Here's Why Tony Abbott Is Struggling To Keep His Seat In Parliament
Democracy can be one hell of a leveller. John Howard found that out when, despite being Australia’s second longest serving Prime Minister, he lost his seat at the 2007 election – the first PM to do so since 1929.
Former PM Tony Abbott is going through a similarly humbling experience now, as he fights to retain his blue ribbon seat of Warringah against high profile Liberal-leaning independent Zali Steggall. The former skiing champion is a moderate whose campaign is exposing the conservative former PM as out of step with his electorate.
Abbott’s friends in the media are doing their level best to discredit Steggall, with some of the attacks bordering on the sexist. There have also been legitimate stories about the links between her campaign and Labor and GetUp.
But it is unsurprising such organisations are doing their best to help “the enemy of my enemy”, as the saying goes.
Doing so doesn’t make Steggall Labor-leaning -- it makes her the “lesser of two evils” compared to Abbott. A moderate Liberal whose values therefore are less removed from Labor values than are those of a member of the reactionary right.
It is wrong to describe Abbott as a conservative.
Conservatives believe in incremental change and preserving institutions. Abbott occasionally does that, but many of his action plans are more radical and reactionary than plans which a true conservative might back.
The only form of conservatism Abbott does represent is social conservatism. But social conservatism isn’t as popular in Warringah as it might be in some other parts of the country. Hence why Abbott has an electoral problem right now.
Polls show most Warringah voters believe in climate change. Abbott has described it as “absolute crap”.
As a natural follow on, most Warringah voters believe in climate change action. Abbott wants to build state-funded coal-fired power stations and isn’t sold on a market mechanism to address climate change.
He almost singlehandedly tore down the Emissions Trading Scheme. He did scrap Julia Gillard’s price on carbon when PM.
Abbott’s policy scripts on energy and the environment expose another contradiction with his views and the Liberal banner he serves under.
Liberals are supposed to believe in the market, and limited state intervention. Spruiking state own coal-fired power stations, indeed the building of such un-economic facilities, is anathema to liberalism.
Action on climate change is a conservative response to a scientifically recognised problem -- plan for the consequences, seek to enact policies to address the issue as a way of hedging ones bets in case the scientists are right.
As has often been pointed out by right-wingers who believe in pricing carbon, the ETS was most certainly a market response to the challenge. Perhaps that’s why Howard advocated for an ETS in his final term, going to the election against Kevin Rudd pledging to enact one.
Abbott is also out of touch with his electorate on same-sex marriage and the treatment of refugees.
On the former subject, the disconnect is undeniable. The postal survey was overwhelmingly supported in Warringah by nearly three-quarters of voters--one of the highest 'yes' votes in any electorate around the country.
Not only did Abbott vote and campaign for a no vote, he argued that it would be a ‘slippery slope’ leading to other ‘gay rights’ advocacy agendas taking hold.
He then walked out of the chamber rather than vote yes and reflect the desires of his constituents.
Ponder that for a moment.
Having demanded a postal vote rather than a parliamentary vote on SSM, when the postal results nationally as well as in his backyard of Warringah didn’t suit Abbott’s agenda he left the chamber and ignored the process.
Which brings us back to democracy as the great leveller in our society.
Because Abbott has been disconnected from the needs and values of his electorate for so long now, the former PM is being forced to hand out leaflets pleading with voters to return him to parliament at the next election. He's spent time walking up and down the road connecting his electorate to the city, hoping motorists will hear his pleas.
There are various forms of representative theories political scientists talk and write about. The two main ones are MPs acting as either trustees or delegates.
The delegate seeks to reflect the views of those they serve. The trustee believes they know best and ask the electorate to trust their judgement even if they don’t agree.
The so-called father of conservatism, Edmund Burke, was a trustee. He used his first speech after winning a seat in the British House of Commons to tell the electors of Bristol (his seat) to trust in him because he knew best. They voted him out at the following election.
We will find out in May if the electors of Warringah issue a similar judgment on Abbott’s representative career.