Monday, 8 February 2016

Tony Abbott and his captain's picks continue to haunt Australia

It would appear that when he was prime minister the MP for Warringah, Tony Abbott,  was not only telling political lies of omission and commission to Australian voters – he may also telling them to his own government.

The Australian, 1 February 2016:

Sharp tensions between Tony Abbott and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop were exposed yesterday with the revelation of a rock-solid pledge in writing by Mr Abbott to back former New Zealand leader Helen Clark as the next UN secretar­y-general.

The Australian has obtained the late-2014 exchange of letters between the then Australian prime minister and New Zealand Prime Minister John Key in which Mr Abbott commits to a joint strategy between the two countries to try to make Ms Clark the successor to Ban Ki-moon.

Ms Bishop signalled last week that the Turnbull government felt its options were open to support former Labor prime minister Kevin Rudd if he nominated for the post and that no firm commitment to any other candidate had been made by the government.

Yet Mr Abbott had made such commitments and the assurances offered by Ms Bishop were wrong.

It emerged last night that Ms Bishop as Foreign Minister, dealing with the UN on a regular basis, was not informed by Mr Abbott­ of his 2014 commitment to back Ms Clark for the post.

Ms Bishop is astonished that Mr Abbott as prime minister was exercising his personal authority with Mr Key without ­consulting her or keeping her “in the loop”.

Abbott supporters in turn are suspicious that Ms Bishop is positioning the Turnbull government to support Mr Rudd for the post when Mr Abbott had made a formal commitment to another candid­ate through the letter.

Ms Bishop, in response, has made it clear that the decision on Australia’s support for any candid­ate will be made by the Turnbull cabinet and not by herself as Foreign Minister……

Tony Abbott was quick to deny that he had acted unilaterally in endorsing former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark’s candidature. However, Ms. Bishop insists that “Any letter to the New Zealand Prime Minister was not shared with me, my office or my department…There was no discussion in cabinet about supporting Helen Clark …No New Zealand official ever raised this with us.”

On 3 February 2016 The Australian expanded on Abbott's motives:

Tony Abbott sought an exchange of letters with John Key to support former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark for the top job at the UN to head off Kevin Rudd’s push to get Australia’s backing for the post…..

In November 2014, Mr Abbott was aware of Mr Rudd’s interest in Australian government support should he declare as a candidate for UN secretary-general and, after discussions with Mr Key, gave a written guarantee he would support Ms Clark if she ran.

After earlier discussions, Mr Abbott and an ­adviser approached Mr Key at Darwin Airport in early November on their way to an APEC meeting in Beijing. The two prime ministers discussed the issue, with Mr Abbott offering his support for Ms Clark and seeking an exchange of letters to formalise the agreement. On November 10, Mr Key wrote to Mr Abbott about their conversation about Ms Clark and said he would welcome “any support from the Australian government”…..

Yesterday in Wellington, Mr Key said he had discussed the matter only with Mr Abbott.

“I didn’t have any discussions with Julie Bishop,” he said. “We thought at the time there was a possibility Helen Clark would put her name forward, and I had a discussion with Tony Abbott about Helen being a very strong candidate and that the New Zealand government would back her. He said … if she put her name forward, he thought Australia would support her.”

Mr Key said the situation changed when Mr Turnbull became Prime Minister. “What I said (to him) … was once the change of prime ministership happened, we wouldn’t consider it a binding ­obligation.”

This situation poses two questions:

(1) What other previously unannounced captain’s picks by Tony Abbott will surface in the coming months and will they also have the potential to cause domestic or foreign policy difficulties?

(2) Can the Turnbull Government afford to go to a general election this year with a divisive Tony Abbott still in its ranks?

Perhaps sacking him as prime minister was only half the answer and the NSW Division of the Liberal Party needs to go further and not support his pre-selection.

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