I was at a Council for Christians and Jews meeting on Sunday (guest speaker, Rabbi David Rosen – very interesting!), when I made a comment to the gentleman sitting next to me about the Parliament about to begin tomorrow night. I was, of course, talking of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, but in the din of the restaurant, he thought I was talking about the carry on in the Federal Liberal parliamentary party. “I’m glad I’m not in the running for the leadership,” he replied, before I realised that he had misheard me and our conversation had gotten off on the wrong foot.
But polls at the time, of the general Australian public, were showing that most Australins (41%) wanted Joe Hockey to take over from Mr Turnbull (27 per cent). Tony Abbott scored a bare 26 per cent. Yet yesterday he became – by one crucial vote – the leader of the Federal Liberal Party, and, at least in my opinion, Federal politics just became way, way more interesting.
After John Howard’s defeat in 2007, I really lost interest in Federal politics. Little Johnny was gone, Tim Fischer (with whom I met this morning, btw, and is doing a great job as our Ambassador to the Holy See) was gone, Peter Costello was on the back benches. I liked the new Liberal leader, Brendan Nelson (I met him on the ferry across to Gallipoli in 2007), but unfortunately, he was too decent a bloke to last long in the hurley burley of party politics (see here for an interesting article by Peter Costello in The Age revealing the respective merits of Nelson and his successor). I never, ever had any personal liking for Malcolm Turnbull. A party led by him was never going to have my sympathy or my vote, and it wasn’t just his republican ideas that did for him in my mind.
But, as I have said, yesterday Federal politics just got a lot more interesting, when against all the odds, the party ballot chose Tony Abbott as leader. I guess I should complete my name-dropping to say that I have met Tony too, but then, so have a lot of people! For those of you who don’t know much about him, you will get the general idea from this article in The Australian.
As for his politics, this article in The Canberra Times gives you one point of view. I don’t agree with all of it – especially the bit at the end about the inevitable destination of the Liberal Party under his leadership being “over a cliff”, or the bit about his (and his former leader’s) habit of throwing money at any problem (Kevin Rudd has outdone all political leaders in Australia’s history when it comes to “squandering” surpluses). But the article does show why, in the months leading up to next year’s Federal Election (which could be sooner or later depending on whether the PM decides to go for broke with an early double dissolution over the Emmissions Trading Scheme bill), Federal politics will be very interesting. Like the old quip about finally getting the mass in English with the upcoming new translations, we now, it seems, will finally have a Federal Opposition, and some real differentiation between the two leading parties.
And of course, how can an addict to all things ecclesiastical such as myself fail to be attracted to a political party led by an “Abbott” and a “Bishop”?