A Look to Australia and the Revolving Door of Prime Ministers

Analysis by Fiona GESKES

Following the most recent ‘coup’ on 15th September, Australia can now boast a record five prime ministers in 8 years – quite the achievement for a stable democracy. However, Malcolm Turnbull’s election may be seen as inevitable by many, given Tony Abbott’s falling poll numbers, questionable political decisions and priorities, and a Chief of Staff who seemed to alienate everyone in the Liberal Party. Yet despite these factors, few expected the speed of the coup, especially given that the Liberal Party had previously never shied away from criticising the Labor Party during its turbulent time in power. To understand the reasoning behind this swift change and the flagging poll numbers of Tony Abbott, it is key to look beyond personal motives and ramifications and instead examine policy issues.

MEDIA CALL: Gillard, Abbott to hold Q&A session at Rooty Hill RSL Wednesday, 11 August 2010 from 6.00pm Sydney, Australia, August 9, 2010 – Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott will be holding a people’s forum at Rooty Hill RSL on Wednesday, 11 August 2010 from 6.00pm. The event will be facilitated by political editor David Speers and telecast live across Australia. The audience, which will include approximately 200 swinging voters from Western Sydney chosen by Galaxy Research, as well as media representatives, will have the opportunity to ask the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader questions related to their policies and in particular, how it affects the local community. Gillard, Abbott Q&A session details Date: Wednesday, 11 August 2010 Time: 6.00pm (media can set up from 5.15pm) Where: Rooty Hill RSL Waratah Room 55 Sherbrooke Street, Rooty Hill NSW 2766 RSVP: chris@dashpr.com.au Schedule 6.00pm Prime Minister Julia Gillard address – Q&A 7.00pm Break for refreshments 7.30pm Opposition Leader Tony Abbott address – Q&A 8.30pm Close A limited number of seats are available for media representatives for this event. To attend this media call or for further information regarding the Gillard, Abbott Q&A session, please contact Christine Kardashian at Dash PR on 02 8084 0705 / 0416 005 703 or email chris@dashpr.com.au. ________________________________________ MEDIA RELEASE: Rooty Hill RSL to host Gillard, Abbott Q&A session Wednesday, 11 August 2010 from 6.00pm Sydney, Australia, August 9, 2010 – Rooty Hill RSL, Australia’s largest RSL club, will host the highly anticipated people’s forum with Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott. The event will be held on Wednesday, 11 August 2010 from 6.00pm, facilitated by political editor David Speers and telecast live across Australia. Why Rooty Hill RSL? Rooty Hill RSL
Tony Abbott, pictured here, lost a leadership challenge with 44 votes to 55 – MystifyMe Concert Photography (Troy), licensed under CC BY 2.0

Abbott certainly did not help himself with the bizarre calls to bestow Prince Philip with a knighthood or letting his Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin, increasingly run the show (she was said to be present at every cabinet meeting). However, to fully understand why Abbott was so unpopular towards the end, we must consider his positions on the key issues facing Australia today.

First, despite climate change remaining a crucial issue throughout his tenure, Abbott has failed to present a clear and powerful break from his previous statements on the topic – his rollback of climate change policy. In 2009 he described the science of the human impact on climate change as ‘crap’. As the 13th largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world and one of the countries most likely to suffer the consequences of climate change, it is inconceivable that a climate change sceptic could lead Australia. Malcolm Turnbull’s election marks a seismic shift with his infamous declaration that Abbot’s climate change policy was ‘bullshit’. While it will be difficult for Mr Turnbull to effect a U-turn on these policies, it does put the country in a better position, especially regarding the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris this December.

Malcolm Turnbull being sworn in as Prime Minister last week by Stemocc CC-BY-30
Malcolm Turnbull being sworn in as Prime Minister last week – Stemocc, licensed under CC-BY-3.0

Climate change was not the only policy area where Abbott seemed to resemble a backward US Grand Old Party candidate though. Abbott also seemed increasingly at odds with the electorate on the issue of same-sex marriage. For years, polls have demonstrated that a high percentage of Australians support same-sex marriage, and 76% of coalition voters were in favour of Abbott allowing a conscience vote. A conservative Christian in opposition to the issue, Abbott was looking increasingly out of touch even within his own party. As late as August, the coalition held talks to discuss the divisions within the government and the Liberal Party. Turnbull, on the other hand, seems to be far more liberal on this issue. While Turnbull may hail from the liberal wing of the party, he will face opposition from the more conservative sections, so it is hard to argue that policy on these key issues will change quickly.

Most importantly, the issue that would have undoubtedly been the hardest to overcome in an election was the economy. Abbott, who came into power by declaring that Australia was ‘open for business’, has had to stand by as Australia’s unemployment rate jumped to a 13 year high. Overall, Abbott’s stance on all of the issues mentioned here – in addition to many other issues – meant that dissatisfaction with him had not fallen below 60% since mid-June. It therefore seems the ex-Prime Minister’s demise was inevitable, not least because the gulf between his opinions and the general public opinion on key issues seemed impossible to ignore.

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