After 40 years of being involved in politics, it’s still possible to witness amazing events.
On Saturday I was at the Australian Christian Nation Association conference in Burwood, in Sydney’s inner-west.
The keynote speaker was Tony Abbott, for whom the crowd went crazy, treating him like a political rock-star.
I’ve never seen anything like it.
With hundreds packed into the room, he received three standing ovations and a wild outpouring of love.
Abbott generated the rarest of attributes in modern politics: energy.
People were genuinely moved and animated by his 30-minute speech – an impressive summary of the challenges facing Western civilisation.
At one point, dozens of women were yelling for him.
If it hadn’t been a strictly Christian gathering, it could have progressed into a Tom Jones-style chucking of knickers.
You don’t usually get this kind of passion in today’s politics – an era dominated by public disengagement and cynicism about our leaders.
For the conservative base, Abbott is incredibly popular.
They admire his policies, his values and his resilience.
He also has the sympathy vote locked up.
As one fan interjected, “Tony, you should be Prime Minister – you’re the one the people voted for”.
This is the tragedy of today’s Liberal Party.
In knifing Abbott two years ago, Malcolm Turnbull jettisoned the party’s conservative base, an essential foundation stone for electoral success.
Now conservatives are forging the habit of voting elsewhere.
In Saturday’s Queensland election, the LNP suffered a 7.8% swing, bottoming out with a primary vote of 33.5 percent.
Pauline Hanson’s One Nation was an obvious beneficiary with 13.7% support.
Cory Bernardi’s breakaway Conservative Party is also poised to cash-in on the Abbott/Turnbull schism.
We are watching the Liberal Party’s decline as a cohesive electoral force.
As long as the Abbott conservatives feel disenfranchised by the Labor-lite Turnbull/Pyne/Brandis wing of the party, this divided house must fall.
With his prime ministership hanging by a thread, Turnbull urgently needs to resolve the Abbott question.
Yes, the two men hate each other.
Yes, it’s a replay of the spite and vengeance of other great intra-party rivalries, such as Rudd/Gillard, Hawke/Keating and Howard/Peacock.
But to save his bacon, Turnbull needs to look beyond this personal animus and find a way of bringing Abbott back into cabinet.
My advice would be to smoke the peace pipe and offer him Treasury.
Scott Morrison has been hopeless in the portfolio.
The government actually has a decent story to tell on the economy but Morrison is incapable of retailing it.
He has no presence in the public debate and seems out of his depth when talking about fiscal policy.
Earlier this year, Abbott announced his support for two important economic measures.
The first is a cut to immigration – taking the pressure off housing demand and costs, while also easing labour market competition and the suppression of wages growth.
The second is an embargo on new Federal spending until such time at the budget returns to surplus.
These policies would give the government a much-needed economic narrative, using one of its best campaigners to sell them.
A united Turnbull/Abbott economic team, no matter how artificially constructed, is the Prime Minister’s last best shot at survival.
In these troubled times, as voters look at most MPs like a new form of scabies, it makes no sense to leave a star-turn like Abbott on the backbench.
It used to be thought that for a government to become arrogant and out-of-touch, it would take at least a decade.
Now, in the era of factional machine politics, this self-life has shortened.
The NSW Government has taken less than seven years to lose all sense of its public priorities.
The signs were there last year when the former Premier Mike Baird tried to rub out an entire industry: the battler’s sport of greyhound racing.
Last week, his successor Gladys Berejiklian and her factional offsider Stuart Ayres announced another sports-related folly.
They plan to spend $2 billion knocking down and rebuilding two relatively new facilities: the Olympic Stadium at Homebush and Football Stadium at Moore Park.
Both are in fine working order.
Both host major sporting events without significant public complaints about the level of amenity and convenience.
If Berejiklian and Ayres were to visit the fast-growing outer suburbs of South-West Sydney and ask people for their list of priorities in spending $2 billion, neither facility would rank in the top 20 projects.
Here’s what the locals would talk about.
The horrendous traffic jams on Narellan Road and Camden Valley Way.
The chaos of rapid urban growth, as a city the size of Canberra is being built between Narellan and Penrith without the provision of a new public hospital.
The archaic buildings at Camden Hospital, which is supposed to look after tens of thousands of young families moving into the region, sans pediatric services.
The failure to extend the Glenfield/Leppington rail-line to Badgerys Creek and also Narellan, giving commuters an alternative to gridlocked local roads.
The sardine-like overcrowding of the Leppington and Edmondson Park station car parks, even though they are only three years old.
These are the real, everyday problems of our congested city.
Unfortunately, the State Government has forgotten about them.
As Sports Minister, Ayres has been shockingly smug and elitist, swanning around the celebrity enclosures of big sporting events.
What’s he up to now: spending $2 billion in the public interest or simply trying to ingratiate himself to the city’s sporting chiefs?
This article was originally published by The Daily Telegraph.