Abbott's true task lies ahead

Tony Abbott ran one of the most disciplined campaigns in memory but his real test will be how he runs a cabinet. The electorate is not sure of abilities which is why alternative parties have done so well.

The 2013 election results show that in a country like Australia democracy works. The nation knew it was time to change the government but the nation is not sufficiently certain about Tony Abbott to give him a huge majority. In addition, it was clear that Tony Abbott had a wider agenda and the electorate was not certain what that agenda was even, though it was disclosed in Business Spectator (Abbott's secret plan forces Rudd into error, August 30).

And Australians are correct to be wary of Tony Abbott – like all new prime ministers.

To be a good prime minister you first of all need to have the ability to be able to run a cabinet. In the words of John Howard you never know when you elect a new prime minister whether that person can run the cabinet. And so when we elected Gough Whitlam, Malcolm Fraser, Bob Hawke, Paul Keating, John Howard, Kevin Rudd 07 and Julia Gillard we did not know whether they were able to run a cabinet.

We cannot be certain whether Tony Abbott can run a cabinet until he tackles the task. Nevertheless Howard is supremely confident that Abbott will be an excellent prime minister and will run a first class cabinet.

What made the 2013 election so unusual is that the ALP asked us to choose a person who we knew can’t run the cabinet. Kevin Rudd was removed from office in 2010 because his colleagues discovered that he wasn’t up to that task. In 2013 he was reinstated to his prime ministerial role partly on the promise that he had learned, and this time, he would be different. But in the campaign we soon found that he was still the Kevin Rudd of old and he would make decisions on the fly without consulting his cabinet.

The Australian people understood he was unsuited to be Prime Minister and did not vote for him – except in his home state – but we kept the ALP within striking distance in case Abbott is not up to it. Democracy works.

In the 2016 election if it turns out that Tony Abbott is unable to run a cabinet then he is unlikely to be returned.

Julia Gillard was a lot better at running a cabinet than Kevin Rudd, although she was not a Bob Hawke or John Howard. I have no doubt that Kevin Rudd’s constant pressure on her destabilised her judgement. Had Gillard run the campaign she could have claimed credit for her disabilities and educational initiatives and could tell the Australian people that the good times were coming as a result of the revenue from the mining projects.

Instead Kevin Rudd ran a presidential style campaign bobbing up with all sorts of long-term ideas and promises but basically simply attacking “Mr Abbott”.

It did not work, except in Queensland. But in Queensland the big winner was not the coalition but the Palmer United Party. As I will explain on Monday the Palmer party can make a significant contribution to the nation. In my view the two best prime ministers we’ve had in the post-Menzies era have been Bob Hawke and John Howard. Whether Tony Abbott can reach those heights is a complete unknown but he has shown that, as an opposition leader, he is as skilled as anyone we’ve seen. Whether you have been an ALP or Coalition supporter or a supporter of the minor parties we should all hope that Tony Abbott can run a cabinet and be a good prime minister.

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