Captain Abbott's cabinet bypass

Tony Abbott's favoured 'Captain's Pick' method is a dangerous one that has Coalition old hands wondering about his ability to run a cabinet.

How should we rate Tony Abbott’s ability to be prime minister?

Yesterday on the stage of the Property Council Congress I found myself discussing the question with former Prime Minister John Howard and, separately, with Max Moore-Wilton, who was Howard’s right-hand man for much of Howard’s time as prime minister. (Moore-Wilton was Secretary to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet from 1996 to 2002.)

Now, of course, Howard is biased because he is a friend of Tony Abbott and has been drafted into the election campaign. Indeed after he spoke with me at the Property Council Congress Howard was off to Perth as part of the campaign.

Both John Howard and Max Moore-Wilton agreed that an essential requirement for any prime minister was to use the talents of their cabinet and to be able to run a cabinet.

Both are critical of Kevin Rudd, who is announcing policy some of which has not been discussed with his cabinet including the Northern territory tax reduction and some of the other new big ticket long term capital spending ideas.

John Howard thinks that Tony Abbott will be a good prime minister because in opposition he has shown how he can unite his team and consult with them. Howard believes that is a good sign that Abbott can run a cabinet, although Howard concedes that no matter who Australians select as prime minister they will ever know whether he or she is up to the job until they do it.

Max Moore-Wilton, as chairman of Sydney Airport Corporation, will have to work closely with who ever win the election. He had nice words to say about Tony Abbott.

But then I threw in a curve ball – “Max what do you think of Captain’s Picks” (Tony Abbott described his parental leave proposal as a ‘Captain’s Pick’ and it was clearly not what his treasurer and many cabinet members wanted to do).

Max hesitated. He did not mention Tony Abbott or parental leave but said that the concept of ‘Captain’s Picks’ was a dangerous one for a leader to embrace because it meant he was bypassing his cabinet.

So without mentioning the name of Tony Abbott or Kevin Rudd the man who was at John Howard’s right hand is indicating that there is an alert on Tony’s Abbott’s ability to run a cabinet. And for Kevin Rudd it is a loud siren.

And we will remember that alert if Tony Abbott makes another ‘Captain’s Pick’.

Of course because Abbott’s opponent seems to making a ‘Captain’s Pick’ every other day it’s not an issue the opposition will be able to exploit.