Abbott, the accidental PM, says he never wanted the top job until Malcolm Turnbull faltered on climate change

Abbott, the accidental PM, says he never wanted the top job until Malcolm Turnbull faltered on climate change. By Troy Bramston.

Yet Abbott did not seek the leadership, or the prime ministership, to fulfil an ambition harboured from a young age. He once said he had too many unpopular ideas on too many unfashionable issues. The top job, he insists, was not on his radar until Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership faltered over climate change in late 2009. …

“Well, someone’s got to run who is going to take a strong ­position opposing Labor’s great big new tax on everything,” he thought. In the three-way ballot, Hockey was eliminated and ­Abbott defeated Turnbull by 42 votes to 41. It was the narrowest of margins. “So, I was the accidental leader,” Abbott says. …

Tony Abbott

Abbott was not always a blue-blood Liberal. In mid-1987, he wrote to his mentor, BA Santamaria, expressing doubts about whether to join the Liberals or Labor. … He voted Labor at the 1988 NSW state election. “Every human being is on a journey,” ­Abbott says, “and you cannot tell where anyone’s journey is going to take them.” …

Having been in power federally for almost two-thirds of its existence, Abbott says the Liberal Party can reasonably claim to be Australia’s natural party of government. “No party can represent the country as wholeheartedly as we can,” he says. “First, because no particular section owns us the way the ­unions own the Labor Party. And, second, because we have not succumbed to the siren song of globalism to anything like the extent that the political left has.” …

Most former leaders have identified liberal and conservative strands of thinking in the party and have tended to personally identify with one or the other. But Abbott identifies a third strand: patriotism. “There are three broad strands of the Liberal Party’s political position,” he explains. “There’s the liberal strand, there’s the conserv­ative strand and, above all else, there’s the patriotic strand. I mean, yes, we are the freedom party, yes we are the tradition party but above all else we are the patriotic party.” …

He would also like to see candidates with more life ­experience contesting seats for the party. …

Abbott’s prime ministership was a mix of considerable achievements and avoidable blunders. On the positive side of the ledger, he identifies: beginning the task of ­fiscal repair; implementing a tough border protection regime; repealing the carbon and mining taxes; finalising free-trade agreements; prioritising counter-terrorism and defence planning; and investing in new infrastructure.

Yet there were plenty of mistakes and misjudgments. His government probably never recov­ered from the 2014-15 budget, which was seen as a breach of faith with voters for breaking promises. The government struggled to ­define itself and articulate its ­agenda. Day-to-day political management was often shambolic. …

“There is absolutely no doubt that there were a couple of things that I did, particularly the restoration of knighthoods (and damehoods), which caused me a lot of grief,” he concedes. …

At 61, Abbott says he is fitter than he was 25 years ago. He is not done with politics. He sees a role for himself as a conservative standard bearer at home and abroad. His chief regret as prime minister? “I wish I’d had longer,” he says. So it begs the question: would ­Abbott like to return to parliament? He does not dismiss the idea.

Failing to castrate the ABC’s political unit and not ridding us of 18C are two big mistakes, in my opinion.