WITH A new Essential poll showing Labor leading, 52-48 — bringing polling aggregates to an election-winning 50.9% for Labor — we reach out to the Liberal Party’s disgruntled conservatives (and those who’ve stomped out) in an attempt to avert disaster. Some are angry with Malcolm Turnbull, but the alternative promises only the ruin of a great country: allowing the ALP raze Australia’s interests in an act of petty revenge would be a travesty.
In what seems like the refrain of a broken record, I must yet again apologise to readers for the paucity of content on this site in recent weeks; the ramping up of other (revenue generating) commitments last year means that even milking more hours out of a day than there are to milk as I always do, something has to give.
But it is timely — in the context of continuing poor polls for the government, and as someone who campaigned resolutely to prevent Malcolm Turnbull from becoming Prime Minister over a period of years — to directly address the elephant in the room with an eye to the disgruntled, angry and/or departed conservatives who are determined to use the 2 July election as an opportunity to vent their spleens and to kick Malcolm, metaphorically, in the nether regions.
It doesn’t take me to tell a great many people that the humiliating spectre of first-term election defeat is very much a possibility: forgetting opinion polls altogether for a moment, the mood on the streets, among ordinary voters with little or no particular affinity with politics and/or politicians, is unmistakable, although I would note there is none of the grudging respect that marked the feel of the crowd when it resolved to despatch John Howard almost a decade ago.
Even Howard’s bitterest opponents had to concede (if privately) that their lives, and the lot of so many of those they fought against him to advance, had improved — however debatable they considered the increment — whereas today, after three years of drift under two Prime Ministers, despite much of the blame being attributable to those bent on gratuitously destroying a conservative government, there is no appetite for such sentiment at all.
Over the past week, we have missed several key issues: yesterday’s state budget in Victoria, for example, built on property tax revenues that would not exist under Bill Shorten’s plans to mostly abolish negative gearing incentives; posturing ahead of a make-or-break federal budget to be delivered on Tuesday; the letting of contracts to build a dozen new submarines; and the decision by the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court to declare the detention facility established on Manus Island by the Rudd government unconstitutional.
All of these matters we will inevitably touch upon, and selectively revisit, moving forward.
But with yet another poll yesterday showing the Turnbull government falling further behind the ALP, with Essential’s rolling survey finding a two-point gain for Labor in a week to lead 52-48 (and remember, half of that “finding” is last week’s: the most recent Essential result could have been as bad as 46-54 for the Coalition to balance out a 50-50 result a week ago) it seems clear that whilst trouble now confronts the Liberal Party on a rising number of fronts, one group that could help the party can and indeed should make its peace with the continuing government.
And that, in short, is the enraged conservative flank that has threatened to abandon it (or has already done so) over the dumping of Tony Abbott as Prime Minister: the so-called “Del-Cons,” as Daily Telegraph columnist Miranda Devine calls them, who inexplicably believe that were Abbott in charge now the government would be cruising toward re-election.
Regular readers know — and as I seem to be reiterating a lot lately — that I was a trenchant supporter of Tony Abbott for decades: not just as Prime Minister, or as Liberal Party leader, but as an agent for the conservative cause as far back as his entry to Parliament in 1994.
When he won the Liberal leadership I spent an inordinate amount of time behind the scenes working to build support for a man whose public persona had already been gleefully (and unjustly) tarnished by political opponents astute enough to recognise the electoral threat he potentially posed to them.
And for perhaps too long during his two-year Prime Ministership, this column continued to defend him and the misfiring administration he headed.
In both reaffirming support for Abbott in the aftermath of the “challenge without a challenger” in February last year and in withdrawing that support before he was ultimately dumped in September, I was explicit that the central defect in the Abbott government was the appalling quality of the support available to it: on strategy, on tactics, on policy, and on mass communication and salesmanship, Abbott’s government was shockingly advised, and the responsibility for this eventually fatal impediment lay with the official to whom that responsibility had been entrusted in his Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin.
My position at that point was that either Credlin had to go, and the entire artifice of the advisory corps rebuilt from scratch, or that Abbott had to go to enable the termination of Credlin’s services, and at no time did that position coincide with any endorsement of Malcolm Turnbull. In fact, the utterances from this column explicitly emphasised anything but.
And it goes without saying that the Turnbull experiment — marked by gaffes, unforgivable lapses of judgement, mistakes and a sense of directionless drift — has hardly been a rip-roaring success, although today’s article isn’t about pointing fingers and doling out blame.
The upshot is that an unquantifiable number of previously rusted-on conservatives — be they from the party’s membership base or simply former Liberal voters — have noisily and viciously turned on the party, and continue to spray vitriol in the Turnbull direction at any and every available opportunity: understandably aggrieved that Abbott has not only been replaced, but replaced by a man many of them regard with unbridled contempt, these people are hellbent on engineering a change of government to ensure Turnbull is ejected from the office they believe he stole, and humiliated as badly and as thoroughly as possible.
I have to say that whilst I disagree with Malcolm on a lot of things — passionately in some cases — I do like him enormously; the times I have had cause for direct dealings with him (which admittedly were now more than 15 years ago) I found him engaging, amusing, and very intelligent indeed. My distinction between personal and political estimations of Malcolm are not a convenient fig leaf for my position on the Liberal Party leadership. It is possible, and not inconsistent, to draw such distinctions. But many of the people who profess to “hate” him have likely never met him, and if they have, one wonders whether their approach mirrored the tenor of their language toward him now. If it did, it should surprise little if the reception they elicited was frosty.
But look at Turnbull’s government. What has it done?
To date, it has maintained Abbott policy settings on gay marriage, offshore processing of asylum seekers, and the Direct Action package to deal with carbon emissions: part of a deal with conservatives to seal the leadership, perhaps, but for now at least these key settings remain in place. Changes later would rightly attract the charge of betrayal. But that is a question for another time.
Certainly, had Turnbull called a double dissolution for December — as repeatedly demanded by this column — we wouldn’t be having this conversation at all, for a December election was the one window open to the Coalition to capitalise on Turnbull’s honeymoon and cruise to a thumping election victory.
It didn’t, and poor performance this year has been reflected in opinion polls, which are suggesting a Coalition defeat. Polls under Abbott also suggested defeat, and by a wider margin than Turnbull is facing — for now — had he remained in place.
And just as there are a lot of things people (including me) want and wanted to see the government tackle — changes to laws governing free speech, labour market reform, tax reform, and the unsustainable overall level of government spending and debt bequeathed to the country by Labor — an even judgement suggests the present Senate was never going to allow any of these things to be attempted, although I would add that meaningful reform proposals could have served the dual purpose of giving the government a reform agenda and a bundle of extra double dissolution triggers on which to fight.
I agree that time — to say nothing of opportunity — has been wasted.
But whilst conservatives are entitled to vote as they see fit, and whilst the dissidents are perfectly entitled to facilitate the election of a Shorten government if that’s what they really want, I want to appeal to these people today to be more pragmatic than that — and to come back into the fold, even if it is with a peg affixed to their noses.
Fellow conservatives, just think about what you are considering.
Bill Shorten is a nihilistic, self-confessed liar who is known to harbour the delusion that the Prime Ministership is his destiny: he doesn’t give a damn who or what he has to walk over to achieve it.
He is a philanderer, a union thug, both puppet and puppeteer of the union movement, and an apologist for the worst excesses of unlawful and violent union militancy that have no place in a civilised, decent, and modern democratic society.
So confident is he of victory that he openly promises — nay, boasts about — $102 billion in tax slugs to be extorted from the Australian public over the next ten years: that’s $400 for every man, woman and child living in Australia today, year in and year out, every year, for ten years.
Not one cent of these proposed revenues is earmarked for budget repair or debt retirement: it’s just spend, spend, spend, which is the last thing Australia needs.
Under his “leadership,” the ALP continues to deny there is a problem with government debt, despite Australia now owing the rest of the world half a trillion dollars (when it owed nothing nine years ago) and despite average annual budget deficits adding another $50 billion to that figure each year for as far into the future as the eye can see.
Under his “leadership,” the ALP continues to peddle the lie that it isn’t responsible for this; to Labor, it was able to wash its hands of its dirty acts the day it returned to opposition.
Hundreds of billions of dollars in unfunded spending programs were legislated before the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd regime was turfed out; those criminally irresponsible acts of economic sabotage are and were nothing less than the price the ALP was prepared to pay to ensure it could kill off a Liberal government in a single term.
Incredibly, Labor’s efforts to pin responsibility for the budget and debt mess on the Coalition have largely resonated: not least, because the wrong people were charged with devising and selling the Coalition’s message, and fucked the job up completely.
Shorten Labor will hobble Australia with not one economy-destroying carbon tax if elected, but two.
It floated a policy two years ago (since hidden, for obvious reasons) to abolish the private health insurance rebate, which would cripple healthcare in this country and destroy the capacity of the Medicare to cope with the mass exodus from the private system.
It advocates changes to negative gearing that, if implemented in their current form and on timelines currently suggested, would have economy-wide reverberations that could induce a recession, in addition to causing a crash in the property market (irrespective of what Labor says) and destroying the value of the homes of hard-working mums and dads.
And the most disgusting thing of all is that having gambled when in office with Australia’s financial welfare and having shown no inclination to fix its own mistakes, Labor on Shorten’s watch has refused to permit any attempt by the Coalition to do the job at all: yes, the Hockey budget of 2014 was political cyanide, and its measures poorly targeted and badly framed.
But for the life of this Parliament, Shorten has been instrumental in seeing that any Coalition bill that raised spending was passed, whilst anything that sought to cut it was voted down in the Senate, and anyone tempted to flirt with a Shorten government — especially Liberal Party conservatives either walking out the door or already outside the tent — should bear all of this in mind.
I understand how aggrieved some of these people are; but really — weighed against the perhaps irretrievable additional damage another Labor government would now inflict — surely Malcolm, faults and all, must constitute the lesser of two evils?
Win or lose, his days are already numbered; if he loses the election, his departure from Parliament could come as soon as the evening of 2 July.
Win very narrowly, and there’s no guarantee he will be permitted to serve out a full term.
And even if he defies the polls and wins in a canter, Malcolm will be 62 in October: it is a cruel reality of Australian politics that Prime Ministers rarely survive in office much longer than that even in the best of times.
Excluding Bob Menzies (who was lucky to enjoy very poor opponents for much of his period in office, especially in the final years of his tenure), John Howard was shown the door by voters at 68. Bob Hawke was jettisoned by his own party at Turnbull’s age. The ridiculous Bill McMahon was dispensed with at 64 as soon as voters had the opportunity to do so. Fraser and Whitlam didn’t even make it to 60 in office.
My point is that Malcolm isn’t going to be around forever, but the Liberal Party will be; and whilst the ebbs and flows of political process have been unkind to its conservative wing in recent times, ultimately the party’s need for its conservative flank is greater than the recent sequence of events might suggest.
I don’t necessarily agree with any of the measures I’m going to now list: I’m not deserting the Liberal Party and I’m committed to getting it re-elected irrespective of my thoughts on its present leader and some of the more dubious appointments he has surrounded himself with.
Those who are angry could vote for the National Party in the Senate, unless they live in SA or Tasmania: keeping it “within the Coalition” but making a symbolic protest felt over the dumping of “their elected Prime Minister.”
Those who simply must vote against the Liberals in the lower house should still preference the Liberal Party above both Labor and the Greens: the consequences of Bill Shorten as Prime Minister would be cataclysmic.
If angry conservatives don’t want to help on local seat campaigns where a moderate candidate has been endorsed, get in the car and go and help a conservative Liberal out: again, at least keep it within the tent, even if the displeasure you feel must be made obvious in doing so.
But more than anything — even if you can’t bring yourself to say anything nice about Malcolm at all, even in the name of hunkering down and making sure the Left is locked out of government — then for God’s sake harness your hatred and unleash it toward Bill Shorten and the ALP, for any government formed by that group would amount to an unmitigated disaster from which Australia might not recover.
To the conservatives who are determined to desert the Liberal Party right now — over the identity of its current leader — I say the party needs you, and needs you badly.
I understand your grievances and to the extent I share in them have myself taken enormous reflection to make the appeal I now make.
Bill Shorten and Labor have no care for the long-term welfare of this country: if elected, they will lay waste to it in a naked lust for power for themselves, the union thugs and bastards who fund and control them, and with an utter disregard for its best interests for generations to come.
The grievances of conservatives deserved to be aired, debated and dealt with, but not now: after an election, with the Coalition re-elected, is the time for such discussions to occur.
In the final analysis, it is no exaggeration to suggest that defeat for Malcolm Turnbull at this election could well herald Australia’s ruin, and if hacked-off conservatives are as true to the values of duty and country as they are rightly proud to insist, then the Liberal Party’s need for their help — and their own interests in forever preventing Shorten from “leading” Australia — are complementary, if not identical, considerations.
For those on the Liberal Right who have walked away, it’s time to return to the fold.