Australian politicians have again treated the nation like a failed Pacific Island state, launching yet another coup to topple a serving prime minister.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott was cut down by one of his Liberal Party cabinet ministers, Malcolm Turnbull, in a party room vote brought on Monday.
Abbott, a conservative, visited the Heritage Foundation in 2012 when he was leader of the opposition.
The Australian prime minister has changed five times in five years after the Labor Party also deposed a serving prime minister, Kevin Rudd, in his first term in 2010.
Like the United Kingdom, Australia has a Westminster parliamentary system where the prime minister is not directly elected by the people but rather by his or her party colleagues.
If the polls are bad, the colleagues get spooked and the axe comes out.
But there were other factors.
A major one was the issue of same-sex marriage. Abbott, a social conservative, had been effective in holding back a relentless campaign to change the definition of marriage in recent years.
Emboldened by the Irish referendum and then the Obergefell decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, Australia’s same-sex marriage political movement went into overdrive cheered on by a campaigning media.
This pressure culminated last month in a marathon six-hour debate behind closed doors in the ruling Liberal-National coalition party room to try and resolve the issue.
Abbott emerged from that meeting announcing the coalition had decided to use its numbers to block the introduction into the Australian Parliament of yet another bill to change the definition of marriage.
Instead, a people’s vote known as a plebiscite would be held sometime after the 2016 election, kicking the issue into the long grass (putting the issue off) and blunting the momentum of same-sex marriage lobbyists.
This infuriated supporters of Turnbull, a prominent advocate for changing the definition of marriage, leading to further white-anting (erosion) of Abbott’s leadership.
In a bid to heal divisions between social conservatives and “small L” liberals within the Liberal Party, Turnbull told parliament this week he would stick by the coalition’s decision to hold the people’s vote on same-sex marriage after then 2016 election.
This has wrong-footed the same-sex marriage lobby and the Greens Party who thought a Turnbull prime ministership was their ticket to bringing the issue back to the parliament before Christmas.
Despite the circumstances of his axing, Abbott’s two-year prime ministership will be judged by history as one of substance.
He secured Australia’s borders by stopping people smugglers from routinely delivering illegal immigrants to Australia by turning around their boats and sending them back to Indonesia.
This came after 1000 people, including women and children, drowned at sea trying to reach Australia after the Labor party watered down previous border protection policies instituted under another former Prime Minister John Howard.
With illegal immigration halted, Abbott last week announced Australia would resettle 12,000 Syrian refugees in a special humanitarian commitment on top of Australia’s annual refugee intake of 13,750 per year.
On a per capita basis, it was one of the world’s most generous responses to the Syrian crisis. Persecuted religious minorities, the bulk of which are of course Christian, will be given preference in this allocation.
Abbott was quick to join the US-led coalition against Islamic State last year, and just last week the Australian cabinet approved an expansion of the mission into Syria, with a RAAF Hornet this week destroying an IS armored personnel carrier in Syria.
Despite a hostile Senate where the government does not control the numbers, Abbott shaved $50 billion off the budget deficit. In addition, free trade agreements were negotiated with South Korea, Japan and China.
His leadership, however, was not mistake-free.
Granting a Knighthood to the Queen’s husband, Prince Philip, went down badly with egalitarian-minded Australians and Abbott was too slow to act to sack the speaker of the House of Representatives who caused outrage by using taxpayers’ money to charter a helicopter to travel to a party fundraiser.
In a gracious concession speech, Abbott said:
“Poll-driven panic has produced a revolving-door prime ministership, which can’t be good for the country, and a febrile media culture has developed that rewards treachery.”
He quoted from the first Christian sermon preached on Australian soil the day after the First Fleet carrying English convicts landed at what is now Sydney in 1788.
“The Reverend Richard Johnson took as his text, ‘What shall I render unto the Lord for all his blessings to me?’
“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.”