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Thursday, 21 January 2016

Unassailable Turnbull must remain vigilant

For those who, like me, hated Tony Abbott with a passion - I was not past screaming at the TV on occasion - the news that he will most probably recontest the next federal election in his seat of Warringah is full of portents. For while Malcolm Turnbull - the man who unseated him in mid-September - has so far resisted all threats in the same manner as a duck gets water to run off its back - that is, effortlessly - the news about Abbott still sounds a base-note of sinister intent within the general hum of stable and reliable government that has overtaken Australia in recent months.

Nothing has touched Turnbull. And nothing will touch him while ever he enjoys positive polls. For it is the opinion polls - those regular mini elections that are being conducted continuously throughout the election cycle - that determine the fates of Australian politicians, and especially prime ministers. We saw it with Rudd - once his clumsy backflip on climate change had filtered through the community he lost all standing in it, and that was time for Gillard to pounce - and we will no doubt see it again in future. It is the nature of Australian politics that there is no certainty beyond the next poll; no respite, no "clean air", no sacrosanct breathing space as there once was in the days of Abbott's heroes Howard and Menzies. These days it is always on. Bring it on!

Which is why the news that Abbott will recontest his seat instills a soupcon of fear in the heart of anyone who sits politically near the centre of things. Someone, it seems, just chose to let the dogs out.

Turnbull's ability to retain traction for his policies - and there have been few enough of them - is remarkable. Whoever is advising him - and it might well be his wife, who was mayor of Sydney for a year more than a decade ago - is doing a good job. Few policies, few stumbles, just plain sailing. It's a little like the small-target strategy Barry O'Farrell followed in the lead-up to the 2011 state election in NSW. He just allowed the ALP to slowly implode, dragged down by the long-accreted burden of countless incidents of corrupt conduct due to being in power for so long. He hardly ever said a thing, and just allowed his opponents to struggle like a whale caught in a shark net, drowning slowly. Turnbull remarkably has not muzzled his Party room either, which is something that Abbott was known to do. Turnbull just seems to have gained the trust of them as effortlessly as he has gained the trust of the electorate.

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