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The PM has conducted a public shock and awe campaign to save his leadership, but do his colleagues have the stomach for the permanent war? Annabel Crabb writes.

The Prime Minister and his allies have approached this leadership crisis with all the verve of military tacticians.

On Friday, Mr Abbott took a key hostage his deputy leader, Julie Bishop, from whom he had reportedly been seeking expressions of loyalty at various points in the last fortnight.

Announcing that he and Ms Bishop would “stand together” against the spill ballot, the PM effectively lashed her to the mast and on Saturday took her to Townsville, there to stand awkwardly beside him as he announced that Townsville Airport would be capable of accepting international flights by March 1.

(Are there any international flights planned by carriers to Townsville on March 1? Well, no there aren’t, as it happens. But if and when they come, Townsville is going to be READY.)

Ms Bishop’s facial expression, as her leader declared to the cameras that “I’m not someone who goes around demanding pledges of loyalty”, did not move even a millimetre. The woman’s a marvel; those facial crunches have really paid off.

Meanwhile, the PM’s lieutenants continued their public shock and awe campaign, strafing the airwaves with incredibly similar sounding avowals that it was definitely best to stick to the plan.

Yesterday morning, the PM unleashed a brilliant tactical volley; bringing the whole vote forward by 24 hours so as to reduce the possibility for interim mischief, and remove the prospect of being taunted for an hour or so on live TV by Bill Shorten during today’s scheduled Question Time.

And in the evening, he formally involved Australian defence assets for the first time. In response to repeated entreaties from South Australian colleagues, who are stricken by the Government’s determination not to include the Adelaide based Australian Submarine Corporation in their plans to build new submarines, Mr Abbott finally relented. ASC will now, he announced, be entitled to tender for the $20bn contract. Presumably after they submit a serviceable canoe just to prove they’re up to it.

South Australian Senator Sean Edwards, having received this reassurance from the Prime Minister, hopped immediately on a plane for Canberra, bringing his voting finger, even though as in the Townsville announcement, there is no guarantee of actual large equipment.

Crucial territory gained, in Mr Abbott’s daily battle.

But how goes the war?

Funnily enough, the best insight came from Dennis Jensen last week, Dennis Jensen being the WA Liberal MP who got the spill going to blow Malcolm Turnbull out of the Liberal leadership five years ago,
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and may yet be able to claim credit for rubbing out his successor too. That’s a hell of a stuffed giraffe to take home from the fair, isn’t it?

Much talk last week dismissed Dr Jensen and his fellow rebels as numpties; disaffected persons of no consequence in the party room. But in politics, such revolutions are almost always numpty led. It’s always those with least to lose who move first.

“Tony Abbott has been an absolutely fantastic opposition leader: in my view, the best the country’s ever had,” Dr Jensen told Leigh Sales.

“In effect, he has been a great wartime leader. We now need a great peacetime leader and quite frankly, the Prime Minister is still operating on that wartime footing.”

Mr Abbott is at his most comfortable when campaigning. For the last two weeks, he has been campaigning for his own leadership, with all the tactical manoeuvres and crisp short slogans that are his signature.

“We are not Labor,” he reminded colleagues again and again, in every press conference or interview. Much as he promised the Australian electorate in 2013 that his government would show none of Labor’s instability, broken promises or rubbery numbers, he now very particularly wants his colleagues to eschew Labor’s serial tendency toward regicide.

It’s a good line. But how long does it work, defining yourself by virtue of what you’re not? Mr Abbott today discovers whether his colleagues have stomach for the permanent war. I agree, it’s not the spill that’s the worry it’s the aftermath that’s going to be nasty. The claim that the Liberal government are not in the same position as the Labor party was is evidently nonsense, it’s exactly the same track and in my view necessary as there has been a cancer that’s crept it’s way into recent politics and that is that both parties no longer represent the wishes of the general populous and in fact it’s been the other way around we are here to serve them so a purge of this mind set is necessary for Australia to move on as a democracy. Democracy though is under siege globally as the Multinationals flex their muscles and care not one iota for the well being of the planet or their inhabitants apart from themselves

09 Feb 2015 3:28:20pm

Cloud ‘Brown Stuff”. I would suggest your posts never get up because they are offensive personal attacks. To suggest Annabel only ever gets listened to because of her looks is both offensive and completely wrong and is designed to undermine her very distinguished and successful career. She has spent many years working hard at her craft combining intelligent commentary with her unique flare for humorous, entertaining, and insightful musings. She has earned, and deserves, the utmost respect for her hard work and devotion to her craft. Something I doubt you will ever be able to understand. Your post is that of a jealous grubby little troll that has nothing to add to the conversation. Go away.

09 Feb 2015 5:48:03pm

Well fishy, since you know absolutely nothing about me, I don’t know how you can make such an attack. For your information, I have made comments many times on Annabel’s articles (until I gave up a long time ago, and I recently tried again) and this is the first time EVER that one has been allowed on. And I suspect it was allowed on because it did put me in a more negative light, not that I don’t stand by what I said. More than once she, or the ABC have stolen my ideas (and I don’t mind, because an idea is an idea and I don’t care who repeats it if it is a good idea). They know exactly what I am talking about, and I suggest to a lot of people who don’t get their comments up that the ABC often steal that idea and it turns up later in a news item or commentary or whatever. You know that’s true, don’t you old Auntie. Are you brave enough to admit it, via my revelation?

All I am saying is,
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to say something innane such as ‘Annabel for PM’ what is it saying? It is not commenting on her ideas. It is just fluff.

I wonder if this comment will see the light of day. I’ll bet it doesn’t as it shows me to be intelligent thinking (which I am) and that doesn’t suit the ABC’s way of portraying me.