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Now that the dust is settling on the removal of Tony Abbott by his own Liberal Party, what can we
make of the situation? With five prime ministers in five years, the nations capital Canberra is quickly becoming the coup capital of the West. Are there any lessons we can learn?

When you consider the last 40 years, no former Australian Prime Minister was able to resign with dignity. They either were defeated in a general election or defeated in a leadership ballot by their own party.

Gough Whitlam
Sacked by the Governor-General
Malcolm Fraser
Defeated in a general election by Bob Hawke
Bob Hawke
Defeated in an ALP leadership ballot by Paul Keating
Paul Keating
Defeated in a general election by John Howard
John Howard
Defeated in a general election by Kevin Rudd (and almost ousted in ‘coup’ within the Liberal Party)
Kevin Rudd
Did not contest the ALP leadership ballot which was won by Julia Gillard.
Julia Gillard
Defeated in an ALP leadership ballot by Kevin Rudd
Kevin Rudd
Defeated in a general election by Tony Abbott
Tony Abbott
Defeated in a Liberal Party leadership ballot by Malcolm Turnbull
Malcolm Turnbull
Current Prime Minister

Traditionally, Australia has one of the greatest records of political stability of any nation on earth. That vaunted reputation is being sorely tested by the drastic activities in Canberra. Yet when you examine the track record, the miracle is that there is stability within the abrupt transitions of prime minsters.

Abbott was called a very successful opposition leader. During his four years in that position (2009-2013), he confronted the Labor government, saw the fall of two Labor prime ministers, and went on to become Prime Minister himself.

Tony Abbott was not idle during his two years in office. He energetically attacked and abolished the carbon tax and mining tax. As promised in the election, the asylum-seeker boats stopped. In addition, his government was able to negotiate a three free trade agreements including one with China. Neither incompetence nor scandal could be credited to him.

So what when wrong? First, there was a chasm between the public Abbott and private. The former Prime Minister was portrayed as racist, bully, anti-women, fool, liar, lacking compassion, a homophobe, and worse. Those who know him can vouch that none of this is even remotely true.

No prime minister believes they ever get the media coverage they deserve, but Tony Abbott encountered exceptional hostility. The Australian Senate was equally hostile. This is to be expected by a leader who is socially conservative. His mentor, former Prime Minister John Howard also had a hostile press but he knew how to handle it. Howard developed a sixth sense that caused him to prevail through four election victories.

Abbott could not handle the media. In addition, though he is a boxer, he did not succeed in knocking out Opposition leader, Bill Shorten, a key member of the troubled Labor government that Abbott replaced. He had plenty of ammunition against Shorten but, mysteriously, it was not used.

No question about it: it is harder to lead today than in the past. Mr. Abbott, a highly intelligent man, should have known all this and responded accordingly. When his party panicked at the consistent poor opinion polls and called for a spill in February 2015, that was his shot across the bow. Abbott called this his near-death experience. It was Abbott, not the party, that said Give me six months to turn the polls around. They gave him seven months and the polls continued to faltered. Faced with the prospect of a wipeout Federal Election after only one term in government, or a chance to start fresh, the federal Liberal Party chose the latter and Malcolm Turnbull became our new prime minister.

Yes, Mr. Abbott made mistakes. His first budget with Joe Hockey was considered severe austerity; it should have been sold to the Australian public as fair and necessary, but it wasnt. The negative press only got worse. Some claim he was too loyal to former Treasurer Joe Hockey, former House Speaker Bronwyn Bishop, and Chief of Staff Peta Credlin. If, as it is argued, the nation was poorly served by them, then the Prime Ministers course of action should have been clear. He did not seem to listen to wise advice, especially from John Howard.

Many people who have met Tony Abbott found him to be both likeable and respectable, despite the alarming, at times hysterical, bad press. All would agree that he is a good man; a moral man; and a man of character. Yet in the end, in addition to his stubbornness and misplaced loyalty, perhaps his biggest failure was not to manage perceptions. In this image-driven, postmodern milieu, where perception is reality, it is not enough to be good. You have to seen to be good. Richard Nixon and Prince Charles did it - they turned negative publicity into positive. It was a lesson Mr Abbott should have learned but sadly he did not.

Eventually, Mr. Abbott will be vindicated but, in the meantime, lets pray for the new Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull. It is the Godly thing to do (I Timothy 2:1-2)


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