View from The Hill

Abbott stuck with outdated tactic

Tony Abbott’s motion of no confidence has little chance of passing parliament. AAP/Alan Porritt

In late March, after the abortive leadership move and the resignation of several frontbenchers, a fired-up Tony Abbott said the opposition would put a motion of no confidence in the government on the notice paper in budget week.

In the way that politics changes, by budget time in mid-May things had calmed, even if the opinion polls remained bad.

But Abbott stuck by the plan. “I would expect a no confidence motion to be debated in the next sitting fortnight”, he said on budget eve.

That’s the sitting fortnight just started. The office of the manager of opposition business Christopher Pyne now says it is a matter of the Coalition finding an “appropriate time” to roll up the motion.

Trouble is, unless something extraordinary comes out of the blue, it’s hard to see an “appropriate” time.

Such a motion goes to whether a government lives or dies. It is the most serious thing an opposition can do.

On that day of March madness, when Labor was imploding as the Rudd forces were attempting to get a leadership change, Abbott tried to suspend standing orders to move no confidence in the PM. He achieved a majority but not the required absolute majority needed to carry the suspension.

It was certainly a reasonable tactic then.

But to launch such a serious assault now would be seen as total overkill and risk focusing attention back on the opposition.

How to explain such a motion when the budget has been greeted as responsible and indeed the opposition has taken over the budget cuts?

There is no prospect of getting crossbench support for a no confidence motion to pass. The country independents wouldn’t back it and Andrew Wilkie has flagged that he wouldn’t either.

Also the whole atmospherics are wrong. The feeling of crisis has passed. Only a few weeks of parliamentary sittings remain, and the election, with the date set, is just around the corner.

With a general expectation that he will win, Abbott himself is trying to look prime ministerial. That aim won’t be helped by trying to drum up false hype for the motion.

But Abbott is stuck with the opposition’s earlier big talk. He either goes ahead and risks looking foolish, or lets the idea drop.

On the government side, Julia Gillard has also found words coming back to bite her.

In an interview for the new Guardian Australia website, Gillard declined to speculate about whether she’d stay in parliament and serve a full term, win or lose.

“I am not going to sit here war-gaming what would I do if we were in government, what would I do if we were in opposition”, she said.

It wasn’t surprising she didn’t want to be drawn. But once the morning media cycle got hold of the non-comment, her position quickly became untenable.

Within hours, her office issued a clarification: “The PM is focussed on securing a Labor majority government at the next election and will serve a full term”.

She may or may not sit out the term in the likely event of a loss. The broken promise wouldn’t mean much by then; anyway, it is not unreasonable for a defeated PM to call it quits.