Abbott, Credlin May Be Bitter, Angry, Hypocritical – But They’re Right

MUCH HAS been made this week about “interventions” by Tony Abbott in Turnbull government affairs, including criticism the former PM is bitter, wants to be a wrecker, and that he is damaging the Liberal Party; Abbott doesn’t have to damage the Liberal Party: under its current leader, it is doing that itself. Abbott and perennial sidekick Peta Credlin may be angry and bitter — rear-view mirror hypocrites, even. But like it or not, they are also right.

As I have said time and again, I really don’t like writing articles that are critical of my own party; even so, this column is predicated on candid comment — not churning out sycophantic Liberal Party propaganda — and when the party itself looks well placed to finish the job started at last year’s election, and gift government to Labor in 18 months to two years’ time, there is nothing “loyal” or “on message” about keeping quiet.

Especially when I’m horrified at the thought of what a Shorten government can and would do to Australia. Especially when I desperately want my party to clean up its act and succeed.

I’m in a position that, depending on your outlook, could be seen as either an opportunity or highly compromised; on the one hand, and whilst unaligned within the Liberal Party, my natural inclination is toward the conservative side of the party: not the “far Right,” where people are obsessed with prosecuting anyone connected with abortions, or vilifying even law-abiding moderate Muslims in a campaign to run the whole lot of them out of Australia in order to remove extreme elements who should never have been allowed to enter in the first place, but the mainstream conservative Right — a position reflected over years of successful government and typified by the likes of John Howard, Peter Reith, Alexander Downer, to some extent Peter Costello, and (with an eye to his performance as a minister) Tony Abbott.

But on the other, there are increasing numbers of Turnbull people — moderate Liberals — entering my orbit; they passionately argue that leaving the present Prime Minister in his role is critical, and that he and the people surrounding him — be they ministers, senior advisors, or staff — are “good people,” or “top quality people,” and once again, certainly on a personal basis and with a couple of exceptions, that is also correct.

The problem derives from the fact that not only did Malcolm Turnbull — not really a creature of the Liberal Party at all, weighed against both the complexion of the rank and file membership and the philosophical and policy settings of its 12 successful years in office under Howard — plot and scheme to knife the predecessor who both returned the party to office in a landslide and frittered away the authority of that mandate through misdirected priorities, loyalties, and a policy program aimed squarely at hurting its own constituency, but he has in the 18 months since that event presided over his own government that has been mediocre, timid, and incapable of advocating a cogent comprehensive policy blueprint or exhibiting the bottle to implement one (or virtually anything else).

There is an article appearing today in The Spectator Australia that reads like a carefully detailed itinerary of everything that is wrong with the federal government under Turnbull; it is a surgical — and virtually unrebuttable — itemisation of “75 weeks” of what to the outsider gives every appearance of an almost deliberate strategy to throw away the authority of government (and government itself) through inaction, torpor, mediocrity, directionless, and plain old-fashioned gutlessness.

It echoes the utterances of Abbott himself during the week — which provoked a shitstorm of enraged media activity from the Turnbull loyalists, as well as from conservatives like Matthias Cormann — in which he proclaimed that the Turnbull government risked “drifting to defeat” and observed that attacking Bill Shorten was one thing, but that defeat would inevitably come unless we got “our own policies right:” precisely the sentiment articulated in this column a week ago.

And we now have former Abbott Chief of Staff Peta Credlin (who was demoted from the same role by Turnbull as opposition leader) — continuing to use her media platforms at Sky News and Sydney’s Daily Telegraph to try to rehabilitate her own image before a public audience — arguing that the Liberal Party is “in deep trouble” and that Abbott’s interventions amount to nothing more than “trying to help.”

Are Abbott’s renewed outbursts against his successor a case of sniping, undermining and exacting a measure of vengeance? Probably.

Are Abbott’s policy prescriptions — abandoning the Renewable Energy Target, abolishing S18c of the Racial Discrimination Act, and a raft of other measures he failed to tackle as Prime Minister — hypocritical when judged against his own performance as leader? Quite possibly.

And is Credlin — seething over Turnbull’s ascension, and driven by a need for retribution at the same time she tries to hoodwink the men and women on the street into believing she was the greatest thing the Coalition under Abbott had going for it — motivated more by vanity and sour grapes than truly accepting her mistakes? Almost certainly.

Yet it is one of those uncomfortable realities that even if you subscribe to all three of those contentions, Abbott and Credlin are also — incredibly — absolutely correct.

When discussing the performance of the Turnbull government (or, particularly, what is wrong with it) it does seem we cover the same ground in almost the same terms; there is a good reason for that — the problems are glaringly obvious, as they were under Abbott himself, albeit for different reasons — and it is a source of tremendous frustration to watch Turnbull and his minions apparently determined to piss away the opportunity to build a lasting, competent administration that might eventually boast some kind of record of achievement.

Columns like mine — and others like them, up to and including some of the mass-circulation regulars in metropolitan dailies — are too easily dismissed as being published by crackpots advancing personal agendas that are “off message” with the official party line: they can be as “off message” as they want to be in my view, for the Liberal Party’s message during this incarnation in government (and it’s a criticism readers know I often levelled at Abbott and Credlin, too) is the wrong message altogether.

If Australian people want commitments to high renewable energy targets, carbon taxes (of whatever description), fealty with climate change alarmism that can’t conclusively prove whether the “change” is cyclical or man-made, international conventions to cut emissions, unquestioning tolerance of Muslim immigration (with a head-up-the-arse denial of the creeping effects of militant Islam), a refusal to abolish 18c, a refusal to make meaningful attempts at achieving widespread economic reform, smaller government or lower overall taxes, they can and will vote for the ALP or the Communist Party Greens.

This we know as fact: the ALP under Bill Shorten campaigned unapologetically on all of those things, and more, and the overall vote for the Left rose by a couple of percentage points at last year’s election as a result.

But what we also know as fact is that a considerable majority of the Australian public do not actually want these things at all; the overwhelming movement away from the Liberal Party at last year’s election was to the assortment of fringe parties springing up to its Right, not to Labor or the Greens: the so-called “million lost votes” that went directly to One Nation, the ALA, the Liberal Democrats, Family First and others, which might next time partially flow to Cory Bernardi’s hard Right outfit, and which transferred almost as a bloc to Labor on preferences — not from any willingness or inclination to endorse Shorten, but from a total refusal to endorse Turnbull in any way, shape or form, and to attempt to ensure he lost the election as “punishment” for his overthrow of Abbott.

This distinction sits at the very heart of what is wrong with the government in its current configuration, and is why Turnbull is spectacularly and singularly unsuited to leading it: his initial burst of public support in reputable opinion polls was only ever going to translate into votes and seats if he went to an election immediately, before the hardened lefties who spent the Abbott years cheering him on woke up to themselves, remembered they’d prefer to vote for Labor or the Greens than a caricature-like imitation hailing from Point Piper and armed with tens of millions of dollars — and jumped off the Turnbull cart as enthusiastically as they had leapt upon it as a way of “sticking it” to Abbott.

Whenever I say to any of the Turnbull adherents in my midst that I have a high personal opinion of Malcolm, I’m met with deep scepticism and doubt: if I truly believed that, the story goes, I’d be enthusiastically rooting for his success.

Which I periodically do of course, the rare times he kicks a goal, or lands a blow against the repellant Shorten: regular readers know I give credit where it is due. In Turnbull’s case, it is warranted all too infrequently.

But just as I like some Labor figures personally (Joel Fitzgibbon and Mark McGowan spring quickly to mind), I’d never vote for them in a pink fit: the principle is identical.

And if Turnbull really is the greatest Liberal leader of all time, but has simply failed to hit his straps and carry the country with him, what does that say about the hand-picked cabal of people guiding, advising and strategising for him?

That’s not a question any of them want to answer. At such a juncture, it all becomes the fault of Abbott, Credlin, and the press.

Of course it is.

And of people like me who refuse to blindly toe the line, or get “on message,” or refuse to parrot the propaganda of a ship that is sailing on a one-way ticket to nowhere.

Of course it is.

Whether Turnbull’s group likes it or not, or admits it or not, the vast bulk of the electorate (to say nothing of a probable majority of the Liberal rank and file) despise Turnbull, and it doesn’t matter what those who have worked with him, or those of us who have otherwise had dealings with him and like him, think otherwise: Malcolm is a widely disliked figure who most people do not want as their Prime Minister.

This is no endorsement of Shorten (who, with more than a single IQ point, would ever give one of those?) and it does not automatically follow that such a position is a call for Abbott to be restored as Prime Minister.

Indeed, I have never advocated an Abbott return either publicly or in private, and it would take more than a few accurate comments in the press on his (or Credlin’s) behalf to convince me otherwise.

But the Coalition right now is beset, in no particular order, with a leader who will never win another election; a “policy” program (for want of any better description) that is very thin, very narrow, and hardly a comprehensive template for governance; is saddled with a Turnbull/Labor/Greens formulation on social issues and climate change that is complete anathema to voters who would ordinarily incline to vote Liberal; exhibits no idea, inclination or ability to contemplate broad-brush, sweeping reforms that are desperately overdue (for example, a company tax cut — whilst necessary to stimulate employment — is not “tax reform,” and is just another band-aid to look like it stands for anything at all).

It is lumbered with people responsible for mass communications, political strategy and parliamentary tactics who are clearly completely and utterly clueless: for if they weren’t, and especially with the likes of Shorten to contend with as an opponent, the government would be 10-15 points ahead of the ALP in the polls and generating a deep reservoir of public goodwill for itself.

It isn’t.

Even this week’s decision by the Fair Work Commission — an ALP-created entity stacked with Labor appointees — to modestly cut Sunday penalty rates has been squandered as an opportunity to ram home the benefits to the Coalition’s core small business constituency, and to hang Shorten out to dry for opposing them as a union puppet who would prefer to see jobs destroyed rather than created.

To Credlin, I say that whilst my trenchant opposition to her as Chief of Staff may have softened, a better approach might be to gather those like-minded, able folk who are desperate for the Liberal Party to succeed (be they inside or outside the Canberra bubble) to forge and set out comprehensive plans for government, a comprehensive strategy to implement them, and a realistic strategy to get rid of Turnbull and replace him with someone who might be up to delivering on it: to this extent, my door is open.

To the Turnbullites, my suggestion would be to forget about trying to drive conservatives out of the party — for what that is doing is already destroying it — and to rule a line under 18 wasted months by moving to incorporate the same solutions in office as those any putative replacement might be inclined to enact if they are able to dislodge Malcolm and again, my door is open.

There are plenty of good, astute people in and around the Liberal Party who simply want it to succeed; they want it fixed, they want it to function, and (distinctions about conservatives or moderates aside) they don’t really care who does it, so long as the job is done. Those people are largely shut out of the party’s inner sanctums — often for petty, adolescent, and/or ancient reasons that defy common sense and sanity today.

But to ignore the reality of the predicament Turnbull and his mates have spent 18 months steering the Coalition into is every bit as destructive as their increasingly strident denunciations of the man he replaced — the merits or otherwise of that action aside — and one thing that can be stated with brutal, and deadly, candour is that if left merrily to their own devices, Turnbull and his crowd will engineer the mother of all election defeats that will hit the Liberal Party like an atom bomb when next it ventures out to face the people.

It will make 2007 look like a blip. It will make 1983 look mild.

And the most damning aspect of that is that most of the carnage will have been inflicted not through an embrace of Shorten and Labor, but by fucked-off Coalition voters determined to punish Turnbull heavily by the only means available to them: the ballot box.

The motives of Abbott and Credlin this week may be dubious, questionable, their arguments hypocritical, and their actions selfish in the extreme.

Like it or not, for once both of them are absolutely right.

It remains to be seen how those positioned to do something about the problems they have identified respond: whether this takes the form of the Right manoeuvring to replace Turnbull, or the Turnbull crowd finally waking up to itself and realising it has almost pissed the entire game away.

But the clock is ticking, and with almost a third of what was always going to be a truncated parliamentary term gone, the time for any of them to do something concrete to fix the problem has almost passed: if, that is, Turnbull hasn’t already pushed the Coalition beyond the point of no return in the estimation of the voting public and, most importantly, the Liberal-inclined voters without whom the government is finished.

Time will tell. It always does.

The only certainty is that if nothing changes, defeat at the next election is guaranteed. On that count at least, Abbott is dead right.

A Policy Agenda — Not Hubris — Key To Holding Government

IF YOU DO the same things the same way, the same result is inevitable; yet this truism of life, love, politics (and virtually anything else) seems too complicated for the parliamentary class — and, topically, Malcolm Turnbull and his government — to comprehend. The current PM is the latest in a long line of leaders who will fall on the sword of abject stupidity this year. More will follow. But an agenda, not slogans and hubris, could be his salvation.

Is it too late for Malcolm Turnbull to “remake” his government, salvage his Prime Ministership, provide leadership to his country, and forge a meaningful, valuable legacy by which future generations might regard his tenure with a bit of respect?

I think it is; others will disagree. But since publication yesterday of the piece I promised last week — a stocktake at the top of the year of how it is likely to unfold, and what it holds in store for Turnbull — there are a couple of items that have appeared in the media that fit the theme, and this morning I want to make some remarks about them.

An article by Peter van Onselen — which, admittedly, I have sat on for a few days — makes the cogent case about policy that could almost have been penned as a parallel piece to the political analysis offered in this column yesterday, for the itinerary of policy abrogation van Onselen offers is deadly in its clarity, and galling in scope.

If you are a liberal or a conservative, there is nothing for you at the Turnbull government, as things stand.

Economic reform, smaller government, industrial relations reform, tax reform, budget repair, education reform, media law reform…this list, by no means extreme or (to use the ridiculous taunt of the Left, eagerly parroted by the left-leaning press pack) “far Right,” reads like some line-by-line itemisation of the Howard government. Until Howard inadvisedly sprang WorkChoices on the Australian public without taking the package to the 2004 election, and doubled down on that folly by placing serial bungler and conservative disappointment Kevin Andrews in charge of implementing it, the Howard government derived vast electoral and political success from its stature as a reformist administration of the mainstream Right.

Readers well know I am far less a liberal than a conservative, despite a sprinkling of liberal positions across an otherwise rational conservative outlook, so when van Onselen nominates things like reform to asylum seeker policies — which I take implies some watering down of policies that have been abandoned once before, by Labor (in cahoots with the Communist Party Greens) in 2008, to disastrous effect and at the cost of well over a thousand lives — I bristle.

But let’s take the suggestion at its word: this is exactly the kind of issue the fawning elites of the liberal Left, who adored Malcolm but were never going to vote for him, nonetheless believed he would champion if elevated to the Prime Ministership in Tony Abbott’s stead; it isn’t just the conservative flank of the Liberal Party Turnbull has thumbed his nose at (or more precisely, extended the metaphorical one-fingered salute to wherever practicable), but the left wing contingent in the inner cities whose social agenda has always — whether he likes it or not — been Malcolm’s natural constituency.

A free vote on marriage equality? Even this issue, historically beloved of Turnbull (even if not on my own wish list), is a nugget of classical liberalism that the Prime Minister is too timid to countenance. The notion of being “hamstrung” by the conservative flank of the Liberal Party be damned: such alleged constraints didn’t stop him from signing the Paris Agreement on climate change — vehemently opposed by conservative liberals, and by anyone in the Australian community with any brains at all — and the truth is that he simply doesn’t have the bottle (or actual leadership skills) to act.

The fiction that Turnbull is a hostage to the conservative wing of the Liberal Party is just that — a fiction — and the notion that allegedly draconian policies like the current arrangements for processing asylum seekers has been maintained because Turnbull “dare not” overturn them somehow derives from the threat of leadership destruction doesn’t hold water. These policies work (like it or not) and even were Turnbull inclined to be rid of them, he has failed to articulate any alternative vision whatsoever let alone attempt to implement one.

And in any case, Turnbull has had no qualms over almost 18 months about ignoring everything else the conservative flank of the party is interested in; the list of areas that are ripe for reform presented by van Onselen (and lamented in this column regularly) is proof of it.

The fact, as van Onselen notes with deadly accuracy, is that “Do-nothing Turnbull” now rules for the sake of retaining power: it is not satisfactory, it will achieve nothing, and it will almost certainly lead to electoral defeat whenever the next election occurs unless a drastic recalibration of the government takes place.

The practice of government by spin, slogans, stunts, “smart answers,” and smug hubris has worn more than a little thin in the decade since Kevin Rudd pioneered it as a nihilistic strategy to win power for the ALP after almost 12 years in the political wilderness.

In the years since, both parties (and incorporating a slew of governments across the states, as well as at the federal level) have increasingly perpetuated the same narrow agenda whose key pillars are political correctness, risk aversion, facile rhetoric, and a slavering pursuit of policies to “deal with” climate change (about which Australia, with less than 1% of world emissions, can make exactly no difference to global outcomes whatsoever — and even that is if you accept climate change is man-made, rather than part of a natural long-term cycle).

Those critical of this view from the harder Right will counter that the Abbott government tried, and failed, to implement a substantive policy agenda.

But even that was hard to describe as “liberal” or “conservative,” beyond stopping the flow of asylum seeker boats and getting rid of the carbon tax; those items aside, the Abbott government was a big-spending, big-taxing outfit whose program of budget repair was predicated on steep tax hikes aimed at its own natural constituency rather than slashing the unaffordable spending on expensive social measures and thousands of unnecessary bureaucrats gleefully locked into place by the Gillard government.

The Abbott government abolished the carbon tax, but left the compensation measures in place. It agitated, vainly, for more expensive social spending in the form of its paid parental leave scheme, funded by more tax hikes on the business community. It sought to get rid of the mining tax (which raised virtually no money) but through timidity and appalling tactical ineptitude did a deal with Clive Palmer that left billions of dollars in related spending in place to get the measure through the Senate.

Many times, I was asked by people why I supported the “far Right” Abbott government: in all cases, I responded (correctly) that it wasn’t “far Right” — but it wasn’t liberal, it wasn’t conservative, it was simply an assortment of disparate measures that defied classification at all. And once the agenda was largely abandoned, Abbott became yet another proponent of the same mishmash of prevailing left-leaning rubbish that all the other governments around the country have been guilty of pursuing.

Unaware that there is a rock band (or a rock song? I’m showing my age 🙂 ) by the same name, I have referred to this as a “turgid miasma:” and such a confluence of political posturing isn’t a substitute for a proper suite of policy objectives either.

There are some who watch former Abbott Chief of Staff Peta Credlin on Sky News, or read her missives in the Daily Telegraph, and who have started to lament that Credlin should be “our first female Liberal Prime Minister.” These people have absolutely no insight whatsoever into the role Credlin played in the dysfunction of the Abbott government or its avoidable downfall, and have been hoodwinked by the exercise in image rehabilitation her media activities constitute. They can’t be told about her appalling management style, or the fact that she had oversight and final veto over everything Abbott’s government did, or that she was the “mastermind” (for want of any more suitable term) of its parliamentary tactics, which were abjectly pathetic and ran completely counter to delivering outcomes based on sound governance.

This is why I cannot support a return to the Liberal leadership by Tony Abbott, despite my well-known view that Malcolm Turnbull’s position as PM is untenable (not that it should ever have commenced in the first place): you get Abbott, you get Credlin. If she is not restored to her old office in Parliament House, you get her at the end of a phone line. It is, not to put too fine a point on it, pointless making Abbott PM again, for not only was the agenda he pursued questionable, but the strategies and tactics used to prosecute it — Credlin’s department — were utterly useless.

With all this in mind, it came as some surprise this morning to see Mark Kenny — writing in the Fairfax press — arguing (with an apparent straight face) that a forthcoming speech by Malcolm Turnbull to the National Press Club offers an opportunity to reassert “his brand, his authority.”

Through his own actions (and it has been a case of action, not inaction: witness the farce of the embarrassing tax reform “debate” he allowed to play out last year ago, crippling the authority of his Treasurer in the process as a case in point), Turnbull has already comprehensively trashed his own brand — be it with liberals, conservatives, or the socialists who once noisily barracked for him) and squandered whatever authority he might have wielded.

The string of botched reshuffles, promoting leadership adherents ahead of any rational political judgement. The failure to call an election late in 2015 — on the thoroughly erroneous strategic miscalculation that he was “new” — that he would have romped home at. The said tax reform “debate.” The appalling election campaign over which he presided, and which arguably reaped a greater return than it deserved. The triumphant taunting of the Liberals’ conservatives, some of whom look likely to be silly enough to stomp out of the party, too incensed at being goaded to contemplate the damage they will do to the conservative polity in this country. On and on and on it goes. The list of examples is endless.

Can Malcolm retrieve himself? I doubt it. Yet in a surprising piece of insight, and speaking of mid-term leadership changes (with a comparative look at Gladys Berejiklian in NSW), Kenny writes that

“If there is a lesson for the incoming Gladys Berejiklian, it is to govern outwardly, rather than for cackling mob of insatiable media reactionaries and internal malcontents. Do that, and the opposition will be hemmed in – not the other way around.

“For Turnbull, who took the alternative, futile, path of appeasement, there has been compound failure: vastly lower standing with voters but with even more dissent from within – witness the outpourings of Abbott, George Christensen, and now the emergent threat of a breakaway party led by Cory Bernardi.”

In other words, not even the forthcoming National Press Club speech he trumpets so loudly is likely to resuscitate Turnbull’s fortunes.

To be sure, Turnbull isn’t the first leader to fall into the trap of the turgid miasma, and in this era of “modern” politics, he isn’t likely to be the last; the ALP and the Greens in particular, whose historic positioning on the spectrum at least mark out that awful mishmash as something they can own, will keep on playing the same game — sometimes they will fall into office for a while, and when the damage they inflict on the country becomes impossible to deny, they will get thrown back out again.

But on the conservative side of politics, where finger-shaking political correctness and “compassion” predicated on bottomless buckets of money that don’t actually exist are out of place as a one-legged man at an arse-kicking competition, talk — and the wanton flinging of money — simply won’t cut it.

If Turnbull is remotely serious about salvaging his Prime Ministership and his government, the only way forward is a comprehensive program of legislative reform designed to fundamentally overhaul all the areas of governance in which responsible and properly calibrated mainstream right-wing ideas can extract improvements in the national interest; the list of areas at the top of this article, whilst obvious places to begin, is by no means exhaustive.

At the very least, it would give the troops something to fight for — and a platform on which to fight any early election, in sharp contrast to the vacuous compassion and “fairness” blather Bill Shorten will deploy, as sure as night follows day, to win votes without actually being responsible for all that much afterwards.

“Jobs and Growth” doesn’t cut it: and in any case, six months after an election and nothing to show for it, this nauseating slogan has already been exposed as just another tired piece of rhetoric.

The Prime Minister — like the rest of Australia’s elected representatives — can talk until the cows come home, and ever weary, people will listen.

But if all the talk in the world adds up to nothing more than smug hubris and empty declarations of competence that are completely contradicted by a lack of tangible outcomes, voters are not going to be impressed.

The electorate has just about had enough. Turnbull will probably be its next victim. Many more will follow until the penny drops, whenever that might be.

Game Over: Turnbull On Probation, Maybe, But Shorten Is Finished

ARROGANT DOLT and loser Bill Shorten is almost certainly finished in Australian politics, after the reprehensibly deceitful campaign he oversaw as Labor “leader” and the folly of the so-called “victory lap” he is undertaking in newly captured ALP electorates; Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull faces legitimate questions over his authority, performance, and the efficacy of the government he now forms, but Shorten — sooner or later — will be gone.

Since the tongue-in-cheek “victory” speech I published a week ago (which some readers, both online and offline, actually had to be reminded was a parody) I have taken the opportunity for a few days away from this column: but not the keyboard, mind, as a spirited argument in the comments forum will attest, although my main focus (aside from a report I’m writing in another capacity) has been on political developments in the United Kingdom, which we may (no pun intended) or may not talk about once the dust has settled after the ministerial reshuffle being undertaken even as I write.

But until now — with the endless process of finalising seat-by-seat results for the House of Representatives proceeding at a snail’s pace — there has seemed little point in providing a blow-by-blow commentary; finally, there remains just the one seat to go (Herbert, on the central/northern Queensland coast), and irrespective of whether it adds a 77th seat to the Coalition tally, it is now clear that Malcolm Turnbull has won the 2016 election, and won it with a majority in the lower house.

At precisely what cost will take time to become apparent.

But an unsatisfactory contest comprising two unsatisfactory options in the eyes of Australian voters has, in fact, yielded a thoroughly unsatisfactory result; I am not unhappy of course that the Liberal Party remains in office, but in something of a bookend to the 2016 campaign I am not going to pull any punches, either; there is still quite a fair argument that in some respects, the Coalition would be better off in opposition than the parliamentary quagmire it now finds itself in — as I also opined ten days ago — and whilst I may have softened in my view that Turnbull is “finished” by his poor election performance he is, very much, on probation: with the Liberal Party membership, with his own MPs, and with the millions of voters who will ultimately decide the government’s fate within the next two to three years.*

The same cannot be said of Labor’s “leader,” the contemptible Bill Shorten: we will come back to him in a moment.

But after a 30-seat majority has been whittled away to just two or four — depending on the eventual outcome in Herbert — and after a swing of 3.3% resulted in the Coalition snaring just 50.2% of the national two-party vote, it would be a dangerous delusion for anyone at the Liberal Party to be terribly jubilant; I say “the Liberal Party” quite deliberately, for our National Party counterparts appear to have held all of their at-risk seats, and picked up another (admittedly, from us, after the retirement of Murray MP Sharman Stone in Victoria).

I’ve seen and heard Liberal MPs across the country dismissing the charge that the election campaign was poor, but they have to say that; the hard truth is that it was abysmal, and were it not for the fact of the 30-seat majority achieved in 2013, any speculation about the Liberals going into opposition would go from hypothetical to non-existent.

It wasn’t just the painfully thin manifesto the Coalition placed before the people; 2016 has been a wasted year for the government, if we’re honest about it, and its genesis lay in the eruption of the Federal Police investigation into Mal Brough last November.

But ever since, when the government wasn’t plagued by ministerial scandals, it was plagued by poor judgement; when it wasn’t suffering the fools Turnbull inadvisedly added to the ministry, it was suffering the dithering ineptitude of a series of reform proposals being floated, cursorily examined, and discarded, achieving the double demerit of looking highly indecisive in an election year whilst closing off virtually every option for meaningful reform that might have existed.

But in an election for both Houses of Parliament, where a campaign of any impact whatsoever for the Senate (not least with its virtually halved quotas for election) was conspicuous by its non-existence, and at which the ALP was comprehensively outperforming the Coalition on the ground long before its odious “Mediscare” lie was trotted out, the combination of a poor campaign, a narrow platform for re-election and a shocking half-year of governance unnecessarily hobbled the government before it even got out of the blocks: an event, thanks to the public telegraphing of its intentions as far back as March, the ALP was well and truly prepared for.

Once the “Mediscare” rubbish began to circulate, there was no convincing response from the Coalition at all: yelling “it’s a lie!” is well and good, and in this case, the notion the Turnbull government would engage in a wholesale privatisation of Medicare was not only utterly fallacious, but easily revealed as bullshit by a glance in the direction of the likely Senate crossbench.

But the government has been re-elected with its entire buffer in the lower house erased — a uniform swing of less than 1% will probably be enough to hand victory to Labor next time — and a Senate set to be just as hostile as the one it displaces, with the added burden of needing to find up to 10 additional votes to pass any legislation rather than the six extras that were required before the election.

The sole triumph in this equation has been to keep the insidious Shorten well away from the Prime Ministership.

Some — but not all — of the blame for the dreadful Coalition result rests with Turnbull, of course; that dubious responsibility must be shared among those in the Liberals’ back of house who thought they knew better, and who (in any proper review of the election) should be given their marching orders: this column was a trenchant critic of Peta Credlin, and the mess that passed for the inner workings of government that she was given carte blanche to fashion and run as Tony Abbott’s Chief of Staff, and those criticisms are not invalidated by what has gone on during the past six to nine months.

But in seizing the top job, Turnbull replaced many of Abbott’s key lieutenants with hand-picked henchmen of his own; their efforts almost cost the Coalition office after a single term, and it is inexcusable to suggest that heads do not deserve to roll as a consequence.

In fact, many inside the Liberal Party and beyond have claimed that were it not for Turnbull and his mates stepping in, Abbott would have been comprehensively been beaten, and that may indeed be the case — we will never know — but the cold truth is that by delay, misjudgement and ineptitude, an almost certain landslide win at a December double dissolution has been displaced by near-defeat seven months later, and no amount of finger-pointing toward Abbott can change that.

What complicates the assessment is a report in The Australian today that asserts the Liberal Party was effectively broke halfway through the campaign, and that Turnbull himself tipped in a million large from his own pocket to keep the ship afloat: unlike many of his critics I have never questioned Turnbull’s fidelity to the party, or called him “a Laborite” (as some are wont to do) despite the fact that’s where some of his ideas belong.

If it’s true Turnbull bailed the party out that is admirable on one level, but it places a grave conflict over his tenure as Prime Minister in the sense a tepid agenda received a less-than-tepid endorsement from the electorate, but the money could be seen as a surety by some of his backers if the whole thing starts to go pear-shaped (as many suspect or fear it may do).

But Turnbull looked uncomfortable on the stump; word quickly spread that he didn’t enjoy or like meeting ordinary Australians; stories of his sit-down lunches with business associates during the campaign grated on many, and he was lucky they somehow eluded the fervent attention of the media; his attendances at places like craft breweries, or drink orders for green tea, looked elitist and aloof; and the wild rant he unleashed after midnight on election night (I’m told, after ingesting a reasonable stipend of Champagne) enraged many of the people who had tried to sell his message among their social groups in the almost certain belief it was a lemon.

Any government — and I don’t care who forms it — peddling retrospective taxation measures of any description deserves a kick in the nether regions; the indecent breach of faith with people whose taxation affairs have been conducted lawfully and compliantly, only to be told that the goalposts are to be changed for games already decided earlier in the season (or in earlier seasons, no less) is unforgivable, and whilst Turnbull and Treasurer Scott Morrison were eager to spruik the fact their superannuation changes would affect just 4% of taxpayers, the other 96% were most entitled to ask whether, or when, the government might find a pretext upon which to mete out the same treatment to them too.

The tax cuts for business — in fact a reasonable stimulatory measure, but in practice an albatross Shorten hung around the government’s neck as a “$50 billion giveaway to multinationals” and an “excuse to call billionaires small businessmen” — were a positive that was not sold in any way, shape, or form.

The industrial laws that Turnbull called a double dissolution over were barely sighted once the campaign got underway, the valiant (and lone) efforts of Michaelia Cash notwithstanding, and whilst there is some suggestion these may pass with modifications, the price tag attached to them — at best, Labor’s Royal Commission into the banks and at worst, the so-called “federal ICAC” that the Left wants so desperately, so it can refer Coalition politicians to it as incessantly as it does to similar bodies in NSW and Queensland — could prove very high indeed.

All that aside, however, the onus is now on Turnbull to perform: already, there are those who believe he won’t see out the year as Prime Minister.

This doesn’t (or shouldn’t) mean there is consideration of recycling Tony Abbott into the role; the former PM showed his bona fides during the campaign by not leaking, or contradicting Turnbull, or otherwise making mischief, and he deserves to be trusted to play the role of elder statesman, mentor to young Liberal MPs and backbencher that he says he wishes to play.

And it doesn’t mean Abbott should be elevated to the Cabinet: for once, Turnbull is correct in saying that the handful of vacancies in the ministry should be used to promote fresh talent, although these posts should be allocated to conservative Liberals as a measure to both restore the balance of the ministry and to tacitly signal an attempt to heal the rift that the leadership change opened up.

But more waffle, more dithering, more indecision and/or a paucity of any kind of program at all could be fatal to Turnbull; the Liberal party room, despite protestations that it was nothing like Labor, last year showed it was prepared to be ruthless over its leadership in the face of a perceived approaching election loss, and it will be so again if Turnbull does not or cannot make a fair fist of the challenging result this election has handed to him.

Goodwill — and support — are no longer commodities the Coalition can rely on: in both cases, its stocks must be rebuilt almost from scratch.

And it is here that I turn back to Shorten, for just as Turnbull is effectively on probation from this point, the opposition “leader” is almost certainly finished.

The big problem with running such a blatantly dishonest election campaign as “Mediscare” — which far transcended the kind of porkies average voters tolerate from politicians, crashing unapologetically into the territory of the bald, and knowing, lie as it did — is that unless it hits the desired outcome bang on the bullseye the first time around, there is likely to be no credibility left over whatsoever with which to regroup.

It is worth reiterating at this point that Labor, and Shorten, lost the election.

But someone in the ALP bunker should have reminded Shorten of that fact before he set off last week on a so-called “victory lap” of the seats the ALP snatched from the Liberals; the first offence of an utter and outrageous lie is now being compounded by the unbridled hubris and chutzpah of a “victory” tour when based on the election results, Labor lost.

Yes, Shorten improved the ALP tally by 13 seats and yes, he probably got closer than he might have been expected to.

But this dubious, self-confessed liar, who has achieved what gains he did on the basis of an outright lie his party is not only proud of, but has boasted publicly about, has little to celebrate.

The second-worst ALP primary vote on record would, were it not for preferences, have been insufficient to win much at all; even in the system elections in this country are conducted on, it still left the Labor Party eight seats short of victory.

Actual victory, that is.

And once the dust settles, and Shorten’s vacuous, vapid zingers and unreasoning negativity burst forth anew, people who might have given him the benefit of the doubt — not least through anger over the Liberal leadership change — will quickly wipe their hands of him.

An early taste of things to come has been Shorten’s offer to Turnbull that Labor will work to achieve “fair” budget repair — but only if the government implements ALP policies, rather than its own — in an amateurish move that will be given immediate short shrift once Parliament resumes: after all, Shorten is the king of bigger budget blowouts than the Coalition, on his own figures.

And with the economic headwinds starting to pick up, all it will take is for Turnbull to get rid of the people he and his backers rewarded with plum sinecures in plush Canberra offices and to replace them with those who might be able to win an argument, or carry a strategy, or otherwise know what they hell they are doing and give the government something tangible to sell, and Shorten and his vacuous bullshit will be sidelined.

There is also the small matter of Shorten’s union past, and the sins of his union buddies, that were not properly exploited by the Coalition during the election: if the overhaul of the Turnbull back office mirrors the one set to be imposed on his ministry, Shorten won’t be so lucky a second time.

There is also the not-insignificant matter of the $102bn in new taxes Shorten promised, too: something the Coalition can be expected to make far better use of with its standing now so precariously balanced.

But whichever way you cut it, Shorten probably enters this term of Parliament in worse shape than Turnbull does; had he achieved the gains he did with a clean campaign, there might be an argument for him to have “one more heave” to get his party across the line next time around.

But Shorten is a discredited hack of dubious principles who has led his party to defeat despite being literally prepared to say anything to anyone to fool them into voting for him; at some point the reverberations from the campaign through the electorate will rebound on him, and when they do, his colleagues will have no choice but to act.

It is one of those ironies: had Abbott remained in office, Shorten might be Prime Minister today, with little more exertion needed than his cringeworthy zingers and relentless obstruction.

Now, his survival is probably tied to Turnbull’s performance; just about the only way Shorten can survive for very long is if Turnbull quickly falters and sends the Coalition’s poll numbers crashing, and keeps them there.

Turnbull, for his faults, isn’t a stupid fellow. If candid feedback is presented to him and provided he heeds it, great changes will soon be made to his government. Given his known love for being Prime Minister it is not conceivable Turnbull will go away without a fight, irrespective of what people think of him, his policies or his judgement.

And this means that unless the Liberal Party inexplicably gets it completely wrong once again — as it did for seven months after Mal Brough’s house was raided late last year — Shorten is as good as finished, for there is little value in deception at the best of times, and none whatsoever when it has cost victory in the main game.

 

*The earliest date for a half-Senate election under the Constitution (and thus an opportunity to get rid of some crossbench Senators through doubled election quotas) is 11 August 2018; if the government is travelling well after the 2018 budget an election for the House and half the Senate would be a sore temptation indeed, but if it looks likelier to be flogged whenever it faces voters, full term — remembering the double dissolution we’ve just had will in fact slightly truncate the term for constitutional reasons — in May 2019 would be the safer bet.

 

 

Why, Halfway To Polling Day, Turnbull Should Be Panicked

WITH FOUR WEEKS until polling day in the most pointless double dissolution election since 1983 — if not ever — the Coalition is sailing into a storm that is intensifying; time is still plentiful, and opportunity to turn it remains, but whilst the good ship Turnbull may yet emerge intact from the tempest, a lot of damage is now certain: the prospect of defeat is growing likelier, and the government seems unwilling and/or unable to avert a catastrophe.

Such is politics, and political campaigns, that barely a week after commenting that the Coalition had finally had a reasonable week on the hustings — and that the odious realities of a Labor government were beginning to leach out from the opposition, opening the door of opportunity for Malcolm Turnbull — the government has spent most of the ensuing time being sucked into a no-win abyss on its controversial superannuation changes, which were seemingly designed to out-Labor Labor, but which instead could end up landing a knockout punch on the Coalition itself.

To be sure, there are several self-inflicted “knockout” punches being incubated within the Coalition’s campaign efforts but overall, despite some commentators claiming this election mirrors the one in 1998, it is a different contest altogether that arguably allows a better parallel to be drawn.

Back in 1993 (itself the second of three so-called “unloseable” elections, badly lost in the end to Paul Keating) I remember attending a small campaign gathering at 5am one morning at the home of a veteran Liberal campaigner in Brisbane’s leafy western suburbs; based on his own situation — a self-employed professional who, I always sensed, was worth millions despite his unassuming nature and modest mien — he confided that whilst he would continue to vote for the Liberal Party, if he were honest, he’d be far better off personally if Keating was re-elected.

Why? Ironically enough, Keating’s taxation policies were more advantageous to business, in his view, than the radical overhaul promised in John Hewson’s Fightback! manifesto.

In retrospect, it is no surprise the Coalition lost the 1993 election.

Yet even at the time, I knew Hewson was a dud, and that broadly speaking he hadn’t sold Fightback! to anyone, and my assessment was shown to be deadly accurate in a debacle that saw the ALP re-elected with a doubled majority and a primary vote nudging 45% for perhaps the final time in its history.

But Hewson had something Malcolm Turnbull doesn’t: a comprehensive, root-and-branch reform manifesto to overhaul governance in Australia and finish the economic reform process creditably commenced by Keating as Treasurer, but stalled by the 1991-92 recession; that the problem was the salesperson and not the policy was later proven by the Howard government, which not only implemented the Fightback! program in its entirety, but which won four elections under a politically astute leader where the lamentable Hewson couldn’t manage to win one.

The contrast is an object lesson in the merits of strong leadership, sound judgement, and genuine insight where political strategy and tactics are concerned.

But just as Hewson had the policy Turnbull doesn’t have today, Keating had something neither of them had, or have: guile, rat cunning, and the ability to simultaneously appeal to the twin instincts that are the only two things that ever motivate the votes of Australians at elections — fear and the famed “hip pocket nerve.”

Shorten has these attributes, however.

Ominously for Turnbull, Keating showed that being perceived as an arsehole (and a nasty piece of work at that) was no bar to winning an election; compared to Bill Shorten of course, Keating was a veritable gentleman, but the base instincts that drive voters will supersede any dislike of Shorten now as they did of Tony Abbott three years ago, and it is a mistake of the highest magnitude to think Shorten is any kind of electoral silver bullet to the Coalition.

And whether those of us on the conservative arm of political debate in Australia like it or not, the Coalition’s election campaign to date has been so inept as to allow Shorten to claim, with dubious justification, that he offers the voting public what Turnbull most certainly does not: something for everyone, even if the eventual reality behind the wall of rhetorical diarrhoea turns out to be a massive breach of faith; Shorten’s concern today is to win the election that is four weeks away.

Dealing with any subsequent anger over the reality failing to match the hype is a problem for another time.

Former industrial relations consultant Grace Collier sets out the backdrop to the Shorten Labor campaign in The Weekend Australian; Shorten — the former union organiser who made a career out of cajoling and bullying workforces into enabling filthy union culture to infect and infest their workplaces — is using the exact tactics on the voting public as he did during his time at the helm of the AWU.

In this enterprise, he has been aided by two basic truths: one, that people like to hear what they want to hear, and don’t generally welcome bad news (even if it is an accurate account of current circumstances) and two — having almost bankrupted the country between 2007 and 2013 and then used the Senate to stop the Abbott government fixing the damage — Labor is averse to any discussion of Australia’s half-trillion dollar debt and $50bn budget deficits at all: but to the extent these discussions occur, a forgetful public largely and blithely swallows Shorten’s line that the Liberals are somehow responsible for the mess.

The Shorten fairy story that there is no problem, no crisis and no need to panic fits the ALP campaign strategy of promising to shovel out tens of billions of dollars in bribes to people who really want to believe nobody will ever have to pay for them.

But whether you’re “rich” (as my old associate in Brisbane almost certainly was) or dirt-poor, Shorten Labor has something for you.

Even if it’s just words.

The Coalition has spent much of the past week in contortions over superannuation policy, for which it only has itself to blame; operating on Labor’s preferred turf — which Turnbull has unwisely elected to do for most of the time since becoming Prime Minister — the Coalition has promised changes to superannuation that go far beyond the ALP’s in taxing “the rich” harder, and whilst Turnbull is correct in pointing out that only 4% of the population would be affected by the most draconian aspects of his policy, that 4% is comprised almost exclusively of Coalition voters — whose personal interests would be best served by voting Labor.

Meanwhile, the have-nots get to be impressed by the grotesque Shorten pitch of kicking rich people in the head. Turnbull loses at both ends of the spectrum.

On negative gearing, Shorten appears to have convinced gullible have-nots that ending concessions for losses on investment properties will also administer a short sharp cranial jab to “the rich” when 78% of taxpayers who negatively gear property earn less than $80,000 per year, and 90% of them own just one or two investment properties.

Never mind that — for the appearance in belting hell out of “rich” people is the optic Shorten is looking for — and never mind the very real prospect that Shorten’s policy, if implemented, will cost thousands of property industry jobs (skewed disproportionately to young people and women) and perhaps induce a recession: Labor’s insidious social media troll network leaps abusively on anything or anyone who tries to point out the dangers of its policy, and any mention of what happened in 1986, when the Hawke government stampeded to reinstate negative gearing because of the damage withdrawing it was causing the economy, is strictly verboten.

Meanwhile, as we revealed in this column the other day, Shorten’s policy actually contains a clause that insulates “the rich” from any adverse consequences whatsoever: new property investments (even after the policy is legislated) can still carry forward losses to be written off against the capital gain on the asset when it is eventually sold: meaning anyone with the money to carry losses on housing investments can still access the same deductions, albeit later, whereas those on average incomes using negative gearing simply to try to get ahead a bit — the ordinary mum-and-dad investors who would be hardest hit — will be locked out of the investment market.

Once again, Shorten gets to present himself as a safe option for “the rich” whilst impressing the have-nots with meaningless drivel that will disproportionately hurt them: and with house prices set to fall by between 2% and 10% (and 20% deposits by just 2% of the purchase price at the upper end of that range), first home buyers will be no closer to accessing the market in round terms than they are now: most will still find the buy-in cost of well over $100k on an average $500k dwelling, once stamp duties and other unavoidable expenses are factored in, just too steep a hurdle to jump.

Still, the first home buyer lobby seems cock-a-hoop too: so chalk that up as another group Shorten can feel entitled to believe he has salved, bribed or otherwise hoodwinked.

And just as Turnbull and his government — now dominated by moderate Liberals who wouldn’t recognise the principles of sound governance if they fell over them — seem determined to try to out-Labor Labor, the audacious Shorten seems bent on trying to out-Liberal the Liberals too, with the latest pot-shot in his vacuously populist assault on the government being a family-targeted policy on childcare that simply delivers relief sooner than the Coalition plan would, and hands out modestly more money than the Coalition plans to.

Even here, the Coalition has missed the point: rocketing childcare fees, like so much that is wrong about Australia today, are the direct consequence of six years of Labor in office under Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard; on this issue, the mandating of 1:5 ratios in childcare rooms — and the prescription of educational requirements for staff that in most cases had not been met before the Labor regime took effect — meant that day rates have continued to soar as centres hire more staff, having to pay more for better educated staff, which in turn have seen the costs passed on to parents trying to bring two incomes into their households balloon.

This pattern is being repeated on just about every issue the ALP is peddling at this election; there is something for everyone, and even those who ostensibly stand to be hit hard find succour in the fine print, or overreactions by the Liberal Party that allow Labor to claim it is the “fairer” option, or the bone-headed sympathy Labor is generating by appealing to those who have nothing — including the inclination to get off their arses and do something to try to remedy that situation.

You really have to wonder what point there was in calling a double dissolution; not only did Turnbull leave it until virtually all of the goodwill (and the bounce in Coalition support after the Liberal leadership change) had evaporated completely, but he and the government aren’t even campaigning on the issue of criminal behaviour at trade unions and the insidious spectre of Trades Hall domination of the industrial landscape that they used to justify it, and that will almost certainly follow the election of any Labor government on 2 July.

In fact, it is difficult to ascertain why — having been so determined to become Prime Minister to apparently slake ego and ambition — Turnbull would go to an early election at all; the Coalition’s position is sliding further into losing territory with the continued emergence of reputable polling showing Labor consolidating its early leads. If being Prime Minister was so important, there were a few extra months that could have been milked out of it rather than going now if this is the best the Turnbull campaign can achieve.

The double dissolution (whilst, admittedly, only the second since Malcolm Fraser called one in 1983 on the pretext of stalled bills to increase sales tax) is the most pointless since then, if not the most pointless double dissolution ever; having failed to accrue a significant number of triggers over three years with which to push its agenda through at a Joint Sitting, there is no discernible case being put to set up a Joint Sitting at all.

The fact any win by the Coalition now seems likely to be by a couple of seats at best — offset by a large deficit of seats in the Senate — makes the very notion of a Joint Sitting after this election completely redundant.

If Turnbull survives the election at all — which remains a possibility, however much the prospect is starting to fade — it will be after the Liberal Party sustains enormous damage, the loss of at least a dozen seats, and setting the government up for three years of disunity and turmoil as jilted conservatives turn viciously on the smugly triumphant moderates and seek to undo the takeover of the party they have attempted to use Turnbull’s leadership as cover to try to implement at preselection tables across Australia.

And in a final irony, the means with which to render Labor almost permanently unelectable has always been within the Coalition’s grasp during this year: in the report from its Commission of Audit, ordered following the 2013 election win, which then-Treasurer Joe Hockey more or less tossed aside instead of using it as a political battering ram. In the final report of the Heydon inquiry into the unions, which (despite the pretext for calling a double dissolution) has gone almost unmentioned in this campaign. In the mountain of contradictory, opportunistic and vapid bullshit Shorten is spouting as the model for an ALP government.

The problem seems to be that nobody in Coalition ranks seems able and/or inclined to mount the case that conservative voters expect of a conservative government: a comprehensive and unvarnished explanation of exactly how bad the state of things really is in Australia, who is responsible for it and why, backed by solid evidence of the kind the reports I mention offer, and a cogent, persuasive argument for remedial action that might not be popular but which — within a couple of years of belt-tightening — would restore the Commonwealth to a position from which to sustainably deliver the services and other spending required to underpin living standards and allow the economy to continue to grow.

Instead, we seem to be sleepwalking perilously closer to a socialist nightmare — and one in which no amount of smart answers from Shorten will mask the disaster his policies would unleash if implemented.

At the halfway mark of this campaign, there is good reason for Coalition strategists to start to panic, if they’re not panicking already: and good reason for ordinary voters who actually give a damn about the shape in which Australia continues into the 21st century to despair that the party that usually champions sound governance appears to have abandoned the concept to the fast-advancing ALP bear.

Some of “the rich” may well find themselves better off under a Shorten government; some of the have-nots will almost certainly find their pockets fuller under such a regime, as the addiction to welfare of those who aren’t genuinely needy but are simply bone lazy is a key tenet of Labor strategy that will become considerably more entrenched if the obsequious Shorten manages to pull off a win in a few weeks’ time.

For the millions of ordinary Australians in the mainstream middle, there is nothing; nothing from either side: not from the Labor Party, which is obsessed with saying whatever is necessary to secure power and the patronage it allows to be dispensed, and not from the Coalition, which is so busy trying not to offend anyone by making a genuinely tough decision that it has allowed Labor to steal a march on it.

In 1993, Keating successfully appealed to both voters’ fears — over the imposts of a GST he blatantly lied about, having advocated such a policy himself a few years earlier, and which he knew to be far more benign than he claimed — and the “hip pocket nerve,” which he also lied about, subsequently unveiling a budget full of unheralded sales tax hikes to pay for the grand largesse he solemnly promised to dole out (like Shorten does now) if he won.

If Labor wins office next month, the eventual outcome will be a catastrophe, and the damage to the Liberal Party will be small bier compared to what Shorten, in cahoots with the Communists Greens and the unions, unleashes upon Australia over the coming three years.

The only thing standing between that dreadful scenario and a better future is a misfiring, misdirected and inept Coalition campaign that seems genuinely clueless about what it stands for: and if those around Turnbull don’t come to their senses quickly, then Shorten — just like Keating in 1993 — may emerge as the not-so-surprising beneficiary of what shapes, now as it did then, of a foreseeable and avoidable fiasco.

 

A Message To The Liberal Party’s Current And Former Conservatives

WITH A new Essential poll showing Labor leading, 52-48 — bringing polling aggregates to an election-winning 50.9% for Labor — we reach out to the Liberal Party’s disgruntled conservatives (and those who’ve stomped out) in an attempt to avert disaster. Some are angry with Malcolm Turnbull, but the alternative promises only the ruin of a great country: allowing the ALP raze Australia’s interests in an act of petty revenge would be a travesty.

In what seems like the refrain of a broken record, I must yet again apologise to readers for the paucity of content on this site in recent weeks; the ramping up of other (revenue generating) commitments last year means that even milking more hours out of a day than there are to milk as I always do, something has to give.

But it is timely — in the context of continuing poor polls for the government, and as someone who campaigned resolutely to prevent Malcolm Turnbull from becoming Prime Minister over a period of years — to directly address the elephant in the room with an eye to the disgruntled, angry and/or departed conservatives who are determined to use the 2 July election as an opportunity to vent their spleens and to kick Malcolm, metaphorically, in the nether regions.

It doesn’t take me to tell a great many people that the humiliating spectre of first-term election defeat is very much a possibility: forgetting opinion polls altogether for a moment, the mood on the streets, among ordinary voters with little or no particular affinity with politics and/or politicians, is unmistakable, although I would note there is none of the grudging respect that marked the feel of the crowd when it resolved to despatch John Howard almost a decade ago.

Even Howard’s bitterest opponents had to concede (if privately) that their lives, and the lot of so many of those they fought against him to advance, had improved — however debatable they considered the increment — whereas today, after three years of drift under two Prime Ministers, despite much of the blame being attributable to those bent on gratuitously destroying a conservative government, there is no appetite for such sentiment at all.

Over the past week, we have missed several key issues: yesterday’s state budget in Victoria, for example, built on property tax revenues that would not exist under Bill Shorten’s plans to mostly abolish negative gearing incentives; posturing ahead of a make-or-break federal budget to be delivered on Tuesday; the letting of contracts to build a dozen new submarines; and the decision by the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court to declare the detention facility established on Manus Island by the Rudd government unconstitutional.

All of these matters we will inevitably touch upon, and selectively revisit, moving forward.

But with yet another poll yesterday showing the Turnbull government falling further behind the ALP, with Essential’s rolling survey finding a two-point gain for Labor in a week to lead 52-48 (and remember, half of that “finding” is last week’s: the most recent Essential result could have been as bad as 46-54 for the Coalition to balance out a 50-50 result a week ago) it seems clear that whilst trouble now confronts the Liberal Party on a rising number of fronts, one group that could help the party can and indeed should make its peace with the continuing government.

And that, in short, is the enraged conservative flank that has threatened to abandon it (or has already done so) over the dumping of Tony Abbott as Prime Minister: the so-called “Del-Cons,” as Daily Telegraph columnist Miranda Devine calls them, who inexplicably believe that were Abbott in charge now the government would be cruising toward re-election.

Regular readers know — and as I seem to be reiterating a lot lately — that I was a trenchant supporter of Tony Abbott for decades: not just as Prime Minister, or as Liberal Party leader, but as an agent for the conservative cause as far back as his entry to Parliament in 1994.

When he won the Liberal leadership I spent an inordinate amount of time behind the scenes working to build support for a man whose public persona had already been gleefully (and unjustly) tarnished by political opponents astute enough to recognise the electoral threat he potentially posed to them.

And for perhaps too long during his two-year Prime Ministership, this column continued to defend him and the misfiring administration he headed.

In both reaffirming support for Abbott in the aftermath of the “challenge without a challenger” in February last year and in withdrawing that support before he was ultimately dumped in September, I was explicit that the central defect in the Abbott government was the appalling quality of the support available to it: on strategy, on tactics, on policy, and on mass communication and salesmanship, Abbott’s government was shockingly advised, and the responsibility for this eventually fatal impediment lay with the official to whom that responsibility had been entrusted in his Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin.

My position at that point was that either Credlin had to go, and the entire artifice of the advisory corps rebuilt from scratch, or that Abbott had to go to enable the termination of Credlin’s services, and at no time did that position coincide with any endorsement of Malcolm Turnbull. In fact, the utterances from this column explicitly emphasised anything but.

And it goes without saying that the Turnbull experiment — marked by gaffes, unforgivable lapses of judgement, mistakes and a sense of directionless drift — has hardly been a rip-roaring success, although today’s article isn’t about pointing fingers and doling out blame.

The upshot is that an unquantifiable number of previously rusted-on conservatives — be they from the party’s membership base or simply former Liberal voters — have noisily and viciously turned on the party, and continue to spray vitriol in the Turnbull direction at any and every available opportunity: understandably aggrieved that Abbott has not only been replaced, but replaced by a man many of them regard with unbridled contempt, these people are hellbent on engineering a change of government to ensure Turnbull is ejected from the office they believe he stole, and humiliated as badly and as thoroughly as possible.

I have to say that whilst I disagree with Malcolm on a lot of things — passionately in some cases — I do like him enormously; the times I have had cause for direct dealings with him (which admittedly were now more than 15 years ago) I found him engaging, amusing, and very intelligent indeed. My distinction between personal and political estimations of Malcolm are not a convenient fig leaf for my position on the Liberal Party leadership. It is possible, and not inconsistent, to draw such distinctions. But many of the people who profess to “hate” him have likely never met him, and if they have, one wonders whether their approach mirrored the tenor of their language toward him now. If it did, it should surprise little if the reception they elicited was frosty.

But look at Turnbull’s government. What has it done?

To date, it has maintained Abbott policy settings on gay marriage, offshore processing of asylum seekers, and the Direct Action package to deal with carbon emissions: part of a deal with conservatives to seal the leadership, perhaps, but for now at least these key settings remain in place. Changes later would rightly attract the charge of betrayal. But that is a question for another time.

Certainly, had Turnbull called a double dissolution for December — as repeatedly demanded by this column — we wouldn’t be having this conversation at all, for a December election was the one window open to the Coalition to capitalise on Turnbull’s honeymoon and cruise to a thumping election victory.

It didn’t, and poor performance this year has been reflected in opinion polls, which are suggesting a Coalition defeat. Polls under Abbott also suggested defeat, and by a wider margin than Turnbull is facing — for now — had he remained in place.

And just as there are a lot of things people (including me) want and wanted to see the government tackle — changes to laws governing free speech, labour market reform, tax reform, and the unsustainable overall level of government spending and debt bequeathed to the country by Labor — an even judgement suggests the present Senate was never going to allow any of these things to be attempted, although I would add that meaningful reform proposals could have served the dual purpose of giving the government a reform agenda and a bundle of extra double dissolution triggers on which to fight.

I agree that time — to say nothing of opportunity — has been wasted.

But whilst conservatives are entitled to vote as they see fit, and whilst the dissidents are perfectly entitled to facilitate the election of a Shorten government if that’s what they really want, I want to appeal to these people today to be more pragmatic than that — and to come back into the fold, even if it is with a peg affixed to their noses.

Fellow conservatives, just think about what you are considering.

Bill Shorten is a nihilistic, self-confessed liar who is known to harbour the delusion that the Prime Ministership is his destiny: he doesn’t give a damn who or what he has to walk over to achieve it.

He is a philanderer, a union thug, both puppet and puppeteer of the union movement, and an apologist for the worst excesses of unlawful and violent union militancy that have no place in a civilised, decent, and modern democratic society.

So confident is he of victory that he openly promises — nay, boasts about — $102 billion in tax slugs to be extorted from the Australian public over the next ten years: that’s $400 for every man, woman and child living in Australia today, year in and year out, every year, for ten years.

Not one cent of these proposed revenues is earmarked for budget repair or debt retirement: it’s just spend, spend, spend, which is the last thing Australia needs.

Under his “leadership,” the ALP continues to deny there is a problem with government debt, despite Australia now owing the rest of the world half a trillion dollars (when it owed nothing nine years ago) and despite average annual budget deficits adding another $50 billion to that figure each year for as far into the future as the eye can see.

Under his “leadership,” the ALP continues to peddle the lie that it isn’t responsible for this; to Labor, it was able to wash its hands of its dirty acts the day it returned to opposition.

Hundreds of billions of dollars in unfunded spending programs were legislated before the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd regime was turfed out; those criminally irresponsible acts of economic sabotage are and were nothing less than the price the ALP was prepared to pay to ensure it could kill off a Liberal government in a single term.

Incredibly, Labor’s efforts to pin responsibility for the budget and debt mess on the Coalition have largely resonated: not least, because the wrong people were charged with devising and selling the Coalition’s message, and fucked the job up completely.

Shorten Labor will hobble Australia with not one economy-destroying carbon tax if elected, but two.

It floated a policy two years ago (since hidden, for obvious reasons) to abolish the private health insurance rebate, which would cripple healthcare in this country and destroy the capacity of the Medicare to cope with the mass exodus from the private system.

It advocates changes to negative gearing that, if implemented in their current form and on timelines currently suggested, would have economy-wide reverberations that could induce a recession, in addition to causing a crash in the property market (irrespective of what Labor says) and destroying the value of the homes of hard-working mums and dads.

And the most disgusting thing of all is that having gambled when in office with Australia’s financial welfare and having shown no inclination to fix its own mistakes, Labor on Shorten’s watch has refused to permit any attempt by the Coalition to do the job at all: yes, the Hockey budget of 2014 was political cyanide, and its measures poorly targeted and badly framed.

But for the life of this Parliament, Shorten has been instrumental in seeing that any Coalition bill that raised spending was passed, whilst anything that sought to cut it was voted down in the Senate, and anyone tempted to flirt with a Shorten government — especially Liberal Party conservatives either walking out the door or already outside the tent — should bear all of this in mind.

I understand how aggrieved some of these people are; but really — weighed against the perhaps irretrievable additional damage another Labor government would now inflict — surely Malcolm, faults and all, must constitute the lesser of two evils?

Win or lose, his days are already numbered; if he loses the election, his departure from Parliament could come as soon as the evening of 2 July.

Win very narrowly, and there’s no guarantee he will be permitted to serve out a full term.

And even if he defies the polls and wins in a canter, Malcolm will be 62 in October: it is a cruel reality of Australian politics that Prime Ministers rarely survive in office much longer than that even in the best of times.

Excluding Bob Menzies (who was lucky to enjoy very poor opponents for much of his period in office, especially in the final years of his tenure), John Howard was shown the door by voters at 68. Bob Hawke was jettisoned by his own party at Turnbull’s age. The ridiculous Bill McMahon was dispensed with at 64 as soon as voters had the opportunity to do so. Fraser and Whitlam didn’t even make it to 60 in office.

My point is that Malcolm isn’t going to be around forever, but the Liberal Party will be; and whilst the ebbs and flows of political process have been unkind to its conservative wing in recent times, ultimately the party’s need for its conservative flank is greater than the recent sequence of events might suggest.

I don’t necessarily agree with any of the measures I’m going to now list: I’m not deserting the Liberal Party and I’m committed to getting it re-elected irrespective of my thoughts on its present leader and some of the more dubious appointments he has surrounded himself with.

Those who are angry could vote for the National Party in the Senate, unless they live in SA or Tasmania: keeping it “within the Coalition” but making a symbolic protest felt over the dumping of “their elected Prime Minister.”

Those who simply must vote against the Liberals in the lower house should still preference the Liberal Party above both Labor and the Greens: the consequences of Bill Shorten as Prime Minister would be cataclysmic.

If angry conservatives don’t want to help on local seat campaigns where a moderate candidate has been endorsed, get in the car and go and help a conservative Liberal out: again, at least keep it within the tent, even if the displeasure you feel must be made obvious in doing so.

But more than anything — even if you can’t bring yourself to say anything nice about Malcolm at all, even in the name of hunkering down and making sure the Left is locked out of government — then for God’s sake harness your hatred and unleash it toward Bill Shorten and the ALP, for any government formed by that group would amount to an unmitigated disaster from which Australia might not recover.

To the conservatives who are determined to desert the Liberal Party right now — over the identity of its current leader — I say the party needs you, and needs you badly.

I understand your grievances and to the extent I share in them have myself taken enormous reflection to make the appeal I now make.

Bill Shorten and Labor have no care for the long-term welfare of this country: if elected, they will lay waste to it in a naked lust for power for themselves, the union thugs and bastards who fund and control them, and with an utter disregard for its best interests for generations to come.

The grievances of conservatives deserved to be aired, debated and dealt with, but not now: after an election, with the Coalition re-elected, is the time for such discussions to occur.

In the final analysis, it is no exaggeration to suggest that defeat for Malcolm Turnbull at this election could well herald Australia’s ruin, and if hacked-off conservatives are as true to the values of duty and country as they are rightly proud to insist, then the Liberal Party’s need for their help — and their own interests in forever preventing Shorten from “leading” Australia — are complementary, if not identical, considerations.

For those on the Liberal Right who have walked away, it’s time to return to the fold.

 

Credlin Controlling Coalition Campaign? It’s Worth A Thought

THE NOTION of controversial former Chief of Staff to Tony Abbott (and one-time Turnbull adviser) Peta Credlin running the Coalition election effort to instil discipline and consistency is not as ridiculous as it sounds; Malcolm Turnbull will have Credlin nowhere near his government, and usually, we would wholeheartedly agree: but the divisive former aide’s campaign skills will be sorely missed in a tight contest, where the risk of defeat is real.

This column — as regular readers know really, really, really well — evolved over the two years following the 2013 election into a staunchly implacable critic of the Chief of Staff to former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Peta Credlin; the operating methods of the government under his leadership were amateurish, counter-productive, and in terms of the Coalition’s public messages were almost invariably of more benefit to the ALP than they were to the Liberal Party, the Prime Minister, or to the voters who elected them to office in a landslide.

Indeed, it was Abbott’s refusal to redeploy or replace Credlin that led me to withdraw my decades-long support for Abbott as Liberal leader, although I was at pains to stipulate that this did not equate to an endorsement of Malcolm Turnbull.

Even so, we have always been careful to acknowledge the one strength (and triumph) that can never be taken from Ms Credlin: the welding of the Liberals into a cohesive, disciplined fighting unit that (mostly) remained focused and on message leading into and during the 2013 campaign; I have often opined that Credlin was an ideal spearhead for an opposition, or for an election effort, or both; the great shame is that it appears to have been one of those situations where what was brilliant in opposition did not translate to government: and refusing to exercise the foresight and perspective to recognise as much, Abbott and Credlin together paid the ultimate political price.

On this basis, it is difficult to argue with the sentiments expressed today by Herald Sun commentator Andrew Bolt, who argues Credlin (or someone like her) should be running Turnbull’s re-election campaign which, lamentably and to put it most kindly, is all over the shop.

As Bolt notes — and despite explicit and repeated threats to call a double dissolution election if his legislation to restore the Australian Building and Construction Commission was defeated — Turnbull couldn’t even confirm the poll would be held on 2 July as previously indicated, a state of confusion echoed by other senior Coalition figures from deputy Julie Bishop down.

Despite a reasonable suite of reforms to overhaul the corporate regulator, ASIC, and give it more teeth to act on real and/or alleged misdemeanours by Australian banks, the government seems unable to present a united position on whether the planned changes are sufficient or whether a Royal Commission into the banking sector should be held instead.

And instances of ridiculous Coalition disunity — such as the one cited by Bolt that featured Queensland backbencher Warren Entsch bragging about hanging up on Turnbull “in disgust” over his marginal electorate missing out on “a share” of a lucrative shipbuilding contract — are unforgivable, heading into a difficult campaign the government may struggle to prevail in.

Meanwhile, opposition “leader” Bill Shorten is being allowed to escape, scot-free and with no accountability applied to him by the government, as he works his way through a series of emptily populist ruses that he thinks may yield votes: hitting multinationals (which no Western country has successfully “hit” to date), hitting “rich” people’s superannuation, hitting the “rort” of negative gearing, hitting smokers, hitting “high” income earners — you name it.

Unwisely, but perhaps as a result of its own systematic slash-and-burn approach to potential reform options, the Coalition has too often danced to Labor’s tune rather than articulating its own vision — opening itself to the charge of having no ideas — and when it has presented its own ideas (read: income tax powers for the states) the result has been a big old mess.

And it has let Shorten get away with brazenly boasting about the $102bn in new taxes a Labor government would raise over the next decade, which Labor itself makes no effort to deny is earmarked solely for more lavish, wasteful spending programs, with no firm pledge to repay any of the half-trillion dollars either borrowed on its watch last time or embedded into legislation to force the Liberal Party to its will.

I’ve been calling this obscene intended tax slug what it is: a $400 raid per year, every year for ten years, on every man, woman and child living in Australia today.

Given half the population already subsists exclusively on one government payment or another, in reality this is more like double that amount for the rest of us: $16 each, each week for ten years, for a Labor government likelier than anything to finish the job of destroying Australia that its Rudd-Gilard-Rudd forbear started.

Can anyone seriously believe Mr Three-Word-Slogan — Mr Great Big New Tax — would be letting Shorten and his accomplices get away with such a brazen exercise in chasing power at literally any price?

More to the point, can anyone seriously believe that a Credlin type would be letting her Prime Minister vaccillate and ramble on the stump — with no consistency other than to be consistently fickle — for a second longer than the blunt conversation to “tell” him to stick to the script?

The Abbott forces — which, of course, include Credlin — are (understandably) believed to remain highly aggrieved and very bitter over their unceremonious dumping last September, a disproportionate share of the reasons for which emanated directly from Peta Credlin herself.

Yet even Abbott, in a column appearing in Sydney’ Daily Telegraph today, continues to show that whilst he may no longer be Prime Minister and may well be possessed of a mouthful of sour grapes, he remains more able than Turnbull to at least identify the key issues the government should be targeting — even if, on his own government’s watch, the communication and strategy apparatus at his disposal to prosecute them was useless.

Could there be a one-off, short-term role as a campaign strategy consultant for Credlin? It’s doubtful. Not only is she unwelcome in the engine room of the Turnbull government, but common sense suggests (with no slight to Ms Credlin’s sense of professionalism intended) that putting such an embittered and jaundiced individual anywhere near the drivers of the continuing administration would be too great a risk to justify it.

Just look at what Kevin Rudd and Shorten got up to as Cabinet ministers last time. The principle is identical.

But one of the glaring deficiencies in Turnbull’s — well, you could hardly call it a campaign strategy — is the ostensible absence of anyone who might haul the entire enterprise onto a far more professional (and not least, effective) footing.

In this sense, Bolt is dead right, and with electoral defeat a very real risk for Turnbull, the imperative to remedy this problem is beyond urgent. The fact the problem even exists at all is beyond belief.

If nothing is done, Turnbull and his acolytes will stumble, bumble, contradict and waffle their way all the way to 2 July. If this methodology indeed proves the route they traverse to get there, the humiliation of defeat will loom large.

Shorten is running all over the government with a message that is one half bull and the other half shit, to paraphrase a rather indelicate ditty from the 1980s.

The only people who can win this election for the Coalition are Turnbull and his colleagues. If they are serious, and if they want to win (which from outside the Canberra bubble is a devastatingly valid question), then it’s time to start to behave like it.

If that means providing a temporarily renewed lease on life for the adviser this column once characterised as the creature from beneath the septic tank, then so be it.

 

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.