Resignation Of Hon Andrew Robb And Goldstein Liberal Preselection

AUSTRALIA WILL LOSE perhaps the best Trade minister it has ever had at the coming federal election, with Andrew Robb announcing on Wednesday that he will retire from Parliament when the government faces the people; it brings to an end an extraordinary 28-month stint in the Trade portfolio, and lifts the curtain on a spirited race for Liberal Party preselection in his blue-ribbon Melbourne seat of Goldstein.

Over the next few days, readers are likely to see a number of short posts from me, in addition to a longer feature I partially wrote on Tuesday (which remains relevant) and a look at things that have happened since I disappeared at the start of the week; I have been rather distracted, busy with other matters these past few days — hence my silence — but at the risk of covering old ground in a bid to make up ground, we will get to the key events of the week over the weekend.

I want to begin by briefly acknowledging the fine efforts of Andrew Robb as Trade minister, as he announces his imminent exit from Parliament; first elected at the 2004 election after the retirement of David Kemp, Robb briefly served as a parliamentary secretary in the Howard government before rising to senior shadow portfolios in opposition, and finally to the Trade and Tourism portfolios when the Coalition returned to office under Tony Abbott in 2013.

It is fair to say that Robb’s tenure in the Tourism portfolio was solid — if unspectacular — but in a very short period, he has carved out a stellar reputation in Trade, sealing free trade agreements with Japan, China and South Korea, negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and (I understand) he is still looking to conclude a free trade agreement with India before he leaves office later this year.

These agreements will go a long way to bolstering Australia’s economic performance in coming years, securing greater access to the key markets to our north — with vastly reduced (or in most cases, no) tariffs — that are collectively home to some 1.5bn people, or well over 2.5bn if the India deal is done before his departure takes effect.

The benefits they will bring to exporters in the agriculture, mining, manufacturing and service sectors of the economy will also help to diversify it, and to lessen our reliance on exports of mineral and energy-based commodities, and whilst some harbour concerns about this country being flooded with cheap Chinese labour — a proposition I emphatically reject — it is very difficult, with the exception of fatuous scare campaigns cooked up at Trades Hall, to see Robb’s handiwork as anything other than having rendered an incalculable service to Australia that will endure for decades to come.

Indeed, it is not a stretch to suggest he is not only the best Trade minister Australia has had, but that his performance as a minister in a second successive Coalition government deserves to rank him among the best ministers of state Australia has produced (and I don’t say that lightly).

Robb’s resignation, of course, opens a predictable free-for-all for the seat of Goldstein, in Melbourne’s inner south; currently held with a margin over Labor of 11%, it is one of the safest Liberal-held seats in Victoria, and has never been held (either as Goldstein or, between Federation and 1984, in its earlier incarnation as Balaclava) by the ALP. As rusted-on conservative seats go, this is one of the safest.

It is also — as some readers will have seen me note previously — my local electorate.

As a member of the Liberal Party with voting rights at the forthcoming preselection (which has been scheduled today for 19 March) I am bound by the rules of the party which explicitly prohibit commentary on preselection contests in which I have an interest; as this concerns the branches of the party in my own local area, those restrictions certainly apply.

Thus, I’m not going to run through who’s definitely standing, who might, who isn’t, who I intend to back and/or what gossip is doing the rounds locally; some of these questions have been raised in both Fairfax and Murdoch publications this week, and beyond the coverage provided in those tomes I won’t be adding to it in this column.

However, there are two exceptions, the first being the obvious one: and that is, that I will not be standing — contrary to some of the stories that have dogged me over the years and in spite of the occasional declaration to the contrary (usually when angry or frustrated) I have no interest in a seat in Parliament, and on this occasion this observation should be interpreted as an explicit ruling out of any interest in standing now too.

And two (and the exception to even that) is to note that the hare-brained plot to parachute former Chief of Staff to Tony Abbott, Peta Credlin, into the seat whenever it fell vacant appears to be extinct, and nobody I know is suggesting any attempt to do so now is in the offing, let alone likely.

But be that as it may, and despite little interest around local branches in Credlin being their MP, should the nightmare scenario of her being parachuted into Goldstein materialise, and were she to secure Liberal endorsement for the seat, the threat made in this column some time ago to resign from the party to be able to run against her remains very much in force.

It won’t come to that, of course. Thank goodness… 🙂

And beyond that, I will provide no further comment in relation to Goldstein until the preselection is resolved.

I will be back — probably tomorrow at some point — to talk about the imminent reshuffle Malcolm Turnbull faces, and the (justified) sacking today of Human Services minister Stuart Robert over a clear breach of ministerial guidelines; as I alluded at the outset, I am also working on a piece that looks forward to the election, and how current machinations over reform and other matters might pose a potential threat to the government’s legitimacy if it is re-elected without a platform as such to stand on.

Enjoy your evening.


Why Duplicitous Unions Should Be Ignored on FTA

THE INADVERTENT UPSHOT of the Inquiry into the union movement is that regardless of whether prosecutions ensue, the penchant of unions to say and do literally anything fitting their objectives at any given time has been laid bare. On one hand, free trade agreements = bad, maligned as they are as job-destroying sellouts; on the other, slimy deals to line union coffers at the cost of workers’ conditions = good. Clearly, three into two does not go.

In a refrain that has become quite normal of late — bogged down as I am — my post will be rather succinct this morning; even so, my perusal of the day’s news portals suggests that whatever else you might accuse unions of, consistency should not be a feature of it.

Predictably enough, certain unions (and even more predictably, those unions are among the most militant) have hit out at Labor “leader” Bill Shorten for compromising with the Turnbull government to lock away an agreement on the free trade pact negotiated by Trade minister Andrew Robb with China; “condemning both sides of politics” for the agreement that has been struck, the ETU and the violent, lawless CFMEU have blasted the safeguards embedded into the agreement to protect Australian jobs and to prevent Australia being flooded with cheap Chinese labour.

I am not going to bog down in the detail of those safeguards this morning, nor buy into the campaign that continues to be waged against the China free trade agreement by unions: readers can check out the article I have linked from The Australian this morning if they wish to explore those themes further, and in any case the unions’ position can be simply condensed to a statement that the government’s free trade pact with China is bad, will destroy jobs and sells the country out — without any corroborating explanation as to how this is the case, or any evidence to prove its point.

As far as I’m concerned, the flat opposition of unions to this trade pact — which will provide greatly enhanced access to Chinese markets for Australian farmers — has more to do with the fact it’s been struck by a conservative government; had such an agreement been forged, say, by the Hawke-Keating government, it is inconceivable that Bill Kelty, Simon Crean, Martin Ferguson or other prominent unionists of the day would have mounted such a mindless, baseless scare campaign against the deal, which has more to do in any case with prying votes away from the Liberal Party than it does with any genuine concern around workers’ rights and job security.

The fact Bill Shorten — himself a stooge of the unions, and sometime chief among them — is being targeted is irrelevant.

Shorten, as testimony at the Royal Commission has repeatedly shown this year, has become a liability to the union movement: whether directly or indirectly, his connection to questionable financial dealings with business to line the coffers of the AWU at the cost of legislated worker entitlements has helped draw unwanted attention to the cosy edifice based on ripping off unionised corporations to enrich and entrench union power, and it should surprise few that Shorten has received scant public defence from current-day union thugs over the “revelations” that have been aired at Dyson Heydon’s inquiry.

Even so, where principle is concerned, great elasticity has always been a hallmark of the union position when it comes to their own financial health.

Sydney’s Daily Telegraph is running again today with further coverage of the so-called mushroom conspiracy that occurred on Shorten’s watch as head of the AWU, wherein payments were received by that union in return for allegedly turning a blind eye to workers at mushroom grower Chiquita being fired as employees and rehired as contractors on significantly reduced conditions, and the key point I would make is that were there no Royal Commission at all, nobody would care less about the alleged sellout of the mushroom pickers for the grotesque reason that nobody would know about it.

Significantly, there is no public outpouring of fury from any union, or from any individual currently occupying a senior leadership position within any union, over the growing litany of misdeeds being uncovered at the Heydon commission; not in relation to Chiquita, nor over the six-figure sums pocketed annually by the AWU from construction company John Holland, nor over the wholesale surrender of employee rights by the AWU at Cleanevent, or in regard to any of the other dodgy deals made by the AWU on Shorten’s watch that allegedly filled union coffers and inflated AWU membership whilst trading away the working conditions of its members — its actual members, that is.

And aside from the handful of union whistleblowers who have made the exposure of iffy union deals possible in the first place, there has been nary a syllable of protest or outrage from the unions over anything that has been revealed before Heydon at all.

Quite simply, Trades Hall does not attack its own, and provides no sanction to those who do — and whilst its own henchman are increasingly being shown to be as bad as the anti-union bogeymen they so viciously and vividly depict at every opportunity, the reality is that the very silence of the same unions currently ranging themselves against a free trade agreement that will generate countless jobs is damning.

It is interesting that even now, Labor (including Shorten) and the unions continue to evoke the spectre of the Howard government’s WorkChoices legislation; gearing up to fight a fourth consecutive election over laws that were repealed six years ago, the inherent contradiction between what the unions now say (and have always said) and what they have done in the past — and may in fact continue to do — is obvious, it seems, to everyone except themselves.

The considerable itinerary of shabby, anti-worker deals getting an airing before Heydon is, I contend, far worse than anything WorkChoices can or could be accused of — real, imagined and/or invented.

And it is through this prism that the ongoing onslaught against the China free trade agreement must be viewed.

At the bottom line, the real issue unions are campaigning against is the prospect their control over Australian workforces, and the companies that employ them, may be diluted in a more open trade environment, but that is hardly a bad thing.

After all, the end destination of unfettered union access to business is finding disclosure at the Royal Commission, and nobody can credibly suggest that the string of transactions being uncovered in any way advances the rights of the worker — which is what the unions are explicitly charged with doing, unless I am mistaken.

Far from defending Australian workers and protecting their jobs by lashing out at the trade deal with China, it is only their own petty interests that are of any concern to the unions at all, and the pattern of behaviour involving the AWU that has come to light is simply an earlier manifestation of the same motives that drive more militant arms of the union movement now.

Three into two does not go: on the one hand, thuggy unions rail against a trade liberalisation pact that carries the potential of great stimulus to Australia’s economy, generating thousands of new jobs, and sharing the proceeds of expanding national opportunities in the world around us with increasing numbers of the ordinary folk the unions purport to represent.

But on the other — when the door closes behind the leaders of those unions — the revelations before Heydon serve potent notice to anyone who cares for fair or decent outcomes exactly what the unions’ true motivations are.

And as far as I am concerned, all of this merely underlines the reasons “modern” unions are thoroughly irrelevant in, and destructive to, contemporary Australia and to the betterment of those who work for an employer to make a living.

There is, or was, a fine tradition of Australian unionism based on authentic notions of a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay, and those who fought for that tradition and were bound by the principle that underpinned it have much to be proud of.

Yet the same cannot be said of the belligerent marauding pack that now masquerades as the champion of the worker, and given the clear self-interest that is evident in the nightmare scenarios it continues to evoke over a trade pact with China, the best thing fair-minded folk can do is to ignore the unions altogether.


Possible Abbott Reshuffle, And A Not-At-All Idle Threat

WHISPERS OF A RESHUFFLE in the Abbott government raise several tantalising scenarios, but whichever way you cut it — especially after the botch made of a similar exercise late last year — a reshuffle ahead of a scheduled 2016 election would cap a stunning return to form. Even so, one rumoured change would prompt your columnist’s immediate resignation from the Liberal Party on principle, and issue a nationwide call to arms for support.

I want to talk this morning about a bit of chatter I have been hearing around the place for a little while, and which has now found its way into the mainstream press through an article in today’s edition of the Herald Sun in Melbourne; it centres on a possible reshuffle of the Abbott ministry — the second since it came to office — and provided such an undertaking avoided (or, to be sure, corrected) the glaring mistakes and misjudgements of the one that was badly botched late last year, a reshuffle should be regarded as good news indeed.

The very fact another reshuffle is being contemplated, with the Coalition’s position in reputable polling continuing a slow but steady recovery this year, is a triumph over the opposition “led” by Bill Shorten; twelve months ago a sizeable number of the sound political minds I regularly pick — the ones prepared to offer honest off-the-record opinions, that is, rather than regurgitating party-line crap — agreed with my own view that thanks primarily to Joe Hockey’s woeful 2014 budget (with a few peripheral contributions from elsewhere to round out the self-inflicted hit on the government), the Abbott government was terminal.

Perhaps it will yet prove to be so; but if it doesn’t, nobody should be under any illusion that Shorten, Labor, and their ghastly masters at Traders Hall are driving much of the government’s recovery: it would be dangerous to believe, for now at least, that Abbott’s outfit is held in fonder regard on its merits by voters.

And less than six months ago, with the state election debacle in Queensland the precursor to an ill-fated move against Abbott as Liberal leader and Prime Minister, the government’s fate seemed all but sealed: Malcolm Turnbull was (and is) a red herring in the leadership stakes, but under his or anyone else’s prospective leadership the Coalition appeared doomed.

So here we are: the government trails Labor after preferences by just a few points, when it had lagged by 15 points; a reshuffle would enable Abbott to finally clear out some deadwood from his frontbench once and for all, and to promote some of the embarrassment of new talent that has until now languished on the backbench.

The cynic in me does allot more than a passing thought to the prospect that talk of a reshuffle could be used as cover to bring on a snap election; after all, Shorten has pretty much passed his useful lifespan as Labor “leader” (if there was ever anything useful about him at all, that is) and with his date to answer questions arising from damning testimony at the Royal Commission into the unions — and his role in alleged events in his past life as head of the AWU — drawing closer, it seems Labor is boxed in by Shorten and the rank embarrassment the unions are now proving on the one hand, and the odious, messy and protracted process that getting rid of him before an election would entail on the other.

Talking about a reshuffle might tempt Labor hardheads to calculate replacing Shorten is a worthwhile exercise. In those circumstances, it would be a dreadful surprise for the Liberal Party to spring by calling an election whilst the ALP was amidships in its silly leadership ballot process and effectively devoid of a leader to fight an election with.

Wouldn’t it? 🙂

Assuming, however, we are talking about a reshuffle ahead of an election no earlier than, say, May, here’s the good news.

As the Herald Sun article notes, the first cab off the rank to get it in the neck would be Industry minister Ian Macfarlane — or the “Minister for Industry Assistance” as this column has known him ever since he saw fit to plead for more government money to prop up the car industry — despite billions of taxpayer dollars having disappeared into the endless black hole of union-negotiated enterprise agreements that delivered ridiculous and unjustifiable largesse to those workers covered by them, but which meant that every time the grants were increased manufacturers still couldn’t turn a profit because more and more money disappeared into “renegotiated” wage agreements that just happened to mirror the size of those increases.

The sooner Macfarlane is put out to pasture, the better.

Defence minister Kevin Andrews can’t be too far behind him, having botched Workplace Relations under the Howard government, botched Social Services under Abbott, and underwhelmed in his present portfolio.

Treasurer Joe Hockey — someone I like enormously, but who is clearly out of his depth as Treasurer (a sentiment known to be shared by several of his Cabinet colleagues privately) — should not be sacked, but moved to another portfolio, perhaps Defence, whilst Malcolm Turnbull or Scott Morrison are promoted to take his place.

But I would go further than the obvious names being bandied around; Senate leader Eric Abetz has been a solid servant for the Coalition, but has barely landed a glove on either the ALP or the unions — nor advanced anything constructive by way of industrial relations policy on the government’s behalf — in his role as Employment minister.

His deputy, George Brandis QC — an intelligent operator who ranked among the Liberals’ best performers in opposition, only to become one of the party’s greatest political liabilities in office — should perhaps be redeployed to a post less directly responsible for prosecuting the case to spread freedom and liberal rights: his “freedom to be a bigot” remarks were surely among the worst publicity the government has attracted, and his attempts to explain the government’s metadata laws were confusing at best. Unfortunately these have not been Senator Brandis’ only unhelpful contributions as a minister.

And Howard era figures who have scarcely set the world on fire, like Small Business minister Bruce Billson and Health-turned-Immigration minister Peter Dutton, would scarcely be missed by the electorate if they were moved on to open opportunities for fresh talent.

Of course, the inevitable potential retirements are spoken of, for nothing lasts forever; chief among them is veteran National Party leader and deputy PM Warren Truss, who — at 66 — is being implored by some to stay for another term in Parliament to ward off the “threat” Barnaby Joyce could take his place.

Joyce comes with problems and limitations — like Truss — but unbelievably for someone who was a magnet for public ridicule when he first entered the Senate a decade ago, cut-through and positive sentiment in the electorate are not among them.

But the Coalition’s next generation of stars, drawn from the backbench and the ranks of existing parliamentary secretaries and “Ministers Assisting” — Angus Taylor, Christian Porter, Kelly O’Dwyer, Bridget McKenzie, Dan Tehan, Steve Ciobo, Sarah Henderson and Michaelia Cash, among others — should stand to compete for numerous vacancies as ministers in their own right in any reshuffle, and the short- and long-term political health and policy vigour of the Coalition would benefit immeasurably from a substantial injection of this impressive new talent at senior levels.

Of course, and discounting any surprise election announcement altogether, such a reshuffle — properly executed — could take the Coalition to the polls next year with a team that would set it up for a decade of competent, effective, and electorally popular government.

The one other change I want to touch on is the situation of Trade minister Andrew Robb; undoubtedly one of the top-tier standouts of the Abbott government, Robb, like other long-serving Liberal MPs, faces the ceaseless pressure of the passage of time: soon to turn 64, it is hard to fathom he would serve any more than a single additional parliamentary term: if, that is, he stands at the next election at all.

Robb is also my local MP, as member for Goldstein: the electorate I have lived either in or adjacent to (in the neighbouring seat of Melbourne Ports) ever since I moved to Melbourne 17 years ago.

The article I’ve shared from the Herald Sun today suggests Robb could replace former Labor leader Kim Beazley as Australia’s ambassador to the United States, and were this to occur he would go with my very best wishes on a deserved appointment indeed, and his tenure in that role would ensure Australia’s interests in the US are well represented — just as they have been by Beazley, to be clear.

But under this scenario — which would see Robb head across the Pacific late this year — a by-election would need to be held in Goldstein and, despite repeated denials of interest in a seat in Parliament that the Herald Sun has dutifully noted and reiterated on her behalf, the name of Tony Abbott’s Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin, has been raised as a prospective Liberal candidate to replace Robb in the usually safe Liberal seat in Melbourne’s Bayside.

At the risk of introducing a sour and provocative note to the discussion, I should reiterate that my criticisms of Peta Credlin in this column in the past remain very much in force; too many stories of her idea of management have spilt from too many appropriately placed sources — and the political consequences of those deficiencies writ large for the country to see in the form of poor governance, bad strategy, incompetent communications and woeful opinion polling — for me to reasonably take any other view.

And of course, her “star chamber” vetted me out of consideration for any formal involvement in the Abbott government in 2013 for reasons best known to itself — or, indeed, to her — well before so much as a syllable of criticism was ever published in this column.

Sometimes, principle has to come before any other consideration in politics, and readers will have heard me say often enough over the years that I’m a conservative first and a member of the Liberal Party second.

Indeed, had legendary powerbroker and political strategist Michael Kroger not resumed the presidency of the party’s Victorian branch earlier this year, with an explicit brief to knock the division into more professional and competitive shape, I would have left the party.

Happy as I am to remain a member, I cannot and I will not be a party to Credlin being imposed on Goldstein (even via a sham preselection process and/or administrative committee rubber-stamp to make it look legitimate) and I cannot and I will not campaign for her election in Goldstein, another seat that falls vacant (perhaps Andrews’ seat of Menzies) or, indeed, anywhere else in Victoria at all.

I’m sure this threat will have people around Credlin shaking in their boots with fear — do, of course, note the self-deprecating sarcasm — and acknowledge that I might end up polling a single vote on the day, but in the event Credlin is endorsed as the Liberal candidate for Goldstein, I will resign my membership of the party the same day and contest the seat against her as an independent conservative.

I have no particular ambition to be a member of Parliament, but on principle — faced with a backroom operative foisted on my community, whose record to date seems more concerned with the exercise of power than with the advancement of any cogent set of principles — were Credlin to contest Goldstein, I would feel bound to stand against her.

It won’t be the hottest news in town, and I’m sure it will generate amusement among those who think they know better than everyone else, but if push comes to shove, I’m prepared to get out and fight for conservative ideals against a candidate who has more or less overseen a government that could hardly be characterised as conservative, or even liberal — in the orthodox sense.

Stay tuned. And should the contest eventuate, I’ll be sounding a clarion call to readers — and anyone else more concerned with the advancement of conservative objectives than with the expedient use of power — for all the support they can offer.

I’ll be back this evening to talk about some of the other events going on in the world of Australian politics.


Moronic: Throwing Beer Cans At Asylum Seekers No Laughing Matter

MOST AUSTRALIANS will not have heard of Katie Hopkins and for this they can be well pleased, for the inveterate British commentator has overstepped the mark with a frenzied, cruel and dishonest portrayal of our country and the policies of the Abbott government. People may or may not agree with policy around the treatment of asylum seekers, but it is not funny, constructive or incisive to foment violence and victimisation against the helpless.

Apologies to readers for my silence these past few days; as I might have mentioned, I had a rather large job to get out of the way and — to be frank — by the time it was done, I was exhausted: and so the absence of articles this week reflects both a complete lack of time to write them as well as the inevitable “crash” once a complicated and significant project was complete.

If I have time (and if there is nothing better to talk about) I may make some mention of Monday’s episode of the ABC’s #QandA programme, which was held at the Melbourne Recital Centre and which I attended; despite a panel that at first glance suggested decent consideration of mainstream issues that actually matter — with veteran broadcaster Derryn Hinch and standout Abbott government minister Andrew Robb in the mix — the programme descended, as usual, into a gabfest mostly centred on pet subjects of the Left, complete with an attempt by some on the panel to paint Robb as thoroughly heartless and prevent him from confirming he’d used official discretion as a minister to allow some children to remain in Australia and overturn deportation orders made in lower (and apolitical) jurisdictions. Best to keep the blowtorch on those Libs; best to ensure everyone knows they’re just a bunch of cruel misery merchants with hearts of stone.

To his credit, Robb was able to get his position — and the truth — on record with to #QandA audience, despite the obfuscation; the fact remains, however, that the only useful purpose this programme serves is to keep an eye on Australia’s Left, what it is saying, about whom it is said, and what its stacked panels attempt to pin on decent individuals whose only “crime” is to represent the mainstream Right.

Even so, the ills of #QandA pale in comparison to idiotic British commentator Katie Hopkins, who has roared onto the radar this week with a thoroughly uninformed and bigoted rant against African asylum seekers in Europe, and admiring depictions of a regime of treatment doled out to asylum seekers by Australia that simply does not exist. (A second article on the subject — also from the Fairfax press — can be accessed here).

It disturbs me that Fairfax, with its deeply ingrained loathing of anything to the right of socialism, has chosen to characterise Hopkins as “conservative” when in truth, she is just an imbecile: until yesterday the thing I best remember her for is a silly diatribe against parents who call their kids things like “Chardonnay,” and the declaration she would never allow her own children to play with such odious specimens from low-grade bogan stock.

Hopkins isn’t a conservative, she’s just a moron: and if she chooses to identify as “a conservative” then in my view she is an embarrassment.

Now it seems she has discovered, in some alternative universe, an “Australia” where state-sanctioned, bigoted violence is not just rampant, but a cause for great adulation; a country whose inhabitants possess “balls of steel, can-do brains, tiny hearts and whacking great gunships” that are utilised to threaten asylum seekers “with violence until they bugger off.”

Referring to African asylum seekers as “cockroaches” (with the unspoken inference that they should be squashed), Hopkins advocates an Australian-style system of turning back asylum seeker boats lest Britain’s towns and cities become “festering sores, plagued by swarms of migrants and asylum seekers, shelling out benefits like Monopoly money.”

And returning to her theme that asylum seekers are like cockroaches, and “built to survive a nuclear bomb,” Hopkins cheerily asserts that Australia’s border control regime features military personnel “throwing cans of Castlemaine” (sic) at asylum seekers in “an Aussie version of Sharia stoning.”

It might be a tiny detail, but so ill-informed is Hopkins that she is unaware that “Castlemaine” isn’t even a commodity anyone would recognise; and whilst XXXX is a variety of beer that is justifiably likened to the bodily movements of cats, it’s a typical marker of a brainless dolt like Hopkins that she can’t even get the minutiae of her venomous attacks right.

Where all of this becomes particularly unhelpful is that in Europe — just like the situation in Australia prior to 2014 — asylum seekers, trafficked by people smugglers and trying to reach the EU, are dying; and as the Fairfax reports correctly note, 1,300 asylum seekers perished at sea in the past fortnight alone in waters off the Italian coast in a ghastly reflection of the countless hundreds who died en route to Australia under failed Gillard-Greens policies: a travesty dismissed by Communist Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young as “an accident.”

The fact is that on a fraught issue characterised by competing and unpalatable options, no single measure is going to be ideal; and short of unquestioningly releasing asylum seekers into the Australian community — a negligent and dangerous prospect for a whole different set of reasons — the suite of policies that affect their arrival and eventual passage into Australia constitute the best course currently available among a raft of measures that all come with drawbacks.

I don’t propose to get into a wholesale analysis and defence of the Abbott government this morning over its policies on asylum seekers, but I will make the point that for all the blather from the Left about the number of children held in detention under the Abbott government, fully 90% of the kids held when the government took office have been released, with the backlog expected to be cleared later this year; and despite the riots and hunger strikes and other forms of blackmail deployed by some asylum seekers to try to force the government to speed their release into the community, most asylum seekers realise their ambition of residency in Australia as soon as their bona fides can be established.

Australians generally (and the Abbott government in particular) certainly do not subscribe to the racist, flat-earthed view articulated by Hopkins, and any thinking conservative will be insulted and affronted to be lumped in with Hopkins and smeared by the association with such ignorant and uninformed opinions.

Certainly, I’ve never heard this kind of sentiment advocated behind closed doors inside the Liberal Party, and not even (as some on the Left would believe) to the Right of the party, where I nominally sit.

I make three points: one, Hopkins is entitled to her view, but it is an offensive and noxious view at best, and not one that can be attributed to conservative notions of governance with any fairness or accuracy.

Two, some on the Left might snigger and welcome the opportunity to use her words as fodder against the Liberal Party; they would be irresponsible to do so and should be crucified by media outlets like Fairfax if they do, for this kind of drivel has no place in mainstream political discourse in Australia.

And three, if any good can come from Hopkins’ intemperate outbursts at all, it should be to serve potent notice to the likes of the cabal that holds court every week on #QandA — posing misguidedly and with pomposity as it does as the arbiter and protector of moral right in Australia — that words can be deadly, and as a reminder that its vitriol against the Right (for no better reason than a disagreement of views) fade into insignificance against elements that truly do advocate the manner of ills they irresponsibly and erroneously accuse Abbott and his government of in the interests of cheap, petty political expediency.



For Pity’s Sake, Tony, Go — And Go Now

THE UNHAPPY CONSENSUS across the Liberal Party that Tony Abbott has now irrevocably lost the majority support of the parliamentary party raises the prospect of resignation; we say — for pity’s sake — that the Prime Minister should go, and go now, for the humiliating spectacle of being cast aside in the indignity of a leadership challenge will demean this fine man, his party, the government that must continue, and the country at large.

I had hoped — I had always hoped — that it would never come to this; as an unabashed and enthusiastic supporter of Tony Abbott since his entry to federal Parliament in 1994 and through a career that took him to the Prime Ministership two decades later, I always thought that were Abbott to ever be entrusted with the leadership if this country he stood to become one of its best Prime Ministers: surprising many people in the process.

It seems that noble aspiration will count for naught, with reports that began to appear in the Murdoch press last night that Abbott has now lost the majority backing of his MPs mirroring reality to deadly effect: and rather than watch him being torn down in the next few days (or weeks, if he somehow survives that far) I would beseech the Prime Minister to resign; to go, and to go now with grace and dignity, to accept that the cards of future leadership will fall where they will, and to enable the party, the government and the country to move on.

Readers have shared the great attention we have given to the festering issues within the government that have led to this point, and I have taken great care not to sensationalise or distort their import, efficacy, or the destructive extent to which forces theoretically invisible to the public gaze have conspired to destroy Abbott’s tenure as Australia’s leader.

I make it abundantly clear to those readers who criticise me for simply discussing the real events, emotions, competing agendas and egos that have driven dissent with Abbott that a mere emphasis on “not being Labor” is not enough; that trite assertions that the Liberal Party cannot afford to replicate the indulgent farce of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years have been used as a pretext for, and justification of, other behaviour which has brought the party to its knees across the country, and which is little better than the farcical ALP government that preceded Abbott’s.

It is now clear that Abbott faces stark yet similarly unpalatable options: to bunker down and seek to remain in office in the face of the certainty of defeat in a leadership challenge; or to bring the curtain down on his own position at the head of the Liberal Party, and to resign, and this column reluctantly finds the latter course preferable.

After all, and despite whatever valid criticisms might be made (and irrespective of the vapid and personal hatred deployed against him for years by political adversaries), Abbott has still achieved some fine outcomes that represent a legacy that ought to be protected, not shredded on the altar of internal partisan politics.

The abolition of the carbon and mining taxes — as he is wont to regularly proclaim — have kept faith with the voters who elected him to office, even if the abolition of the latter came at great residual cost by virtue of the deal required to secure its passage through the Senate.

His government’s effective management of the flow of asylum seekers has seen the pledge to “stop the boats” summarily honoured, and whilst it is fashionable at present for the Left to kick and scream and shout over the continued presence of children in Australia’s detention centres, the irrefutable fact is that no children were in custody when the Liberals left office in 2007, the number in detention has fallen by 90% since the party’s return to office 18 months ago, and the number in detention will again fall to zero within a very short timeframe.

And as mishandled as the attempt has been, Abbott’s government has at least tried — and failed at the altar of the Senate, off the back of a horrific and poorly contrived budget — to redress the debt and deficits legacy bequeathed it by Labor: a reprehensible pattern of behaviour that has now left Liberal governments with a terrible mess to deal with in 1996 and again in 2013.

But the fatal mistake Abbott has made was to abrogate the government of this country in favour of loyalty to an unelected adviser; even then, had this unorthodox and politically fraught move worked, nobody would criticise it — and Abbott would stand vindicated for making it.

The reality is that abysmal decisions on personnel, strategy, tactics, policy, communications and management of the political agenda have flowed unabated from that single mistake, and whilst Abbott’s sense of loyalty to those around him is noble and in many respects admirable, it has led to the sequence of events that has now culminated in the loss of faith in his leadership across wide sections of the party — even those staunchly supportive of him personally — and the crushing reality that the party wants a new leader.

And a new leader it will have: the only variable now, quite literally, is whether before or after the impending state election in New South Wales.

The stark example set in Queensland of a state government that lost office despite a seemingly unassailable majority should be ignored at peril; the fact a similarly ensconced Liberal government in a second state now stares stonily at the growing prospect of suffering the same fate should sharpen the resolve of those placed to do something to avoid it — Abbott especially — and to do whatever is required to evade it.

And that — with an eye to the grim reality that his government, in its current and persistent configuration, faces not just defeat itself but has contributed to the defeat of other Liberal governments and will continue to do so — demands Abbott’s resignation.

An open ballot on the Liberal leadership runs the real risk that an outcome that is anathema to a wide section of the party may eventuate, with the attendant risk that dysfunction under Abbott will be superseded by open warfare under Malcolm Turnbull if he emerges the victor but that vote — coming as it will with the federal party also facing down a heavy eventual defeat — is one the party is entitled to have.

And there is no bar to Abbott in using his influence in resignation to work to ensure that a candidate arguably better aligned with the Liberal Party’s longer term interests than Turnbull emerges victorious from such a vote.

But the message from the weeks and months that the problems inherent in Abbott’s government have festered and percolated is clear.

Regrettably, it is time for Tony Abbott to leave office; and for his own good, and for the good of his party, the ongoing government it must form, and for the country as a whole, this column urges him to go now: for pity’s sake, to take the honourable if undesirable path of resignation, and to leave office with his own dignity — and the fabric of the party he has been privileged to serve, and which has been privileged by his many years of fine service — intact.


Credlin-Turnbull Pincer Set To Bring Abbott Down

IN THE WAKE of the attempted coup against Prime Minister Tony Abbott last week and amid growing realisations his promises to Liberal MPs of change if allowed to continue in the post were of a rhetorical and cosmetic nature only, a pincer movement formed by the fallout from the activities of his Chief of Staff on one hand and the aspirant manoeuvres of Malcolm Turnbull on the other now seems certain to soon force Abbott from office.

I appreciate that by providing such candid analysis of the highly fluid situation surrounding the federal leadership of the Liberal Party, some — in the besieged bunker that is the Prime Minister’s Office, for example — will conclude, loudly and behind the closed door of their bolt hole, that my words are proof of my “disloyalty” and “treachery” to the Liberal Party and to the government.

Yet loyalty to the Liberal Party and a firm conviction around its best interests in the longer run are all that motivate me to write them; the party will be around long after the Credlins and the Abbotts and the Loughnanes and their little helpers have departed centre stage, but in the meantime the damage that is being done to it — ironically, in large part in the name of “loyalty” — is intolerable to watch in resigned silence.

I am also motivated by the fervent desire to see it continue in some form of robust shape once they are gone, rather than imploding in the face of the senseless injury being inflicted upon it.

In any case, the departures of those persons seem certain to come sooner rather than later, and far sooner than most expect.

Over the past few weeks we have discussed the Liberal leadership at exhaustive length, and two key themes — the incendiary and destructive influence of Tony Abbott’s Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin, and the ambitions of Prime Ministerial pretender Malcolm Turnbull that are intended to appear to create unstoppable inevitability — have dominated those discussions.

Now, I think we are nearing the endgame over Tony Abbott’s leadership of the Liberal Party; in direct contravention of the reasonable spirit in which his private indications, qualifications and assurances could be interpreted, Credlin’s role is being fiddled a bit, but the over-arching cancer of her continued presence at all in the viscera of government remains; South Australian shipbuilding company ASC — the subject of guarantees it would be allowed to compete for the tender to build new submarines for the navy to try to lock up leadership votes — has learned in the past few days what a “competitive analysis” really is, with suggestions on one hand a binding agreement had already been struck with Japanese interests before those assurances were given, and on the other a promise by Abbott that 500 shipbuilding jobs would “go to” ASC despite Japanese, German and French interests remaining favourites for the award of the contract itself.

Add in the remainder of the four dreadful and significant political errors Abbott (and/or his office) have made in the past fortnight that we talked about on Thursday, and the inevitability of Abbott’s departure from the Prime Ministership — involuntarily or otherwise — simply becomes too overwhelming and compelling to ignore or to explain away.

Abbott — under Credlin’s tutelage — has advanced an argument for remaining as Prime Minister that rests solely on the Liberal Party being persuaded not to behave like the ALP; such a formulation has been brutally exposed by the events of the past two weeks as representing nothing more than an assumption in Prime Ministerial circles that Abbott and his coterie are free to carry on as they have and as they like, with mere lipservice paid to dissenters and legitimate disquiet, and on a trajectory almost guaranteed to condemn the Coalition to electoral oblivion just because “the people elected (Abbott) as Prime Minister.”

I’m writing on this subject today because there are now two clear strands of public discourse that will come together like a vice to squash Abbott, and (unless the deal I urged in Thursday’s article is struck) engineer his replacement with Malcolm Turnbull.

I have all but given up on Tony Abbott; it is impossible to continue to support an individual who could have been a truly great Prime Minister, but who has instead chosen to piss his opportunity away on the basis of blind and misplaced “loyalty” to an unelected adviser whose edicts and conduct will ultimately destroy the government altogether (and perhaps the Liberal Party itself) unless good sense materialises from somewhere and sees to it that Credlin is banished permanently from any position of influence over the running of the government in any capacity.

It is clear that the warning Abbott was given by some of his MPs and other emissaries — that either he got rid of Credlin, or he would have to be removed too in order for others to get rid of her — has been ignored.

And the distinct but converging jaws of the pincer movement set to ensnare Abbott are being graphically given form in the instruments of an eager press pack.

I have noticed in the past week or so that the amount of material being leaked about Credlin — all of which paints her in a very, very poor light — is increasing; just today it seems The Weekend Australian has taken it upon itself to present a series of purported exposes that are little more than the party’s filthy laundry being given a very public airing; today’s article is bad enough (and makes for compelling reading for anyone still thinking Credlin is being unfairly maligned over her antics) but there is apparently more to follow on Monday, with a feature looking “Inside The Bunker” promising to tip even more dirt over Credlin’s already soiled head.

And just in case anyone still hasn’t got the message, a separate article in the same newspaper seems to attempt to ensure that the fortunes of embattled Treasurer Joe Hockey are tied irretrievably to Credlin’s, citing as it does her declaration at a Budget function in May that she “stands by every measure in the budget:” it could be an escape hatch for Hockey, or it could simply be an endeavour to guarantee Hockey is crucified over the budget he delivered.

Certainly, this column believes the government and the country cannot afford the risk that as Treasurer he would fashion a second, equally unsaleable document that is just as politically inept and destructive as the first. But Hockey should be given the opportunity for redemption in another portfolio. Credlin warrants no such second chance.

Yet I reiterate the point that the volume of this kind of material is increasing; there can be little doubt over where it is coming from — incensed Liberal MPs who believe they were played for fools into opposing the spill motion Abbott faced — and I suspect that until Abbott and Credlin are removed, there remains scope for an enormous further ventilation of ugly “revelations” that will by their nature obliterate whatever modicum of authority Abbott has left by tying public perceptions of him to conduct by a staff member that is quite frankly indefensible.

I make the point that political environments are febrile, hard, rough places, and that things go on behind closed doors that would never be tolerated in most workplaces. Even so, none of the little stories about Credlin now becoming public are fabricated and most of them are inexcusable even in the context of government in this country. It’s little wonder so many of Abbott’s colleagues, to say nothing of industry and business figures forced to deal with Credlin, are so disgusted.

On the other side of the trap being sprung is the ceaseless, unrelenting ambition of former Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull; whether by his own design or that of others, there appears to be every attempt being made to present his ascension to the Prime Ministership has almost a fait accompli: destined, inevitable, and unstoppable, the fatuously messianic flavour Turnbull’s media exposure has taken on is bordering on the ridiculous.

It ought to surprise nobody that Turnbull’s appearance on the ABC’s #QandA programme last Monday more or less morphed into an audition for the top job; the posturing and grandstanding those who were unfortunate enough to have witnessed was perfectly calibrated for the fawning, sycophantic audience full of Lefties who solemnly promise to vote for the Liberal Party if Turnbull ever again led it but who in practice would never do so in a pink fit.

Unexpectedly, however, the “Turnbull for PM” bandwagon seems to have spread beyond the arc of the ABC and Fairfax and into a less obvious repository of public comment — the Murdoch press — with an article appearing in Brisbane’s Courier Mail today providing what is tantamount to an endorsement of Turnbull taking over from Abbott.

Consequently, we have on one hand a flood of material regarding the Prime Minister and his Chief of Staff being leaked to journalists in what can only be a concerted attempt to destroy the duo; on the other, and on an increasingly wide scale, we have the pro-Turnbull lobby ramping up its positioning exponentially.

It seems certain Abbott will be replaced, and unless something is done quickly — by Liberal MPs on the party’s Right (which still retains numerical primacy inside the party room) and those moderates not pledged to Turnbull — then Turnbull will inherit the Prime Ministership almost by default.

This casts the focus Foreign minister Julie Bishop has attracted in recent days in a curious light; some of her coverage — not least in the ostensibly Turnbull-devoted Fairfax press — has shown her above the fray, statesmanlike, as a force for resolving the problems the government faces and cleaning up after the errors of the incumbent Prime Minister.

I make the point that any conservative who gets too excited about endorsements or support from Fairfax should take a pill and lie down, so illusory is any support Fairfax ever directs toward the Liberal Party.

Nonetheless, the fact it has joined the Murdoch press in offering very balanced and authentic coverage of the Foreign minister is telling.

And even so, the impact of opposing and collision-bound forces — the whole ugly picture of Peta Credlin’s modus operandi at the heart of the government and the “inevitable” destiny of Malcolm Turnbull becoming Prime Minister — is probably no more than a fortnight or so from sparking a second, and fatal, strike against Abbott’s leadership of the Liberal Party.

Needless to say, the prospect of Malcolm Turnbull becoming Prime Minister is one that must be avoided at all costs.

The Right — and the supporters of Bishop — need to get their skates on: to do the deal that would make her Prime Minister with Trade Minister Andrew Robb as her deputy, locking Turnbull in as Treasurer in the face of numbers he cannot overcome in a leadership ballot, and ensuring eventual prospect Scott Morrison’s position in the upper echelons of the ministry is consolidated.

Abbott is finished. Time is scant. The Liberals have the opportunity to snatch a tremendous political victory from the imminent jaws of what — if Turnbull’s ambitions are not thwarted — would amount to nothing more than a guarantee of its eventual electoral defeat.


Crystal Ball: Bet A Tenner On Julie Bishop And Andrew Robb

IN THE WAKE of a failed coup attempt, Tony Abbott and his coterie have continued to make political errors that will invite a second — and successful — attempt to overthrow him. Rumours and whispers from usually reliable places suggest change is certain: the likeliest new leadership team does not feature Malcolm Turnbull, but would allow the Liberals to have their best available side on the park for an election now 18 months away.

I had hoped it wouldn’t come to this, but I think Tony Abbott is finished as Prime Minister: I suggested as much before the abortive strike against him last Monday and now I’m sure of it, after ten days in which Abbott has seemed determined to test the patience of those of his MPs who stuck with him and to enrage (and embolden) those already calling for his head.

Deeply damaged after securing just nine votes more than the minimum required to survive as leader in the 102-member Liberal party room, Abbott has made three gobsmacking mistakes in ten days at a time when, weakened, his every action and utterance (or lack of same) is being scrutinised by his sullen MPs through the prism of his ongoing leadership and when, as a consequence, some of those who voted to retain Abbott are providing anonymous briefings to journalists to the effect that they have already changed their minds.

One, the jaw-dropping decision to sack respected Liberal elder Philip Ruddock as Chief Whip makes little sense, and whilst elements close to Abbott have seen to it that allegations of incompetence in the role and suggestions Ruddock failed to head the spill attempt off or at least alert Abbott to it have duly found their way into the press, those suggestions have been hotly disputed and in any case, have generated no end of adverse publicity.

Two — despite ample evidence that signals and vague assurances to the contrary were given before the spill vote — Abbott’s explosively divisive Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin, remains in her role, which is also said to be a source of great further anger among his MPs; engaging in piecemeal fiddling around the edges (Credlin will no longer pre-vet ministers’ Cabinet submissions, will no longer vet ministerial and electorate office staff appointments, and so forth) is worse in this regard than doing absolutely nothing, for fiddling around the edges merely highlights Abbott’s determination not to take meaningful action against his adviser to remove the grievances of his MPs, and makes clear that whatever indications or otherwise may have been given to help lock in votes, Credlin is going nowhere. It is also tantamount to an acknowledgement that getting rid of Credlin is actually indicated, whilst nonetheless refusing to do it. Tellingly, Abbott has seen his way clear to sack Ruddock for far less than Credlin stands accused of: a point apparently not lost on his disgruntled colleagues.

And three, having pledged to do nothing to endanger the official relationship between Australia and Indonesia in seeking clemency for condemned Bali Nine ringleaders Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, Abbott this week did exactly that — suggesting publicly that Indonesia “remember” the billion dollars in aid gifted by our country to theirs after the Boxing Day tsunami in 2006, an attempt at coercion that seems to have gone down in Jakarta like a lead balloon, eliciting responses railing against the use of threats by Abbott, who is characterised as having shown “his true colours” in trying to bully President Joko Widodo by apparently using the implicit threat to withhold future Australian aid as a diplomatic brickbat.

This last incident is instructive, and shows Abbott overreaching as he seeks desperately to shore up his perhaps fatally injured leadership: and whilst readers know I have no sympathy for Chan and Sukumaran and think the government should be getting on with other tasks instead of expending resources on undeserving causes, for those with the opposite opinion the reactions from Indonesia suggest Abbott may well have done more harm than good, and with revelations Widodo did not have all the information on the case when he denied clemency — and the prospect of a final 11th-hour presidential review — the blame that might be sheeted home to Abbott if the pair is ultimately executed is unquantifiable, but his support would probably take a hit in that event in any case.

(We could nominate the still-murky arrangements and promises around the letting of contracts to build new submarines as a fourth item in this list, but even without it — were it to eventuate Abbott had dangled something in front of SA Liberal MPs that he had already committed to Japanese interests — these three things are already enough for support for Abbott among his MPs continue to erode).

The purpose of today’s article is not to provide some blow-by-blow narrative of Abbott’s eventual departure or even to argue for it; readers know I am a long-term Abbott supporter and that I am horrified beyond belief that his loyalty to Credlin, with all the negative repercussions it seems to have spawned, has apparently been given a higher priority than his obligations to the Liberal Party and to the country as Prime Minister.

Rather, I have been moved to post this morning on account of an opinion piece in today’s edition of The Australian by Howard government staffer Niki Savva — better placed than most to comment authoritatively on such matters — on who might eventually replace him in the leadership.

And whilst I am on the record as saying that if Abbott were to fall under the metaphorical bus Foreign minister Julie Bishop would make the best replacement of the available options, Savva’s mention of Andrew Robb’s name makes it clear that if the Right faction in the Liberal Party is prepared to deal with Bishop, a Bishop-Robb leadership team is all but a certainty.

Everyone knows that Communications minister Malcolm Turnbull is the supposed frontrunner, and his wild and stellar opinion poll approval ratings belie the fact that he is supported mostly by voters on the Left who would never vote Liberal with Turnbull as leader (even if they tell pollsters they would), is detested by a large proportion of the party’s MPs, and has already proven to be anathema to a big chunk of the Liberals’ support base in the country.

Liberal Party primary support figures with a “2” in front of them and the average 12-point two-party voting intention deficits that characterised Turnbull’s first stint as leader were not aberrations; it is not without reason that rusted-on Liberal voters everywhere you go can be heard suggesting that if Turnbull again becomes leader, they won’t vote for the Coalition next year. I would never vote Labor, but I would happily vote informal on principle in response to being railroaded into having to support the socially left-leaning Turnbull in order to vote Liberal. I think these are the sentiments of millions of conservatively inclined Coalition voters.

What has hardened the residual opposition to Turnbull even now was his “audition” as leader at his appearance on the ABC’s #QandA programme on Monday night: stacked with Left-aligned panel members and cheered on by a slavishly left wing audience (the exact constituencies that say they support Turnbull but never would), #QandA is in no way representative of either sentiment within the Liberal Party or the mood of the electorate generally.

But whilst it is only fair to note that Turnbull said nothing that could warrant an explicit charge of disloyalty to his leader, he did nothing to deflect leadership speculation either, and could not resist the opportunity to posture and grandstand to show off his “leadership” credentials, and anyone who disagrees should watch the episode in question through a link in that last link I have attached here.

It would probably have been wiser on Turnbull’s part to offer some excuse — however flimsy — as a pretext for withdrawing from #QandA, even if that too was reported in a leadership context, than actually going ahead with the appearance. Then again, Turnbull is not the kind of character to be able to resist such an opportunity for blatant self-promotion.

As Savva notes, even within the parliamentary party, Turnbull starts with the most votes in any renewed leadership contest but lacks a majority, with Bishop attracting the next highest amount of support.

For the first time in many, many years, the dominant Right grouping does not have a credible candidate to field: Turnbull, Bishop and Social Security minister Scott Morrison all hail from the moderate wing of the party, and whilst Bishop and Morrison have made themselves acceptable to the Right by virtue of their performances in office, it’s not the same thing.

The question therefore becomes what happens to the votes of the Right in determining who would succeed Abbott if, as seems increasingly inevitable, he is forced to relinquish his position or is blasted out of it.

Enter Trade minister Andrew Robb — coincidentally, my local federal MP.

Whilst some in the Right (and further afield) disagree, Robb is unfortunately not a plausible contender to become Liberal leader and Prime Minister.

Despite an enviable record of ministerial achievement and a well deserved reputation for his tactical brain and political smarts, Robb — cruelly — would be a public relations disaster as a Prime Minister attempting to salvage the political wares of a Liberal government: he comes across poorly in the media, particularly on television, and I don’t think he offers the type of  profile swinging voters are likely to connect with and/or recommit to.

Yet he is likely to prove the pivot — and I mean that in deadly seriousness — in who becomes Prime Minister after Abbott.

For one thing, he would make a perfect deputy leader, bringing decades of experience in politics and business to the apex of government.

For another, as a former head of the National Farmers’ Federation, he offers a potential bridge to the jittery National Party, which pre-emptively attempted to shore Abbott up from outside the Liberal Party by publicly noting its coalition agreement was with Abbott, and would not automatically survive a Liberal leadership change; Robb offers the perfect conduit to the junior Coalition partner, and one way to reach out to the likes of Warren Truss and Barnaby Joyce from a position of trust.

And a role as deputy Liberal leader could be secured as part of a deal that adds the votes of the Right — which have to go somewhere — to those already committed to Bishop to push the duo across the line as a ticket, with the Right able to secure ministerial posts and promotions for some of its up-and-comers to ensure it is better placed at any future leadership ballot after the Coalition eventually leaves office.

Yes, such an arrangement would lock Turnbull out of the leadership.

But it would also leave him available to serve as Treasurer — and I reiterate the position of this column that Treasury is the role best suited to Turnbull’s talents — should he elect to remain within the tent in a new role other than the Prime Ministership.

To this end, it would be an interesting test of just how committed Turnbull really is to being a team player for the Coalition rather than simply seeking the personal status and aggrandisement the Prime Ministership would bring him, as many sceptical and/or openly hostile Liberals suspect is his real motivation.

Importantly, Bishop is the only one of the putative leadership candidates virtually guaranteed to get rid of Credlin and put a sorely needed broom through the back office and inner workings of the government (although it should be noted that Credlin was demoted from the Chief of Staff role under Turnbull, although it is less clear he would replace her if restored to the leadership now).

Bishop — with a fearsome reputation as a lawyer preceding her entry to Parliament — is probably the most likely of the contenders to prove able to demolish the silly, dishonest populist campaign being waged against the government by Bill Shorten and Labor that almost goes so far as to deny government debt exists at all, let alone acknowledge the deep structural flaws in the federal budget and a $50 billion shortfall in revenue each year to cover the shamefully irresponsible spending commitments Labor legislated ahead of an election it knew full well it would lose badly in 2013.

And in a side note whose importance should not be underestimated, it is Robb who is possessed of the political know-how to perhaps do something about the Senate, whether by bringing a fresh approach to attempts to negotiate with it, to reform the system that elects it, or (ideally) both.

I have opined in this column previously that not only can the Coalition not afford the risk of incumbent Treasurer Joe Hockey delivering another budget after the shocking effort he turned in last year, but also that Liberal voters can have no faith whatsoever in the Treasurer’s ability to prosecute the case for such a budget were he, indeed, to deliver it: the May budget is arguably the most critical undertaking in the life of this government to achieving some of the reforms it was elected to make and to shoring up its re-election prospects, and this consideration above, perhaps, all others, points to a change at the top of the government sooner than later.

Hockey could be insulated from a straight sacking as part of any deal between Bishop and the Right — to accommodate Abbott’s loyalty to his colleague even as he departs office — by being allocated to a different ministry to allow him to save face and continue to serve in some senior capacity, and this column not only supports such an approach to Hockey’s future but encourages it.

Once again, all of this points to a change in the Liberal leadership sooner rather than later. Crucially — especially where the resolute distrust of Turnbull is concerned among the Liberal Right and the National Party — Bishop is the only contender to replace Abbott who could deliver on all of these outcomes and hold the government (and its base in the electorate) together.

If I were a betting man, I’d go down to the TAB and slap a tenner on a Bishop-Robb leadership team being instituted by the Liberal Party this year, and probably before Easter: if Abbott really is terminal, and I have reluctantly concluded he is, then the sooner the change is made, the better.

But you know what they say about gambling: do it responsibly, and to this end I take no responsibility at all for the outcome if readers follow my tip and place a wager on the Liberal leadership.

That said, I’ll be heading off to the TAB to do exactly that later today.  🙂