THE NOTION of controversial former Chief of Staff to Tony Abbott (and one-time Turnbull adviser) Peta Credlin running the Coalition election effort to instil discipline and consistency is not as ridiculous as it sounds; Malcolm Turnbull will have Credlin nowhere near his government, and usually, we would wholeheartedly agree: but the divisive former aide’s campaign skills will be sorely missed in a tight contest, where the risk of defeat is real.
This column — as regular readers know really, really, really well — evolved over the two years following the 2013 election into a staunchly implacable critic of the Chief of Staff to former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Peta Credlin; the operating methods of the government under his leadership were amateurish, counter-productive, and in terms of the Coalition’s public messages were almost invariably of more benefit to the ALP than they were to the Liberal Party, the Prime Minister, or to the voters who elected them to office in a landslide.
Indeed, it was Abbott’s refusal to redeploy or replace Credlin that led me to withdraw my decades-long support for Abbott as Liberal leader, although I was at pains to stipulate that this did not equate to an endorsement of Malcolm Turnbull.
Even so, we have always been careful to acknowledge the one strength (and triumph) that can never be taken from Ms Credlin: the welding of the Liberals into a cohesive, disciplined fighting unit that (mostly) remained focused and on message leading into and during the 2013 campaign; I have often opined that Credlin was an ideal spearhead for an opposition, or for an election effort, or both; the great shame is that it appears to have been one of those situations where what was brilliant in opposition did not translate to government: and refusing to exercise the foresight and perspective to recognise as much, Abbott and Credlin together paid the ultimate political price.
On this basis, it is difficult to argue with the sentiments expressed today by Herald Sun commentator Andrew Bolt, who argues Credlin (or someone like her) should be running Turnbull’s re-election campaign which, lamentably and to put it most kindly, is all over the shop.
As Bolt notes — and despite explicit and repeated threats to call a double dissolution election if his legislation to restore the Australian Building and Construction Commission was defeated — Turnbull couldn’t even confirm the poll would be held on 2 July as previously indicated, a state of confusion echoed by other senior Coalition figures from deputy Julie Bishop down.
Despite a reasonable suite of reforms to overhaul the corporate regulator, ASIC, and give it more teeth to act on real and/or alleged misdemeanours by Australian banks, the government seems unable to present a united position on whether the planned changes are sufficient or whether a Royal Commission into the banking sector should be held instead.
And instances of ridiculous Coalition disunity — such as the one cited by Bolt that featured Queensland backbencher Warren Entsch bragging about hanging up on Turnbull “in disgust” over his marginal electorate missing out on “a share” of a lucrative shipbuilding contract — are unforgivable, heading into a difficult campaign the government may struggle to prevail in.
Meanwhile, opposition “leader” Bill Shorten is being allowed to escape, scot-free and with no accountability applied to him by the government, as he works his way through a series of emptily populist ruses that he thinks may yield votes: hitting multinationals (which no Western country has successfully “hit” to date), hitting “rich” people’s superannuation, hitting the “rort” of negative gearing, hitting smokers, hitting “high” income earners — you name it.
Unwisely, but perhaps as a result of its own systematic slash-and-burn approach to potential reform options, the Coalition has too often danced to Labor’s tune rather than articulating its own vision — opening itself to the charge of having no ideas — and when it has presented its own ideas (read: income tax powers for the states) the result has been a big old mess.
And it has let Shorten get away with brazenly boasting about the $102bn in new taxes a Labor government would raise over the next decade, which Labor itself makes no effort to deny is earmarked solely for more lavish, wasteful spending programs, with no firm pledge to repay any of the half-trillion dollars either borrowed on its watch last time or embedded into legislation to force the Liberal Party to its will.
I’ve been calling this obscene intended tax slug what it is: a $400 raid per year, every year for ten years, on every man, woman and child living in Australia today.
Given half the population already subsists exclusively on one government payment or another, in reality this is more like double that amount for the rest of us: $16 each, each week for ten years, for a Labor government likelier than anything to finish the job of destroying Australia that its Rudd-Gilard-Rudd forbear started.
Can anyone seriously believe Mr Three-Word-Slogan — Mr Great Big New Tax — would be letting Shorten and his accomplices get away with such a brazen exercise in chasing power at literally any price?
More to the point, can anyone seriously believe that a Credlin type would be letting her Prime Minister vaccillate and ramble on the stump — with no consistency other than to be consistently fickle — for a second longer than the blunt conversation to “tell” him to stick to the script?
The Abbott forces — which, of course, include Credlin — are (understandably) believed to remain highly aggrieved and very bitter over their unceremonious dumping last September, a disproportionate share of the reasons for which emanated directly from Peta Credlin herself.
Yet even Abbott, in a column appearing in Sydney’ Daily Telegraph today, continues to show that whilst he may no longer be Prime Minister and may well be possessed of a mouthful of sour grapes, he remains more able than Turnbull to at least identify the key issues the government should be targeting — even if, on his own government’s watch, the communication and strategy apparatus at his disposal to prosecute them was useless.
Could there be a one-off, short-term role as a campaign strategy consultant for Credlin? It’s doubtful. Not only is she unwelcome in the engine room of the Turnbull government, but common sense suggests (with no slight to Ms Credlin’s sense of professionalism intended) that putting such an embittered and jaundiced individual anywhere near the drivers of the continuing administration would be too great a risk to justify it.
Just look at what Kevin Rudd and Shorten got up to as Cabinet ministers last time. The principle is identical.
But one of the glaring deficiencies in Turnbull’s — well, you could hardly call it a campaign strategy — is the ostensible absence of anyone who might haul the entire enterprise onto a far more professional (and not least, effective) footing.
In this sense, Bolt is dead right, and with electoral defeat a very real risk for Turnbull, the imperative to remedy this problem is beyond urgent. The fact the problem even exists at all is beyond belief.
If nothing is done, Turnbull and his acolytes will stumble, bumble, contradict and waffle their way all the way to 2 July. If this methodology indeed proves the route they traverse to get there, the humiliation of defeat will loom large.
Shorten is running all over the government with a message that is one half bull and the other half shit, to paraphrase a rather indelicate ditty from the 1980s.
The only people who can win this election for the Coalition are Turnbull and his colleagues. If they are serious, and if they want to win (which from outside the Canberra bubble is a devastatingly valid question), then it’s time to start to behave like it.
If that means providing a temporarily renewed lease on life for the adviser this column once characterised as the creature from beneath the septic tank, then so be it.