This week’s great upheaval in Canberra and sudden change of Prime Minister has been a stark reminder of the unforgiving nature of politics.
Regardless of one’s political persuasion, it’s hard not to feel for both the departing Prime Minister Tony Abbott, wounded by his sudden ousting, and his successor Malcolm Turnbull, who now has a great load to bear as the nation’s new leader.
“We’re Not Perfect”: Tony Abbott
In his exit speech, Mr Abbott referred to the weight of leadership, the pressure politics places on families, and the impossible task of trying to be perfect.
“We have been a Government of men and women, not a government of gods walking upon the earth,” he said. “Few of us, after all, entirely measure up to expectations.”
He also reference the recently evolved media culture of “sour, bitter, character assassination”, which “has produced a revolving door prime ministership” and “rewards treachery”.
In a display of what many would call grace and humility, he vowed not to undermine from the backbench, and accepted defeat.
“Yes, this is a tough day, but when you join the game you accept the rules,” he said.
In a nod to his Christian beliefs he referenced the first sermon preached in Australian history.
“The Reverend Richard Johnson took as his text, “What shall I render unto the Lord for all his blessings to me?”,” he said. “At this, my final statement as Prime Minister, I say: I have rendered all and I am proud of my service. My love for this country is as strong as ever and may God bless this great Commonwealth.”
“Politics Can Be Brutal”: Mike Baird
NSW Premier Mike Baird posted condolences on his Facebook page with the admission that “politics can be brutal”.
“I’ve known Tony Abbott for close to 15 years and I am proud to call him a mate,” he said. “He will be hurting.”
He described Abbott as a man with humility and heart who didn’t thirst for power but had “spent decades volunteering at the local surf club or working a shift with the Rural Fire Service… not for political gain, but for the simple reason that he loves his community.”
He also said he “looked forward to working closely with Malcolm [Turnbull]”.
”He will lead with distinction and I anticipate great things for Australia.”
“The Burden Of Leadership Is Heavy”: Malcolm Turnbull
The new prime minister Malcolm Turnbull began his first speech by paying tribute to Tony Abbott, admitting that “the burden of leadership is a very heavy one”.
He described the Abbott government’s acehievements as “formidable” and said the experience of the leadership spill had been “a sobering experience”.
“I’m very humbled by the great honour and responsibility that has been given to me today,” he said.
In an episode of ABC TV’s Kitchen Cabinet from 2013, Malcolm Turnbull talked to political journalist Annabel Crabb about his own painful experience of being ousted from Liberal leadership, back in 2009.
He described politics as a “very, very rough business” and said the experience of losing the party leadership at that time to Tony Abbott was “an enormous blow”.
“It was a very tough year,” he said. “Even if it’s anticipated or something that you can see coming, maintaining an equitable state of mind is not easy.”
Mr Turnbull considered leaving politics at the time and only returned at the pleading of his supporters.
His description of the time as a “very bleak period” is an indicator of how Tony Abbott may be feeling right now.
Balancing A Thick Skin With A Soft Heart
In the same 2013 interview, Mr Turnbull talked about the complex balance of character retraits required in the political game.
“If you are completely and utterly lacking in any sense of self awareness and you’re absolutely oblivious to what anybody else thinks, you’re perfectly suited to be a political leader,” he said.
“If, on the other hand, you are dripping with empathy and you take seriously what other people say, then you run the risk of being very badly hurt.
“How can you be an effective political leader, and be a human being? That’s the challenge. You are getting… extraordinary criticism every day.” ~ Malcolm Turnbull
“So how can you be an effective political leader, and be a human being? That’s the challenge. You are getting… extraordinary criticism every day.
“So you have to somehow or other manage to combine a durability, a sense of resilience, a sense of self-confidence, but at the same time not become so utterly unhinged, that you pay no attention to what anybody else thinks and you become living in a little fantasy world of your own.”
Barrack Obama’s “Thanks, Mate” Phonecall To Tony Abbott
According to The Australian and Sky News, Mr Abbott received a phone call yesterday from US President Barack Obama, who thanked him for his leadership as the former Prime Minister, and described him as a “good mate on so many issues”.
Reports say that Obama also thanked Mr Abbott for his “global leadership” in the fight against Islamic State in the Middle East.