Is Murdoch set to abandon Abbott?

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For years, Tony Abbott has been able to rely on the heavy backing of the Murdoch press, but has the Rudd revival shattered this core plank of Abbott's election campaign? Rodney E. Lever comments.

Like Gough Whitlam, John Howard and Gordon Brown before him - has Tony Abbott lost the support of his powerful backer?

TONY ABBOTT must now be wondering where he stands with Rupert Murdoch?

Has he switched his allegiance to Rudd Labor? The weekend papers certainly made it appear so.

This is just a beginning. The Rudd coup had to be headlined. The news could not have been buried — as Julia Gillard’s great achievements often were.

In this, his 83rd year on the planet, Murdoch’s interests in Australia, his personal legacy and his family’s fortunes are prominent in his thinking. The recent divorce from his fortune-hunting third wife is believed to be a step to mediate the family friction with his children.

It is understood they were disgusted with his treatment of their mother and the influence his avaricious and pugilistic third wife was able to exert. Rupert dumps people when he decides they are no longer of use to him, whether they are his wives or his employees.

Wendi Deng was useful to him when she punched the man who hit him with a pie at a Leveson Inquiry hearing last year and in his attempts to integrate China into his international operations. The Chinese politely asked if he had married a Chinese woman for business reasons and then declined to allow him to expand beyond a TV service they could fully control.

In a weekend speech to the Liberal Party faithful in Victoria, Tony Abbott produced lines straight out of the mouth of the party’s founder Bob Menzies — promising everything, then doing nothing because it’s all too hard.

During Menzies' prime-ministership, Australia waited 20 years for television to be introduced. Would it be the same for broadband and the other programs already on the policy map for Labor should Tony Abbott be elected?

If the Murdoch papers continue to back Rudd, will his party insist on rejecting Murdoch’s blandishments? Will a replay of the Whitlam dismissal follow?

We can’t read Murdoch’s mind. We can, however, clearly see his attention is now on Australia. He wants to hand over the keys of his empire to sons Lachlan and James and his daughter Elisabeth – all of whom have had hands-on experience in the business – before he dies.

Lachlan is struggling to reap a profit from his personal investment in television at Channel Ten. He also owns a modest radio network and a CD rental business that is probably shot as far as future profits are concerned.

From Rupert’s point of view,  the Australian newspapers are vital to his family legacy in one form or another, even if they are running at a loss. At some time in the future, their printing presses and associated equipment will need replacing. That cost will be huge if the papers continue to be produced in every state.

His pay TV operations hang in the balance with Labor’s plan to introduce the NBN, given its ability to provide all the same services at a cheaper cost to consumers than the monthly rentals of pay TV. This is one of the main keys to Rupert’s final ambitions for his legacy.

Lachlan Murdoch has had limited business success. (Image courtesy guardian.co.uk)

Will he be able – as Menzies did for the benefit of newspaper and radio barons – to stave off the inevitable for another 20 years?

These are the issues Kevin Rudd has to consider now, among all the other matters that claim the attention of a prime minister. The pressure could well make him crack some time in the future.

In the meantime, the loss of Peter Garrett and Greg Combet is a sad blow for the Rudd Government. They will both remain members of the Labor Party and, given their remarkably positive performances in the Gillard Government, they are both still prospective leaders for the future.

They are also both men who have no reason to cater to the whims and fancies of media magnates.

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