Credlin As Sex Discrimination Chief? Better A Shark Running A Wading Pool

THE PROPOSAL of Peta Credlin for a five-year term as Sex Discrimination Commissioner — and paid millions of dollars — is obscene; coming after attempts to make husband Brian Loughnane Ambassador to the Vatican, hiring Credlin would reek of cronyism, rewarding an approach that masked incompetence by lashing “sexism” among critics. This insidious hack deserves no cushy sinecure. A better hire would see a shark running a children’s pool.

As we have opined many times in this column, former Chief of Staff to ex-Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Peta Credlin, was given the most powerful unelected position in Australian politics, and fucked it up completely: the irrefutable evidence of this lies in the two tumultuous years in which the Abbott government comprehensively lost the support of the Australian public, culminating in the termination of Abbott’s tenure, as Liberal MPs prepared to support Abbott deserted him on the basis that if he wouldn’t remove Credlin from the government then Abbott himself would have to go to ensure she did as well.

Credlin had oversight and control, with Prime Ministerial imprimatur, of virtually every aspect of government operations: political strategy, parliamentary tactics, policy decisions, media relations, personnel hires (as far out as junior shitkicker roles in electorate offices) — the lot. Had Credlin’s way worked, nobody would criticise her; the fact, however, is that it was a disaster, and she stands forever condemned by the hard realities of the consequences of her methods.

Perhaps most offensively, Abbott spent a lot of time arguing that if she was P-E-T-E-R Credlin rather than P-E-T-A, there would never have been a problem: this moronic formulation ignores the reality that had Credlin been male, it simply would have meant that a bloke presided over the ruinous mess that was made of the post instead of woman.

Anyone who thinks the Abbott government was a model of efficiency and a monument to good government is delusional. Putting a bloke, who did exactly as Credlin did, at its epicentre would have changed nothing.

Today, Sydney’s Daily Telegraph is carrying a story that notes Credlin is being touted as a candidate for the vacant post as Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner, and aside from the fact she went on something of a media offensive in the wake of Abbott’s dumping to argue she, herself, had been unfairly discriminated against, there is no logical basis on which to connect her to the position at all.

This revelation comes soon after Abbott’s attempt to have Credlin’s husband — former Liberal Party federal director Brian Loughnane — appointed as Ambassador to the Vatican, and when it is also considered that Loughnane’s right hand man and 2IC at the Liberals’ federal secretariat, Julian Sheezel, recently pursued an abortive attempt to snatch the top position on the party’s Senate ticket (disappearing on minister Kelly O’Dwyer just weeks after she made him her Chief of Staff in an appalling show of poor faith) it becomes patently clear that whatever else the people in the Abbott cabal are, one thing all can be accused of is a healthy entitlement mentality, with them or Abbott (or both) apparently believing they deserve cushy sinecures at great public expense when they don’t.

Sheezel, who enjoys negligible support for his ambitions across the Liberal rank and file, quickly climbed down from his plot to sail straight into guaranteed election to the Senate when the story broke last month; I have neither any particular animus nor enthusiasm toward Sheezel, whom I’ve known since university days in the early 1990s. But simply installing faceless machine operatives into unloseable parliamentary positions is no better than the behaviour of the ALP opponents we so regularly (and vigorously) pillory for doing the same thing.

Loughnane, for his part — an executive at oil company Shell prior to arriving at the Liberal Party — likes to claim his record as federal director at elections was “two wins (2004, 2013), one loss (2007) and a draw (2010);” this purported record is hardly exceptional, including as it does the loss of government at the end of the Howard era. But it ignores the one result Loughnane doesn’t want discussed: the near-apocalyptic disaster of the 2002 state election in Victoria, at which he was the Liberals’ state director, and at which the Liberals’ return of 17 seats out of 88 was the worst result in the party’s history in this state.

In any case, why he would seem a suitable choice as an Ambassador — to anyone, that is, except Tony Abbott — is anyone’s guess.

But this now-unmistakable pattern of looking for comfy jobs for mates — and undeserving mates, at that — takes on a whole new complexion with the suggestion Credlin should be installed in a five-year term as Sex Discrimination Commissioner, an appointment that attracts total remuneration over the tenure of between two and three million dollars.

It reeks of cronyism, of preferment, and of an insidious insider culture that says that irrespective of the degree of abject failure they achieve, those in the loop should simply be shuffled on to trinkets of even greater prestige, at enormous public expense, with any notion of consequences for their real failures that adversely affected people (in Credlin’s case, the millions of Australians depending on a Liberal government to better their lot in life) simply dismissed out of hand.

When it is also remembered that Credlin was hardly a harmonious or unifying figure — running vendettas against individual staff and others in the wider Liberal organisation, or bullying those she wanted removed from the seat of power in Canberra, or having the bare-faced effrontery to dictate to elected representatives of the Australian public from her unelected and unaccountable bunker next to Abbott’s office — it’s difficult to argue she is a suitable candidate for anything.

And nobody who Credlin enraged by suggesting, directly or through the proxy of remarks by Abbott, that she was a glittering example of a highly successful employee whose efforts were little short of brilliant, but who had been hobbled by accusations of “sexism” — the taunt of both first and last resort when it comes to women gifted senior roles and who then make a complete botch of them — could ever sanction her appointment to such a powerful and influential post.

Not now, not ever.

Frankly, this proposed appointment is so utterly devoid of merit that a better hire would be to put a great white shark in charge of the local kiddies’ swimming pool. At least with a great white, there are no pretensions about the intended eventual outcome. It’s as bad as that. At least a great white can get it right. Credlin didn’t.


Tony Abbott And His Cohorts Dishonoured Australian Conservatism

AS 2016 takes early steps toward post-silly season normality, a ministerial reshuffle looms as the first task of the Turnbull government; far from finding a portfolio for Tony Abbott — who really ought to leave Parliament — those on the Liberal Right must accept their deposed leader, and the coterie assembled by him on their behalf, dishonoured Australian conservatism at a time this country most needed sound, orthodox Tory governance.

Today, I’m not interested in the ghastly (and to some degree, self-inflicted) problems Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull faces when he returns from his Christmas holiday; if Jamie Briggs can’t keep his hands to himself on a work’s outing, or if the risk of appointing Mal Brough to Cabinet whilst under federal police investigation has blown up in Turnbull’s face, or if Peter Dutton continues to substantiate the error of leaving him in Cabinet, those matters are ones that will sort themselves out in the fullness of time.

And of course, there’s no need to talk about Turnbull’s defective political judgement. Not today, at least.

This morning’s essay is lengthy; partly to atone for going walkabout these past few days, but also because it’s high time we covered this subject thoroughly.

I remain as committed as ever to the principles of reasonable, moderate, mainstream Conservatism, and believe passionately and without reserve that these offer the very best model for government in a liberal democratic society, ensuring all boats are lifted as the tide rises, and providing a bulwark against its inevitable ebb and flow.

But the tremendous opportunity that was delivered on 7 September 2013 was summarily squandered, in a thousand steps before and after, in a pantomime and a farce that could hardly be described as conservative, and which brought great dishonour to the conservative cause. It will be many years before such an opportunity again presents itself.

I was reading an article from Brisbane’s Courier Mail yesterday, and it behoves me to opine just what a failure and a disappointment the Abbott government was; all but the most recent readers of this column will know I was a staunch advocate of Tony Abbott for 20 years before he became Prime Minister, and for much of his subsequent ill-fated tenure in that post.

But the Abbott government — to paraphrase former Liberal Party member and fellow online columnist Andrew Elder — was a fuck-up, and far from finding Abbott a portfolio in Malcolm Turnbull’s Cabinet now a couple of foreseeable accidents have come to fruition, I think that not only should those of us on the mainstream Right call time on Abbott’s career, but that those among us who refuse to see the reality should also recognise that the path he led Australian Conservatism down was destined to end in disaster.

That’s not a prescient judgement on the likely fortunes of the government under Turnbull — although those, too, could well end in catastrophe — but had Turnbull not overthrown Abbott, the likelihood of electoral defeat this year was very high indeed.

I have little time for the quasi-socialist politics of Malcolm Turnbull, but I’m pragmatic enough to accept that — provided he gets his finger out and battles off to Government House in the next few weeks — his opinion poll numbers are likely to translate into a sizeable election victory, the question of what might follow notwithstanding.

Yet when possibly the most inappropriate candidate for the Prime Ministership since Doc Evatt 60 years ago can spend 18 months maintaining election-winning leads in every reputable opinion poll — the average of which, at 54% for the ALP, represents a 7.6% swing and 90 seats in the House of Representatives, a 35-seat gain — the truth, however unpalatable, of the utter failure of what was meant to be a conservative government simply cannot be ignored or glossed over.

To be sure, the fault for this was simultaneously Abbott’s alone and the fault of many people around him; Abbott personally must carry the can in terms of responsibility for the truncation of his political career, but many others are equally, if not more, to blame than he is, albeit not invested with the Prime Ministerial imprimatur that rested in Abbott himself.

The conservative model of low taxes, small government, strong national defences, low government spending, less government intrusion into ordinary people’s lives, more choice, national pride and a tight ship encompasses proven values that work; one look at the booming British economy (which, after nearly six years of Tory government, is outperforming almost every other OECD country, including Australia) is enough to appreciate the fruits these principles can bear if soundly implemented.

In many respects, the circumstances in which the Conservative Party took office in the UK in 2010 are reflected in those that prevailed when Abbott won office here in 2013.

Both faced rocketing public debt and recurrent spending obligations bequeathed them by Labour/Labor predecessors. Both faced collapsing revenue bases, the British government thanks to the Global Financial Crisis, which knocked the stuffing out of its economy; the Abbott government on account of the progressive (and now near-total) collapse of record commodity prices. Both inherited burgeoning, ballooning welfare bills that extended largesse and profligacy on the clear but deadly assumption that the requisite “boom times” to pay for them would never end. And both governments inherited budgets that were haemorrhaging red ink, meaning the only way to pay for Labour’s/Labor’s “civilised” social spending was to borrow the cash: mostly from the Arabs, in the case of the UK, and from China, here in Australia.

I don’t intend to continue the comparison with Britain throughout this article, although by way of summary it should be pointed out that the British economy — now growing at an annualised rate of 3% and set to accelerate this year — is generating hundreds of thousands of jobs per year; the budget deficit the Cameron government inherited (far worse than anything we’ve seen in this country) has been cut by two-thirds, and will be eliminated altogether by 2018; income and business taxes are being cut; welfare spending has been reined in, streamlined into a single universal benefit payment, and capped at payments per household of 80% of the average annual British wage (£21,000 per year, or $43,000); business has been incentivised not just to hire people, but to invest within Britain and in opportunities abroad that can generate revenue and other benefits for the UK; and the damage 13 years of Labour government inflicted in the form of defence cuts and downsizing (at a time of heightened international instability, and not least where Europe, NATO and Russia are concerned) is beginning to be undone. The British national debt pile of £1.5 trillion ($3.3 trillion) will begin to be repaid from 2020: not according to fanciful “estimates” that extend four years and are constantly revised into the never-never, but on account of substantiable economies in government outlays that will return the UK to surplus within the next three years.

It’s an impressive achievement.

But just as the Abbott government had the (exceedingly hostile) Senate to contend with, the Cameron government arguably faced even greater obstacles: a left-leaning coalition partner of necessity until May last year in the form of the Liberal Democrats, for one thing, whose chief effect was to impede the reinvigoration of the British economy with no better objection than the rate of change. An intellectually dishonest separatist movement in Scotland, led by a man whose hatred of the English borders on the pathological, and which would have bankrupted Scotland and caused great upheaval throughout what was left of the UK. European Union “partners” who have spent decades making it abundantly clear they do not regard Britain as “European,” but whose hands eagerly pocket more than £2bn every year in payments from the UK to fund the swollen EU bureaucracy and its insidious, slithering intrusion into all aspects of the governance and societies of its constituent countries. And last but by no means least, the basket case status of many of Britain’s neighbours — not least its nearest, Ireland, which continues to teeter on bankruptcy — means that the UK has hardly been operating in the most propitious economic circumstances (or trading environment) in its own region for the duration to date of the Conservative government.

The reason I relate all of this, before moving to the thrust of my argument today, is to illustrate just how divergent two Centre-Right governments taking office in very similar situations can be; David Cameron’s government isn’t perfect, and I don’t think British Conservatives would claim as much. But the enviable record it is able to boast is one that should shame the Right in this country. It had one obstacle: the Senate. Yet with just about everything else stacked in its favour, it was (as Elder has often reiterated) a monumental fuck-up during its tenure in office.

It is easy to point the finger at wrecker and troublemaker Clive Palmer: after all, the three Senate spots his stupid grudge party won in 2013 in WA, Tasmania and Queensland would all have likely been won by the Liberal Party (or the Nationals) had Palmer not stomped out of the Coalition tent because he couldn’t control Queensland’s LNP government; had it won them, the Coalition would have been two seats shy of a Senate majority, with at least one friendly crossbencher (Family First’s Bob Day) putting it halfway toward passing whatever bills it liked provided it accommodated Day’s concerns.

Yet the fact it didn’t points to the defective “brains” trust at the Liberals’ federal secretariat — and, to varying degrees, their counterparts in state divisions of the party across the country — who were loyal to Abbott and the party’s Right, but who proved completely inept at running an election campaign for the Senate that mitigated against the onslaught of the bellicose tyrant Palmer. The Coalition has paid for this ineptitude ever since.

At a time of rising public sector debt, collapsing revenues and increased recurrent spending that will continue to increase exponentially as the National Disability Insurance Scheme soon adds $24bn to the annual pile of outgoings, it is clear this country blundered badly into trouble by electing a Labor government at all in 2007.

Far from substantiating the solemn assurances of fiscal “conservatism” pledged by Kevin Rudd, as he sought to sell himself as “John Howard lite,” the ALP quickly embarked on a tax, borrow and spend binge that cannot be justified or explained away by glibly pointing at the Global Financial Crisis — irrespective of whatever vapid claims to competence are uttered by Rudd, his useless Treasurer Wayne Swan, or their replacements in Julia Gillard and Chris Bowen.

But that’s history; the Abbott-led Liberal Party had three years to make comprehensive plans for a return to office after the stunning near-miss it achieved against Gillard in 2010, or nearly four years if you instead start the clock from the day Abbott succeeded Turnbull as Liberal leader in 2009: arguably the day Labor’s defeat became a matter of “when,” not “if.”

Armed with idiot-simple slogans and an apparatus for destroying an uber-popular government ahead of time, Abbott and his coterie duly set forth.

There were big targets, and big hits were landed — think the “great big new (carbon) tax” that Julia Gillard explicitly promised not to introduce but went ahead and legislated anyway, in a sop to the Communist Party Greens (who were a big liability to Labor in their own right), and Wayne Swan’s botched mining tax, which unbelievably raised no revenue — to say nothing of the permanent state of warfare over the ALP leadership and thus the Prime Ministership.

There were controversies, such as the “Ditch the Witch” fiasco and Julia Gillard’s reprehensibly dishonest “misogyny” speech, which even now very few people realise was a defence of then-Speaker Peter Slipper after the latter had been found out for sending filthy text messages about female genitalia.

There were also colossal campaign mistakes that, in hindsight, offered a very large pointer to the dysfunction likely to beset an Abbott government if it materialised, like the shopping list of things Abbott explicitly guaranteed would be immune from spending cuts if he won the election. Yes, the silly statement was offset by a catch-all that followed, elaborating that if “things are worse than we believe they are” once the Coalition took office then all bets were off. But the first statement was the one that resonated. It was a gaffe that should never have been made.

In and amongst those instances of bad judgement on the part of Turnbull we’re not going to discuss, one notably shining exception stands out: the decision to remove Peta Credlin as his Chief of Staff, replacing her with journalist Chris Kenny a year before he lost the Liberal leadership; as subsequent events would show, this one action — irrespective of the errors and misfortunes that persisted within Turnbull’s office — was the only opportunity that would be open to the Liberal Party for almost seven years to get rid of an ingrained problem.

That the demotion was reversed when Abbott won the leadership, and Credlin restored as Chief of Staff to the opposition leader, sowed the seeds of the pitiful failure of the Conservatism Australian electors would vote overwhelmingly in favour of in September 2013.

Abbott — in his various defences of his deeply divisive and rightly loathed adviser — memorably described Credlin as “the smartest and fiercest political warrior (he’s) known,” and perhaps in some respects she was, and is. But political warriors fight political fights. Governance of a country like Australia is an altogether different task than fighting the petty political blood feuds prosecuted by an ascendant opposition.

There is a school of thought that says Abbott — who was initially confronted by a new-ish Labor government sitting on well above 55% of the two-party vote in opinion polls, and who tore that government down in two reasonable anti-Labor swings totalling 6.3% — was the most effective opposition leader this country has ever produced.

Certainly, the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd outfit had been so comprehensively trashed by the time the 2013 election rolled around that it was deeply panicked about “saving furniture.” But how much of the dysfunction within the ALP was self-inflicted and how much the result of Abbott and Credlin’s efforts is a matter for conjecture, especially as Labor today remains a deeply defective political outfit under the “leadership” of an ex-union grub who makes the likes of Evatt and another former Labor leader, Mark Latham, appear positively sane and rational by contrast.

Whatever the means, the end result is that Abbott arrived as Prime Minister with a huge task ahead of his government to restore public finances to a sustainable footing, as well as (famously) to stop the flow of asylum seeker boats, get rid of Labor’s hated carbon tax, repeal the pointless and investment-destroying mining tax, and to wind back the profligate waste and unrestrained spending spree Labor, under Swan, had imprudently embarked upon.

Right from the outset, the Senate was an impediment that might have been avoided: in another glimpse into the future, the federal Liberals had fought a campaign that whilst delivering government, had singularly failed to deal with the rising menace of Clive Palmer: little (or no) attempt was made in the runup to polling day to confront the Palmer United Party head-on, and this failure underscores a methodology that was repeatedly revisited in the aftermath of the election.

Sometimes, in democratic politics, it is necessary to confront rivals and opponents directly; one of the criticisms I have repeatedly made of my own party in the past few years is that it houses far too many insiders and apparatchiks who think they’re Francis Urquhart. The notion that “the worst humiliation is not to be taken seriously” is well and good, but in failing to attack Palmer or to deal with the threat he posed, the Liberals ceded three Senate berths to his God-forsaken rabble that would otherwise have been their own.

Where Senate elections are concerned, red herrings like Clive Palmer only have to be relevant for the metaphoric five minutes of an election campaign to encumber the country — and the government — for six years. The three Senators elected on the Palmer ticket may have fragmented, but two remain almost implacably opposed to the government’s agenda whilst the third is at best unpredictable. All three form a potent political pretext for a double dissolution election to at least try to improve the government’s Senate position and prematurely terminate their six-year tenures.

Early on, the Abbott government showed some promise; the consolidation of revenue arrangements and the recapitalisation of the Reserve Bank that were undertaken by Joe Hockey as treasurer were a good start.

Yet another necessary move by Hockey — abolishing the debt ceiling to accommodate the unstoppable ballooning of debt that was a direct consequence of years of Labor mismanagement — was allowed, by the Coalition, to be framed unchallenged as an “increase in debt” by the ALP under its insidious new leader. It was yet another pointer to the likelihood that when the real business of governing moved into full swing, the Abbott outfit would prove ineffectual at best at either implementing its agenda adroitly or, tellingly, at selling it.

A Commission of Audit report, which (as expected) found the state of the country’s books was far worse than anything Swan or Rudd or Gillard had had the honesty or integrity to admit, was finalised and delivered by January 2014; for reasons that were never explained and which are beyond belief anyway, Hockey sat on this report until a matter of days prior to his first budget, instead of using it — as Peter Costello had done 18 years earlier — to comprehensively shred whatever remnants of perceived competence the ALP still retained publicly.

This failure to fully expose the disastrous misadventure in economic stewardship that had been six years of abysmal Labor government is a fundamental mistake that still hobbles the government today, even after Abbott and Hockey have been dispatched from their positions of authority.

But look around what was the Abbott ministry: there were plenty of wanton duds occupying plenty of the blue-ribbon seats.

There was Hockey, delivering a budget that increased taxes and spending; to the extent it cut spending at all — and with an eye to the Senate, it wasn’t by much — Hockey’s abysmal 2014 effort broke every rule in the political book by targeting floating voters in marginal Coalition-held constituencies.

There was Kevin Andrews, in Social Services, who seemed to turn not just every welfare-addicted handout recipient against the government (without actually doing much to hurt them) but also every fair-minded person in the country who listened to the vacuous diatribes of the ALP and who had real compassion for people worse off than themselves whose lot they were convinced was set to be made much harder.

Perhaps Andrews’ free marriage counselling voucher program was designed for couples whose marriages were pushed to breaking point by his welfare and family services changes.

There was Peter Dutton — lucky in my view, as readers might have guessed, to be in Cabinet under Turnbull at all — who managed to take a straightforward $5 co-payment for GP visits (which, anecdotal evidence early in 2014 suggested, would be tolerated in the community) and to turn it into an oddly figured, compounding $7 charge that would apply to GP visits, and radiology, and pathology services, and heaven knows what else. It was complicated, confusing, and was said to be destined to fund a $20 billion medical research trust that defied the notion of paying down government debt in the first place.

There was “Industry Assistance” minister Ian Macfarlane — so sure of his own adequacy and value to a conservative government that he tried to jump the fence to the Nationals just weeks after finalising his preselection for the Liberal Party — whose idea of industry policy was to stand shoulder to shoulder with unions as an advocate for bottomless, endless buckets of cash to prop up in perpetuity an inefficient and internationally uncompetitive manufacturing industry that swallowed billions of dollars every year with nothing to show except jobs that were bought by government from the companies that provided them, rather than jobs that were sustainable.

Macfarlane followed that effort up, of course, by advocating more millions to be poured into a small, loss-making division of a conglomerate that cumulatively generated hundreds of millions of dollars in profits the previous year.

There was Eric Abetz in Workplace Relations Employment, promising a minimalist approach to labour market reform so as not to awaken the sleeping WorkChoices scare campaign of the ALP and the unions (which would have been trundled out irrespective), who — when the promised Productivity Commission report that he solemnly swore the government would adopt the recommendations of materialised — disappeared to hide in the toilet the instant blathering Bill Shorten began whining about “fairness” and “cruelty” over the suggested minor changes contained in that report.

There was Attorney-General George Brandis, who once questions around travel allowances and library entitlements were cleared up, proved spectacularly unable to articulate clearly, simply and concisely a) what metadata was, b) what the government’s approach to it actually meant, and c) how the provisions it legislated to collect/store/monitor metadata were consistent with a government championing freedom, personal choice and the rolling back of state intrusion from people’s lives.

There was Christopher Pyne in Education, whose moderate education reforms were screamed down by students on campuses across Australia, backed — incongruously and ridiculously — by demonstrating construction workers from militant unions whose connection to the reforms was unclear, but who nonetheless brought capital city CBD areas to a halt for several hours at a time in “solidarity” with the students.

There was a heavy-handed (but justified) get-square crusade against anti-Coalition bias at the ABC, which can’t even bring itself to provide equal numbers of representatives from the Left and Right on its loathsome “adventure in democracy” panel programme, QandA: and there was Malcolm Turnbull as Communications minister who singularly failed to rein the ABC in, which instead engaged known sympathisers of the Left to conduct a review that concluded the Left, itself, had in fact been discriminated against. Christ alive!

There was David Johnston in Defence, who helpfully pointed out that the South Australian shipbuilding industry couldn’t build “a canoe.”

Then there was Kevin Andrews — again — in Defence, after Johnston was forced to walk the plank; not content with effecting one reprise of his botched performance in charge of WorkChoices under Howard, this time he set about performing a second, with the letting of a contract to build replacements for the accident-ridden Collins class submarines all but turned into an international debacle.

And sitting in the Speaker’s chair was Bronwyn Bishop (and I cringe every time I recall jumping enthusiastically on the “Bronwyn for PM” bandwagon in 1994, like most otherwise sane Liberals around the place did at that time, only to jump back off just as enthusiastically shortly thereafter) whose idea of small government clearly did not extend to exercising any sense of frugality where “official” travel arrangements were concerned.

If I’ve offended anyone by leaving them out, I’m very sorry. (If your name is Andrew Robb — one of the finest ministers of the Crown to ever hold office in this country — then you are summarily excused from this assessment).

But someone had to carry the can for all these “accomplishments,” and that someone is Tony Abbott; for a Rhodes scholar with degrees in Law and Economics, an excellent pedigree of ministerial service under John Howard, and solid credentials as a conservative thinker, Abbott — for all the promise he showed — was a great big disappointment.

People can point the finger at Credlin all they like (and I’ve been wont to do it often enough); amateurish, micromanaging to an obsession and completely out of her depth, Credlin — and the structures she was given the authority and the freedom to erect around Abbott and the government — bears a disproportionate share of the responsibility for the failure of the Abbott government.

Ministers were berated just out of sight of cameras if they didn’t accurately parrot the lines she gave them. Their staff were more or less hand-picked by her, with more of an emphasis on pliability and obedience than on actual competence in doing their jobs. Credlin seemed to think she was of Cabinet rank (she wasn’t) and was stoutly defended for too long by Abbott against (wholly appropriate) objections from Cabinet ministers over her presence in the Cabinet room. Advisers responsible for media management, communication, and the sales and marketing functions of the government — assembled on her authority — were completely incompetent, for as defective as the activities of the Abbott government mostly were, there were nevertheless enough saleable points to mount a case for them.

Monitoring opinion polls over an 18-month period consistently reflected the utter uselessness of such efforts. If, some days, it even appeared any effort had been made at all.

All of these things, and much more, were within Credlin’s remit; all of them were monumental fuck-ups. As I have said before, Credlin was given both the most senior non-elected job in Australian politics and the freedom and authority with which to carry it out. The resulting Armageddon is one for which she can only blame herself: nothing to do with “sexism” or “misogyny” or whether her name is spelt “P-E-T-E-R.” Credlin was an utter failure, and the ultimate responsibility for her lay with Abbott himself.

I knew it was all over for Abbott just weeks after he survived the “challenge without a candidate” (and said so at the time — the article has a date on it, you see). By the time his involuntary demise rolled around almost seven months later, I was resolute that he — and the “support” axis of Credlin and her husband, federal Liberal Party director Brian Loughnane, and those closest to them — had to go.

My only reticence was the likely victor in any contest to replace him — the current Prime Minister — and whilst I did not support Turnbull, just about any other candidate who stood in his place would probably have received a ringing endorsement from this column.

Time will tell if my historic critique of Turnbull rings true or not: loyalty to the Liberal Party dictates that I give him a fair hearing with a clean slate. I think there are some ominous signs that the “old” Turnbull has learned nothing; that he never really went away. But for now at least, Turnbull’s performance sees his overall tally at just the right side of the balance sheet.

Yet whether Turnbull succeeds in the longer run or not, his peculiar blend of social democracy and small “l” liberalism does not equal a conservative government, and nor will it deliver one. Ironically, however, if Turnbull delivers a moderate liberal programme, he will have exhibited fidelity to his beliefs. The same cannot be said of Abbott and his coterie.

It has been fashionable on the Left (and among others elsewhere who don’t know any better) to deride the Abbott government as a “far Right” government: it was nothing of the sort. It implemented big increases in taxes and social spending. It targeted families. It proposed burdening business to pay for yet more social spending. It did nothing to roll back the march of Big Brother into the lives of ordinary, decent folk, nor to roll back the creeping, insidious slither of socialism through every facet of Australian society. Like most points of principle, it botched what should have been an obvious and praiseworthy position on free speech — not least because Brandis effectively gave licence to the government’s opponents to smear it as bigoted. And to the extent any cuts (real, perceived, or imaginatively engineered by Labor despite failing to legislate certain items of “funding” in the first place) could possibly be characterised as right-wing, they weren’t adequately explained or even convincingly positioned as budget savings measures.

For those readers who missed it at the top of my piece today, here’s the article from the Courier Mail again: aside from the fact its author apparently affords a modicum of respect to the ghastly Senator Sarah “Accidents Happen” Hanson-Young, I find it difficult to argue with any of the points she has made.

As the clamour among some conservative Liberals for Abbott to be given a frontbench spot in Turnbull’s impending reshuffle grows, certain realities need to be accepted, however unpalatable they might seem and no matter how regretfully such conclusions are drawn.

Abbott is a good man, a decent man, and has been outrageously accused of all kinds of things that simply aren’t and never were true. People like Julia Gillard and her “handbag hit squad” should be ashamed of themselves, but this is scarcely the point: whether you like him or detest him for whatever reason, Abbott is human too.

In the most immediate sense, Abbott being restored to the ministry would almost certainly see the return of Credlin to the ministerial wing: an opportunity cost in harnessing the former PM’s experience that is simply too high to countenance in view of what has transpired over the past couple of years.

I offer no opinion on whether there would be “undermining” going on or not. After the precedent set by Gillard and Rudd, however, and with passions on the Liberal Right still simmering explosively four months after his dumping, the best thing for all concerned — Abbott included — would be to avoid the situation altogether.

And just as the men and women who served — dismally — under Abbott are good and decent people, the unrestrained anger of none of them is a suitable pretext to revisit that situation.

Blame the Senate? Fine, but the astute approach would have been to systematically stockpile double dissolution triggers from the moment the government took office, “just in case;” there should be enough of them in hand to throw them like confetti at the Governor-General along with advice of an election for both Houses of Parliament. Instead, it did deals with anyone prepared to cut them — often Palmer — that delivered in some instances worse outcomes in terms of the budget than if there had been no deal at all. There is now only a few months remaining for a double dissolution to be called, if there is to be one. To date, the Coalition has accrued just two potential triggers — the abolition of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Registered Organisations bill — and of those, the validity of the former isn’t even clear, rejected as it was once by the pre-July 2014 Senate, and once by the Senate that sat from 1 July of that year.

So blaming the Senate only cuts so much ice when in reality, it was tactically and strategically mishandled from the start.

Abbott has a handful of achievements to be rightly proud of, and to point to, but the tragic reality is that two years of governance in his name left Australia — already in desperate need of sound, decisive, astute conservative leadership — in a worse state than when he took charge.

Painful as it is to admit it, the Abbott government dishonoured the conservative vision and badly damaged its image in the eyes of an already sceptical, jaded electorate.

News reports at the weekend suggested another of the Abbott-Credlin-Loughnane junta — Loughnane’s deputy at the Liberal federal secretariat and its former assistant federal director, Julian Sheezel — has got it into his head that he should occupy the number one position on the Liberals’ Senate ticket for Victoria at this year’s election.

I’ve known Julian for more than 25 years, and when I say I’m ambivalent, I mean it: but for those Liberals already looking for an avenue to make some kind of protest against the manner of Abbott’s dumping but wishing to keep it in-house, Sheezel at the top of the Coalition’s joint Senate ticket in Victoria would offer an almost irresistible argument to vote for the National Party candidates on the ticket, to number all the squares — however tedious — and to place Sheezel last.

After all, a clean break should be just that: and just as Abbott and Credlin and Loughnane had to go, so too should those of their most senior lieutenants behind the scenes whose opportunities to serve arguably should have ended with Abbott’s commission as Prime Minister.

Sheezel accepted a job as chief of staff to new minister Kelly O’Dwyer just two months ago, and took a leave of absence from it just as retiring Senator Michael Ronaldson (and number one position holder on the Senate ticket) announced he was quitting.

Aside from the breathtaking arrogance it suggests and the failure to make any attempt whatsoever to disguise the naked ambition that accompanies it, if that doesn’t sound like a repeat of the same defective methods that have turned Conservatism into a dirty word in this country — and by one of their practitioners, no less — then I don’t know what is.


Quotas — Fixed, Soft, “Aspirational” — Have No Place In The Liberal Party

THE ONLY determinant of who political parties select to contest parliamentary seats should be a consideration of the best candidate available; a call this week by the federal executive of the Liberal Party for an “aspirational” target of 50% female representation is idiot-simple, patronising, and divisive, and will achieve nothing of merit. Poor candidate selection is enough of a problem as it is, across all parties, without entrenching it further.

About twelve or eighteen months ago, it was relayed to me that “Peta” — Tony Abbott’s former Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin — had “decided” that her “legacy” should be the formal adoption by the Liberal Party of a “binding soft target” that 50% of all Liberal candidates preselected to winnable seats should be female, and that she was “determined to force the party to accept” the position she had decided to pursue.

That conversation, with an excellently placed source, took place at the time Credlin was at the height of her paranoid, micromanaging, amateurish power at the epicentre of the Abbott government, and given my complete opposition to quotas of any kind, I assured my source that if Credlin’s “legacy” ever saw the light of day I would do everything in my power to torpedo it: and with the Fairfax press reporting this week that the Liberals’ federal executive has resolved to introduce exactly what was conveyed to me all that time ago, here we are.

Aside from the sheer effrontery of a glorified and jumped-up public servant taking it upon herself to decide she was entitled to “a legacy” at all, those who advocate this sort of garbage miss the point that whilst similar arrangements at the ALP have succeeded in lifting the number of women sitting in Parliaments across the country, the overall calibre of elected representatives is no better now than it has ever been.

And I do not subscribe to the half-arsed counterpoint that if MPs are to be mediocre anyway, then half of them might as well be women: to me, the issue is the calibre of people overall who stand for elected office, and the problem to be solved is not one of gender at all but rather one of identifying, nurturing and encouraging the very best people within the ranks of the major parties — irrespective of whether they are men or women — to put themselves forward.

We will come back to those arguments, but first and foremost, the Fairfax article details the kind of thing the Communist Party (the real one in the Soviet Union) might have come up with if it turned its collective head to putting women in positions of power in the Politburo; this has it all — a 50% “aspirational” target (read: the compulsory and arbitrary carve-up of seats and the corresponding disregard for local branches to select the candidates they want); a “Liberal Champions of Change” program that forces men and women to “advocate for gender equality;” and pompously misleading assertions like the suggestion that simply putting more women in Parliament — because they’re female — will solve “a long-term existential challenge for the party, which it must proactively address in order to remain electorally relevant.”

The report disingenuously alludes to voting patterns at the 2010 federal election — at which Labor scored a lift in its vote from women simply on account of fielding the first female major party leader in Australian political history — but makes no reference to the 2013 election, at which both male and female voters flooded back to the Coalition as the ALP’s tenure in office was terminated.

And it should surprise nobody that the Women’s Working Group — set up in March this year — and its report have both materialised on the watch of outgoing federal director Brian Loughnane, who is of course Credlin’s husband; the apparent contrivance of the husband to bring the wife’s “legacy” to fruition is just a bit too convenient to be a coincidence.

In other words, those who try to defend this new direction in high-minded, sanctimonious terms really should get over themselves.

The Fairfax report cites three examples of the alleged railroading of female candidates as evidence of the problem such a change at the Liberal Party would supposedly correct.

One — Jane Hume, recently preselected to the third spot on the Coalition Senate ticket in Victoria — and the question of why she wouldn’t simply be elevated up the ticket to the second (more winnable) spot now Michael Ronaldson has announced he won’t stand again; the appropriate forums within the Liberal Party will make a determination on that, but the opening Hume contested was secured on the basis it would be the third spot on the ticket. Based on existing polling, the Coalition is almost certain to win a third Senator from Victoria at next year’s election. But the decision is being misrepresented as a simple male vs female equation; there is also an opportunity to get not one good new good Liberal candidate (Hume) into the Senate, but two.

Two — former state MP Donna Bauer’s interest in the federal seat of Dunkley, being vacated by former minister Bruce Billson — similarly fails to offer the cut-and-dried evidence of the need for “action” on women it is clearly intended to supply; Dunkley is a marginal seat at the best of times, and doesn’t even satisfy the women’s lobby’s demands to be allocated safe seats; Bauer has also been extremely ill (a fact well-known publicly) and she would have to satisfy any council of preselectors that she was literally fit to serve through both a gruelling election campaign and a three-year term if elected. That said, Bauer was an excellent MP as the member for Carrum, and in a seat usually held by Labor it was a credit to her that she won it at all. But the point is that her gender, frankly, has nothing to do with either the calibre of the service she did and may yet render, nor with the question of whether she should replace Billson in the federal seat that overlaps her old one in state Parliament.

And three, the question of whether upper house Victorian MP Margaret Fitzherbert should replace outgoing state Brighton MP Louise Asher in the bluest of blue ribbon state seats when Asher retires in 2018; Margaret is a friend, and when I first met her she had just been shouldered out of standing for the federal seat of Goldstein to make way for Andrew Robb (who has been an excellent ministerial performer, if not perhaps a visible local presence) and to be honest I’m in two minds: on the one hand, she would make an excellent state MP wherever she served, but on the other, she already has a state seat. Yes, it was a touch-and-go proposition, secured as it was last year from the third spot on the Coalition’s upper house ticket in the Southern Metropolitan electorate. But Margaret would arguably offer the Liberal Party its best prospect for continuing to hold three of the five Southern Metropolitan seats, and once again, the issue here isn’t one of gender at all, but rather of the party making the very best use of the resources it has at its disposal.

There are no straightforward answers to any of these three scenarios, but simply installing the woman in any or all of them precludes the prospect of a better candidate (who might in fact be female herself) from being considered. And that is not in the interests of the party, the wider community it seeks to serve, or even the tokenised, patronised woman in the middle of it, who must know the only reason for her preselection is what is (or isn’t) between her legs when what is between her ears is what really matters.

Speaking of Robb and Goldstein — for Andrew, at 65 next year, won’t be around forever either — I was recently shown a list of the names of four aspirants who hoped to succeed him as a Liberal MP in Goldstein; three of them were male and one was female. To be frank, three (including the female) would be nothing less than the waste of a safe seat on a time-server, and the fourth might be best served waiting five or ten years. Lest anyone think I’m being anti-women, however, I told the person who gave me the names to discard all four from consideration, and to go and chase a certain female identity around our branches who I think is one of the best potential MPs I have come across in many years: her name was not one of the four we had discussed.

I relay these stories, and my thinking in response to them, simply to illustrate just how rigid, brainless and counter-productive the adoption of  any kind of quota by the Liberal Party may be.

But lest there be any confusion about it, one of the reasons there are fewer female MPs from the Liberal Party is that for whatever reason, women seem less willing to put themselves forward for elected office; maybe women aren’t as interested in politics to the degree men are, or maybe they are unwilling to surrender lives, careers, earning capacity (and sometimes, marriages) to the brutal bear pit that is parliamentary politics in this country to the extent men are.

One thing I do know, however, is that a better approach to boosting the ranks of female MPs would be to identify suitable female candidates and encourage them to put themselves forward, and this is one area I think all parties might improve their efforts on: if it “naturally” occurs to men to do so, but women are more reticent, every assistance and encouragement should be offered. But simply finding female names to allocate to seats in Parliament is no solution at all.

The Liberal Party is just that — a party of free-minded individuals that champions the right of the individual to make decisions — and shackling it with some silly, arbitrary gender quota runs utterly counter to that noble principle.

And if you’re just going to tell half your branches that the seats they’re located in are reserved for female candidates only, it follows that you’re either going to encourage capable, ambitious men to start moving all over the place to chase a seat, or — more likely — to drop out of active involvement in the party altogether. Far from strengthening anything, as a quota of any description would seek to do, the end result would be to rob the party of ideas, resources, and potential parliamentary servants.

This column has never supported quotas in any way, shape, or form; be it Jacqui Lambie and her plans to create reserved seats for Aborigines, Bill Shorten’s (quietly abandoned) plot to introduce quotas for gays, lesbians, blacks, and heaven knows who else, or the disgusting female candidate factory of the hard socialist Left that is Emily’s List, the interests of whichever group stands to benefit from a quota are, in my view, tarnished and compromised by the very measure intended to advance them.

Quotas are patronising, humiliating, condescending and tokenistic; they send the terrible message that merit, in the big scheme of things, is irrelevant; they send the message to any group not covered by the quota that they are second-rate citizens; and all they really achieve is to enable whatever band of do-gooders responsible for them to feel good about themselves when there is little evidence they make any difference to the quality of outcomes — in this case, where governance of the country is concerned.

Does anyone seriously and credibly suggest the likes of Julia Gillard, Christine Milne, Sarah Hanson-Young or the late Joan Kirner are shining advertisements for the virtues of open slather promotion of women simply because they are female? If you’re a socialist, perhaps, but for anyone with a brain they embody the fact that competence is too easily disregarded when gender is allowed to dictate things like political preselections, and so it would be if the Liberals adopt the recommendation on the table.

Political parties are volunteer organisations that have trouble as it is attracting quality candidates for all kinds of reasons — money foremost amongst them — and all quotas do in my view is entrench the mediocrity that more often than not emerges from preselection processes.

Look at the ALP, with its binding quotas: yes, there are an awful lot of useless male Labor MPs littered across Parliaments around the country, but the binding 35% quota for female representation simply means they’re accompanied by more equally useless women than their counterparts across the aisle.

Some might find that a hard judgement, but it’s meant to be: star candidates for high office are the exception, not the norm, however chauvinistic about the primacy of our respective parties we might choose to be.

Be they male or female, straight or gay, the sad fact is that the overwhelming majority of people elected to Parliaments in Australia are far from the best possible people in the community to fill those posts.

This issue has been a bugbear of mine for years; of course it would be good to see more women in Parliament, but by the same token it would be even better to improve the quality of elected representatives in general.

Quotas — be they hard, firm, soft, binding, arbitrary, aspirational or whatever — have no place in the Liberal Party or, as far as I’m concerned, anywhere else; the more important change that needs to be looked at is how to improve the calibre of elected representatives. Men and women alike should be championing the issue of merit, not bickering over how to favour one gender over the other.

If there’s one good thing that might emerge from this silly push to impose quotas on the Liberals, it could be that men are forced to give a more stringent account of themselves by women concentrating not on securing automatic allocations from the carve-up, but instead on encouraging the best in their ranks to step forward and take the men on. Just as there are mediocrities everywhere in politics, there are also some very good people, and a lot of those are female. But rigour and discipline, not quotas, are required for the cultural change I am alluding to.

Liberals — male and female alike — should do whatever they can to shoot this ridiculous recommendation down. As for Credlin, she can bury her “legacy” where the sun doesn’t shine. If, that is, she can extricate her head first to make way for it.

Maybe Credlin still thinks she should be gifted a safe Liberal seat. If she does, she’s in for a shock. There are resources available across from Australia to fund an independent conservative campaign against her should she ever put her head above the parapet. The reasons people are prepared to ensure she never sits in Parliament have nothing to do with gender.

In fact, a quick check on the identity of the current Prime Minister and the terminal electoral position of his predecessor speak volumes for the “merit” Credlin offers as a candidate. She can’t have it both ways. She was a woman given the #1 unelected position in Australian politics and was given unprecedented free rein to execute it, and fucked it up completely. Nothing to do with gender at all. Nobody to blame except herself.

If Credlin wants a fitting legacy, I’m sure there’s a jobs desk at Centrelink that might benefit from her aptitude for micromanagement, but the Liberal Party must consign her — and her silly quota — to the dustbin of history.


Day One: Credlin, Spivs To Be Booted Out Of Canberra

EARLY PROMISING SIGNS are filtering out of Canberra in the wake of the Liberal Party’s leadership change, and this first full day of Malcolm Turnbull’s Prime Ministership sees  news that Peta Credlin — and a goodly number of the spivs and hacks linked to her — are set to be given the boot; there is no value in “intellectual capital” that has all but wrecked a government. This column welcomes the overhaul it has campaigned for over the past year.

We are going to keep it fairly succinct today (as I always say, it seems), as yet another manic day beckons for me; but one point I did not make sufficiently clear yesterday is that where the performance of the Turnbull government is concerned, this column maintains an open mind.

I did stipulate to readers that Turnbull would be given the benefit of the doubt, and as with all things political we will acknowledge and credit where indicated and critique and oppose if warranted, but everyone knows the potential pitfalls associated with Malcolm: we have spelt them out at length with great clarity often enough.

Now, Malcolm gets judged on his merits — or otherwise — as the course of events dictates.

To this end, I have been speaking with people behind the scenes, and those conversations mirror a series of headlines in the mainstream press this morning that suggest the former Chief of Staff to Tony Abbott, Peta Credlin — along with a swathe of senior advisors and Liberal Party figures, perhaps including her husband, the Liberals’ federal director Brian Loughnane — are set to be given their marching orders as the new regime in Canberra moves to establish itself in office.

This cleanout — significantly — is high on any list of urgent priorities I would nominate for Turnbull’s government, and I wish to put my total endorsement of the proposed back-of-house restructure on record without equivocation.

There are two articles I want to share today, both from The Australian — you can access them here and here — and whilst I appreciate some will now feel squeamish about people (even if they don’t know them) being summarily dismissed from their employment and thrown onto the street, I would remind them that context is an aspect of this situation that must transcend sentiments of that nature.

Very simply, politics is a brutal game: and people like Peta Credlin, Loughnane, and others charged with the execution of the logistical functions of an elected government must either deliver results that ultimately are political in nature, or depart.

At the risk of rehashing criticisms we have had need to revisit far too many times over the past 18 months or so, the signposts of their utter failure are strewn across the political landscape as far as the eye can see.

The most obvious, of course, is the persistent and entrenched standing of the federal Coalition across every reputable opinion poll since its first budget in May last year; as we noted as recently as Monday, the average of these portends a 6.5% swing to Labor and the loss of some 30 seats in the House of Representatives.

Those polls — Newspoll, Galaxy, Ipsos, Essential and ReachTel chief among them — have been far too settled for far too long to draw any other conclusion than that an electoral belting was certain, and as I have emphasised to readers repeatedly over the past four or five years, it’s the trend lines in opinion sampling that provide insights of value, not individual polls: and those trends, occasional flutter one way or the other notwithstanding, have been so stable as to constitute a lethal indicator of electoral sentiment.

The reason back-of-house operatives deserve to carry the can for them now, as a new broom sweeps through the government, is that those polls have been driven by all the things this government has been most defective in to date.

Political strategy and tactics, management of Parliament, the ability (or in this case otherwise) to communicate or sell anything to a jaded and betrayed electorate, the paucity of a genuine reform agenda…all of these things are the responsibility of those appointed by elected representatives to augment and execute the government’s business, and in every conceivable respect the government — headed, at the back-of-house, by Credlin, and substantially manned by hand-picked, personally sanctioned appointees — has been found wanting.

When (non-fictional) stories of business leaders being driven to apoplexy by a regime that refuses to provide access to the Prime Minister abound — tales of titans of industry being given access to Credlin rather than to Abbott himself are plentiful in any exploration of the goings-on of government — it’s not hard to spot what has been the greatest Achilles heel bedevilling the Coalition in office for the past two years.

Now, the entire rotten edifice appears set to be obliterated.

In this regard, Liberal Party adherents — from those enmeshed with the party in its membership and executive arms right down to the floating voters who helped elect it, and who have flirted with deserting it at the next election — can take great solace from the fact that veteran Liberal figure Tony Nutt has been drafted by Turnbull to overhaul the government’s advisory stocks.

Lynton Crosby — the strategist who oversaw four election wins by John Howard and most recently engineered the stunning majority win achieved by the Conservative Party in Britain — is set to guide the new government along with his partner in crime, pollster Mark Textor; and to round out the return of the Liberals’ best strategic brains to the fold after being shut out at the behest of Credlin, former Queensland LNP identity, now Senator, James McGrath is also set to help shape the new government behind the scenes.

The era of real, perceived and/or imagined opponents being malignantly shut out of Canberra appears to be at its end; it’s an open secret, for example, that Crosby and Textor were unwelcome for most of the span of Abbott’s government — at Credlin’s behest — and that is a bewildering, and damnable, misjudgement given the miracle the duo worked for Britain’s Tories, the moribund state of health into which the Abbott government degenerated, and the reputational supremacy Crosby richly deserves as one of the best (if not the best) conservative political strategist in the western world.

The fact that Nutt — presently in charge of the NSW division of the Liberal Party — is said to be returning to Canberra speaks volumes; for those who care to look at the Liberal Party’s divisions across Australia, it’s no accident that the one in the most robust health is the one Nutt runs out of Sydney and again, he represents (like Crosby and Textor) an unbelievable instance of the Abbott government shutting out an obvious talent and potential asset for no better reason than the vanity and petty whims of its dictatorial chief advisor.

The departure of Loughnane should follow that of Credlin very, very closely indeed; as for his 2IC, Julian Sheezel — whom I last saw when he was 21 and I 19, and both of us less mature than our opinions of ourselves permitted us to admit at the time — I am ambivalent, although any decision to retain him should be contingent on an undertaking to prevent the departed duo from any input or involvement from the sidelines, and instant dismissal made an agreed consequence of any first breach of such an undertaking.

As for the rest of Credlin’s lackeys and stooges scattered across ministerial offices, one trusts Nutt will sort the wheat from the chaff and summarily dispatch the no-hopers who have been complicit in the malaise that has brought down a perfectly viable Prime Minister and almost destroyed a government altogether in so doing.

There are those who will lament the loss of “capital” and I simply respond that the retention of failures will aid nobody — aside from the ALP — and if the Liberal Party is, as The Australian suggested this morning, short of experienced executives to man its fortresses, then a punt on new people moved in and given an opportunity to shine is a better bet on balance than a wish for duds to metamorphose into something other than duds: they won’t.

Full stop.

It is true that the commencement of Turnbull’s Prime Ministership coincides with very low expectations on my part; but I am open-minded about such things — as the inclination to extend a wait-and-see approach should suggest — and I would like nothing more, in a few weeks or a few months’ time, to be singing the praises of the continuing government, and with very sound reasons for doing so.

Readers know that I will do nothing of the sort if I don’t believe it is warranted.

Yet the fact the advisory pool appears set to be gutted and rebuilt meets a demand this column has been making of the government for almost 18 months: ever since it became woefully evident that Ms Credlin’s outfit was hopelessly unsuited to the task, and gauged against actual political outcomes rather than some half-arsed entreaty that she is a “smart” and “fierce” warrior.

I can be fierce. Just ask my cat if it pisses on the carpet. It doesn’t automatically follow that I’m effective.

Top marks to Turnbull for elevating this crucial aspect of governance to the very top of his list of priorities. It’s an indication he may really be as serious about fixing things as he says he is. The ministry will be Turnbull’s next test, and the signs already are that he isn’t going to flub that one, either.

My criticisms of him aside, I’m more than happy to accept any call to Canberra to help if asked: and yes, following the message in yesterday’s column, I am already inclining towards remaining in the fold and fighting to help push the government back into a winning position.

And as for Credlin — as hard as this sounds — it is impossible to feel any compunction, even if the imminent purge renders her unemployable: I don’t have any sympathy for her, and nor should anyone else.

On Support — Or Otherwise — For Malcolm Turnbull As PM

SEEMINGLY CONFRONTED yet again by the odious prospect of Malcolm Turnbull being restored as Liberal leader, this column wishes to restate its position in the interests of candour and clarity: whilst we like Turnbull and see a role for him in a Liberal government — including, potentially, promotion — we do not, have never and will never support or accept Malcolm Turnbull as either the leader of the Liberal Party or as Prime Minister of Australia.

I’d intended to talk about the farcical but sane decision by unions not to challenge Dyson Heydon’s refusal to disqualify himself from the Royal Commission into the trade union movement; knowing their entire attempt to whip up a fury on the dubious pretext of “bias” was nothing more than wishful thinking and a strategy to shield criminals in their ranks from prosecution, union thugs couldn’t afford a Court destroying their fork-tongued arguments. Better to stay in limbo between Heydon’s decision and the legal system than having the balls to face the music.

But forces allied to Communications minister Malcolm Turnbull are on the march, and yet again, confronting the former leader’s apparent embryonic steps toward a challenge to Prime Minister Tony Abbott presents a more urgent imperative than ripping into lawless union thugs, even if the latter missive would have been more satisfying to write.

It seems those who agitate for a change in the Liberal leadership — and I’m talking about Liberal MPs and especially those less trustworthy members of the ministry who ought to resign and sit on the backbench — are in such a hurry as to be unable to wait for the deadline they themselves set to pass; the by-election in the Perth seat of Canning is five days away, but according to intensifying press speculation that seems to be immaculately backgrounded, a challenge could come as early as Tuesday.

That challenge is being portrayed as some — those lining up behind Turnbull, one would expect — as “inevitable,” and by way of further coverage readers may access, depending on preference, material from the Murdoch and Fairfax press for their perusal.

Does the Liberal Party need a new leader?

It may surprise some readers to know that I am not necessarily opposed to the notion of a leadership change.

The Abbott government’s polling numbers have been consistently terrible for 18 consecutive months; the average Labor lead, after preferences, is 53-47: a swing against the Coalition, if uniformly replicated at an election, of 6.5% and heralding the loss of almost 30 seats (and government) to Labor.

I believe that so entrenched is that deficit of public support it defies belief the Coalition can win the next election if things continue, unchanged, as they have done since the 2013 election; just yesterday we discussed exactly this predicament, and regular readers know I have repeatedly apportioned blame for the government’s misfortunes to Abbott’s Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin, her husband (and federal Liberal Party director) Brian Loughnane, and the little band of cronies that forms the government’s inner circle around them.

I have been a supporter of Tony Abbott ever since he arrived in Parliament through a by-election in 1994; a true conservative, I saw in Abbott the potential to develop a political philosophy that would come to offer mainstream appeal and an alternative to the centrist collaboration the Hawke-Keating years largely represented, and I was delighted when, 15 years later, he won the Liberal Party leadership.

But what should be a strength — and which is refreshing really, and rather rare — has increasingly proven Abbott’s greatest weakness: the famed loyalty he deploys in favour of those around him, and if the end of the road for Abbott comes this week, it will be this bittersweet attribute that portends its arrival.

The Abbott government, however you try to pretend otherwise, has been appallingly advised.

I have made the case over the past 18 months in this column, with increasing despair and frustration, that the way to fix the government is obvious (if not, perhaps, comfortably implemented): a complete overhaul of its back-of-house personnel, with particular emphasis on those responsible for political strategy, tactics, mass communication and salesmanship of government initiatives.

Credlin, her husband, and those around them are both emblematic of and directly responsible for the mess the Abbott government has become. I have discussed the problem with (in no particular order) other Liberal Party members; in off the record conversations with past and present staffers; associates of mine who (smugly) slot into the more effective machinery of the ALP; and with some of the people — some better than I — who have also been shafted by those who really run the Liberal Party, and whose attitude toward the party, in stomping out in disgust, is that it can go and fuck itself.

To be sure, the Liberal Party has lost a lot of good people as a result of the abominable way it has conducted itself in office over the past two years, and that assessment also extends to state divisions which have largely been run by different members of the same club of cronies who’ve made such a mess of government federally.

I, too, am known for my loyalty, but only a sycophant fails to know when enough is enough: and as much as I would dearly like Abbott to do a “house clean” and fix the misfiring apparatus of his government, I don’t think he ever will, for to do so means to toss Credlin, Loughnane, and a goodly number of their maaates overboard.

If a leadership ticket were to be assembled that a) did not feature Malcolm Turnbull at its head, and b) offered balance between the Liberal Right and the party’s moderate faction, I would have to seriously consider not just abandoning my support for Tony Abbott as Prime Minister but actively campaigning for his replacement.

In my view, the only possible way the cancer that has eaten away at this government’s political capital and electoral support can be excised is for Abbott to be overthrown, for if he refuses to get rid of the people who collectively constitute the affliction then he must be removed so others can get rid of them instead.

Any alternative Liberal leadership ticket would need to provide guarantees — privately, of course — that Credlin and her little regime would be unceremoniously thrown out of Parliament House as a precondition for my unqualified support.

And further, a guarantee that no move would be made to find her a safe Liberal seat as a way of removing the problem would not be unhelpful either, for there is no point putting someone like Credlin into Parliament where she is free to continue her destructive political influence but simply from another office — and this rings especially true if her husband remains federal director of the party.

It is an appalling conflict of interest that the pair of them occupy their present roles simultaneously, but that conflict would be exponentially exacerbated were one to remain at the head of the party’s organisational wing whilst the other was a member of Parliament.

When it looked like Abbott may have been dislodged back in February, I indicated that Julie Bishop — with either Trade minister Andrew Robb or Social Services minister Scott Morrison as deputy — would be an option I would find acceptable, subject to the stipulations I have made in this article.

I still think Robb would be the better deputy; Morrison isn’t ready for a leadership role, but he could make a good replacement for Joe Hockey as treasurer, although I am deadly serious about my support for the idea of giving that role to Turnbull. I do think, despite vociferous disagreement from some readers and some of my associates privately, that Turnbull would make an excellent Treasurer, and that harnessing him in that position would benefit the Liberal Party whilst enabling him to claim an advance of sorts.

And if the Liberal Right boasted a credible leadership candidate of its own — and with the dubious exception of Robb, who (cruelly) doesn’t come across well enough in the media to survive in the public eye as Prime Minister, it currently doesn’t — I’d even be prepared to unequivocally back Turnbull for the role of deputy.

But Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister? Never.

I have had innumerable approaches over the past nine months — from all quarters — that run something like this: Malcolm is the “people’s choice.” His opinion poll numbers are the envy of every other politician in the country from any party. As leader, he would “romp home” in a landslide at an election. Isn’t it better to win with Turnbull than to “die” with Abbott?

Simply, the problem with this immature and cretinous logic is best illustrated by substituting Malcolm Turnbull’s name with that of Kevin Rudd, for the arguments are identical to those advanced by Rudd’s proponents prior to his resumption of the ALP leadership in June 2013.

Andrew Peacock’s numbers were not too dissimilar to Turnbull’s in early 1989 when they were used to justify his restoration to the Liberal leadership: the party remained in opposition for another seven years and through two additional election defeats, both occurring at “unloseable” elections, the first under Peacock’s leadership in 1990.

So let’s hear no more of the “messiah” argument for Turnbull becoming Prime Minister now.

Back in early February — and before the abortive spill against Abbott came to pass — I published in this column a pre-emptive article against any move to restore Malcolm Turnbull to the Liberal leadership: the issues of the day may have changed in the time that has since elapsed, but the underlying reasons remain identical.

Malcolm Turnbull is no solution as Prime Minister: I said so at the time, and I say so now, and there is nothing that has happened in the intervening period to dissuade me from that view.

At one point not so long ago, Turnbull made a sickening attempt to package his left-leaning social views on climate change and gay marriage as “conservative” positions to try to curry favour with conservatively minded Liberals: some might have been stupid enough to swallow the bait, but anyone with a brain recognised it for what it was.

And none of this changes the fact that ever since he flirted with a seat in Parliament, Turnbull has been the antithesis of loyalty: he embarked on a brutal preselection stoush to get his hands on his seat of Wentworth; by the time the Howard government was defeated three years later, he had already gained a reputation for plotting, scheming, and self-promotion; he stalked his predecessor, Brendan Nelson, for no better reason than undeserved self-advancement; and he almost tore the Liberal Party apart through his actions and his behaviour as its leader.

Early in Abbott’s tenure as Liberal leader Turnbull was, at times, treacherous to the point of warranting expulsion from the party: and all of this, having regard to the myth of Turnbull as “messiah” and the number of people who would desert the Liberal Party were he restored to its leadership now, speaks to the last person who should ever be afforded the privilege of the Prime Ministership of this country from a conservative political entity.

There is talk Tony Abbott will call a double dissolution election within the next week: either to head off a poor result in Canning, or in the immediate aftermath next Sunday to avoid facing a leadership spill when Parliament is next due to convene.

Either of those scenarios is politically suicidal, and I don’t condone either of them.

But on the question of whether Malcolm Turnbull should become leader of the Liberal Party — and with that appointment, Prime Minister of Australia — I must be unequivocal.

I do not, never did and never will support Malcolm Turnbull as the leader of the Liberal Party; and I do not, never did and never will support Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister of Australia.

I urge all readers of conservative mind to do all they can — in their Liberal Party forums if they are members, or in their families, workplaces and communities if they are not — to advance the arguments of Turnbull’s utter unsuitability for high office, and to help destroy the fairy story that he is the “people’s choice.”

Should Turnbull become Prime Minister I will give serious consideration to terminating my membership of the Liberal Party, and walking away from the party forever; and I know of a very large number of other members contemplating exactly the same response should the nightmarish scenario eventuate.

In the end, I don’t think Turnbull is any more likely than Abbott to win an election, and in fact, once any “honeymoon” had dissipated Turnbull’s position would conceivably be revealed as far weaker than Abbott’s has ever been.

Just like it was before he was dumped as leader in 2009.

Whatever happens in conservative politics in Australia over the next week, one thing is abundantly clear.

Malcolm Turnbull is no solution as Prime Minister, and should he acquire that position, the Coalition will probably suffer defeat whenever it next faces the people: fairy stories and messianic bullshit might build momentum, but when the blowtorch is applied they are no substitute for substance.

Turnbull had his go. He made a botch of it and almost destroyed the Liberal Party. Nothing has changed, at least where Turnbull’s suitability for the post is concerned. The last thing the party — and the country — can afford is to indulge his ambitions now.

Missing Millions A Symptom Of Liberal Party Problems

THE REVELATION this week that the former state director of the Victorian division of the Liberal Party, Damien Mantach, allegedly embezzled up to $2 million from party coffers is an outrage, and the impending prosecution warranted; even so, the episode raises serious questions about governance within the Liberal Party both in Victoria and nationally, highlighting a deeply entrenched insider culture that must be smashed and terminated.

Like thousands of other disgusted, betrayed, and increasingly angry Liberal Party members in Melbourne, I found out on Wednesday about the story that broke publicly on Thursday — that former state director Damien Mantach had allegedly helped himself to somewhere between $1.5 and $2 million of the party’s funds between 2010 and 2014 — and my first response (as some would have seen on Twitter) was, quite bluntly and unapologetically, “fuck him.”

After all, it’s not the sort of news one would reminisce over with a glass of Chardonnay.

First things first: for those who’ve missed the media coverage of this issue to date, a selection of articles may be accessed here, here, here and here, and I would point out that before the Fairfax press gets too complacent in its sanctimony over this issue, it might serve interests of balance for that moribund behemoth to apply the conveniently rigorous scrutiny it deems appropriate in this case to the ALP’s record of fiscal management in government — and to pull its head in if unprepared to do so.

And whilst I’m aware Mantach was also outed yesterday as being on the hacked list of members from infidelity website Ashley Madison, we’re not going to dwell on that either: his wife, I’m sure, will deal with that particular issue all by herself.

Mantach has apparently admitted to taking the money, which is why he can be freely named in media; there seems to be some doubt over the quantum of funds involved, but with $1.5 million sitting at the lower end of the numbers being bandied about, it’s certainly serious enough.

Allegedly, the money was spent on paying down a mortgage, acquiring a share portfolio, and “lifestyle factors” — not that any or all of these uses justifies or excuses the act.

There are a lot of very, very angry Liberals in Melbourne and Victoria this weekend: from Mantach’s colleagues at 104 to the party’s state and federal MPs, and from beaten candidates in under-resourced marginal seats to the loyal rank-and-file membership who campaigned fruitlessly on their behalf at last year’s state election debacle.

There might be some room for sentiment had Mantach amounted to any tangible kind of political asset, but setting aside the kind of sentiment personal knowledge among friends and colleagues invariably engenders he was, objectively, nothing of the sort.

The campaign for last year’s state election was a strategic and tactical abomination; its messages turgid and poorly communicated; its grasp of the campaign initiative repeatedly usurped by the ALP and — reprehensibly — the violent, militant unions who poured money and resources in on Labor’s behalf, and who weren’t actually standing at all.

As “campaign director,” blame for all of these failures must be sheeted home to Mantach.

Now it has emerged that a solid seven-figure amount has been drained off the Victorian Division over a four-year period, the realisation has dawned on many of those angry Victorian Liberals that last year’s state election (which this column resolutely maintained was winnable until the end — and I still believe it was) might have produced a different result despite Mantach’s ineffective stewardship had it been better resourced. It turns out the means with which to resource the campaign were at hand. The only problem is that the “hand” helped itself to a five-fingered discount.

I’m not going to dwell on the nature of Mantach’s alleged crime, for despite reports he is “contrite” and made a full admission when confronted by state President Michael Kroger on Wednesday, great care should be taken to ensure that the coming prosecution is not compromised, for any punishment meted out by a court seems well indicated and should not be jeopardised or pre-empted.

But where all of this becomes relevant for the Liberal Party in the wider sense starts with the circumstances of Mantach’s recruitment to the Victorian Liberals, and ends with the insiderish cabal that runs the Liberal Party around the country, whose members mostly do not comprise the best available people to steward the party’s interests or the aspirations of the millions of Liberal voters their roles charge them with advancing.

It does not matter, for example — as media late this week have excitedly trumpeted — that Mantach’s father was a long-serving director of the Tasmanian Liberals before Mantach himself filled the post, or that his uncle Rob was also a stalwart of the Tasmanian party: dynasties for their own sake are unjustifiable.

The hard, cold fact is that as state director of the Tasmanian Division of the Liberal Party, Damien Mantach presided over one of the worst state election defeats the party has ever suffered on the Apple Isle in 2006 — winning just seven of 25 lower house seats — and followed that up by overseeing a clean sweep of the five federal seats in Tasmania by the ALP the following year, including the loss of marginal seats in Bass and Braddon.

And the financial scandal he now finds himself enveloped in arguably had its genesis in Tasmania, where he was dismissed after helping himself to some $50,000 from the Tasmanian Liberals — an amount that all parties concur was repaid in full.

Even so, questions must be answered by current Liberal federal director Brian Loughnane — his predecessor in the Victorian role, and who played a key role in recruiting the disgraced Mantach following his departure from the party in Hobart — over what he knew, and when, of Mantach’s misdemeanours in the Tasmanian post.

To date — aside from making it known he was aware of “a minor overclaim involving credit cards” — Loughnane has stoutly refused to comment. That, simply, is not good enough.

Nobody is suggesting impropriety on Loughnane’s part or, indeed, on the part of any other Liberal Party employee. Even so, were it to emerge that Loughnane was fully aware of the circumstances surrounding Mantach’s departure from the Tasmanian Liberals, his present position at the head of the party federally would become untenable.

And this brings me to the problem that bedevils the Liberal Party nationally — and of which the Mantach revelations are a mere symptom.

The Liberal Party, for too long, has made an artform of recycling the same handful of people through a procession of executive employment roles around the country; a failed state director in one state suddenly reappears in another, or people who have underperformed disastrously in one of the states suddenly pop up at the Party’s federal secretariat in Canberra.

Many of the people who work in Liberal secretariats across Australia are related to MPs, longstanding senior employees, powerful grassroots figures, or are ostensibly hired on account of internal connections they have; the practice is so widespread that arguments about merit are pointless: the senior echelons of the party are a clubhouse, when what is required is a powerhouse.

At the apex of the structure are the same people who have done the same things the same way for years: the Loughnanes, the Credlins, the Nutts, others like them, and the band of loyalists they have accrued over the years: all of whom owe something, and to which newcomers are not admitted unless they know someone, or owe something, or boast some kind of connection.

You can add Mantach’s name to the list, for any objective justification in keeping him on the payroll — a sorry use of hard-won donation monies and membership dues, even before any charge of embezzlement or fraud is considered — had already expired when he was given the boot in Tasmania in 2008.

Yet Mantach’s departure only came in March of this year — seven years later — and after more political damage was inflicted on a Victorian division that ranks among the most poorly run and least professional of all the Liberal state divisions.

Since I started writing this piece yesterday, veteran political journalist Laurie Oakes has weighed in, with an article in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph that notes, among other things, that Mantach was due to go to Perth next week to “help” on the by-election campaign for the vacant federal Liberal seat of Canning: the fact this manoeuvre was contemplated at all, let alone certain to occur but for the revelations that have been made public this week, shows that those in charge of the party just don’t get it: for once again, a political failure was being recycled into a sensitive strategic political battlefield despite little evidence to suggest he had anything meaningful at all contribute.

Who knew what about Mantach’s pilfering from Liberal Party coffers is a question that will be answered conclusively in the fullness of time; if it transpires Loughnane was fully aware of Mantach’s earlier transgressions in Tasmania then the party must summarily dispense with his services — for there is no justification in recruiting someone with that particular track record, and the consequences of taking such a risk have now been laid bare for all to see.

What is encouraging is that there is at least one razor-sharp, shrewd operator in the Liberal Party’s ranks — Kroger — whose correct instinct that funds had gone missing in Melbourne proved that years of complacent blindness or ineptitude on the part of those around Mantach (or, more worryingly, who were charged with providing rigorous financial checks) was an exacerbating factor to a forseeable crime that characteristic bad judgement on the part of Liberal office bearers had not only enabled, but perhaps invited.

But for the most part, those charged with the effective management of the party behind the scenes are not worth the money it pays them.

If there is any good that can come from this despicable episode, it should be a root and branch shake-up of all the Liberals’ state and federal offices; there is too much deadwood soaking up salaries their performance does not and cannot warrant, and this is an extravagance and an indulgence that the party — chartered to represent Australians from all walks of life, and expanding the horizons for opportunity and choice and reward for endeavour — can’t afford.

It is not inconceivable that the Liberal Party, this time next year, will be out of power everywhere except New South Wales and Tasmania, and on shaky ground approaching a re-election attempt in WA, but that terrible prospect should not be allowed to materialise before action is taken.

Perversely, Mantach may have done the party a favour. The torpid mismanagement is like a cancer, and needs to be cut out. The wrong people have discharged their obligations to the party poorly for too long and have been handsomely rewarded for their efforts. Yet even after a federal election defeat, some of them will survive, or even be promoted.

But nobody would argue the Liberals have “won” the politics of the past ten years nationally, and in the prevailing conditions the fault for that lies squarely with the people the party has entrusted with jobs they arguably did not and do not deserve. The markers of the malaise are everywhere.

In this sense, the Mantach debacle — whilst rightly destined to end in a prosecution — should also signal the point at which the Liberal Party’s back offices are overhauled, and parasitic time-servers rooted out.

There are those who believe Kroger is a divisive figure in the national organisation, but to date he is the only key player to have exhibited a shred of nous or sound judgement in identifying an alleged fraud that, unforgivably, was perpetrated over years and under the very noses of others who should have recognised something was seriously wrong.

If anyone is capable of instituting  root and branch reform of the party, it is Kroger. The party’s other jurisdictions across the country could do worse than to open their divisions to the Victorian President. The price for doing nothing is a potential decade in opposition. The Mantach disaster need not be for nothing. Now is the time to act, and to act broadly.


New Move Against Abbott Imminent, Likely To Succeed

A FRESH ATTEMPT to remove Tony Abbott as Liberal leader and Prime Minister could be a matter of days away, as anger builds in the parliamentary party over his failure to meet commitments given to elude defeat a fortnight ago; a second move against Abbott is likely to succeed, and for even Abbott loyalists who wish to see the Prime Minister succeed, the reality must be faced that if he is brought down he will really only have himself to blame.

Another relatively quick post from me this morning, as I am on the run again today: and with a cracked tooth of all things to contend with, I have a lot to pack into a truncated day ahead of a meeting with the dentist late this afternoon.

I wanted to draw readers’ attention to an article being carried in sections of the Murdoch press today, which relates the developing story of a further attempt by Liberal MPs to oust Prime Minister Tony Abbott ahead of the state election to be held in NSW one month from now.

Readers know that despite decades of active support and advocacy for Tony Abbott, I have all but given up on him in the wake of the failed spill motion against him a fortnight ago; horrified by his retention of the incendiary Peta Credlin as his Chief of Staff and his failure to move Treasurer Joe Hockey to a different portfolio, the prospect of a second strike against Abbott has, in my view, rapidly escalated from “likely” to “certain:” and almost guaranteed to succeed.

It seems Abbott’s reticence to honour the commitments he made in return for being permitted to remain as leader has brought enough of his MPs to the same view for another challenge to be pulled on — and pulled on fairly quickly.

And I can’t say I am surprised.

It seems assurances, understandings, undertakings — however carefully nuanced or otherwise cleverly contrived — to get Credlin out of the Prime Minister’s Office were worthless; some minor fiddling around his divisive adviser’s role was never going to hoodwink MPs into failing to see that, in the main, this most malignant of tumours was always intended to remain embedded deep in the government’s internal organs: and that its politically counterproductive effects would continue to be felt.

The sacking of Liberal Party hero Philip Ruddock was, despite Abbott’s protestations about renewal and doing Ruddock “a favour,” was never going to hide the fact that the Liberal elder had been singled out and executed as a scapegoat for the first challenge.

The issue of shipbuilding firm ASC — apparently dealt back into consideration to build a new generation of submarines to placate MPs from South Australia — looks a bit too clever by half, with nondescript suggestions that 500 jobs will be thrown ASC’s way as part of an eventual contract that will nonetheless still go to a foreign firm as the dudded MPs in that state now realise.

And with details of acrid, hostile meetings of MPs with Abbott, who is said to “slap down” continuing criticism — and who has seen to it that press reports of him since the abortive putsch have described him as being at “the peak of his powers” — it was only a matter of time before we returned to the issue of the Liberal leadership.

Indeed, it seems Abbott and his junta have gone out of their way to poke the very MPs who voted down the spill attempt in the eyes.

As we discussed the other day, the NSW election is a real and salient problem; the Baird government’s polling has moved onto a virtually identical trajectory to the one Queensland’s LNP followed at the same stage of that state’s electoral cycle, and it presents a painful consideration in terms of any fresh move on Abbott.

Leave it too late — in the name of giving Premier Mike Baird some clear air — and the risk is that the percolating enmity over the federal Liberal leadership helps cost the party government in NSW; pull the challenge on now and get it out of the way quickly, and the risk is that NSW Labor is handed a potent “disunity” card to play against the Premier as it seeks to achieve a win as unlikely as that pulled off by its northern cousin last month.

If the change has to happen, I think doing it sooner rather than later is the cleanest and smartest option: at least if the boil is lanced, the wound may heal enough before NSW voters go to the polls to mitigate the risks of cross-infection.

It would also allow a new Prime Minister to quickly remove Treasurer Joe Hockey, in whom I believe voters, Liberal MPs and the party rank and file can have no confidence that a second federal budget delivered by him would be any better or more politically adept than his first disastrous and toxic effort was.

We will follow this as it develops, and let me assure people that far from taking any joy in this, the “here we go again” sentiment in which I write this is tempered by great disappointment that of Abbott — who I think could have been an excellent Prime Minister — it is a tragedy that it should all have come to this.

In the end, however, he has abrogated government in this country to an unelected adviser: and from that single reprehensible error, virtually all of the Abbott government’s problems, directly or indirectly, have sprung.

I would encourage those resolutely opposed to the prospect of Malcolm Turnbull becoming Prime Minister — as I am — to do all they can to voice support for Foreign minister Julie Bishop in their respective circles; and to contact the offices of Bishop and Trade minister Andrew Robb to encourage the pair to run a joint ticket in order to put down any move on the top job by the member for Wentworth.

In the end — for conservatives — the Right has no plausible candidate to replace Abbott, and no plausible leadership prospect for the first time in decades.

The next best thing is to do the deal with Bishop to retain one of its own as deputy, along with promotion for a handful of additional up-and-comers from the Right, to ensure it is better placed at future leadership contests.

I will say more as this percolates away in coming days and will be back this evening to talk about something else.

But if Abbott is now cut down, he will have only himself to blame: and with the chances of a second move against him almost certain to succeed, this column restates its view that a Bishop-Robb leadership team represents the very best alternative open to the Liberal Party at this point in time.