After 290 days, Brendan Nelson’s time is over.
Labor didn’t need to lift a finger to see off an opposition leader who barely registered in the polls, and one largely unrecognised by voters.
It was his own party that did it – and despite all the signs, Nelson really hadn’t expected them to pull the trigger when he gave them the opportunity to do so by calling a snap leadership spill for this morning.
Part of the problem for Nelson was the impatience of his colleagues, many of whom had never been in opposition. They wanted the polls to improve now, but they didn’t.
New Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull, who entered parliament in 2004, became opposition leader after winning a Liberal party room ballot 45-41 against incumbent Nelson.
Three hours after the ballot Turnbull addressed a joint meeting of the coalition parties as opposition leader, saying it was a “momentous morning” and the coalition “can and will win in the 2010 election”.
Turnbull said if the coalition was to win in 2010 it needed to move forward united, with energy, enthusiasm and new ideas.
Respected political analyst John Warhurst said “the many intangibles” of opposition leadership were ultimately responsible for Nelson’s downfall.
“He wasn’t making any headway and his own personal approval opinion ratings were far too low to continue,” Warhurst said.
“Partly he was just dealt a very difficult hand and anyone would have had problems.”
From the time Nelson was elected leader on November 29 last year – less than a week after the coalition’s crushing election loss after nearly 12 years in power – he was on a short leash.
He lacked a strong political win to cement his power. The pressure on him was constant and unrelenting, leading to impatience within the party.
His demise was sealed with a painful fortnight of dithering, dressed up as consultation, over the opposition’s stance on emissions trading.
A desire to listen to his colleagues suddenly looked like flip-flopping on an important policy debates.
“He didn’t have a clear image of what he stood for on big issues like climate change and the economy,” Warhurst said.
Then there was Nelson’s confected rage on issues from highway rest stops to pension payments. Earnest concern, at times, looked faintly ridiculous.
Just yesterday he was roaring in parliament about a person driving a Barina on a highway at 80 kilometres an hour.
Too many things were a matter of outrage for Nelson.
With tears on his cheeks, the vanquished leader this morning accepted his fate with dignity, wife Gillian by his side.
“It has been a great honour, an enormous honour to be the leader of the Liberal Party, the leader of the opposition, it is an extraordinarily important role in Australian political life,” he said.
And in time, that rarely spoken reality of politics was raised by Mrs Nelson.
“I’ve never met nor do I ever expect I will meet a finer man and I’m proud to be standing here beside him and I look forward to seeing more of him.”