Tony Abbott’s star once shone very brightly. The brightest in the night sky, some say. But alas, it is fading. Indeed it has been for some time… ever since he was elected to office, in fact.
If Tony Abbott were actually a star – a real one, not just a metaphorical one – he would likely be what’s known as a ‘white dwarf’.
According to Telescope.org, white dwarves consist of “degenerate matter with a very high density due to gravitational effects”. My personal theory is that the first part is a reference to Abbott’s character, the second his intellect, and the third a reference to his extraordinary capacity to pull his government down in the polls.
One of the most impressive things about a white dwarf is that it’s getting ready to explode and become a supernova. A white dwarf is, sad to say, in the final stages of the life cycle of a star, having used up all its nuclear energy supplies.
Admittedly, this process can take several billion years. And that’s what’s so stunning about the star Tony Abbott – he’s managed to condense his own spectacular self-destruction into a little over 12 months.
And make no mistakes folks – it is destruction. Abbott, as Prime Minister, is on his last legs. He’ll more than likely last out the month, but he will almost certainly not lead his government to the next election.
Get within 100 metres of Abbott and there’s a rich aroma of death (for the science buffs, the aptly-named compounds "putrescine" and "cadaverine” are at work, along with 28 others). Which is also rich with irony, because Tony Abbott has been draping himself in death and destruction for most of his Prime Ministership.
After the release of a disastrous budget – much of which has still not made its way through a hostile Senate – Abbott realized quickly that mere policy alone would not win him popularity. Indeed, he may even have realized that it was, in fact, his policies that were the problem. That and his persona.
So, in a bid to distract and look ‘statesmanlike’, he embraced anything that had a touch of death or tragedy about it. First there was MH370. Remember when Tony told Parliament he’d found the plane?! Then there was MH17, and Australia sending police into a war zone, followed by a threat to shirtfront a world leader with access to around 8,500 nuclear warheads, enough to create a supernova in its own right.
Then Abbott dragged us off to another war in Iraq. Which isn’t really a war. But possibly is. And throughout, he declared war on asylum seekers, and anyone who wasn’t on Team Australia. And he bleeted about terrorism at every opportunity.
At the risk of stating the bleeding obvious, none of it has worked. You can manipulate someone’s DNA all you want, but no matter that they do to Tony Abbott’s genetics, he’ll still be Tony Abbott. And he’ll still be deeply unpopular.
Scientifically speaking (and we’re talking ‘political science’ here), the most telling sign of Abbott’s impending demise is that in January – a time when the Australian media traditionally go to sleep and politicians sneak through all manner of horrible announcements – Abbott is still copping it in the neck. And from the most unlikely of places.
Earlier this week, News Limited published two stories which attacked Abbott, which is roughly two more than News has published since Abbott won office. The first was by the Daily Telegraph, reporting some internal backgrounding against the PM in which he argued for the $20 cut to the Medicare rebate, only to axe it under public pressure. That’s what’s known in politics as the sort of ‘serious leak’ which sometimes proceeds a ‘man overboard’ scenario.
The second was The Australian reporting a bizarre lie told by the PM’s office about Abbott providing assistance to cricketer Dave Warner to protect a local park in Sydney. Just a week earlier, The Oz took aim at Abbott over his decision to fly to Iraq – without media in tow – while bushfires raged out of control in South Australia.
And now today, media is rife with speculation about a leadership challenge, including firm denials by Abbott that ‘anything is on’. Which of course suggests that ‘something is on’.
If Liberal contenders haven’t yet hit the phones – and it appears they haven’t – they’re certainly doing the numbers in their head (mathematics being perhaps the purest of all the sciences).
The long and short of it is that Abbott cannot be saved. His lack of popularity is terminal. Labor knows it. The Liberals know it. The media knows it. The only person in politics who appears to be blissfully unaware of this fact is Abbott himself.
Some might argue that the political science would suggest Abbott should survive. After all, Australians rarely give parties and Prime Ministers a single term. You have to go all the way back to Labor’s Jim Scullin in 1929 for the last one-term Commonwealth government. Indeed, they’ve only occurred on four occasions in 1910, 1914 and 1929 (Labour and the new Labor) and 1913 (Liberals).
But modern politics bares little resemblance to the politics of old. And it is full of ‘record breaking events’.
For example, political history would also suggest a Prime Minister, while being voted out of government, would never be voted out of office. Lest we forget, John Howard became the first sitting Prime Minister since Stanley Melbourne Bruce in 1928 to lose his seat while in The Lodge.
Kevin Rudd also set some records of his own. He had the second highest approval rating in the Nielsen polls (and the highest ever in Newspoll) of any Prime Minister since 1972. But despite his popularity, 15 months later Rudd became the first Prime Minister ever to be removed in a party room spill without completing a term in The Lodge.
He also became the first Prime Minister since Menzies in 1949 to return to office after being ousted by his own party.
It’s worth remembering that in the week prior to being removed from office, Rudd enjoyed a lead over Abbott both as preferred Prime Minister and on a two-party preferred basis. His removal was, at least as far as the science of politics goes, unthinkable.
But the records that really matter are those already set by Tony Abbott.
A Newspoll back in December 2007 asked voters who they thought would be the best candidate to lead the Liberal Party. It was at the time of Brendan Nelson’s leadership. Abbott not only came last out of four candidates (Nelson, Julie Bishop and Malcolm Turnbull), but he was the only person to return single digit popularity figures (across all age groups except one). He was also the most unpopular among women (at just 8 per cent). Even among Liberal voters, Abbott finished second last.
Notably, Malcolm Turnbull was the most popular – four times more popular than Abbott.
By April 2008, Abbott was even more unpopular, at just 6 per cent. And again, he was the only person to record single digits (across every age group this time).
By July 2008, with Peter Costello thrown into the mix, Abbott didn’t even figure in the polling. Just over a year later, in October 2009, Abbott still ranked stone motherless last, although he managed to climb back into double figures at 10 percent (and a whopping 15 per cent among Coalition voters) as preferred leader.
Fast forward to June 2012, when voters had three and a half years to see him in action as Opposition leader. Turns out, people didn’t much like his performance or, it’s reasonable to suspect, his budgie smugglers. Despite the Libs leading in the polls by a staggering 10 percent on a two-party preferred basis, almost 60 percent of voters said they were dissatisfied with Abbott’s performance as Opposition leader.
By August 2012, Abbott’s dissatisfaction rating had ‘climbed’ to 54 percent. A year later, 51 per cent of voters were still dissatisfied. That figure was the same on the eve of the 2013 election, when Abbott won office – ie. more than half of voters thought Abbott was crap… just not as crap as Rudd.
To give you some kind of guide, when Rudd defeated Howard in 2007, his dissatisfaction rating on the eve of the election was 25 percent.
Perhaps Abbott’s greatest ‘record’ is a complete lack of any sort of a honeymoon period after he became Prime Minister, something which is virtually unheard of in government.
Since coming to office, the Abbott Government has only enjoyed greater support in the polls (Newspoll, published in The Australian) than it did on election day on a single occasion – the first poll, taken six weeks after their election. The Newspoll notation explaining why is pretty instructive: “Abbott keeps appearances to a minimum. Sticks largely to announcing the delivery of election promises.”
Since then, the polls have shown an election winning lead for Abbott on only three occasions, and never since April 2014.
To give you another comparison, 12 months after Howard’s victory in 2004 (which marked his eighth year in office) his two-party preferred vote was actually higher than it was at the election. Howard’s fortunes in the polls ebbed and flowed for another year and a half – he was at 50 percent in November 2006 – but finally began nose-diving in December of that year, and never recovered.
Howard endured 11 atrocious months in the polls before being cast out of office, and politics. In six weeks, Tony Abbott will notch up his 11th straight month of losing in the polls as well.
The political science is in folks: Abbott is not only the most unpopular Opposition leader to have ever risen to the Lodge since polls began, but also the Prime Minister most quickly disliked by the Australian public.
Now back to the real science.
Currently, conventional thinking suggests we live in a three-dimensional world, in a single universe. But some physicists believe that we actually exist in a multiverse, which has 11 dimensions. In that multiverse, there is an infinite number of universes, and in those infinite number of universes exists an infinite number of possibilities. In other words, there is an infinite number of ‘you’, and every possible thing that can happen to you, happens.
So, in theory, somewhere in our multiverse, Tony Abbott is not a desperately unpopular Prime Minister. And somewhere in that multiverse, Abbott didn’t turn back the boats, he didn’t hand down a lemon budget, he believes in climate change and science, and Australian women regard him as ‘sex on legs’. Indeed, in theory, somewhere in that multiverse, Abbott did go on to shirtfront Vladimir Putin. And it was glorious.
The same scientific theory also means that somewhere in the multiverse there is a rising political star named Scott Morrison. At some time, he rolled a fading star called Tony Abbott, to become the Australian Prime Minister.
In that multiverse, Morrison’s policies on asylum seekers were so heartless and cruel that they made a former immigration minister named Philip Ruddock appear to almost have a heartbeat. But he won the top job anyway.
Tony Abbott could, of course, know all this, if only he would embrace science.
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