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This amazing anecdote shows how Tony Abbott ended up in so much trouble with the backbench

Tony Abbott. Photo: Getty Images

There’s an incredible anecdote in The Australian today recounting the time Tony Abbott lost it over dinner with a group of backbenchers, swearing at the parliament’s youngest MP, Wyatt Roy.

It’s telling because it comes from a Coalition insider, Peter Costello’s former advisor, Niki Savva.

She doesn’t hold back, describing the PM’s shock that 39 MPs voted for the recent motion to spill the Liberal leadership. She said it showed, among other things, “that for too long he had believed his own spin, as well as the spin spoonfed to him by those closest to him”.

Savva lays bare the chilling relationship Abbott and his office had with many, which led to despair, saying people who tried to warn him there were problems were “dismissed as liars, or stupid, or of running vendettas. The response often has been hostile or dismissive and retribution swift.”

She offers other anecdotes about how things have soured, but the most telling tale is a dinner with 30 marginal seat MPs on 25 May 2013, when Roy, a Queensland backbencher who’d turned just 24 three days earlier, but already had four years in parliament, spoke up suggesting that broken promises were one of the reasons why the government was struggling. He suggested Abbott apologise to voters so the government could move on.

Savva details what happened next:

Abbott was furious. He rounded on Roy, yelled at him, then directed his remarks to all of them that there were no effing broken promises and no one should concede there had been. The incident stuck in the mind of MPs, first because of Roy’s bravery in broaching it, then because of the Prime Minister’s use of the F-bomb.

Many months later Abbott was forced to concede the bleeding obvious, but only after accusations of lying about lying trashed his credibility. If he had taken the advice of his youngest MP last May, he would have spared himself considerable pain.

She goes on to recount how the Coalition have struggled to get things back on track ever since, concluding ominously that while the party gave him more time on Monday, “In reality they gave themselves extra time to weigh up the alternatives.”

Read her amazing column here.

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