The former prime minister started by lauding the “extraordinary” and “stupendous” result of the overall Coalition victory. He treated his own dumping almost as a footnote.
“Of course, it’s disappointing for us here in Warringah, but what matters is what’s best for the country,” he told his supporters, who were extreme in their enthusiasm. One 20-something man was overheard lamenting they had lost “the captain of the conservatives”.
Abbott drew the ire of many in his party when he admitted that following the Wentworth byelection last October – a blue-ribbon seat lost to an independent campaigning on climate change – he knew it would be “tough” in Warringah.
He said he had stayed on because he would rather be a “loser than a quitter”, which was very possibly a dig at his nemesis Malcolm Turnbull, who was overseas no doubt toasting Abbott’s demise with some fine liquor heavily laced with schadenfreude.
Abbott’s loss should have been all the more bitter because it came in the midst of such a happily surprising victory for the Coalition overall.
Abbott tried to paint his anomalous result as the fault of the “fierce” campaign fought by “my political opponents”, but in fact it was his own people who voted him out – previously loyal Liberals who abandoned him because they thought he was a handbrake on progress.
Climate change undoubtedly lost Abbott his political career.
And yet, instead of acknowledging his misjudgment of the concerns of his electorate, he painted climate as a boutique, bourgeois issue.
“It’s clear that in what might be described as ‘working seats’, we are doing so much better,” he said.
“It’s also clear that in at least some of what might be described as ‘wealthy seats’, we are doing it tough, and the green left is doing better,” he said.
That is his constituency of a quarter century he’s talking about there – mere wealthy people easily influenced by “green left” activism, apparently.
For progressives and Labor voters despairing that Bill Shorten lost the supposed “climate change election” for them, Mr Abbott’s departure from the Liberal party room is significant.
Abbott blocked every sensible economic response to emissions reduction, from carbon pricing to the National Energy Guarantee, and had some success fomenting support for pulling out of the Paris Agreement, which he signed Australia up to.
With Abbott gone, Morrison will be better able to respond to the calls of the moderates in his party to create a softly-softly climate change response that gives business certainty and allows further investment in renewable energy, which everyone knows is happening anyway.
It might not be much, but it’s better than nothing, which is what Abbott wanted.
Meanwhile, the former prime minister, who has shaped our national life through fate and fury, has not ruled out a return to political life, and explicitly said he will continue to contribute to public life.
He is not gone, and he will never be forgotten.
Jacqueline is a senior journalist, columnist and former Canberra press gallery sketch writer for The Sydney Morning Herald.