Turnbull Apology Misdirected, But Another Election? Lunacy

THE RE-EMERGENCE of caretaker PM Malcolm Turnbull yesterday was welcome, if tardy; even so, his speech — in effect, a pitch on health — was a case of “too little, too late” given an election was held on Saturday. Negotiations with crossbenchers should be conducted privately, not in the glare of public scrutiny; but claims by Bill Shorten that Turnbull is about to call a fresh election are fatuous, and should be dismissed as a characteristic delusion.

The hand-on-heart mea culpa delivered by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull yesterday — that he accepted full responsibility for the poor Coalition election result and the campaign that produced it — is difficult to take particularly seriously; after the spectacle of the unhinged rant he chose to perform before the country after midnight on election night, Turnbull had been conspicuously quiet on Sunday and Monday, and whether he likes it or not, his reappearance yesterday will convey the strong impression that he only acted when he did after two days of searing public commentary and the very clear message that even teetering on the precipice of defeat, some of those within his own party remained too angry with him to offer anything but criticism.

I will come back to that point toward the end of this article.

But first things first: another day into the great unknown which, for the second time in six years, sees election “day” set to stretch indiscernibly into the future, it is still very difficult to say what the eventual outcome will be; the most credible estimates of the final make-up of the House of Representatives suggest 73 Coalition MPs (-17 on 2013), 72 Labor (+17), three Independents (unch), one Green (unch) and one NXT (+1) is the likeliest outcome in a hung Parliament, but at this point, nobody really knows.

What does look increasingly certain, however, is that the Coalition has technically lost the election, failing to secure a majority of seats in the lower house; and with the recriminations beginning in earnest over the campaign run by veteran insider Tony Nutt, the performance turned in by Turnbull, and the non-existent contributions of several ministers from Turnbull’s moderate faction — to say nothing of the fact the Coalition proved incapable of communicating anything constructive to the electorate — it lends further weight to the judgement editorialised in this column yesterday that the Liberal Party (and the country) would be better served by going into opposition than by attempting to continue in office.

One thing I remain absolutely convinced of is that if this government attempts to remain in office now — and especially under its current leader — then by the time the Senate has had its way with it, it will meet its grisly end in a humiliating electoral belting when next it goes to the people; this view does not necessarily reflect my traditional opposition to Turnbull as Liberal leader (although his value in that capacity, or the lack of it, has been laid bare by Saturday’s developing result) but rather the opinion that a creature like Turnbull, suffocated by the tightness of the numbers and unsuited to the stifling and unceasing pressure of leading a minority government, is simply not a recipe for anything other than eventual defeat.

Would Tony Abbott have lost the election? Without hesitation, I say “yes,” although (and we will never know) the “Mediscare” lie from the ALP is one he would have ripped gleefully to shreds, where Malcolm’s limited (but accurate) declarations that it was “a lie” were at best completely ineffective against the onslaught.

But by those who resolved Abbott would lose and lose badly Turnbull was presented, and held up, as “a winner,” which — based on the discussions we are now having about the election outcome — he most certainly is not.

Turnbull’s statement today (at least two days overdue as it was) was remarkable for the apparent posturing it sought to undertake on health policy; his open canvassing of changes to the Coalition’s stance on Medicare — whilst emphatically reiterating the brazen lie inherent in the “Mediscare” campaign — clearly leaves the way open for any continuing Coalition government to back down on freezes to the Medicare rebate and other measures that might arguably compromise bulk billing rates if implemented, but it raises the question: why?

Why is Turnbull apparently pitching to crossbench MPs (whose final number, and identity, are not yet clear) for a continuation in office in public when there isn’t even a result to be negotiating around?

Why, if the modest savings measures the Coalition sought to extract from Medicare in a desperate attempt to partially plug the hole in the federal budget are so expendable, were promises of rescinding cuts and the like not placed before voters last week or earlier (when they might have influenced the election outcome) instead of after the horse has well and truly bolted?

And why, in making a half-eloquent case yesterday against “Mediscare” after the event, couldn’t Turnbull have attacked this stinking turd from the ALP with some gumption when the government’s fate was still to be decided at the ballot box?

Turnbull is an enigmatic beast; as readers know, I had some dealings with him many years ago, and despite some differences (it was during the republican debate) you couldn’t help but be impressed. But as a politician? The sad truth, and it isn’t meant as a personal affront, is that politics simply doesn’t appear to be Malcolm’s strong suit.

Even though what he had to say yesterday wasn’t strong enough to have carried the arguments during the cut and thrust of an election campaign, it was vastly superior to what he produced during that period. But it was too late. Too little, too late.

And “saving” his government now — just for the near-certain, foreseeable reward of utter annihilation within three years — doesn’t make any sense.

Meanwhile, little Billy Bullshit — still a thoroughly unsuitable candidate for high office, only now with a bigger, fatter head — has had the arrogance this week to be undertaking a “victory lap” of some of the electorates Labor has seized from the Liberals; the hubris and chutzpah of this insidious specimen apparently knows no bounds.

Not content to have sanctioned the bald lie that was “Mediscare” — all the other porkies emanating from the ALP over the past few years notwithstanding — Shorten’s latest pronouncement is that Turnbull is just itching to “rip the cord” and race off to a fresh election for the House of Representatives.

Unlike some of Shorten’s other fantasies, it’s not clear what he thinks this sort of drivel might achieve; anyone with a rudimentary understanding of electoral behaviour knows — in the context of what happened on Saturday — that another election now would simply gift Shorten a stack of extra seats and with them, a majority to go with the one Labor and the Communist Party Greens will command together in the Senate. Irrespective of the merits or otherwise of a minority Coalition government, nobody is going to make Shorten a gift of an undeserved parliamentary majority even if the Coalition’s end destination from the 2016 election proves to be the opposition benches.

There might be finger-pointing going on in Coalition ranks, but wanton suicide isn’t one of the courses of action under consideration in any quarter of the party. But Shorten, who seems to have trouble with reality to the point he has to invent circumstances to suit him — so much so that rank dishonesty is a disturbingly recurrent theme — will apparently stop at nothing in his delusional quest for the destiny he thinks lies beyond the gates of The Lodge, even if it is as thoroughly ridiculous as this.

And this brings me back to the question of the Coalition’s own pursuit of continuity in office — whether advisable in the medium term or not — and the (understandable) conversations that have already begun in trying to analyse what went wrong, what the causes were, and who should be blamed for it.

The argument that the Coalition should remain in office at all costs to stop Shorten and his goons trashing the country altogether is a compelling one…but only until the landscape that would confront it, which I outlined in considerable detail yesterday, is adequately considered and digested.

I hate the idea of Labor in office; I hate the thought of Bill Shorten as Prime Minister in Australia. I dread the damage it, and he, would inflict upon it if the high tax, high debt, high spending platform to throw money at every target it believes can be bought is implemented.

But as I said yesterday, there is more than enough evidence of minority governments (and specifically, ones that became minorities in the circumstances the Coalition would have) available to know that defeat might be repelled by a few years, but it would almost certainly not be avoided.

Either way, we will keep an eye on what’s going on this week: and tomorrow, barring anything Earth-shattering arising from the ongoing count or any of the goings-on of key players on the political landscape, I actually want to talk about Pauline Hanson and the other splinter groups of the far Right that descended on this election. Whilst I have little nice to say about them, their collective success in garnering votes on Saturday is also something the Liberal Party is going to have to confront.

But in closing, I want to make reference to the “warning” issued by Attorney-General George Brandis yesterday, who suggested that whilst the government was trying to negotiate its survival with the likely crossbench, those on the Coalition side should refrain from any public criticism.

Brandis — hardly a voter favourite, with his taxpayer-funded book collections, his declaration that free speech meant everyone was entitled to be a bigot, and his surprising inability to clearly articulate the government’s metadata laws to reassure an anxious public worried about its privacy — should know better than anyone, as an acolyte of Malcolm Turnbull and as a member of the senior leadership team that has just presided over the technical defeat of a first-term Liberal government for the only time in the party’s history, that politics is a vocation in which one lives and dies by the sword: which, right now, is poised against the government’s barely beating heart.

I don’t think the government should be fighting to remain in office after an election loss when to do so means a much greater defeat three years’ hence; but given George is obviously across the minutiae of these matters, I’ll publish any comprehensive refutation of the arguments I outlined yesterday that he cares to provide.

It can’t be any fairer than to allow both sides of the case to be heard, but something tells me a phone call from George to arrange it isn’t something I’ll need to find time for when I return to my office later this afternoon.


The Effluent Billabong: Last Stop For Oakeshott And Windsor

A Newspoll published in today’s issue of The Australian seems to confirm what everyone else already knows — that Independent federal MPs Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor are riding on a one-way ticket to nowhere.

Newspoll shows primary vote support for the pair has virtually halved since last year’s election: Windsor’s falling from 62% to 33%; Oakeshott’s from 47% to 26%.

Unsurprisingly, were Newspoll’s findings replicated at a fresh election, both would lose to National Party candidates — in a landslide.

Newspoll has specifically asked respondents how they would allocate preferences in the two seats; in both districts, people indicated they would preference away from the Independents, which would see Windsor lose 47-53 in New England to the Nationals, and Oakeshott by a whopping 38-62 in Lyne, after preferences.

If preferences were distributed as they had been at last year’s election Oakeshott would be gone in any case, whilst Windsor would quite literally be 50-50 and line ball.

It doesn’t surprise me Windsor’s position is less dire than Oakeshott’s; he is the more astute of the two, and his electorate has been showered with government largesse since he entered the agreement to support Gillard’s minority government.

And after all, since he came to national prominence, Oakeshott — with his penchant for making windy, wordy speeches that actually say nothing — is a stellar advertisement for pretty much anybody else standing in his electorate.

Oakeshott says he’s not surprised his support in Lyne has collapsed; Windsor says he’s “heartened” that more people in his electorate haven’t turned on him. That’s right, Tony: it’s heartening indeed when your constituents indicate your papers are stamped and that you’re involuntarily departing at the next stop. It’s so very heartening that so many more of them may yet decide to get in on the action.

It’s no surprise as to how this situation has come about.

Had these gentlemen been Independents elected in comparably safe ALP seats — say, off the top of my head, Blaxland or Batman — their constituents might be a little less unforgiving of their decision to prop up a Labor government which is determinedly  pursuing a decidedly left-wing agenda.

Instead, they hold two of the most conservative electorates in Australia, and rural conservatism tends to be a vastly more residual beast than its city cousin.

And rural conservative electorates, generally, are staunchly opposed to the carbon tax being introduced by Gillard and her commie mates — a tax both Windsor and Oakeshott voted to support.

If this sounds like two MPs with a political death wish, Newspoll can confirm that the carbon tax is opposed by 72% of electors in Oakeshott’s seat of Lyne; in New England, the figure is 71%. Approval for the measure stands at 22% in both electorates.

Even were the two MPs to do a U-turn and throw in their lot with Tony Abbott, engineering a change of government, the damage to their electoral prospects is probably irreversible.

There’s recent precedent, too — three Independents elected in safe conservative electorates put the ALP in power in Victoria in 1999, sealing the ouster of Jeff Kennett’s government.

Susan Davies in the ultra-conservative electorate of Gippsland West was thrown out at the 2002 election; Russell Savage survived in Mildura on the back of his personal vote for an additional term until 2006, when confronted with an extremely strong campaign by the Nationals; and Craig Ingram saw his seat of Gippsland East finally reclaimed by the Coalition last year. Davies was quite openly an ALP member and had stood in Gippsland West for the ALP prior to winning it as an Independent in a by-election.

The point is that Davies held a seat with great similarities to Lyne and New England; what happened to her in the end should serve as a warning to Oakeshott and Windsor.

But it won’t.

Indeed, I’ve heard reports (which I can’t confirm — I haven’t been to Port Macquarie in years) that there are businesses in that fine town, particularly light industries, with placards on their fences warning Oakeshott isn’t welcome. I stress I can’t confirm that but by the same token it wouldn’t surprise me.

But they don’t get it — they simply don’t get it.

I quote here Oakeshott, directly from The Australian: “I don’t know what will happen at next ballot (sic), but I will turn up and stand in front of my community and say Pacific Highway tick; hospital funding tick; university funding tick; regional development finally underway, tick; certainty from an emissions trading scheme, tick…”

Oakeshott goes on to say he is focused on making “good judgement calls” and that making difficult decisions doesn’t make those decisions “any less right.”

Well, one of his “good judgement calls” is obviously not an astute reading of his electorate — the people who voted for him — because any idiot with no political acumen whatsoever could see they disagree with virtually everything he has done.

Windsor, for his part, says he thinks his voters will “come to understand the importance” of things like the carbon tax, and that he will indeed stand for re-election whenever the next election comes up. Tony Windsor is a nice guy, but I think he’s kidding himself.

Unbelievably — given the Newspoll figures seeing him losing his seat — he even claims “not to be all that disappointed” with the result. Well, quite, but if I had a seat in Parliament that I wanted to hang onto, I wouldn’t be going about things the way this pair are.

From a general perspective, and in light of the malodorous nature of this matter, I could make some reference to heads up backsides — but I won’t.

No, the good ship Independent Denial sails on; crewed by Messrs Oakeshott and Windsor it sails, inexorably, up the effluent billabong, and runs aground.

And would you believe — there’s nary a paddle in sight?

Now you know what that stench is, don’t you…