SEEMINGLY CONFRONTED yet again by the odious prospect of Malcolm Turnbull being restored as Liberal leader, this column wishes to restate its position in the interests of candour and clarity: whilst we like Turnbull and see a role for him in a Liberal government — including, potentially, promotion — we do not, have never and will never support or accept Malcolm Turnbull as either the leader of the Liberal Party or as Prime Minister of Australia.
I’d intended to talk about the farcical but sane decision by unions not to challenge Dyson Heydon’s refusal to disqualify himself from the Royal Commission into the trade union movement; knowing their entire attempt to whip up a fury on the dubious pretext of “bias” was nothing more than wishful thinking and a strategy to shield criminals in their ranks from prosecution, union thugs couldn’t afford a Court destroying their fork-tongued arguments. Better to stay in limbo between Heydon’s decision and the legal system than having the balls to face the music.
But forces allied to Communications minister Malcolm Turnbull are on the march, and yet again, confronting the former leader’s apparent embryonic steps toward a challenge to Prime Minister Tony Abbott presents a more urgent imperative than ripping into lawless union thugs, even if the latter missive would have been more satisfying to write.
It seems those who agitate for a change in the Liberal leadership — and I’m talking about Liberal MPs and especially those less trustworthy members of the ministry who ought to resign and sit on the backbench — are in such a hurry as to be unable to wait for the deadline they themselves set to pass; the by-election in the Perth seat of Canning is five days away, but according to intensifying press speculation that seems to be immaculately backgrounded, a challenge could come as early as Tuesday.
That challenge is being portrayed as some — those lining up behind Turnbull, one would expect — as “inevitable,” and by way of further coverage readers may access, depending on preference, material from the Murdoch and Fairfax press for their perusal.
Does the Liberal Party need a new leader?
It may surprise some readers to know that I am not necessarily opposed to the notion of a leadership change.
The Abbott government’s polling numbers have been consistently terrible for 18 consecutive months; the average Labor lead, after preferences, is 53-47: a swing against the Coalition, if uniformly replicated at an election, of 6.5% and heralding the loss of almost 30 seats (and government) to Labor.
I believe that so entrenched is that deficit of public support it defies belief the Coalition can win the next election if things continue, unchanged, as they have done since the 2013 election; just yesterday we discussed exactly this predicament, and regular readers know I have repeatedly apportioned blame for the government’s misfortunes to Abbott’s Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin, her husband (and federal Liberal Party director) Brian Loughnane, and the little band of cronies that forms the government’s inner circle around them.
I have been a supporter of Tony Abbott ever since he arrived in Parliament through a by-election in 1994; a true conservative, I saw in Abbott the potential to develop a political philosophy that would come to offer mainstream appeal and an alternative to the centrist collaboration the Hawke-Keating years largely represented, and I was delighted when, 15 years later, he won the Liberal Party leadership.
But what should be a strength — and which is refreshing really, and rather rare — has increasingly proven Abbott’s greatest weakness: the famed loyalty he deploys in favour of those around him, and if the end of the road for Abbott comes this week, it will be this bittersweet attribute that portends its arrival.
The Abbott government, however you try to pretend otherwise, has been appallingly advised.
I have made the case over the past 18 months in this column, with increasing despair and frustration, that the way to fix the government is obvious (if not, perhaps, comfortably implemented): a complete overhaul of its back-of-house personnel, with particular emphasis on those responsible for political strategy, tactics, mass communication and salesmanship of government initiatives.
Credlin, her husband, and those around them are both emblematic of and directly responsible for the mess the Abbott government has become. I have discussed the problem with (in no particular order) other Liberal Party members; in off the record conversations with past and present staffers; associates of mine who (smugly) slot into the more effective machinery of the ALP; and with some of the people — some better than I — who have also been shafted by those who really run the Liberal Party, and whose attitude toward the party, in stomping out in disgust, is that it can go and fuck itself.
To be sure, the Liberal Party has lost a lot of good people as a result of the abominable way it has conducted itself in office over the past two years, and that assessment also extends to state divisions which have largely been run by different members of the same club of cronies who’ve made such a mess of government federally.
I, too, am known for my loyalty, but only a sycophant fails to know when enough is enough: and as much as I would dearly like Abbott to do a “house clean” and fix the misfiring apparatus of his government, I don’t think he ever will, for to do so means to toss Credlin, Loughnane, and a goodly number of their maaates overboard.
If a leadership ticket were to be assembled that a) did not feature Malcolm Turnbull at its head, and b) offered balance between the Liberal Right and the party’s moderate faction, I would have to seriously consider not just abandoning my support for Tony Abbott as Prime Minister but actively campaigning for his replacement.
In my view, the only possible way the cancer that has eaten away at this government’s political capital and electoral support can be excised is for Abbott to be overthrown, for if he refuses to get rid of the people who collectively constitute the affliction then he must be removed so others can get rid of them instead.
Any alternative Liberal leadership ticket would need to provide guarantees — privately, of course — that Credlin and her little regime would be unceremoniously thrown out of Parliament House as a precondition for my unqualified support.
And further, a guarantee that no move would be made to find her a safe Liberal seat as a way of removing the problem would not be unhelpful either, for there is no point putting someone like Credlin into Parliament where she is free to continue her destructive political influence but simply from another office — and this rings especially true if her husband remains federal director of the party.
It is an appalling conflict of interest that the pair of them occupy their present roles simultaneously, but that conflict would be exponentially exacerbated were one to remain at the head of the party’s organisational wing whilst the other was a member of Parliament.
When it looked like Abbott may have been dislodged back in February, I indicated that Julie Bishop — with either Trade minister Andrew Robb or Social Services minister Scott Morrison as deputy — would be an option I would find acceptable, subject to the stipulations I have made in this article.
I still think Robb would be the better deputy; Morrison isn’t ready for a leadership role, but he could make a good replacement for Joe Hockey as treasurer, although I am deadly serious about my support for the idea of giving that role to Turnbull. I do think, despite vociferous disagreement from some readers and some of my associates privately, that Turnbull would make an excellent Treasurer, and that harnessing him in that position would benefit the Liberal Party whilst enabling him to claim an advance of sorts.
And if the Liberal Right boasted a credible leadership candidate of its own — and with the dubious exception of Robb, who (cruelly) doesn’t come across well enough in the media to survive in the public eye as Prime Minister, it currently doesn’t — I’d even be prepared to unequivocally back Turnbull for the role of deputy.
But Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister? Never.
I have had innumerable approaches over the past nine months — from all quarters — that run something like this: Malcolm is the “people’s choice.” His opinion poll numbers are the envy of every other politician in the country from any party. As leader, he would “romp home” in a landslide at an election. Isn’t it better to win with Turnbull than to “die” with Abbott?
Simply, the problem with this immature and cretinous logic is best illustrated by substituting Malcolm Turnbull’s name with that of Kevin Rudd, for the arguments are identical to those advanced by Rudd’s proponents prior to his resumption of the ALP leadership in June 2013.
Andrew Peacock’s numbers were not too dissimilar to Turnbull’s in early 1989 when they were used to justify his restoration to the Liberal leadership: the party remained in opposition for another seven years and through two additional election defeats, both occurring at “unloseable” elections, the first under Peacock’s leadership in 1990.
So let’s hear no more of the “messiah” argument for Turnbull becoming Prime Minister now.
Back in early February — and before the abortive spill against Abbott came to pass — I published in this column a pre-emptive article against any move to restore Malcolm Turnbull to the Liberal leadership: the issues of the day may have changed in the time that has since elapsed, but the underlying reasons remain identical.
Malcolm Turnbull is no solution as Prime Minister: I said so at the time, and I say so now, and there is nothing that has happened in the intervening period to dissuade me from that view.
At one point not so long ago, Turnbull made a sickening attempt to package his left-leaning social views on climate change and gay marriage as “conservative” positions to try to curry favour with conservatively minded Liberals: some might have been stupid enough to swallow the bait, but anyone with a brain recognised it for what it was.
And none of this changes the fact that ever since he flirted with a seat in Parliament, Turnbull has been the antithesis of loyalty: he embarked on a brutal preselection stoush to get his hands on his seat of Wentworth; by the time the Howard government was defeated three years later, he had already gained a reputation for plotting, scheming, and self-promotion; he stalked his predecessor, Brendan Nelson, for no better reason than undeserved self-advancement; and he almost tore the Liberal Party apart through his actions and his behaviour as its leader.
Early in Abbott’s tenure as Liberal leader Turnbull was, at times, treacherous to the point of warranting expulsion from the party: and all of this, having regard to the myth of Turnbull as “messiah” and the number of people who would desert the Liberal Party were he restored to its leadership now, speaks to the last person who should ever be afforded the privilege of the Prime Ministership of this country from a conservative political entity.
There is talk Tony Abbott will call a double dissolution election within the next week: either to head off a poor result in Canning, or in the immediate aftermath next Sunday to avoid facing a leadership spill when Parliament is next due to convene.
Either of those scenarios is politically suicidal, and I don’t condone either of them.
But on the question of whether Malcolm Turnbull should become leader of the Liberal Party — and with that appointment, Prime Minister of Australia — I must be unequivocal.
I do not, never did and never will support Malcolm Turnbull as the leader of the Liberal Party; and I do not, never did and never will support Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister of Australia.
I urge all readers of conservative mind to do all they can — in their Liberal Party forums if they are members, or in their families, workplaces and communities if they are not — to advance the arguments of Turnbull’s utter unsuitability for high office, and to help destroy the fairy story that he is the “people’s choice.”
Should Turnbull become Prime Minister I will give serious consideration to terminating my membership of the Liberal Party, and walking away from the party forever; and I know of a very large number of other members contemplating exactly the same response should the nightmarish scenario eventuate.
In the end, I don’t think Turnbull is any more likely than Abbott to win an election, and in fact, once any “honeymoon” had dissipated Turnbull’s position would conceivably be revealed as far weaker than Abbott’s has ever been.
Just like it was before he was dumped as leader in 2009.
Whatever happens in conservative politics in Australia over the next week, one thing is abundantly clear.
Malcolm Turnbull is no solution as Prime Minister, and should he acquire that position, the Coalition will probably suffer defeat whenever it next faces the people: fairy stories and messianic bullshit might build momentum, but when the blowtorch is applied they are no substitute for substance.
Turnbull had his go. He made a botch of it and almost destroyed the Liberal Party. Nothing has changed, at least where Turnbull’s suitability for the post is concerned. The last thing the party — and the country — can afford is to indulge his ambitions now.