The things one chooses to remember … and would rather forget.
On Friday, Tony Abbott was remembering that it was five years to the day since the election of the Abbott government on September 7, 2013.
Tony Abbott on Twitter: Today is the fifth anniversary of the election of the Abbott government. It’s a good government, getting better!
Only a pedant might pause to point out, to the uninitiated, that in the terminology the Coalition uses about the Labor government, that would be the “Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government” he was talking about.
On Thursday, the bloke actually heading the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, was choosing to remember the legacy of the founder of the Liberal Party, Sir Robert Menzies, in a speech in Albury.
Coming from someone who, three weeks ago, wasn’t actually expecting to be Prime Minister, it was refreshing to hear him say he hadn’t come to town with a huge to-do list. But neither, he noted, had Bob Menzies.
“He didn’t come with a to-do list of stuff”, the Prime Minister said, “and I haven’t come to you today with a to-do list of stuff”.
“All the journalists who were hoping I was going to make 17 policy announcements — and all the forms are out there and you can pore over all the documents, and there’s Morrison’s manifest — no, it’s not happening today. Sorry to disappoint you.”
It was also refreshing to hear our latest Prime Minister accentuating the positive (even if a pedant might point out this rather undermined Mr Abbott’s claim to have ruled over the past five years in Australian politics).
“Robert Menzies brought [the various groups who came together to form the Liberal Party] here to unite them about what they believed in,” Mr Morrison said.
“Because you can’t just be about what you’re opposed to. You’ve got to be about what you’re for: as a country, as a political party, as an individual, as a family.
“It’s about what you’re for, not just what you’re against.”
After all the unpleasantness of the last few weeks, it was genuinely good to hear such things.
Australians will tell you they want to know what politicians are going to do for the country, not how they are going to attack each other.
PM’s capacity for pragmatism shouldn’t be underestimated
But let us be frank and note that the things that have been making headlines this week have been more about what divides the Liberal Party, and the ongoing cost of collective madness of recent times, than what unites it.
There might have been news of the best economic data in six years, but it didn’t quite rate against the accusations of bullying and the succession of leaks, paybacks, and retribution that drove the news cycle this week.
Mr Morrison told his Albury audience that he had come to talk about “what’s in every heart and in every mind of my team”, as if it might be obvious to casual observers that his team shares a unity of purpose and a clear idea of where they are heading.
“Let’s love all Australians!” he finished his speech.
“Let’s love this wonderful country. That’s what I believe. That’s what you can expect from me. That’s what you can demand from me.
“That’s what you can hold me to account for and all of my team. So we’re just going to get on with it.”
As many have noted, Mr Morrison and his new deputy and Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, have the advantage over many of the previous prime ministers installed mid to late term by the party room in the past decade of having clean hands in the whole business.
Mr Morrison’s capacity for pragmatism — such as dumping a rise in the pension age to 70, thus reversing his previous strenuously held position as treasurer — should not be underestimated.
And he may be able to punch through better with messages than Malcolm Turnbull. We can only wait and see on that.
But both of those skills will be up against two negatives in the electorate: the leadership coup of two weeks ago, and the continued blood-letting that lies behind leaks for and against Mr Turnbull, against Peter Dutton and, occasionally, against Mr Morrison.
There is also still considerable bitterness about Mathias Cormann — as well as Mr Dutton — among the Dutton backers who have not ended up with the glories of victory that they expected.
The question continues to be asked: was he conned about Mr Dutton’s numbers or was he duplicitous?
For a man who had developed such a reputation as an honest broker the cloud is a devastating one, not least because he remains Leader of the Government in the Senate, where any remaining hard bargaining of this parliamentary term will have to take place.
All the leaking and counter-leaking may exhaust itself — in terms of new revelations.
But Mr Dutton, in particular, is likely to find himself the star of Question Time when Parliament returns next week, both over the au pair affair and ongoing constitutional questions about his eligibility to sit in Parliament.
The Libs have a problem with counting numbers
But before the roadshow moves on, it’s worth pausing to remember aspects of an earlier Liberal coup, lest it contain some lessons which clearly weren’t learned by the instigators of the most recent shemozzle, which makes them all the more important to remember now.
Let’s go back to 2009, and the events that led to Mr Abbott becoming prime minister after winning the leadership from Mr Turnbull by one vote, much to the shock of his own colleagues, after a stumblebum run at the job by Joe Hockey.
The Sydney Morning Herald’s Peter Hartcher reported at the time how the man “who had masterminded the coup to destroy Malcolm Turnbull was Nick Minchin; the godfather of the Liberals’ conservative wing” had walked across the party room to a shocked Joe Hockey and said, “if I’d known how it was going to go, I would have slung you another 10 votes”.
Hartcher noted that: “Minchin had not expected Abbott to win. Nobody had expected Abbott to win. Not even Abbott. Contrary to widespread impressions in the media, Minchin did not even want Abbott to win.”
Apparently, people in the Liberal Party have a problem with counting numbers.
The plays from that time were all too familiar in Mr Turnbull’s downfall this time, including the mass resignations of frontbenchers to up the pressure on the leader.
And here is just one fact you may have forgotten from 2009 that is worth remembering.
The first three frontbenchers to desert Mr Turnbull in late November 2009 were senators Mitch Fifield, Mathias Cormann and Brett Mason (who left the Senate in 2015).
Mr Morrison has promised us change.
Do some of his colleagues even know what it means?
Laura Tingle is 7.30’s chief political correspondent.
Her Quarterly Essay Follow the Leader: Democracy and the rise of the Strongman will be released on September 17.