CANBERRA – Ousted Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he’ll seek another parliamentary term in this year’s elections — creating a potential rallying point for conservative lawmakers in the ruling Liberal Party and a headache for his successor, Malcolm Turnbull.
“I have been heartened by the support and encouragement I’ve received to continue to serve the country as a member of parliament,” Abbott said in a statement on his website. He’ll again contest the Sydney-based seat of Warringah, which he has held for 22 years.
While Abbott’s two-year tenure as prime minister was blighted by party infighting and poor decision-making, he remains a figurehead in its conservative wing and could prove a lightning rod for any future internal dissent against Turnbull. That could eventually undermine the leader’s authority, according to political analyst Haydon Manning.
“While Abbott’s announcement won’t cause Turnbull immediate concern because he’s popular and should easily be elected, down the track it could bode ill for party solidarity,” said Manning, a politics professor at Flinders University in Adelaide. “The conservatives want Abbott to remain as their rallying point and now he’s stepping up to do it.”
Since winning power, former banker Turnbull, 61, has turned around the Liberal-National coalition’s prospects for re- election, giving the government an election-winning lead over Labor in opinion polls.
He has yet to announce major changes to policy that deviate from Abbott’s conservative agenda, maintaining a ban on same-sex marriages, keeping out asylum seekers attempting to arrive in Australia by boat and refusing to introduce a price on carbon emissions.
Amid global market volatility that has put pressure on Australian growth, Turnbull is concentrating on economic issues, including taking a tax-reform package to the next election, which he has said he expects will be held in September or October.
Abbott, 58, may believe he can emulate another former prime minister, Kevin Rudd, who briefly returned as prime minister in 2013 three years after being deposed by Julia Gillard, according to Manning. Pressure may increase on Turnbull from the party’s conservatives to give his predecessor a ministry position, he said.
Abbott “has been contributing to politics all his life, not just in parliament, and he’s passionate about it and that’s a good thing,” Treasurer Scott Morrison said in a Sydney radio interview Monday when asked about Abbott’s decision. “You need a balanced team and that’s what we have.”