This Summer break over Christmas will, I think, make him the new man he must be to fix what the former Labor Government broke.
Citing the ferocious voter response to Education Minister Christopher Pyne’s attempt to abandon the Gonski school-funding model, Mr Abbott in effect admitted the government would have been wrong to wriggle out of a promise to match Labor’s school-funding package on a technicality.
‘’The lesson that I have well and truly learnt from that is that we do have to precisely honour our commitments – and that’s the spirit of the commitments, not just the letter of the commitments,’’ he said.
Two responses. First: that lesson should never have needed learning. I believe Abbott’s office needs a communications strategist with highly tuned antennae to match the role James Carville played for Bill Clinton, Roger Ailes for Richard Nixon, Grahame Morris for John Howard, Peter Barron for Bob Hawke, Bernard Ingham for Margaret Thatcher and Alistair Campbell for Tony Blair.
Second, Abbott – humble, self-deprecating and new to his job – seems to have reverted to the confessional mode that he had in his first year as Opposition Leader. I find it a very human and in many ways attractive trait, but it led Abbott into serious trouble in his media performances on the ABC in 2010 until he overcame it, and it is crippling his leadership again. A leader does not confess to doubt and failure as his troops go into battle.
I am confident Abbott can and will overcome this after his break – a real holiday this time. He strikes me as naturally tired after a punishing campaign to become Prime Minister and an even more punishing effort to get on top of the disasters left by Labor. A rest should pep him up, clear his mind and help him prioritise his challenges and rethink his strategy. Some tips: he needs to be seen more, to talk more and to add more rest and fun to his job, which must not become a martyrdom. That may also demand more delegation of authority.
The great educative task for his media strategists: to argue the case for change this year. To show how business cannot go on at it is, and that only chance can make the future bright. Next May’s Budget – certain to be tough and needing to be even tougher – should be sold almost every day from today. First the case for change, then the prospect of gain and then Budget as the means to go from strife to security.
Too often – not least with the aborted Gonski backtrack – the crisis and the change were sold together, which made the exercise seem nothing more than excuse making and ad hoc trickery.
A big story needs to be told about big changes to come. Master story-telling is needed to tell it. Such a story does not begin like this: “Yes, I have made mistakes …”
As I say, I am confident Abbott can change, and we must hope he does. For Labor, unrepentant and unreformed, to return in three years would mean only a completion of the destruction Labor wrought over the past six.
Andrew Bolt’s columns appear in Melbourne’s Herald Sun, Sydney’s Daily Telegraph and Adelaide’s Advertiser. He runs the most-read political blog in Australia and hosts Channel 10’s The Bolt Report each Sunday at 10am. He is also heard from Monday to Friday at 8am on the breakfast show of radio station MTR 1377, and his book Still Not Sorry remains very widely read.