New South Wales Liberals are a ‘closed shop’: Tony Abbott

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THE end-of-year distractions buzzing around Malcolm Turnbull include the trademark sledgehammer progress of Tony Abbott through public debate.

Mr Abbott appears to be reminding the Prime Minister and the broad electorate he is still around, and doing it in a way which has not been helpful to the government.

And he is in danger of wearing out his welcome in both sectors.

Mr Abbott is in a clutch of Coalition identities of varying weight and influence — Eric Abetz, George Christensen, Kevin Andrews, Andrew Broad, assorted shock jocks — competing with the Prime Minister’s agenda.

His promotion of the Abbott brand has included championing of matters he was not bothered by when prime minister, or had made a calculated decision to leave untouched.

Mr Abbott is quoted in The Australian today criticising what he sees as the “out-of-hand” use of 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. Two years ago, as prime minister, he had rejected changing that section.

At the weekend, Mr Abbott said the NSW Liberals had sent a message to Mr Turnbull and Premier Mike Baird demanding reform of party processes at next weekend’s meeting of the executive.

Mr Turnbull had already made clear he supported the reform directions, so it’s unclear what the purpose of that message would be. It was an unnecessary warning to the Prime Minister.

Back in November 2012, similar issues of democratic participation in party ballots and the strong presence of lobbyists among party executives were raised by concerned members.
However, nothing was done about it by the most senior NSW Liberal at the time, Tony Abbott. But now he is prepared to make a stand, given the boat he might be rocking is no longer his own.

Mr Abbott also maintains he speaks for the nation, such as when he told a London interviewer Australians “quietly cheered” the Brexit decision.

So quietly, it would seem, that hardly anyone else heard it.

“There is this strong sense of affinity, there are massive personal bonds, cultural bonds, historical bonds and we now have more chance to build on those,” Mr Abbott said early this month, presenting a singular view.

This would not matter to the government were it not for Mr Turnbull’s difficult task of giving his administration form and direction after a painful election result, and at a time when distractions are magnified by that close result.

The lingering debate over same-sex marriage and so-called Plan B, and the toe-to-toe clash between Attorney-General George Brandis and Solicitor-General Justin Gleeson also are diverting attention.

Little wonder Mr Turnbull has doubled down on proposed workplace laws, which triggered the double dissolution, and anti-union rhetoric generally to refocus his administration.

Mr Turnbull all but ignored industrial relations and Labor links to the union movement during the election campaign but now they are to the forefront of his political and legislative strategies.

It will be interesting to see if Mr Abbott helps or hinders this. Or will he conspicuously chase his other priorities?

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