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.