Tony Abbott steps into the wilderness

CANBERRA - It was to his Christian faith that former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott turned to draw inspiration on his last day in office, quoting the Psalms “what shall I render unto the Lord for all his blessings to me?”

He didn’t look blessed.

But perhaps it was his faith that eventually gave the former trainee priest the steel to come out and make a final statement and resign his commission to the governor general Peter Cosgrove.

The party room that delivered the fatal vote which elevated Malcolm Turnbull, a merchant banker and barrister, to the top job was held at 9pm on Monday night. Australia has had some practice at leadership spills by now, having had five prime ministers in as many years. But as in all things, Abbott, broke the mould. He did not appear on Monday night and for the first half of Tuesday, he was a ghost.

The hashtag #whereistony started trending on Twitter and for that time, Australia steered on unaided by a prime minister. Labor introduced a motion which called on the government to “end its internal arguments and actually govern the country and if it can’t, to restore the selection of the prime minister to the people in an election, where it should be”.

It meant that on his first day in office, Turnbull’s hands were tied. As designated PM, he had his first meeting of the Liberal leadership, a meeting with the director-general of security at Asio, Duncan Lewis, and negotiations with his junior Coalition partner. But question time beckoned. Who would lead the government?

Eventually Abbott called the press to his courtyard at 12.30pm. The ministerial corridors were filled with staff moving in and out, carrying files and gifts of congratulations or condolence.

Finally, Abbott strode to his podium, with weary red-rimmed eyes. As a man who benefited greatly from Murdoch media might, he decried incessant “polls and more commentary” which he labelled “mostly sour, bitter, character assassination”. One man’s treachery is another man’s opportunity.

“Poll-driven panic has produced a revolving door prime ministership which can’t be good for our country and a febrile media culture has developed that rewards treachery,” Abbott said.

“And if there’s one piece of advice I can give to the media, it’s this: refuse to print self-serving claims that the person making them won’t put his or her name to; refuse to connive at dishonour by acting as the assassin’s knife.”

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