Careful what you wish for

pinterest-fails-minionsCareful what you wish for. I wonder if anyone ever said this to Turnbull while he scurried around courting leadership votes from his Liberal and National colleagues? There are lots of metaphors you can throw at his current predicament. He’s sipped on Abbott’s poison chalice. His Teflon glean is sticky. His shine has worn off. Voters thought a Turnbull government would look like the cake on the left, but in reality, it’s just the Abbott cake with different colour icing – underneath it still tastes exactly the same.

Reality not meeting expectations is usually disappointing rather than pleasantly surprising. I’m not sure I’ll ever really understand why on earth voters chose Abbott in the first place since I spent years advising against this terrible decision and was completely unsurprised when PM Abbott turned out to be just as big a disaster as I predicted he would be. But presumably Abbott won the last election because voters thought he would do a better job of running the country than the Labor government. It only took a few months for them to realise their terrible mistake. This realisation and corresponding dissatisfaction with Abbott gave Turnbull his chance to pounce. And pounce he did.

In the blink of an eye, Turnbull became Prime Minister of Australia, a job he was never elected for, which, as Gillard proved, had he been a woman and a Labor MP he would have paid dearly for with the label of back-stabbing-illegitimate-swine. But Turnbull slid in scot-free, proclaiming there was never a more exciting time to be an Australian voter who hadn’t voted for him to be PM.

There are good arguments to say Turnbull got away with his coup because voters hated Abbott and were pleased to see him go. It makes sense they were willing to accept whatever had to happen to remove the most embarrassing, incompetent Prime Minister Australia has ever had. But I think there’s more to Turnbull’s free ride and corresponding honey-moon popularity in the polls than meets the eye. I think it’s possible that voters’ acceptance of Turnbull is their silent, shameful, never-to-be-admitted relief that their Abbott mistake went away without them having to admit this mistake was their doing in the first place.

There’s a decision making theory in marketing called Post-Purchase Dissonance which describes the tensions a consumer feels after buying something which they invested time and energy choosing, when they’re not 100% sure they’ve made the right decision. Usually attributed to making large purchases such as a house or a car, buyers apparently often go out of their way to justify their purchases in order to calm their Post-Purchase Dissonance, even when there is rational evidence in front of them that their decision was a poor one. For instance, if the car they bought was a lemon.

You see the same irrational behaviour when people make all sorts of huge life decisions which turn out to be bad ones; it is very rare that the decision maker ever publically admits their mistake. Have you ever met someone who has been through a messy divorce from a man who was clearly a terrible choice for a husband, who everyone always knew was a dickhead, but the best his ex-wife can do to explain why she married him in the first place is to say ‘he changed after we got married’. The divorcee will very rarely say ‘I was a fool for marrying him’ because it’s human nature to justify important decisions in our life as good ones, even when all evidence contradicts this.

For most voters, the decision of who to vote for is not one they invest much time in, but nevertheless, there must be tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of Australian voters who, while watching Abbott swing a wrecking ball through Australian culture, society and economy had a little voice in the back of their mind saying ‘you chose this outcome… oops’. Imagine their relief when Turnbull erased this mistake?

But this isn’t where the story ends. No, Turnbull really should have been careful what he wished for, and what deals he made with the devil to get what he wanted. All those relieved Abbott-mistake-makers who wanted Turnbull to undo their guilt are now slowly, yet surely, coming to the even more disappointing realisation that Turnbull hasn’t actually undone anything. Because nothing has substantially changed since Abbott was deposed. The car is still a lemon. The husband is still a dickhead. The budget is still a disaster. The NBN has been ruined. The ABC gagged. There is no legitimate climate policy. Social security is still on the chopping block. Gonski is a goner. There’s a risk of a GST rise. Super contributions might be frozen where they are. Australian born babies are being sent to a concentration camp on Nauru. Penalty rates could be a thing of the past. Unions are being bashed. Turnbull is willing to fight an election on zombie-like WorkChoices industrial relations policies. States are being bullied to raise taxes. There will be no Australian Republic under a PM who led the Republic movement. Marriage equality won’t happen. Therefore the decision Abbott voters made at the 2014 election is still haunting them.

These are the sort of emotions that don’t show up in polls. These are the sort of thought processes that people don’t speak out loud. Labor would do well to understand the voices-in-the-heads of the ashamed Abbott voters. The 2016 election is Labor’s best chance to give these voters an opportunity to properly reverse their mistakes and to get it right once and for all.


  1. This is another illuminating column by Ms Rollison with its sound conclusion as well as many cogent points.

    All the same, I reckon there is a significant difference in the replacements of Rudd and Abbott. Rudd was removed without ever being allowed the opportunity to modify his leadership faults. Abbott had about 6 months after the Liberals’ no-challenger spill vote to rectify his lack of consultation after a series of bad/silly Captain’s Calls. Whether Abbott actually did improve his leadership skills and was replaced mainly due to his exceedingly negative approval numbers in the polls would be deuced difficult to determine, but at least Abbott had received a fair warning.

    • If Abbott was CEO of an Australian Government ‘business’ (even though “We are open for business”) his incompetence would have seen him shown the door long before his six month warning. Prime Minister is not a position where performance appraisal, professional development and remediation are appropriate work place actions. The PM is either up to the job or not and needs to hit the ground running (ie with a full brief of policies ready to be implemented). Why don’t we hear the same uproar when private enterprise replace CEO’s at short notice? They are shown the door and not given the opportunity to undermine from within their replacement – a lesson both LNP and ALP should have learnt.
      A reread of a SMH 2014 resurrection of a 1991 article on Malcolm may send shivers down the spine of those beguiled by his flashy, patronising smile and wonder whether they have jumped from the frying pan to the fire. No amount of Post-Purchase Dissonance can rationalise that one!

  2. Basically Turnbull is a coward. He let others in the dysfunctional Lnp do his dirty work and then the mendacious MSM have covered his arse ever since and which they will continue to do. The MSM is also a big part of why we got abbott in the first place. Turnbull is a coward and I think people are just realizing that and people do not like cowards.

  3. Spot on, Geoff. Historically, the Coalition wins elections due to our feckless, gormless and ethicsless corporate media and The ABC (aka Australian Broadcasting Copycats) shovelling rightwing coprophagic propaganda at us 24/7. Thank goodness for the AIMN, especially Ms Rollison.

  4. Thank you once again for another well written political Abbott and Turnbull analysis Victoria.

    Well may we say that those swinging votes from the political pendulum, who followed Abbott’s three liners, like sheep to the slaughter house fell for his bell ringing. Now those who voted on that whim, can hear those tiny dingalings saying, you cannot believe any politicians as they all tell lies is their way of explaining what they fell for.

    Well may we say that those swinger votes may well swing the other way again, if they smell a big rat among the LNP rams, who are ready to inflict more pain than Abbott’s bubonic plague could ever deliver.

    • How true as after today after watching the Insiders. Turnbull couldn’t even get his words straight in one sentence without shifting to another jumble up mix of fluffy words that actually mean nothing at all. Oh those buts Ah’s just like Abbott.

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