In politics, nothing shocks voters more than the unexpected.
Australian voters have witnessed a greater than usual number of unexpected events involving the Abbott Government over the last week. Things have unravelled in rapid time and it only seems to get worse.
The party fallout from the spill is unfolding now at such a pace that at some point the question of the leadership of Tony Abbott is most likely to be put to the party room again. If a new vote is held, I can’t imagine how Tony Abbott could survive.
Remember, the polls have already been going against him. The government has been behind Labor in published opinion polls since April last year. Much of the budget remains stuck in the Senate with important bills on Education and Health going nowhere at present. Negotiations on key legislation with the cross bench Senators began again this week.
On Thursday afternoon, Liberal MPs and Senators left Canberra for their electorates hoping to put this bad week behind them. After the spill motion failed they had agreed to give Prime Minister Abbott more time to settle things down and build support for the Government. However their patience is limited and many believed that any misstep would spell the end.
Could this be that misstep?
The late Friday afternoon sacking of the highly respected “Father of the House” Philip Ruddock for perceived disloyalty to the Prime Minister is too much for many. He is a proud figure of the former Howard Government and a leader in his party. He is the longest serving Liberal MP and many younger members looked up to him and valued his judgement. Many are shocked at the way he was dismissed.
As far as the Prime Minister is concerned, Philip Ruddock has been disloyal. The sacking is payback for Monday’s humiliation.
There is no proof Mr Ruddock voted against the Prime Minister on Monday as it was a secret ballot but as Whip, it is the job of Mr Ruddock to be the “eyes and ears” of the Prime Minister in the party room. Mr Abbott believes Mr Ruddock was disloyal. Rumours inside the party began to circulate in the last few days that Mr Abbott would move against him.
These are dark days for the Liberal Party of Australia.
Reports of the sacking hit social media on Friday afternoon. Mr Ruddock put out a statement, followed by the Prime Minister.
Some MPs were wondering if the Prime Minister’s office backgrounded journalists on this before going public. At the joint party room meeting on Tuesday Mr Abbott said that he considered it a “sacking offence” for staff to background journalists against MPs or Ministers.
“I have made some changes to the Whip arrangements for the Government,” Mr Abbott said in the statement.
“I have appointed Mr Scott Buchholz MP as Chief Government Whip. Scott is a strong local member and is highly regarded within the party room.”
“I acknowledge and thank the Hon Philip Ruddock MP for his extraordinary contribution to our country, this government and the Liberal Party.
“As Father of the House, Philip has given over four decades of service to the Australian Parliament and the Australian people. He was a senior minister throughout the life of the Howard government and was shadow cabinet secretary in opposition. Later this year, he will become the second longest serving parliamentarian in our history. No one has done more than Philip helping immigrants to feel at home in their new country and helping members of migrant communities to participate in our national life.”
“I look forward to his future contribution to the government and to our country. He remains an important counsellor for Coalition members of parliament and will continue to serve as Member for Berowra with distinction.”
“These changes will be in place for the next parliamentary sitting period.”
Mr Ruddock’s statement was brief.
“The position is the gift of the leader and I will leave it to him to explain” the statement said.
Currently Liberal Party mobile phones have gone into overdrive. The winner is most likely Telstra and the Labor Party.