What's Powering The Revolving Door?

15/09/2015 4:47 PM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
HuffPost Australia

Is it our fault?

An understandably shattered Tony Abbott this afternoon served up his own analysis of the political climate which has landed us with our fifth Prime Minister in five years.

By Abbott's reckoning there are two main culprits in the growing toxicity of the Australian landscape -- poll-driven politicians and a "febrile" media that "rewards treachery".

"If there's one piece of advice I can give to the media, it's this: refuse to print self-serving claims that the person making them won't put his or her name to," Mr Abbott said.

"Refuse to connive at dishonour by acting as the assassin's knife."

Insisting he had "never leaked or backgrounded against anyone," Abbott had this to say: "We have more polls and more commentary than ever before.

"Mostly sour, bitter, character assassination. Poll driven commentary has produced a revolving-door Prime Ministership which can't be good for our country."

Perhaps on a day of such personal devastation Abbott can be forgiven for conveniently ignoring his own failings and the failings of his office and ministry -- factors which undoubtedly made a huge contribution to his downfall.

His vanquishers will make sure that this justification for pulling the pin on his leadership is not forgotten.

But it is worth examining the environment modern politicians are expected to endure.

From 1996 to 2007 John Howard thrived politically despite many of the same challenges as Abbott, including an at-times hostile Senate and dire polling.

Howard was the master of talk-back radio -- playing the announcers and their audiences like an orchestra -- keeping the base secure and then mopping up swinging voters at election time with huge swags of mining boom cash.

He also had on his team tough negotiators who got unpopular legislation through a minority Senate in some particularly creative ways.

But even those who loathed Howard and his government will acknowledge he spent some of his considerable political capital on things he believed in, such as tax reform -- and at the end, to his detriment, industrial reform.

Howard's ascendancy waned at the dawn of social media's dominance. #kevin07 swept our last long-serving PM out of office and now we're averaging 1.6 years per prime ministership.

But to claim a direct cause and effect relationship is shallow analysis.

Howard himself did a press conference this afternoon where he described the modern playing field as a "more intensive and active media cycle."

While refusing to blame the media directly he said we're in a "supercharged, frenetic, top-of-the-head environment" but the bigger factor in the instability is the polls, and the party rooms' devotion to them.

"Politics is relentlessly driven by the rules of arithmetic."

The focus on social media, polling and nervous marginal seat holders on the back bench leaves out a crucial element in the past eight years of embarrassing failure of leadership -- personality.

With the benefit of hindsight it's now quite clear Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard were a pair of uniquely self-interested players who are still battling it out over who was right, who undermined who, and who was the hardest done by.

They were both ultimately killed off by today's political victim Abbott -- whose ability to hone in on two or three weak spots and keep drilling until striking coal made him a highly effective opposition leader.

That same narrow focus cost him dearly in his attempts to govern. He was warned and he ignored the warnings.

So, in steps Malcolm Turnbull. Last night's coup was no accident. It was the meticulously planned, ruthlessly executed work of a man whose ambition has been on display for all to see for decades across many fields.

Abbott was right about one thing today, a revolving-door Prime Ministership can't be good for our country.

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