Here’s the Thing: So, with whom will the Liberal party replace Abbott?

Originally published at TheVine, 12 February 2015

Who’ll be leading the country in the next three-to-six months? Let’s find out!


In 1969 the management theory book The Peter Principle was published, written by Lawrence J. Peter (hence the name) and Raymond Hull, whose central premise was a simple and powerful one: in every profession, people rise to their level of incompetence.

The idea goes like this: if you’re good at your job, sooner or later you’ll be promoted. However, the skills that make you a kick-arse rotisserie chicken cook may not guarantee that you’re great at managing your coworkers. If you’re a lousy shift manager, that’s where you’ll remain – but if you’re a good one, you’ll be promoted further up the management ladder. And again, good people skills may not extend to running inventory and keeping track of suppliers, so if you’re bad at that, that’s where you’ll stay. If you’re good, you get promoted again – until you find a role in which you’re genuinely incompetent.

It’s an elegant idea, and one that answers the question “why the hell is this person in this position?” with the satisfyingly correct-feeling answer “because they suck.”

Like virtually every prime minister Tony Abbott has been Peter Principled into the big chair because he was good at his previous gig – in Abbott’s case, opposition leader.

However the skills to effectively tear down a flailing government are not the same as the skills required to lead and unite a nation (we assume, since there’s no evidence he’s tried that yet).

However, it’s an all-but-foregone conclusion that Abbott will not lead the Coalition to the next election. The leadership spill was a wound that won’t heal, and history suggests that sitting leaders who survive leadership spills do not remain in power once the electorate see them as vulnerable.

Failed challenges upon sitting PMs only happened rarely. In the Liberal camp Billy McMahon challenged John Gorton in 1971 and Andrew Peacock challenged Malcolm Fraser a decade later – and the Liberals took a beating at the subsequent elections: Gorton had the wisdom to realise he was doomed and retired, thereby letting McMahon have his arse handed to him by Gough Whitlam, and the stumbling Fraser government was wiped out by Bob Hawke’s historic majority in 1983.

For Labor the situation is even more ominous: both Keating and Rudd challenged their sitting PMs (Hawke and Gillard, respectively) and failed, before trying again and… well, you know how those worked out.

Abbott’s situation is even more dire because there was no actual challenger – yet two-fifths of the party voted for Someone To Be Named Later over the sitting PM. And that’s the only reason he’s still leading today: the party want him gone, but there’s no obvious alternative ready to step up 2 the federal streets.

But here’s the thing: someone is going to be moulded into leadership material by the terrified Liberal Party, and soon. So who is it going to be?

There are all sorts of concerns that parties consider when they choose their leader and deputy. They need to be from different bits of the country – so Labor lovin’ lefities can abandon hope of an Anthony Albanese/Tanya Plibersek double act, for example, since they’re both inner-city Sydney MPs.

Also, they need to balance the factions. For example: Labor leader Bill Shorten is Right and from Victoria, his Sydney-based deputy Plibersek is from the Left.

Also, somewhat predictably, the leader is almost always from either Victoria (10 PMs) or New South Wales (12). Bigger states mean bigger name recognition.

Let’s meet the alternatives:


Centre, NSW

Best known for: your shitty internet connection, being the leader most non-Coalition voters say they’d vote for.

Pros: He’s actually smart and charming, seems like a human being with human thoughts and feelings. He’s also a millionaire, thereby ticking the “privileged white man” box that the Liberals need to feel comfortable with. And he’s not tied so closely to Abbott as to make it seem like a betrayal if he knifed him.

Cons: He’s been leader before. That’s not a huge impediment, as John Howard demonstrated, but during his tenure he made a lot of enemies in the party. While he’s a stone-cold economic rationalist he does have some socially progressive views – he’s pro-marriage equality, for example – which concern the conservative faithful.

He also takes climate change seriously, but you can absolutely rule out any hope of him leaping into the fight for renewable energy if he got into the big chair: his support for a bipartisan emissions trading scheme was what got him rolled as leader by Abbott.

Challenge potential: Easy frontrunner, which is why everyone’s just assuming it at this stage. And he should be confident: going by the spill result, 60% of the backbench basically voted for his shadow.


Centre, WA

Best known for: our not being at war with our closest international neighbour, looking exasperated next to the PM, snarking on Peta Credlin.

Pros: Like Turnbull, she’s articulate, smart and actually smiles every so often. She’s also been an effective Foreign Minister, successfully negotiating the tricky oh-yeah-we’re-spying-on-Indonesia thing with great success, despite having both the PM and the Immigration Minister actively working against her. She’s also the obvious favourite of the Murdoch Press, which historically has meant victory.

Cons: She was a lousy Education Minister under Howard, and an equally lousy Shadow Treasurer while in opposition. She’s also a female deputy of the party who has been vocal about her support for the PM, which would make a sudden challenge look distinctly Julia Gillard-esque – a deep problem for a party that used the Rudd/Gillard challenges as a stick to beat Labor with ahead of the 2013 election.

Challenge potential: Probably not any time soon, but she’d be a strong candidate to lead the party in opposition – which, realistically, is what she’s holding out for.


Centre, NSW

Best known for: saying poor people don’t drive, not understanding percentages, releasing a budget that has yet to pass, having a nice cigar after passing said budget, being the subject of 2014’s most unintentionally hilarious biography.

Pros: Politics is almost completely about economics – or at least has been since Paul Keating made it so, and no-one’s yet challenged this implausible-sounding assertion – and the guy’s the Treasurer! He knows about economics, right?

Cons: By any measure he’s been a terrible treasurer. He’s presided over rising unemployment, shrinking GDP, a diminishing dollar, an increase in debt (which he has made the biggest focus of his role by bitching about it in opposition) and – as mentioned above – releasing an unpassable budget. Also, he keeps saying incredibly ill-considered things in public.

He’s more socially progressive than you’d probably realise, but right now the party realises that he’s a huge liability – realistically the only hope that Abbott has is to cut Hockey loose. A Hockey challenge would be over before it began – at least, that’s what happened last time.

Challenge potential: Only if he wanted to go out in blaze of glory.


Right, NSW

Best known for: stopping the boats, stopping the reporting on the boats, stopping the scrutiny over what happens to the people on the boats, stopping the adherence to our international treaties regarding human rights (especially with regards people on boats).

Pros: Has genuine success in his last portfolio as Immigration Minister, although that success was entirely down to stifling reporting regarding his portfolio. Also, stopping the boats is a pretty dubious goal to start with, the billion-dollar-a-year cost and the whole abuse-of-human-rights things notwithstanding. He’s deeply beloved by the Right and seen as an effective minister. Perhaps… perhaps a little too effective…

Cons: The public see him – not incorrectly – as a hardline religious zealot with few traditionally Christian characteristics regarding things like “charity” or “humility”. His behaviour as Immigration Minister and now as Social Services Minister also – again, not incorrectly – suggests he genuinely doesn’t care about people. He’s also very closely tied to Abbott, which would make a leadership challenge look like a betrayal.

Also, when he smiles he looks like he’s going to bite someone.

Challenge potential: Slim to nil. Despite this, Abbott knows he’s a potential threat within the party – hence the move to Social Services, one of the most up-fuckable portfolios


Centre?, SA

Best known for: the most hittable smile in Federal politics, calling people cunts, looking like a private boarding school prefect that’s just masturbated into the mashed potato.

Pros: Um…

Cons: Literally everything. Even if he wasn’t associated with his attempts to gut higher education funding at the moment, he’s a man that exudes a powerful anti-charisma that makes whatever he says seem sly and venal. It’s not helped that this is also largely the qualities of what he says, though.

Challenge potential: He’s tied himself so tightly to Abbott that it’s doubtful that he’ll even keep his portfolio when Abbott goes – and since he’s managed to turn one of the safest Liberal seats in South Australia into a projected loss for the party, no-one’s going to risk letting him give it a try anyway.


Right, SA

Best known for: the whole comparing-homosexuals-to-bestiality-enthusiasts thing over which he got moved to the backbench, lying about abortion statistics, the fact that he never blinks

Pros: It would be genuinely hilarious.

Cons: We’d need to burn the country down.

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