Newspoll: Coalition Trails As Unpopular Turnbull Crashes

FOUR MONTHS after poll ratings that would have destroyed Labor at an election, Malcolm Turnbull is confronted today by further evidence of his possible defeat; for the first time since September, Newspoll — in The Australian — shows the Coalition trailing Labor, and Turnbull’s approval numbers hastening their descent. It reinforces the government’s election-losing polling trends, raising the odious prospect of Bill Shorten as Prime Minister by July.

Pardon my French, but if you fuck enough things up, repeatedly, for long enough — and go out of your way at times to be a smartarse about it — then sooner or later, you are going to come a cropper; this rather colourful observation particularly applies to political life, and whilst it gives me little joy to say “I told you so,” today’s Newspoll will either shake the government out of its stupor or signal its ongoing downhill run toward oblivion.

Certainly, Tony Abbott paid the price for stubbornly insisting on his adherence to just such a storyline.

To be sure, there were some things about the alleged appeal of Malcolm Turnbull that were pure fantasy: the notion that Communist Greens and Labor voters, mildly impressed with his left-leaning social views, would ever vote for him, for one thing; for another, the fanciful idea of Liberal MPs who should have known better based on first-hand experience that the autocratic but politically amateurish, ego-driven and self-indulgent Turnbull persona from his first disastrous stint as Liberal leader would not reappear.

But the government has been farting around with “reform” concepts for most of the year to date, before and after a slew of ministerial scandals forced a second reshuffle in quick succession to the one undertaken when Turnbull overthrew Abbott, and when you add in gems like Treasurer Scott Morrison’s assertion that the “state income tax” debacle of last week was all a bluff — in otherwise, a deliberate ruse — then it’s no real surprise that having promised competence and reform and delivered very, very little indeed that the Coalition is now on a continuing trajectory back towards election defeat.

Today’s Newspoll — published in The Australian — is a snapshot of what will either prove the nadir in the Coalition’s electoral fortunes, or (I suspect) the point of no return from which defeat becomes inevitable unless the government gets serious about actually governing, laying out a solid agenda for its second term instead of thought bubbles and half-baked stunts, and actually takes a few risks instead of allowing itself to be silenced whenever the fatuous Bill Shorten opens his mouth to make a cheap political (and usually downright dishonest) point.

It sees primary vote support for the Coalition falling two points in a fortnight, to 41%, with ALP support increasing by the same amount to 36%; the Greens are down a point to 11%, with “Others” up a point to 12%. Almost one in five of Newspoll’s respondents indicated they were undecided, but after preferences, those who expressed a leaning either way saw Labor (51%, +2%) now heading the Coalition (49%, -2%) for the first time since Abbott was knifed in September.

Four weeks ago — discussing yet another Newspoll — I made the point that there was a real risk that Turnbull could resume his status of 2008-09 as an albatross around the Coalition’s collective neck, and that my “educated guesstimate” of the rolling trend across all opinion polls had at that time seen the Coalition dip below 50% on the two-party measure.

Certainly, on the latter point, today’s Newspoll keeps the Coalition’s aggregate just below 50%, at what I guess would be about 49.4%: low enough to lose an election depending on where votes fall in individual electorates, but not necessarily enough for Labor to win outright even if the Coalition lost its majority.

But on the former point, the notion of Turnbull as a dead weight on the government is undamaged by today’s numbers and, if I were a Coalition strategist, I’d be workshopping a radically different approach to the next few months than the misguided one that has shaped the last few.

His personal approval rating falls a further point this fortnight to 38%, with his disapproval rating rising four points to 48% for a net satisfaction score of -10%; nobody could now argue Turnbull is the messianic leader he was sold as last year — let alone even a popular one — and the net satisfaction number he records today represents a whopping 48% turnaround in just four months.

To add insult to injury, the insidious Labor “leader,” Bill Shorten — who I am adamant is the least appropriate candidate offered up for the Prime Ministership by either major party since Doc Evatt in the 1950s, if not ever — finds his approval number up four points to 32%, and his disapproval figure rising by a point to 53%, for a net approval rating of -21%: and really, in round terms, this indecently unscrupulous, unethical, unprincipled hack is now only marginally more unpalatable to voters than Turnbull is.

On the “preferred PM” measure, Turnbull (48%, -4%) now leads Shorten (27%, +6%) in a further indication that the electoral tide may be turning back toward Labor, and in a result that maintains a firm enough lead for Turnbull but brings him squarely back to a very average position for a new Prime Minister who supposedly heralds significant appeal to voters.

Obviously, a single poll doesn’t provide conclusive evidence of victory or defeat for either side, which is why I try to supplement my commentary with estimates of aggregate positioning of the parties across the basket of reputable surveys that operate.

But in trend terms, Newspoll has charted a virtually uninterrupted downward trajectory for the Coalition, the Prime Minister and the comparative standings of Turnbull and Shorten since just before Christmas — which wasn’t all that long ago. It is a spectacular fall from favour that could well continue until polling day.

You can read The Australian‘s presentation of today’s Newspoll findings here.

I don’t think there is any genuine enthusiasm for a Labor government — except among those who habitually hate the Coalition, that is — and it’s something of a truism to say that Bill Shorten will never be a popular leader irrespective of whether he remains in politics for a decade or loses this year’s election and vacates the field.

Yet at the end of the day, assembling the votes to win on polling day is the only task that matters one iota in the big scheme of things, and if the Coalition’s trend lines continue to follow the same path, there is every possibility Labor could manage to do just that despite the malodorous specimen “leading” it.

I think voters have been bemused, then stunned, and finally mortified by the government’s antics over tax reform; and as the number of options examined, picked over in half-hearted detail and abandoned has grown, so too has the rate of its decline in opinion surveys.

Tellingly, Malcolm Turnbull’s grand plan to cede some income tax-raising powers to the states — described by the Prime Minister as “the most fundamental reform to Federation in generations,” and as a stinking, festering turd in this column last Wednesday — has also been given the emphatic thumbs-down by Newspoll respondents, with 19% supporting the idea and 58% opposing it.

Even more telling is the fact just 27% of the Coalition’s own supporters approved of the plan. Taken in tandem with Morrison’s preposterous excuse that the whole thing was a big bluff, there are dangerous indications that Turnbull and his chums are handing out morsels that the electorate is simply not prepared to stomach.

All of this comes as a new phase in the supposed masterplan of the Turnbull government’s re-election strategy swings into action: the recall of Parliament on 18 April, ostensibly to secure passage of legislation to restore the Australian Building and Construction Commission (or more accurately, to force the Senate to vote it down, to secure a double dissolution trigger), with an early budget on 3 May followed by the announcement of elections for both Houses of Parliament on 11 May and to be held on 2 July.

Because of the detailed steps and changes to the parliamentary schedule that have been set in train, Turnbull has virtually obliged the Coalition to call a double dissolution election for 2 July; not to do so might buy the government more time — especially if it continues to flounder or sink in the polls — but it would inflict a further massive strike upon its credibility, given the only real reason not to call such an election (unless the Senate passes the ABCC bills, which I highly doubt it will) is the fear of losing.

Labor has learned nothing from its inept stint in office under Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard. It has no policies of any calibre and none beyond the wholesale ramping up of a slew of taxes. It offers no leadership and has little apparent vision beyond getting its collective snout back into the ministerial trough. And it has no interest in enacting any repair to the budget it wilfully and comprehensively trashed, beyond merely claiming it does, or in the rapidly worsening debt mountain it engineered and has refused to allow its successors to tackle in any way, shape, or form.

On a normal day, Labor would be on course for the kind of belting it dumped Julia Gillard to avoid.

But the adage about governments losing elections rather than oppositions winning them is alive and well, and all too real; had Abbott been leading the Coalition now, I still maintain — thanks to the dysfunctional power structures he permitted to cripple it — that the government would be careening downhill to a devastating defeat.

Turnbull’s ascension averted that — for a while. Yet time and opportunity — to say nothing of electoral advantage — have been squandered.

But really, the Prime Minister has shown he is no better at governing the country than Abbott’s regime was, and is quickly proving just as unpopular.

The idea of Bill Shorten as Prime Minister of Australia is obscene. Were it to become reality, it would in my view permanently tarnish the integrity of that high office.

But unless the Coalition gets its collective finger out — and finally avails itself of some decent advice where strategy, tactics, policy and communications are concerned — then that God-forsaken outcome is exactly what Australians might have to look forward to: and possibly as soon as July.

Time is running out for Turnbull. It is now too late in the electoral cycle to contemplate another leadership change and in any case, to do so now would be political suicide. And with stellar poll numbers receding into the distance in the rear-view mirror as the terrain ahead appears increasingly inhospitable, it is no exaggeration to speculate that after last week’s shenanigans, the government might even now be embarking on its last chance to be re-elected.

If it loses, Turnbull will forever rue his failure to go to a double dissolution before Christmas, as this column repeatedly demanded. The country will pay heavily for the misjudgement for many years to come.

 

Prime Minister Kevin Andrews? It’s Safe To Say “Never”

SUBURBAN Melbourne rag the Manningham Leader is running a feature this week on its local MP, Kevin Andrews, which canvasses not only his inclination to serve beyond another three-year term, but circumstances in which he may challenge Malcolm Turnbull for the Liberal leadership “and therefore the Prime Ministership.” Conservative as he is, Andrews is a political disaster whose aspirations would be entertained to the Liberal Party’s detriment.

I think it is fair to say that in addition to the resentment and smouldering anger felt by a sizeable portion of the conservative component of both the parliamentary and rank-and-file membership of the Liberal Party over the ascension of Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister last year, a large amount of salt has been rubbed into their wounds by the apparently organised process of knocking off conservative MPs and candidates at preselection contests across the country with the explicit aim of bolstering Turnbull’s parliamentary numbers, in some cases by “head office” delegates overturning the more conservative edicts of local members.

And I think it is also fair to say — of conservative Liberals, bandwagon-jumpers and a growing number of moderates alike — that few are bullish about Turnbull’s performance over the past seven months, insipid as it has been, and fewer still are enthusiastic about the proposition that Turnbull will lead the Coalition to the thumping election win that appeared to be in prospect prior to Christmas.

This column has taken the view a) that whatever its faults, and despite the undesirability of its present leader, the Liberal Party remains the best available vehicle in the longer run from which to advance a program of moderate conservative policy in government; b) that Malcolm Turnbull — and the softly pink Left social program that outweighs any good that might come of the buccaneering, let-it-rip free market capitalism he’d pursue if he had the bottle — will not be around forever; and c) with a surfeit of “conservative alternatives” (for want of any better term) coming out of the woodwork that mostly aren’t fit to piss on, the best course of action for genuine conservatives within the Liberal Party is to bid their time: and to wait for better weather.

There is always the prospect a new, mass-based and moderate conservative party might emerge; if and when that occurs, we will assess it on its merits.

But whilst people can make their own assessments, lunatic personality-based “parties” do not fit the bill; voting for the ALA (as I mentioned at the weekend) does not appeal; and the noisy demands from the right-wing Liberal rump (perhaps comprising a few percentage points at most of the national vote, but no more, despite their unqualified insistence to the contrary) to “get (their) elected Prime Minister back” are delusional in their sense that Tony Abbott might actually be restored to the Liberal leadership at any time soon (if ever) and dead wrong in their pronouncements that he would win an election now.

He can thank his blind “loyalty” to Peta Credlin and the apparatus of uselessness she assembled around the government for that.

But just as Liberal moderates set about having a grand old time trying to either knock off conservative MPs at preselections or to snatch vacant Liberal seats that had been conservatively held, general perceptions of drift, indecision and a lack of general competence and judgement where Turnbull’s performance is concerned are beginning to spread, and as they do, the veneer of government solidarity — brittle at best — that formed around the government late last year has begun ever so slightly to crack.

Regular readers know I have lamented the paucity of leadership talent among conservative Liberal MPs; given the underlying balance of the parliamentary party still tilts toward the Right — even if some of its number backed Turnbull in September — and despite the overall Liberal membership being perhaps composed in a 60/40 split of conservatives over moderates, the Right does not have an obvious candidate to run against Turnbull (or any other future moderate contender) if and/or when the question of the party leadership again arises.

There is a gap between the generation of MPs that included John Howard, Alexander Downer, Peter Reith et al and a number of promising, similarly classy up-and-comers including Josh Frydenberg, Dan Tehan and Angus Taylor; the former are mostly all gone, whilst the latter, unfortunately, are not ready yet and won’t be for at least another couple of parliamentary terms, by which time the Liberal Party could plausibly find itself once again on the opposition benches.

In this sense, the carefully worded intervention of former minister Kevin Andrews, in an interview with his local suburban paper for an article ostensibly to mark 25 years as the member for the north-eastern suburbs seat of Menzies, is a curious development.

Andrews is a good man; a decent man; well-educated and articulate, he is also — based on my extremely limited contact with him — highly personable.

But (and this is an old story) his record as a minister, in terms of delivering constructive national outcomes and/or adding politically to the governments he has served in, is not good.

As Employment and Workplace Relations minister in the Howard government, it was on Andrews’ watch that the notorious WorkChoices laws were introduced; flawed, politically mishandled and introduced soon after an election without a mandate, it was this political liability instituted by this particular minister that contributed most — directly and indirectly — to the fall of the Liberals from office after almost 12 years.

Subsequently, as Immigration and Citizenship minister (also under Howard), Andrews presided over the bungled Mohammed Haneef visa affair which, in addition to the brouhaha it generated at the time, also helped seal the Howard government’s fate at a time public opinion was turning against its tough border policies.

His performance as Social Services minister under Tony Abbott was an unmitigated disaster in a portfolio ripe for reform, efficiencies and cost savings; as I wrote in a comprehensive analysis of the Abbott government in January, Andrews managed to simultaneously turn every welfare recipient in the country against the government whilst not in fact enacting any measure whatsoever that could make them worse off: the worst of all worlds, and yet again reaping for the post-Howard Liberals all the opprobrium of an unpopular suite of policies without deriving any of the benefits that might have been realised from them had any or all been legislated.

And as Defence minister prior to Abbott’s dumping, Andrews’ management of the letting of contracts to build new submarines for the Navy was turned into an international debacle and a national embarrassment.

Andrews boasts a pedigree that should make him not just an archetypal Tory MP, but a leader of conservative thought inside and outside Parliament: socially conservative and economically rational, life experience straddling both rural and urban Australia, a distinguished legal career, experience within the charitable sector, and wide-ranging ministerial service spanning 15 years.

It reads as it sounds — like someone destined to lead, and to be followed, by the great silent majority of the mainstream — and especially in a global climate of growing illiberalism and the pandering to politically correct “elites” and minorities.

But Andrews has repeatedly demonstrated that his is a reverse Midas touch: just about everything he has touched, on the big stage of Australian politics, has turned to excrement.

And now, amid a soft-soap piece for the Manningham Leader, he has casually dropped the hint that he sees himself as the leader of the Liberal Party and Prime Minister of Australia some day.

Andrews isn’t stupid; he knows what he’s doing, and anyone who thinks his justification that he might stand against Turnbull one day on an issue like an emissions trading scheme — as he did in 2009, as a stalking horse for the more substantial candidate who nominated for the post and beat Turnbull for it six days later — is able to be taken at face value misses the point that the only time Andrews has ever nominated for the party leadership, it was with the explicit intention of mortally wounding his leader.

Today, the same man he stalked seven years ago is again Liberal leader; once again, the threat of an Andrews challenge has been made, irrespective of how heavily qualified that threat might be.

Andrews does note his leadership of the conservative group within the Liberal Party is an “intellectual leadership” and I think that’s a fair point to make.

But past history and a slew of abysmal (and politically damaging) performances as a minister are evidence enough that were he to ever lead the Liberal Party, electoral disaster would quickly follow.

This is one fairy story that, can, and should, be summarily dismissed by anyone serious and particularly by those with the potential power to make it happen: Andrews’ parliamentary colleagues.

Those who do not support Malcolm Turnbull and/or who are aghast at the lack of action over the past seven months will form their own judgements, and proceed from those as they see fit.

But the guidance of this column is that conservatives should sit tight for now, and wait for better weather: any more leadership instability now could well seal a Labor win at this year’s election, and however much people dislike or despise Turnbull and his sycophants, even less progress on conservative ideals will be achieved under Labor than is currently the case under Turnbull, and throwing an election deliberately is not going to alter that reality.

Yet whilst one must stereotypically never say never, when it comes to the prospect of a Kevin Andrews Prime Ministership, “never” is the very first word any thinking conservative should utter as they contemplate the ramifications of it ever coming to pass.

 

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.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wouldn’t it? 🙂

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

No, No, No: Pointing Peta At Parliament

THE ODIOUS NOTION that Prime Ministerial Chief of Staff Peta Credlin could be offered a seat in Parliament to solve the problem she clearly poses to the government in her present position is no solution at all; whether at or before the next election and ruled out by Liberal Party figures in Victoria for now, Credlin is the last person the party should reward with such a sinecure. Should it attempt to do so, your columnist would feel obliged to act.

The tiny proportion of the readership of this column whom I know personally are well aware of the fact I have no aspirations to an elected parliamentary career whatsoever; it took many years for me to arrive at that position, and included several periods of contemplation, even going so far as to single out state politics as my preferred field if I did stand. But in the end, I decided long ago that my true political ambitions lay as an adviser on strategy: the life of an elected representative was not for me.

Those same readers also know that if Peta Credlin is ever endorsed by the Liberal Party for a lower house seat in Victoria, at either state or federal level, I would resign from the Liberal Party the same day and contest whatever electorate she stood in as an Independent Conservative.

I have been moved to post on this subject on account of an article appearing in The Weekend Australian, which reports that the Liberals’ upper echelons in Victoria are moving to scuttle the prospect of Credlin being parachuted into a vacant safe seat as a way of getting her out of her present role as Chief of Staff at the Prime Minister’s Office, with one (unnamed) senior Liberal source telling the paper that Credlin is “too toxic” to be fielded as a Liberal candidate, and that her preselection will not happen.

Yet I have heard, intermittently, ever since the Coalition won office in 2013 that Credlin would at some point be provided safe passage to a safe Liberal seat; partly as a reward for services rendered, and partly as a way of getting rid of her from a role in which she is clearly doing enormous political damage to the government whilst allowing her the face-saving option of remaining in Canberra as an MP.

No. No. No!

The case against Credlin remaining in her present role — or any subsequent employment role obtained at the behest of the Liberal Party, quite frankly — is one that has been made repeatedly and at length in this column, and those readers who aren’t up with what we have been talking about can access archival material about Credlin by clicking the “Peta Credlin” entry in the tag cloud at the lower right of this article; there is no need to exhaustively present this material again now.

I would note, however, that since warding off a spill of his leadership Prime Minister Tony Abbott continues to refuse to either ask for Credlin’s resignation or to dismiss her, and it is well known that the hostility, frustration and open anger generated by Credlin’s activities translated into actual votes to spill the Liberal leadership: evidence, were any required, of the estimation many of her closest colleagues really hold her in.

Faced with the prospect of yet another budget from a Treasurer who should have been removed in the December reshuffle and confronted by an entrenched losing position in every opinion poll in the country, the message to Abbott before the spill, in some quarters, was blunt: get rid of her, or we get rid of you in order to get rid of her.

Despite some assurances to the contrary that were reportedly given to shore up his position, it’s a warning that appears to have been ignored.

Without rehashing the details, I have observed that virtually everything wrong with the state of the Abbott government’s political health can be traced, directly or indirectly, to the PMO and thus to Credlin: and with a first-term government elected by a thumping margin seemingly on a collision course with a humiliating election defeat — in large part as a consequence of the regime running the government at Credlin’s instigation — I’d suggest the only reward her “services” warrant is her ejection from Canberra (or any other sinecure of influence or importance in the Liberal Party) with the print from a steel-capped boot in her arse.

I’m sorry if my bluntness offends some readers, but I feel very strongly about this: initially aggrieved to have been vetoed as an adviser on a government-wide basis by the so-called “star chamber” dominated by Credlin, and later horrified and angered incensed by stories of petty narcissism, tactical and strategic incompetence, and sheer political ineptitude that have emanated from Canberra with Credlin at their epicentre, I have to call it as it is.

As with all of the rumours that Credlin would be off-loaded from the PMO to a seat in Parliament, the speculation in The Weekend Australian focuses on Defence minister Kevin Andrews’ safe seat of Menzies, in Melbourne’s north-east, and the persistence of this particular electorate being linked with that particular individual is unlikely to be coincidental.

No coincidence, either, can be found in the fact that Andrews’ name was linked with the Ambassadorship to the Holy See even before the Coalition returned to government; as a deeply religious man and committed Catholic — to say nothing of the experience he has accrued in government, at law and in the community — Andrews would seem an ideal choice for the role when it becomes available later in the year, and were he to be appointed, it would necessitate a by-election in Menzies.

I would hope that if the circumstances were to eventuate, good sense would prevail, and that any attempt to install Credlin in this plush blue-ribbon electorate would be knocked on the head in very short order.

But if it isn’t, I would feel obliged — on principle, in protest, and even if destined to be defeated — to resign from the Liberal Party in order to stand against her.

For those readers unfamiliar with Liberal Party rules, members are not permitted to stand against the party’s endorsed candidates — such a move would invite expulsion.

And a by-election atmosphere is no longer the prerequisite it once was to cause a boilover in a given electorate; Cathy McGowan’s win in Indi at the 2013 federal election is a good example of this where the Liberals are concerned.

But a by-election would permit the National Party to contest the seat without violating the terms of its coalition agreement with the Liberals; given some in the National Party are known to share the resentment and hostility felt by some of their Liberal counterparts where Ms Credlin is concerned, and in view of the fact that the north-east of the electorate extends away from the suburban corridor toward areas a National might garner significant support, it would make sense for the junior coalition partner to step into the field in this scenario.

Their preferences could go anywhere before being directed to the Liberal Party, too, without breaching the coalition agreement.

There are leaders of business and industry who have received the “Credlin treatment” — with access to the Prime Minister either curtailed or prevented altogether — who might be prepared to help fund an orchestrated campaign from the Right to deny Credlin entry to Parliament.

And I would doubt very much how thrilled the good burghers of Doncaster, Templestowe, Bulleen, Warrandyte and Croydon might be at the prospect of having such an incendiary and divisive individual as Peta Credlin foisted on them in order to get rid of her from the mess she has made of the government’s critical internal infrastructure.

In short, Ms Credlin would be facing a formidably-resourced onslaught that would make victory difficult for her, no matter how safely held Menzies might be on paper.

Of course, nothing could come of it; perhaps the party’s hierarchy will make good on its threat and prevent Credlin being endorsed for any of its seats, all of which would be better served by different candidates.

But for the same reasons the government is now staring down the barrel of an electoral gun whenever the next election is held, Peta Credlin should never be handed preselection by the Liberal Party, and certainly not in a seat it holds by a margin of almost 15%.

If she wants to try her luck in Wills or Gellibrand or Gorton or similar, I’d have no objection: after all, someone has to wave the flag for the Liberal Party in Labor’s safest seats. I did it myself 20 years ago. Were Credlin to stand in such an electorate I’d suggest it would amount to the best service to the party she has ever rendered.

But for someone who was given almost untrammelled control of the workings of the Abbott government and botched the job to the point a humiliating election defeat now appears likely, the last thing Credlin deserves is the gift of a precious safe Liberal electorate in exchange for the wreckage she has engineered.

At some stage the mentality that simply because the likes of Credlin (or her husband, federal director Brian Loughnane) are “our key people” they are beyond reproach must be dispensed with; the evidence that they, and many others like them across the country, have served the party exceedingly badly is piling up.

Election defeats in Victoria and Queensland are the first manifestations of this evidence. More will follow in the absence of meaningful change.

At some stage, those with far more influence and power in the party  than I will ever have are going to have to get rid of these people; as long as they stay in the party they will position themselves at or near the levers of its management, and the longer they are allowed to do so, the greater the party’s disconnect from the ordinary people it purports to represent will grow.

And if anyone thinks I’m joking about standing against Credlin if she is endorsed in Menzies, I assure them I’m not: very few things could motivate me to stand for a seat in Parliament, but in the interests of righting a wrong and preventing further injury to the Liberal Party’s longer-term welfare, I’d do anything within the law to ensure she did not win that seat.

 

I’ll be back later tonight or in the morning with something else: and hopefully something that has nothing to do with Peta Credlin, a specimen I am sick of talking about, but we’ll see.