Turnbull Surge: Coalition Lead An Indictment On Shorten

EARLY POLLING showing new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull trouncing Labor’s “Billy Bullshit” in the personal approval stakes — and the Coalition leading, 51-49, for the first time in 18 months — provides succour for those who sought a circuit breaker for the government; the Liberal Party can be pleased with initial voter reactions to its new leadership arrangements. Where Labor and Bill Shorten are concerned, these numbers are an indictment.

One poll a revival doth make; and as the saying goes, one swallow dies not make a Spring.

But the early voter reaction to new Liberal Prime Minister, whilst heartening for the Coalition, is at root a reflection on opposition “leader” Bill Shorten, whose “achievement” in rebuilding the ALP’s position has been instantly exposed as illusory, intellectually lazy, and validates the train of thought we have canvassed here for months that people were indeed prepared to vote Labor, but only in the absence of a more palatable choice.

First things first: Galaxy has published a poll overnight suggesting primary vote support for the Coalition has risen three percentage points since its previous survey last month, to 44%; Labor support falls by the corresponding amount to 36%, with the Communist Party Greens (11%) and “Others” (9%) unchanged — producing the 51-49 headline result that sees the federal Coalition hit the lead for the first time in a reputable opinion finding since April last year.

It finds a preference among respondents for Malcolm Turnbull (51%) as Prime Minister easily outstripping support for Labor’s vapid union parrot (20%), and as solid as that result is, it’s about the only thing that could temper a ReachTel finding one day earlier of preference for Turnbull (61.9%) over Shorten (38.1%), although ReachTel’s rating of both leaders is inflated by the fact it strips out the “don’t knows” and support for other candidates.

Like Galaxy, ReachTel also found a three-point movement to the Coalition after preferences — to an even 50-50 — off primary support for the Liberal and National Parties of 43.3% (+3%), 35.9% (-1.6%) for Labor, and 11.9% (-1.5%) for the Greens.

Heading into tomorrow’s by-election in the Western Australian seat of Canning — which, through the Liberal leadership change and constraints around my time, we haven’t really paid much attention to — all of this augurs well for the Coalition, and media reports yesterday suggested that Labor itself has all but given up on taking the usually marginal seat made vacant by the death of a popular long-term Liberal MP.

In terms of getting overly excited, the true test will be the polling three, six, nine months from now: nobody should be getting carried away, although Turnbull would clearly be happier with these figures than if the initial poll findings on his watch had stagnated, or moved the other way.

But the real story in this — with no disrespect to the new Liberal PM — relates to the ALP, and in that sense, these findings are an indictment.

Like many strategic minds in the Coalition, I don’t expect the initial public euphoria around Turnbull to last; the so-called “sugar hit” appears to be materialising on cue, and a better test of his support will be if the government can lock down the extra support being generated by the week’s events.

The precedent of Kevin Rudd from June 2013, and the earlier example of Andrew Peacock in 1989 — the closest equivalents to Turnbull’s ascension, replete with stratospheric pre-leadership coup poll numbers — should serve as a warning to anyone who wants to get carried away.

Yet the obvious observation to make here is that with Turnbull pulling in between double and triple the support of Shorten in the head-to-head measures, this heralds a return to “normal” poll settings for a first term government: new oppositions typically struggle to make much headway, and Shorten — denied the easy meat of an unpopular Prime Minister compounded by an utterly dysfunctional back office — is recording the kind of dismal numbers his insipid and insidious version of “leadership” truly warrants.

We already know Shorten is a liar, a backstabber, a treacherous plotter and a man obsessed with power and personal ambition, with a woeful personal record of “loyalty” to leaders he has served since entering Parliament, and whilst some will accuse Turnbull of the same things, it must be noted on the record that he conducted his challenge to Tony Abbott from the front this week rather than getting behind the departed PM to lodge a blade between his shoulders as Shorten deftly did during two ALP leadership changes during its last stint in office.

This, in and of itself, might be dismissed, albeit cynically, as the mere cost of doing business in Canberra by some.

But when it is remembered that Shorten has advanced very little new policy, aside from trashing the public health system by abolishing the private health insurance rebate, in an unbelievably spiteful act of class hatred — and has compounded that debauched stance by signalling the revival of discredited policies on climate change and asylum seekers that were roundly rejected by voters in 2013 — it’s hardly adventurous to assert that little Billy Bullshit offers virtually nothing to mainstream Australia.

Labor, it must be conceded, may very well still win next year’s election irrespective of the change to the leadership arrangements in the Liberal Party this week.

But the instant evaporation of ALP support (and, more ominously, the total disintegration of Shorten’s standing as “preferred PM”) exposes the potential limits of bloody-minded opposition at all costs and the pursuit of power for its own sake.

Readers have heard me say many, many times now that Labor cares about power, not people; it should come as no surprise that the instant a fresh adversary arrives on the scene with a potential message in any way different to the unpopular Abbott’s, indications are that voters lose interest in such a vacuously naked lust for the Treasury benches.

Free of meaningful policy and led by a dubious individual of highly questionable character, Labor may well have cruised to victory against Tony Abbott — mostly on the back of the former Prime Minister’s own deficiencies, and those of the people around him who were charged with delivering better outcomes but who were simply not up to the job.

Now, Shorten and his party are going to have to come up with a new strategy — and quickly — for just as time was running out for Abbott to retrieve his position prior to this week’s events, the sands in the hourglass now begin to run against Labor.

More of the empty, pathetic drivel Shorten has become synonymous with simply won’t cut it, and to this end, his attempts this week to characterise Turnbull’s government as a “right-wing Liberal Party” deserve  to be exposed for what they are: a direct copy of the mindless rant British Labour is using to cajole the BBC — just as biased to the British Left as the ABC is to the Australian Left — to use identical terminology against David Cameron’s Conservative Party.

The problem with a virgin brain — to use the analogy from Don’s Party — is that no original thought ever penetrates it: and in this regard once again, it appears Shorten is indeed possessed of such an attribute.

Unlike Abbott, with his scripted, targeted lines that lacked spontaneity, Turnbull is a gifted debater who will tear Shorten to shreds if he persists with this kind of garbage.

Like Abbott, however, it seems Billy Bullshit knows no other way than they way he has always done things, and in this regard it will cost him heavily.

For now, the Coalition is reaping its reward from the leadership change, irrespective of whether you agreed with or supported it or not, and at the very least it returns what had become an entrenched and one-sided political climate to a contest, and one that has to favour the Coalition given the lacklustre opponent it faces and the red herring Turnbull promises to quickly expose him to be.

It should come as no surprise that rumours abound of forces aligned with Tanya Plibersek spending the parliamentary Spring recess making enquiries of her colleagues to ascertain how many of the 48 signatures that are required to trigger a leadership ballot under the ALP’s arcane new rules might be forthcoming.

Plibersek might or might not be a more formidable opponent than Shorten, but right now the utterances of the latter have gone from being delivered in smugly sanctimonious piety to sounding shrill, hysterical and panicked in the space of a mere few days.

Billy Bullshit is about to be exposed for the unelectable charlatan he is and, all other sentiments aside, the prospect of Turnbull ripping the hopeless Shorten to pieces is an inviting one indeed.


Fact Or Crap, Peta Credlin, And Doing Things Differently

FOR ONCE we’ll be nice about Prime Ministerial Chief of Staff Peta Credlin; with the government at a crossroads and Tony Abbott himself perhaps dependent for survival on a solid result at the Canning by-election, rather than (justifiably) slating Credlin, today we are going to acknowledge her supposed strengths — and pray flexibility might be added to them. Nobody knows everything: especially Credlin and the coterie she is surrounded by.

It really doesn’t matter how smart, insightful, or how strategically and tactically astute you are — or think you are, or are told you are — when the whole enterprise for which you have been given oversight is going to hell in a handbasket; to be brutally Darwinian about it, faced with oblivion, you either change or die.

It is just such a position in which the federal government (and specifically, Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin) finds itself, one week out from what some believe is a make-or-break electoral test at a by-election in the outer Perth seat of Canning.

Not for the first time, what should have been a good week for the Coalition has ended on a sour, divisive note, with yet more rumours of a leadership challenge from Communications minister Malcolm Turnbull, and an increasing number of gutlessly anonymous Liberal MPs briefing journalists that Abbott is “finished” irrespective of the Canning result — just the thing to encourage voters in that electorate to deliver a ringing endorsement at a mid-term field trip to the ballot box whose outcome will not affect the overall composition of Parliament.

In other words, the electors in Canning have a free hit in hand next Saturday: with so much apparently riding on the result, the behaviour of the Coalition camp this week is inexplicable. And unforgivable.

I read an excellent article earlier today in The Australian from Peter van Onselen, who argues — correctly — that Abbott must listen to conservative critics of his government; van Onselen’s central thesis applies equally to Credlin, for anyone who seriously thinks Tony Abbott singlehandedly runs his own government is delusionally naive.

That responsibility, ultimately, is carried by Credlin: and if one side of that partnership is permanently misfiring, then the closer the implosion point comes the greater the risk it will destroy not just both of them, but the government with it.

For years now, anyone who follows politics has been told by Abbott, ad infinitum, that Credlin is the “smartest and fiercest political warrior he has ever known,” and perhaps, in fact, she is; nobody seriously doubts the intellect of someone who comes from a background in law and who has held a swathe of high-profile roles both in and out of politics for the better part of 20 years.

But something is clearly not working; after 18 consecutive months of opinion polling showing, on average, a 6.5% two-party swing against the Coalition at an election — enough, if uniform, to gift an additional 29 seats to the ALP and with them, government in a cakewalk — and with Credlin nominally in charge of the entire management effort of the Coalition’s political fortunes, the buck stops with her.

Let me say that again: the buck stops with Peta Credlin, as Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister.

This is a job to which she was appointed; she was demonstrably qualified for the post, at the time of the appointment, by her track record as a government staffer in a range of roles over a 15-year period; she accepted the responsibility that goes with the post when she accepted the appointment; and whilst it’s certainly true that Abbott is responsible for her as her employer, Credlin’s role dictates that she is the responsible official if politically acceptable outcomes are not being delivered by the government as a whole.

So for today at least, we will accept that Credlin is, all other things being equal, an ideal candidate to head the Prime Minister’s Office.

In turn, she is also responsible for the entire coterie of advisors who discharge what all observers know is a centrally planned political strategy that emanates from the PMO.

She has had oversight over their recruitment, famously vetoing scores — perhaps hundreds — of names; some reputedly for petty reasons, and some on the dubious grounds that she didn’t know them: whichever way you cut it the government’s advisory pool is, if not entirely hand-picked, certainly personally shaped by the direct input of Credlin.

My understanding, from extremely reliable sources, is that the emphasis in selecting these people was less on capability and more on obedience, and certainly, anyone hiring staff wants to ensure the people they pick do what they are told.

But this wasn’t the case when the Abbott government was being staffed; it is widely known in Liberal Party circles that Credlin wanted people who were personally compliant, rather than simply people who would do what they were told in the course of the day’s business — and even without the evidence of a government trailing in the polls and seemingly destined for an electoral belting, this approach to “people and culture” as it has become quaintly known in business was easily foreseeable as a recipe for catastrophe.

It isn’t that any of them are bad people, per se; rather, the Abbott government is being run, broadly, by the wrong people in the wrong roles, and the frightening thing is that by and large, the impenetrable, incandescent disaster that has been made of two years in office is quite probably (and literally) the very best the people stacked into those roles are capable of.

Just like the internal ructions that culminated in an abortive but desperate putsch against Abbott in February, it should have surprised nobody in the Credlin cabal that others — outside Parliament and/or excluded from any involvement in or influence over the workings of the government for one malicious reason or another — would find their voices, and in many cases much more quickly than the MPs who moved on Abbott at the beginning of the year and who widely nominated Credlin as their number one target.

In this context, the van Onselen article completely nails the problem the government faces.

Accepted wisdom around the corridors of power is that the Abbott government boasts a shining record of achievement that has seen it do all sorts of good things for Australia. It hasn’t.

Accepted wisdom around the corridors of power persists with the fantasy that those charged with the stewardship of the government’s fortunes — headed by Credlin — not only know what they are doing, but that they know better than everyone else. They don’t.

Accepted wisdom around the corridors of power is that the government has a strategy that will see voters flock back to the Coalition when the time for expressing an opinion that matters — at the ballot box — arrives next year. It doesn’t, and unless things change, they won’t.

And part of the problem (and this might sound odd coming from someone who identifies as sitting on the conservative wing of the Liberal Party) is that the Liberal Right, despite some disillusioned drift over two poor years in government, still retains overwhelming numerical dominance of both the Liberal party room and the organisational wing that enables Credlin and others like her — husband Brian Loughnane just one of many — to remain in positions at considerable expense to the party which they have discharged very, very badly indeed.

Once again — just to keep the point central — a government so entrenched in a losing electoral position cannot be regarded as either a glittering testament to those in charge behind the scenes and/or a triumph of “astute” political practice.

My criticisms of the government are on record and may be accessed by anyone wishing to sift through the archives of this site, and I would make the point that whilst I use colourful language from time to time — phrasing my points in sometimes absolutist and even confrontational terms — the views expressed here are hardly extreme even if the terminology used to give voice to them is. After all, there needs to be a little sizzle provided with the sausage, so to speak.

But van Onselen rightly lists out a throng of higher-profile commentators than myself: Janet Albrechtsen, Grace Collier, Miranda Devine, Niki Savva, Peter Costello, Chris Kenny, John Roskam, Tim Wilson, even Alan Jones.

None of them are socialists or voices of the Left; all of them are naturally sympathetic to the Coalition and to the Liberal Party specifically, and for various reasons — just like me — are desperate to see the Abbott government succeed.

Like me, each of them is responsible for a veritable tome of constructive criticism in his or her own right.

All of them, like me — and like anyone else who dares to raise their voice in defiance — is dismissed: we’re malcontents bent on stirring up trouble, or trying to damage the party (“damaging the party” is an insult I’ve both heard bandied around and at various stages had levelled at me personally ever since I joined the Liberal Party in 1990), or we don’t “understand,” or we’re motivated by sour grapes over one thing or another, or we’re lunatics, insane, barking mad.

But all of us want to help: this is not the kind of “help” that takes the form of an adolescent fantasy in a grown-up world; different people offer different strands of thought, insight, expertise and competence that, in a shallow and reasonably closed system like a political staffing pool, might add depth and perspective.

Instead, as things stand, a shallow gene pool drawn from people of limited overall ability began fucking things up shortly after gaining access to the government suites in Canberra and has continued to do so ever since.

This week should have been an outstanding one for the Abbott government; after an initial lurch as how to respond was quickly canvassed and calibrated, its approach to the refugee crisis emanating from Syria was bold, compassionate, and I think well reflected community expectations and sentiment.

But on Thursday night, some fool in Canberra leaked word of a looming ministerial reshuffle — complete with not just an explicit hit list but also names of people who were said to be “immune” but who probably should have sat atop the list of intended casualties — and today, we see headlines in the press across the country of yet more mutterings of an imminent leadership challenge by Turnbull.

It is here, of course, that the dominant numbers of the Right come into play: that faction can do whatever it likes, it believes. But only until enough of the softer support around its edges detaches itself in desperation — and then Abbott, like the minders around him, become fair game.

And it is here that the crossroads — faced by the government, Abbott personally, and the likes of Credlin, Loughnane, and their assembled minions — has crystallised into one very big problem: just like it did a little over six months ago, and for similar reasons when distilled to their essence.

Now, of course — less than a year prior to polling day — an additional urgency has characterised that problem and the reasons underpinning it.

This government, in the absence of radical change, is certain to lose an election.

Such an election defeat, even to a charlatan, a populist imbecile and an intellectual fraud like Bill Shorten, could signal three years in opposition: or it could herald the start of a decade in the political wilderness. Nobody — not even the smug, self-congratulatory types in charge of things inside the Liberal citadel — can say with confidence which would be the outcome.

Either way, restored to office on a platform of rank irresponsibility and little else, the damage that would be inflicted on Australia by another Labor government would make the foibles of the Rudd and Gillard governments — and their cretinous, useless, spectacularly incompetent Treasurer, Wayne Swan — look mildly risible by comparison.

And for Shorten and Co to win an election to the extent disturbingly consistent opinion sampling suggests, dozens of Coalition MPs are going to be turfed out of Canberra and onto the street: and the self-interest of those people before the event is likely to be a powerful, and unstoppable, force.

None of this sits with the official version of events at the PMO or, by extension, at the Liberals’ federal secretariat at Canberra, presided over by Loughnane and aided in its defective but holier-than-though insistence it knows better than its critics as well.

But in the meantime, the PMO and the Liberal secretariat in Canberra can see the fruits of their handiwork in articles like this one from reputable journalists who have no association with the Liberal Party, are not noted for being sympathetic to it — far from it — but who can spot the facts of the matter from the crap served up as spin at a thousand paces distant.

On the reshuffle (and we spoke about this not so long ago: I urge readers to revisit it today) I simply say that not only should one occur, but names like Peter Dutton’s, Joe Hockey’s and Kevin Andrews’ — irrespective of the protection afforded them by the numerical primacy of the Liberal Right and/or their political enmeshment with Abbott — should appear on any list of ministers to be fired or demoted, not to be granted immunity from change: these gentlemen, and others like them (“Industry Assistance” minister Ian Macfarlane, Attorney-General George Brandis, and Employment minister Eric Abetz being standout candidates for replacement at first glance) are all responsible for different aspects of the abysmal fist the Abbott government has made of too much of what has confronted it, and should be moved on.

There is no point having bumbling no-hopers from the Right locked into the ministry out of “loyalty” if an election loss is the result: after that, there aren’t any goodies to pass around, to factional buddies or to anyone else. At least, not any goodies that matter. Opposition is not a commodity to be savoured.

If people don’t want Malcolm Turnbull to become Liberal leader and Prime Minister by way of a successful leadership challenge, personnel changes — in the ministry and the advisory pool — and the benefits that can flow from replacing duds who’ve benefited from “loyalty” with people who have the political success of the government at heart and the various shades of expertise with which to help engineer it are mandatory, even if they’re not personally sycophantic to Abbott, Credlin, Loughnane and his mates, or a combination of them.

Whilst I have publicly backed him for promotion to Treasurer, I will argue until I am blue in the face that Malcolm Turnbull is no solution as Prime Minister. But unless things change, drastically and quickly, Turnbull is precisely what the party may end up being lumbered with out of the sheer desperation of those MPs fearful of losing their seats at an election under Abbott and guided by the “expertise” of his “friends.”

Prior to both the 1998 and 2001 elections, the government of John Howard faced entrenched and far worse opinion polling than the present government does; on each occasion, the Howard government recovered to win re-election.

The difference is that Howard had learned over decades that options had to be kept open, and that change — however much he disliked it — sometimes had to be involuntarily accepted as the price for continuing political and electoral success. It is a lesson that is not evident in the behaviour of key people within the Abbott government.

His Chief of Staff — Arthur Sinodinis — now sits as a Senator from New South Wales; as the equivalent official in the Howard government to Credlin, Sinodinis obviously knew a thing or two about what it takes to retrieve a seemingly terminal government and restore its fortunes to a winning position. Credlin would do well to seek, and accept, the counsel of Sinodinis.

But above all, there is a wealth of talent available to the government — both on its backbench and away from Credlin’s chosen coterie, outside Parliament – that is not merely being ignored, but which is roundly dismissed as irrelevant.

Responsible for a ship of state following an eerily similar trajectory to the Titanic, such a closed position in the face of looming disaster is unforgivable.

I have always said I’m happy to work with anyone I’m satisfied has the best interests of the Liberal Party at heart; I have no interest in being an MP (although, yes, readers know of a certain threat I made earlier this year, which will be honoured if the specified preconditions ever materialise), and I certainly don’t want a public political profile if I can avoid one. Even now, I would be prepared to work with Credlin and the others like her who have been the target of this column’s invective if suitable circumstances arose. But I doubt an invitation to do so will ever materialise.

We can only hope, at a seminal and pivotal point in the political cycle, that everyone with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo in the Abbott government even if it kills it — Credlin, Loughnane, the horde of abject lackeys and quislings they have assembled around them, and even Abbott himself — have the “come to Jesus” moment and embrace a change of direction.

The story of the unimpeachable value of this junta, however validly grounded, is by virtue of its execution an absolute fantasy: and whilst Turnbull might be the enemy they think they are holding in abeyance, and conservative dissidents punitively excluded to communicate that they are not at all taken seriously, an election loss to Labor — and to Billy Bullshit, of all people — will destroy not just the government, but the “legend” of their intellectual, moral and political superiority as well.

The ball is in Credlin’s court to drive change, and to do for Abbott what Sinodinis did for Howard.

It remains to see whether she is capable of doing so, but the indications this week of a disinclination toward anything other than more of the same bullshit that has fouled two years in government are not encouraging at all.

Any Reshuffle Must Go Further Than Dumping Hockey

WITH ONE EYE on the Canning by-election and the other on consistently dreadful opinion poll numbers, whispers emanating from the Abbott government and into the Fairfax press suggest a strategy of dumping Joe Hockey in the by-election’s aftermath followed by a double dissolution in March. A “reset” may — may — still work. But Hockey, who is a political liability, must be just one of a raft of changes if there is to be any point attempting one.

Sooner or later the fraught position of the Abbott government was bound to occupy our conversation in this column again, and — thanks to some injudicious chatter finding its way into the willing ears of the Fairfax press — it seems today has been selected for that purpose.

One of the journalists at Fairfax I have great respect for is James Massola, who today has filed this report and this analysis piece, both of which detail an apparent “survival” strategy being cooked up by elements inside the Liberal party room to throw Treasurer Joe Hockey under a bus and to get the government to an early election in March in the wake of the looming by-election in Don Randall’s old seat of Canning in Western Australia.

We have discussed the misfortunes of the Abbott government — mostly self-inflicted as they have been — at great length since Hockey’s ridiculously misdirected 2014 budget, and the irony is that whilst Massola raises the issue of Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s famed loyalty to those around him (and the direct adverse effects it has had on his government’s standing), a position of true loyalty to the best interests of the government, the Liberal Party and the millions of ordinary people it is charged with representing lies in advocating the exact opposite of much of how Abbott has allowed that government to be conducted.

The idea that merely throwing Hockey under the bus, as a scapegoat for a poor result in Canning, will somehow restore the Coalition’s political fortunes is sorely wanting at best, for as much as Hockey has made himself a political liability in his current post, the real seeds of the problem lie elsewhere: namely, in Abbott’s own office.

Even so, the fact such a change is even being seriously countenanced when just six months ago Hockey was sacrosanct and protected by Prime Ministerial imprimatur is telling.

Just a couple of short months ago — before the outrage of Bronwyn Bishop’s travel entitlement excesses became public knowledge — it did rather look as if the Abbott government had a case for calling (and winning) an early double dissolution election, although I didn’t think doing so was wise without a handful of triggers lined up for a subsequent joint sitting as opposed to just the bills to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

Yet even so, a 2015 budget that was publicly received far more benignly than its predecessor, combined with Labor and Bill Shorten feeling real heat from the Royal Commission into the unions, saw the Liberals’ fortunes turn strongly for the first time in over a year, even getting well within the error margin in a slew of opinion polls if not in fact managing to pull into the lead.

Bronwyn Bishop stopped that momentum dead in its tracks. Abbott’s obstinate display of loyalty toward her threw it into reverse. The revelation that some knucklehead in the NSW Liberals saw fit to invite Dyson Heydon to a Liberal Party event compounded the damage.

The government is now in real — probably existential — trouble, and it remains to be seen if there is adequate time to dig it back out by any means, although with an election due to be called in 10 months’ time it’s fairly obvious that the Coalition will get one opportunity to enact a major salvage effort before that election (held on schedule or otherwise) and one only.

Replacing Hockey with either Scott Morrison or Malcolm Turnbull should have happened in the wake of the abortive leadership putsch against Abbott at the start of the year; the fact it didn’t — and that Abbott instead rattled on vacuously with chatter about “loyalty” to his Treasurer to the point he asserted the pair would stand or fall together — is symptomatic of the dysfunction that infects much of the government away from the public eye.

The problem, of course, is that so dysfunctional is the Abbott government away from the public eye that its consequences have frequently been laid bare for all to see.

Whilst no supporter of Turnbull’s in a leadership context, I have been consistent for the duration of this column in acknowledging his talent and, in certain circumstances, his ability; contrary to some of those more blindly opposed to him I think he would make an excellent Treasurer, and the leadership risks of moving him to that post are easily outweighed by the continuing and compounding damage Hockey’s tenure in it is creating.

And I think Morrison should be held back — at least until after the election — from such a frontline post, not least when he is performing brilliantly in Social Services: another heavy domestic portfolio that is traditionally very problematic for the Liberal Party.

But any reshuffle, if it starts and finishes with Hockey, is a waste of time.

There are others who have either outlived their usefulness or who won’t be around for much longer anyway — Kevin Andrews and Ian Macfarlane are just two names on what, if I wanted to be brutal, could be an extensive list — and the opportunity to get more of the embarrassment of backbench talent the Coalition parties boast into ministerial posts should not be squandered or passed up.

After all, talented backbenchers — even if they make the mistakes of the beginner — are arguably of more use to the government than ageing duds anyway.

And in any case, the composition of the Abbott ministry is scarcely the government’s greatest problem.

It seems ridiculous that fully a year after it became undeniable that the Abbott government was in dire, dire electoral straits, we are still having exactly the same conversation; it is a measure of just how poorly calibrated the government is that its problems, whilst stark in their clarity and obvious in terms of the action required to remedy them, are basically the same list of ills that was supposedly ticked off after the coup attempt against Abbott.

This government can’t carry a message; its tactical and strategic activities are so defective it would be better off dispensing with them altogether; it can’t respond decisively to Labor, the unions, the ABC or the Fairfax press without overreach or misdirection; it has proven spectacularly inept at dealing with a hostile Senate; its message to voters — such as it is — is confused and inconsistent; and it is supported by a plethora of state and federal secretariats that couldn’t campaign their way out of a paper bag.

Election defeats in Queensland, Victoria and South Australia constitute deadly proof of that final point, and rather than shuffling the club members who run them from one division to another to keep “talented” losers in the gravy (read: putting “maaates” ahead of the true best interests of the Liberal Party) a large number of them should be encouraged to simply pirouette out the door and not come back.

And this leads me to the Prime Minister’s Office; creditable attempts were made earlier in the year to hoodwink people into believing that that sinecure had changed, and that notorious Chief of Staff Peta Credlin had been curtailed.

The brutal truth is that it hasn’t, and she wasn’t, and consequently the government continues to make the same mistakes in the same way it has ever since it was elected. Only the daily issues that surround those mistakes change, and even some of those are ominously constant.

Now we’ve had Arthur Sinodinis — a one-time Chief of Staff to John Howard — come out today, demanding ministers and/or advisers who’ve leaked the details of the “Hockey as scapegoat” plan either quit or be fired; Sinodinis has also spoken of “loyalty,” and my issue here covers yet another point I have been banging on about for months.

Quite bluntly stated, the notion of “simply standing firm” might be a worthy one if there was actually something worth standing firm behind at all; this government might fool itself into believing in its own competence, but it isn’t fooling anyone else.

What a lot of these insiderish boffins don’t realise and/or don’t want to know is that vast numbers of the Liberal rank and file are angry, disgusted and aghast that the party has comprehensively trashed a golden opportunity for a decade in power.

And all of that is before we even countenance the average punter on the street who is expected to vote Liberal in a year or so.

The “debt and deficit” emergency the Coalition was elected to fix has miraculously given way — after a horror budget whose punitive fixes mostly weren’t even legislated — to a blue skies scenario featuring supposed endless growth, large giveaways to small business, and the incredible promise of fat tax cuts without the pain required to fund them; believe that and you’ll believe anything.

Labor’s profligate spending continues to run out of control — and perhaps it’s true the government faces a roadblock in the form of the Senate to rein it in — but the savings measures it has attempted are mostly direct additional hits on its own constituency, with very little by way of actual cuts at all.

Not only has the government failed to fix the budget, it has failed to line up bills to cut Labor’s waste and extravagance and electoral bribery of Left-leaning interest groups. And it has sent the signal to Coalition voters in so doing that they are fair game when it comes to squibbing genuinely tough action and instead enacting a quick fix by slugging those who decided to vote for it in 2013.

What a mess.

Meanwhile, all of the other issues I’ve talked about fester away, to varying degrees; and even the Royal Commission into the unions — whilst uncovering copious evidence of criminal misconduct — has been seized by the ALP and the unions and turned into a political weapon for those God-forsaken entities.

A professional political outfit would never have handed such a battering ram to its opponents, but this government has managed to do just that.

Someone as astute as John Howard (and the coterie he kept around him) would never have let himself get into such a parlous political position through wilful and stubborn incompetence, but that is where the Abbott government stands today.

And Sinodinis trying to close ranks around the rotten edifice might be noble on one level, but it amounts to an uncharacteristic lapse of judgement on his part when the edifice itself is in urgent need of a significant structural overhaul.

I don’t think the Canning by-election should be some inane test of Abbott’s leadership and I don’t think he should be pushed off the plank if the party loses, which admittedly at this point in time has to be regarded as distinctly possible.

But there is little point in standing firm when such a stance is utterly misguided, and no point in blind ongoing loyalty to the very people who put the government in that situation in the first place.

Win or lose in Canning, a reshuffle is a good idea: but if it starts and finishes with replacing Joe Hockey as a token scapegoat, it will have been for nothing.

Either way, replacing a large proportion of the contingent of advisers sponging off the taxpayer and cruelling the government politically and electorally, if anyone is really serious about fixing the government, is mandatory.

Anyone responsible for (surprise, surprise) communications, strategy and tactics should be in line to get it in the neck, for if they can’t manoeuvre a first-term government into a position of invulnerability against an utterly discredited Labor Party — hurdles such as the Senate notwithstanding — then heaven help the Coalition if the going ever gets really rough, and the thunderbolts begin shooting from hands other than its own.

Those who want to preach of loyalty to this government should first get to grips with the real reasons for its malaise, and if they are unwilling or unable to look inwards to do so, then they too are a part of the problem.

Nobody likes singling out those they work with, get on well with and with whom they have professional associations that in some cases span decades, but there is something very wrong at the heart of the Abbott government, and it isn’t something Labor can be blamed for or that a token sacrifice will wash away.

There may or may not be time to fix the government, and perhaps one more opportunity afforded by the electoral cycle to make a concerted effort to do so.

Any talk of early elections must be abandoned, and the cancer at the heart of the government excised once and for all, for if allowed to remain and to grow it won’t matter when the election is held: the Coalition will lose anyway.

And that is a hell of a price to pay for what is being bandied around as “loyalty” but which, in the end, is nothing more than unmitigated stupidity.