a lead, they try to fire things up a bit. At times over the past couple of days it was impossible to hear the person who was supposed to be speaking because of the cacophony of shouting from the opposition side of the chamber. Yesterday four Liberal MPs became so hysterical in their interjecting that Speaker Anna Burke ordered them out of the chamber under standing order 94a, to cool down for an hour.

On the opposition front bench, it means other senior people are lifting their aggression levels. Or some of them, at least. Malcolm Turnbull still wears a mantle of weary ennui in parliament, but deputy Julie Bishop and shadow treasurer Joe Hockey are lately more performance-enhanced than Lance Armstrong. Some in the gallery see this as advertising their wares, should a change of leader become necessary.

And on the government side, it means elevated spirits and a certain arrogance. The prime minister, Julia Gillard, having swatted Abbott down in her world-famous misogyny speech a few weeks back, now gets more animated in her duels with Julie Bishop. Abbott she mostly treats contemptuously.

It is the opposition leader’s own behaviour, though, that is the real sign that things have changed.

It used to be that he would open the bowling and carry much of the attack in Question Time each day.

Not now. This week, Abbott has let the burden of attack be carried by others; the aforementioned Hockey and Bishop, Christopher Pyne, Scott Morrison and the odd backbencher.

Why, even Malcolm Turnbull was allowed a question on Wednesday.

This was extraordinary. Turnbull’s previous question was on September 13, and prior to that it was May, and prior to that he’d been allowed just one for the whole term of this parliament. Not that Turnbull’s people keep score.

Yes, it seems that the government’s mantra, endlessly chanted, that Abbott is overly aggressive and negative, having got through to the public, is now getting through to Abbott and those who advise him.

There’s no doubt in the minds of those who watch proceedings closely the sexism thing had a lot to do with it. Abbott, aware that he had a problem with women, arranged for his wife to be trotted out for humanising interviews in various friendly media — mostly the regime-change-focused Murdoch press.

This was to springboard his attack on the government over the Peter Slipper text messages business. Abbott would assert his sensitive guy credentials by attacking the government’s continued support for a man who compared female genitalia to shell-less shellfish.

Then it all went dreadfully wrong, because Gillard was ready for him.

But the sexism issue is just a part of it. There is also the fact that the scare campaign against the carbon tax which he had beaten up over 18 months fell flat once the tax was introduced.

Yesterday Climate Change Minister Greg Combet took some pleasure in reminding us of just a few of the apocalyptic predictions Abbott had made about the new tax, and comparing them with the actual outcomes, now the tax was operating.

Combet could do this with precision because new inflation figures are now in.

He noted the opposition leader had predicted huge price hikes in the cost of Weet-Bix. But in reality, cereal prices fell 0.5 per cent in quarter. Likewise the price of milk would soar, said Abbott. Dairy products also declined in price by 0.5 per cent.

He gave a couple more examples. You get the feeling that the government will now have an extensive list of Abbott’s wild predictions, and factual rebuttals, to trot out as needed between now and the next election.

And Abbott’s other big scare tactic, relating to asylum seekers, is not so potent now either. Yes, they keep arriving in numbers and yes, this is not popular with the public, but the government has now cynically adopted so much of the Coalition policy on boat people that both sides of politics now look pretty much as punitive.

So what have Abbott and his crew left to be aggressive and negative about?

The dreary non-issue of whether the government’s budget maintains a slim surplus or slides to a slim deficit?

That has certainly been the focus this week. Ho hum. Even most economists don’t care. Far less the general public.

But back to Combet, who finished his answer with a suggestion that it was about time the opposition got a new leader. He suggested either Hockey or Turnbull and, just for laughs included a possible “roughie”, the colourless Kevin Andrews.

“Get someone who can tell the truth,” he snarled.

Well, there was hubbub. The government benches roared with amusement. The opposition benches roared with outrage.

But Tony Abbott? He made no interjection. He made no eye contact. He stared fixedly at some papers in his lap.

39 comments on this story
by Nev

The times are a changing. Even Rudd increasingly looks like yesterday's man.

October 31, 2012 @ 9:59pm
by kaye sera

It's all in the body language and Mr Abbott's screams defeat

October 31, 2012 @ 10:33pm
by Euan Thomas

I think Abbot'ts days are either over, or he has lost the power to persuade the public that he has all the answers. He will not win the Federal Election in 2013.

October 31, 2012 @ 11:30pm
by Jay

We mustn't dwell on short-term indications.. this government has a huge credibility problem and people's votes next election will bear that out.. the Coalition has not been able to respond properly to the sexism criticism.. and the first of such responses is that the Prime Minister is not one to hold a person by their past comments

November 1, 2012 @ 2:22am
by Michael

Abbott's strategy was potent for the first twelve months or so of this parliament as an attempt to prevail during an early election had he been lucky enough to fight one. After that year or so he should have recognized that the moment had passed and he needed to re-calibrate his attack.

Now he is in the invidious position of being a leader without a recognizable political policy stance and with an election imminent. It is too late for him to craft a cogent set of policies that are widely acknowledged.

He is a sitting duck, a weak leader, and he will probably guarantee a Labor victory unless the Liberal Party dump him before Christmas.

November 1, 2012 @ 8:35am
by Alan Gold Coast

or he may just have taken the Bart Simpson option.

“If you can't be a good example, you'll have to serve as a dire warning.” quote from Bart Simpson

November 1, 2012 @ 8:51am
by roy

I think Tony's cheer-squad Akerman --Jones and all the nasties associated with them (bloggers ,radio audience,young libs)
preaching hate- speech day in day out --is weighing heavily on Tony's downtrodden shoulders

November 1, 2012 @ 9:03am
by Flemming

Time for Tony to bow out and take Julie Bishop with him

November 1, 2012 @ 11:05am
by patrickg

I know this is a blog, Mike, but I can get the horse-race speculation from the mainstream media without too much difficulty, I like the Global Mail because you guys report a) on facts, not speculation, and b) on things that actually matter. I submit that this is neither of those things.

November 1, 2012 @ 11:09am
by mattys

"b) on things that actually matter" - Someone who wants to be the Prime Minister of our country blatantly lying about the affects of Carbon Tax and not having any policies to tote? How is that something that doesn't matter?

November 1, 2012 @ 11:44am
by Stephen

Malcolm Turnbull for PM, ASAP, if not sooner !

November 1, 2012 @ 11:50am
by vegitamite

When Abbott goes, so should many of his supporting front bench. They have all been tarnished . More so if Turnbull becomes leader as he sets a different agenda to Abbott and his 'tainted' Ministers.
Actually I think it would be the best outcome . Time to bring forward and show the talent on the backbenches. Fresh new faces are needed.
The Opposition are wasting time ( they should live under their main slogan 'stopping the waste') and Time can be more precious than many other things. However,for me, it is still going to be hard to trust the Liberal party and their analysis for a while yet. Even after a change of leader- the Liberal premiers are not showing to be to capable either at the moment, on many levels.

November 1, 2012 @ 11:56am
by Red Robin

Please, pray God, we don't end up with the shrill, incompetent Julie Bishop or that buffoon Joe Hockey as Liberal leader. Please let it be Malcolm Turnbull and soon!

November 1, 2012 @ 12:33pm
by Brian Blackwell snr

Maybe one of Tony Abbott's problems is his close association with the loathsome Christopher Pyne? One hates to get too personal BUT there is something about Pyne's cockiness, his arrogance and his general smart-aleck demeanour that encourages me to snarl at him via the TV screen. The day he ran out of Parliament, followed by Abbott, was a mirror-moment - we saw them for exactly what they are...

November 1, 2012 @ 12:45pm
by Stumpjumper

Your personal interpretation of Tony Abbott's demeanour in Parliament is one thing. Using your opinion, or your wishful thinking, to support a headline like 'The Pack Circles' is another thing entirely. It's certainly not good journalism.

If there's a pack, I'd like to know about it. Have the hopefuls in the Coalition made any moves? Has a question arisen about Coalition solidarity?

When it does, plesase use the headline. Otherwise, stick to honest journalism.

As to who has come out of the last few weeks better, it's true that the carbon tax has not been significantly felt by a lot of people. But it is the tax Gillard said of quite clearly "There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead." And it is almost certainly true that had Gillard gone into the last election promising a carbon tax Labor would have lost.

Further, the misogyny business. Is it really true that "misogyny and sexism" are "all we've ever heard from Tony Abbott, day after day, in every way."? Is that really an expression of poor Julia's 'bottled-up sensitivity', or did she give the sexism thing a go on the suggestion of her imported British communications director because it worked so well in Britain.

I'd be very wary of anything McTernan suggests. Recruiting Peter Slipper was McTernan's work, based on SA Labor premier Mike Rann's recruitment of two Liberal independents to hisd side of politics. McTernan was a 'thinker-in-residence' in SA for a few months, but has not yet provided the report he was paid for.

Slipper is now down and out.

Every single politician McTernan has worked for has been banished, their former reputations tattered and with a new reputation for sneaky underhandedness.

McTernan became Tony Blair’s spin merchant in late 2005. By June 2007 Gordon Brown had unseated the Prime Minister.

Then McTernan worked for Des Browne, Secretary of State for Scotland until Browne was tipped out in 2008.

Then he worked for the next Secretary of State for Scotland, who was kicked out in 2010.

Good luck Julia.

November 1, 2012 @ 1:15pm
by The Claw

There have definitely been a few job interviews for the position of Leader Of The Opposition conducted in Question Time this week. Who do you think has best put their hand up, Mike?

November 1, 2012 @ 1:20pm
by Bill of Morley

Bye Tony, hello Malcolm. Bye to the two Bishops. A decent alternate government option may sharpen our current government until the next election. Abbot looks and acts beaten.

November 1, 2012 @ 1:34pm
by Chris Blue

Move on Stumpjumper, move on. Pretty much anyone who does not hold a simple, partisan view of politics recognises what Abbott has been doing over a considerable period of time to Gillard and no-one in all honesty can say they agree with the direction his strategies have moved politics. It is interesting (given how little we trust politicians) that we would think such an attack was acceptable and when it is shown for what it is that people would continue to defend it rather than advocate for a new approach

November 1, 2012 @ 2:26pm
by Brian Blackwell snr

to patrickG...The article carries OPINIONS which you apparently disagree with. Though had they been opinions supporting Tony Abbott I am sure you would be singing a different tune.

November 1, 2012 @ 2:29pm
by Kate C

Great set of photos by Mike Bowers. Very insightful portraits. Reminds me of how Geoff Pryor cut his teeth - in his early days, he used to go into the parliament and spend hours sketching the politicians, developing his distinctive cartooning style on the floor of the House. There have been a few others who have done sketches, but I'm not aware of many photographs. A great documentary record.

November 1, 2012 @ 2:29pm
by Dave

well observed

November 1, 2012 @ 2:43pm
by Bee

But it is the tax Gillard said of quite clearly "There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead."

So you know the rest of that sentence???mainstream media and Tony Abbott have lied repeatedly to you.The sentence does not end there..it has a BUT......i I am determined to put aprice on carbon.
which she did. Tony is the liar.

November 1, 2012 @ 3:26pm
by BBode

Mike, I would think that as an unbiased reporter you would have observed Julia Gillards panicked reaction to Julie Bishops questions over the last few days. Indeed Albanese had to run interferance to allow her time to collect her thoughts. Maybe you might want to "observe your favoured pollies" and give a more, dare I say it, balanced report. By the way, who said Julia Gillards rant was "world famous" - is that because it was mentioned in some very sexually explicit magazine in some small spot in big ole US of A??? Is this your affirmation?

November 1, 2012 @ 4:17pm
by Julian S.

I was in the US of A at the time and it made it on quite a few news broadcasts actually.

November 1, 2012 @ 4:48pm
by Bob Cogger

There will be a number of turns of the credibility wheel for both "leaders" before the election is announced, So I doubt that either party will be counting eggs before then. They should focus on not dropping any.

November 1, 2012 @ 5:07pm
by Douglas

If he cannot be ahead, even with two years' of constant media boosting, he's definitely hopeless. No party leader has ever had an easier media ride. What a lightweight.

November 1, 2012 @ 5:07pm
by Le blogeur gai

BBode, Gillard's ripdown of Abbott got quite a few runs on the BBC as well.

November 1, 2012 @ 5:21pm
by Janet thompson

..and front page of the NY times. Hardly 'an explicit sex magazine in a small spot.'

November 1, 2012 @ 5:27pm
by R Horgan

Is it not interesting that the things that get overlooked by a lot of die hard Coalition supporters is that,Tony Abbott is comprehensively being shown to not only be out of touch with the reality of consequences of the terrible taxes we now have.But he is now been challenged over the outright lies and disrespect he trotted out for months.As a representative of Australia I would much prefer the diplomatic skills of our Prime Minister in Julia Gillard than a man like Tony Abbott,having spent a long time overseas I have heard the comparisson between Abbott and Bush many times do we really want to be seen in the same way as America was with George Bush jnr.

November 1, 2012 @ 5:30pm
by chart

Well hate you to miss out so shoot over to another betting spot like say SPORTSBET. You can get Abbot at 1.45 to be leading libs at next election and the Coalition still 1.40 to 2.80 Labor. So guess they aint heard about any freezing at Centrebet which I cant see on the site either so can you give me the link or the place you got the info about it? I am emailing CENTREBET to pass on the article you have written to ask them .
Regards.

November 1, 2012 @ 6:01pm
by Denis White

Denis White
What really bothers me about the political scene in Australia and indeed most so called democracies is the gross lack of representation of the people's wishes by those we elect to act in the best interests of the majority of the populace. We, in effect, vote a short term dictatorship into power every three years. This is not really enough time to do anything useful in the long term even if they had the wit and will to do it. Sadly few people seem either willing or able to recognise this deplorable state of affairs. We do not enjoy the benifits of particpatory democracy, we have buried our heads in the sand of complacency, naively believing that one political party or another will do whats right. This situation is further exacerbated in this country by the fact that since Hawke opted to remove the impediments to the free market ideology, he and subsequent governments have relinguished control over our own economic wellbeing .We float in a sea of economic uncertainty. This favour was largely due to the influence of our great friends Reagan and Thatcher and of course we also owe it to America to shape our foriegn policy because no government leader has the gumption to risk a repeat of what the CIA did to Whitlam. Mind you both leaders were not averse to sending their soldiers off to fight and die in the great cause of defending the national interest [capitalism]. Gough knew our future lay with China and Asia and believed that Australia should no longer remain tied to the apron strings of either the US. or GB. In my veiw he was right on all counts. PS. I am not opposed to the constructive use of capital, what I can't stomach is the treachery, warmongering, genocide and dehumanising poverty which the criminal leaders of the world have perpetrated in my lifetime in the name of democracy
cheers

November 1, 2012 @ 9:34pm
by Di Pearton

Do they ever have mad shirt Friday in Parliament? I really think it could lift the pollies' spirits. It seems to be a toxic workplace?? And not representative. Too many suits.

November 2, 2012 @ 8:47am
by Babs

Dream on mike seccombe. Tony is fighting fit. And Julia Gillard is no match for Ms. Bishop who hopefully will get the PM to start answering questions without resorting to claptrap about misogyny and personal attacks. Sometimes I think u journos WANT this country to go down the gurgler the way u twist things around. Alll too often ourLabor politicians are in the news for corruption. Is this the best we can do? Is this how we want people to think of this country -- as run by thugs! It's appalling.

November 2, 2012 @ 4:03pm
by DK

I think the Liberal party has squandered the opportunity to be an effective, positive Opposition by going down the road of negativity 24/7. I'm still waiting for them to present THEIR policies and vision for this country. It's not good enough to say that the current government is ineffectual. For a minority government, they have had to make more compromises than they wanted to eg the Carbon Tax but have managed to get us through the GFC, with the BER and proposed introduction of the NDIS - which I hope will become a reality. As for Tony Abbott, I switch off as soon as he opens his mouth. His close association with Alan Jones makes me question his judgement. His re use of Jones' words "die of shame" in Parliament was either stupid, insensitive mean spirited, or deliberately hurtful, not characteristics I look for in a PM. I'm embarrassed to hear him call himself a Christian and yet sprout the most un Christian platitudes and lies . He is amoral in the political arena and not someone I would trust.
What a shame - we deserved a better Opposition Party than what we got. I won't vote for a party that's only claim is that they are not Labor.

November 2, 2012 @ 5:29pm
by Ken R

There have been numerous assertions in the media that the Opposition won't consider Turnbull for leader but no one ever seems to explain why. I'm not interested in a leadership challenge, but it drives me mad not understanding his problem (apart from an increasingly unsustainable position on the NBN). Is it personality? Is it philosophy? Is it some sort of scandal that no one dares divulge.

November 2, 2012 @ 9:11pm
by June Porter

When I heard Tony Abbott's quote from Shakespeare, "What a piece of work is a man.....How like a God", I thought perhaps his Rhodes Scholarship had not been wasted, and he should change his tactics to appeal to the "Thinking Women". Julia could have responded with Mirza Ghalib's "Your taunts chip away at my identity. No-one speaks of me with such audacity!" Keep up the good work, Mike.

November 3, 2012 @ 2:50pm
Show previous 36 comments
by Anne Cowie

Of course, he could just have a cold...

November 6, 2012 @ 8:18am
by Terry Matthews

I dont beleive Turnbul will get another go as leader because in his previous life he was the BOSS, and others did as they were directed by him. In politics it is the art of compromise, and he was not used to this and it probably bought him undone. Why not Julie Bishop for Leader with Turnbul as Deputy? She apparently is very good at her job and is certainly tough and experienced enough in international politics. I would be happy to see her representing Australia on the world stage.

November 8, 2012 @ 8:08am
by John

The Coalition have spent their five years in opposition spinning and flooding the media 24/7. Consequently they've neglected policy. They prove the old saying: Empty vessels make the most noise.

November 19, 2012 @ 11:45am
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