EARLY PROMISING SIGNS are filtering out of Canberra in the wake of the Liberal Party’s leadership change, and this first full day of Malcolm Turnbull’s Prime Ministership sees news that Peta Credlin — and a goodly number of the spivs and hacks linked to her — are set to be given the boot; there is no value in “intellectual capital” that has all but wrecked a government. This column welcomes the overhaul it has campaigned for over the past year.
We are going to keep it fairly succinct today (as I always say, it seems), as yet another manic day beckons for me; but one point I did not make sufficiently clear yesterday is that where the performance of the Turnbull government is concerned, this column maintains an open mind.
I did stipulate to readers that Turnbull would be given the benefit of the doubt, and as with all things political we will acknowledge and credit where indicated and critique and oppose if warranted, but everyone knows the potential pitfalls associated with Malcolm: we have spelt them out at length with great clarity often enough.
Now, Malcolm gets judged on his merits — or otherwise — as the course of events dictates.
To this end, I have been speaking with people behind the scenes, and those conversations mirror a series of headlines in the mainstream press this morning that suggest the former Chief of Staff to Tony Abbott, Peta Credlin — along with a swathe of senior advisors and Liberal Party figures, perhaps including her husband, the Liberals’ federal director Brian Loughnane — are set to be given their marching orders as the new regime in Canberra moves to establish itself in office.
This cleanout — significantly — is high on any list of urgent priorities I would nominate for Turnbull’s government, and I wish to put my total endorsement of the proposed back-of-house restructure on record without equivocation.
There are two articles I want to share today, both from The Australian — you can access them here and here — and whilst I appreciate some will now feel squeamish about people (even if they don’t know them) being summarily dismissed from their employment and thrown onto the street, I would remind them that context is an aspect of this situation that must transcend sentiments of that nature.
Very simply, politics is a brutal game: and people like Peta Credlin, Loughnane, and others charged with the execution of the logistical functions of an elected government must either deliver results that ultimately are political in nature, or depart.
At the risk of rehashing criticisms we have had need to revisit far too many times over the past 18 months or so, the signposts of their utter failure are strewn across the political landscape as far as the eye can see.
The most obvious, of course, is the persistent and entrenched standing of the federal Coalition across every reputable opinion poll since its first budget in May last year; as we noted as recently as Monday, the average of these portends a 6.5% swing to Labor and the loss of some 30 seats in the House of Representatives.
Those polls — Newspoll, Galaxy, Ipsos, Essential and ReachTel chief among them — have been far too settled for far too long to draw any other conclusion than that an electoral belting was certain, and as I have emphasised to readers repeatedly over the past four or five years, it’s the trend lines in opinion sampling that provide insights of value, not individual polls: and those trends, occasional flutter one way or the other notwithstanding, have been so stable as to constitute a lethal indicator of electoral sentiment.
The reason back-of-house operatives deserve to carry the can for them now, as a new broom sweeps through the government, is that those polls have been driven by all the things this government has been most defective in to date.
Political strategy and tactics, management of Parliament, the ability (or in this case otherwise) to communicate or sell anything to a jaded and betrayed electorate, the paucity of a genuine reform agenda…all of these things are the responsibility of those appointed by elected representatives to augment and execute the government’s business, and in every conceivable respect the government — headed, at the back-of-house, by Credlin, and substantially manned by hand-picked, personally sanctioned appointees — has been found wanting.
When (non-fictional) stories of business leaders being driven to apoplexy by a regime that refuses to provide access to the Prime Minister abound — tales of titans of industry being given access to Credlin rather than to Abbott himself are plentiful in any exploration of the goings-on of government — it’s not hard to spot what has been the greatest Achilles heel bedevilling the Coalition in office for the past two years.
Now, the entire rotten edifice appears set to be obliterated.
In this regard, Liberal Party adherents — from those enmeshed with the party in its membership and executive arms right down to the floating voters who helped elect it, and who have flirted with deserting it at the next election — can take great solace from the fact that veteran Liberal figure Tony Nutt has been drafted by Turnbull to overhaul the government’s advisory stocks.
Lynton Crosby — the strategist who oversaw four election wins by John Howard and most recently engineered the stunning majority win achieved by the Conservative Party in Britain — is set to guide the new government along with his partner in crime, pollster Mark Textor; and to round out the return of the Liberals’ best strategic brains to the fold after being shut out at the behest of Credlin, former Queensland LNP identity, now Senator, James McGrath is also set to help shape the new government behind the scenes.
The era of real, perceived and/or imagined opponents being malignantly shut out of Canberra appears to be at its end; it’s an open secret, for example, that Crosby and Textor were unwelcome for most of the span of Abbott’s government — at Credlin’s behest — and that is a bewildering, and damnable, misjudgement given the miracle the duo worked for Britain’s Tories, the moribund state of health into which the Abbott government degenerated, and the reputational supremacy Crosby richly deserves as one of the best (if not the best) conservative political strategist in the western world.
The fact that Nutt — presently in charge of the NSW division of the Liberal Party — is said to be returning to Canberra speaks volumes; for those who care to look at the Liberal Party’s divisions across Australia, it’s no accident that the one in the most robust health is the one Nutt runs out of Sydney and again, he represents (like Crosby and Textor) an unbelievable instance of the Abbott government shutting out an obvious talent and potential asset for no better reason than the vanity and petty whims of its dictatorial chief advisor.
The departure of Loughnane should follow that of Credlin very, very closely indeed; as for his 2IC, Julian Sheezel — whom I last saw when he was 21 and I 19, and both of us less mature than our opinions of ourselves permitted us to admit at the time — I am ambivalent, although any decision to retain him should be contingent on an undertaking to prevent the departed duo from any input or involvement from the sidelines, and instant dismissal made an agreed consequence of any first breach of such an undertaking.
As for the rest of Credlin’s lackeys and stooges scattered across ministerial offices, one trusts Nutt will sort the wheat from the chaff and summarily dispatch the no-hopers who have been complicit in the malaise that has brought down a perfectly viable Prime Minister and almost destroyed a government altogether in so doing.
There are those who will lament the loss of “capital” and I simply respond that the retention of failures will aid nobody — aside from the ALP — and if the Liberal Party is, as The Australian suggested this morning, short of experienced executives to man its fortresses, then a punt on new people moved in and given an opportunity to shine is a better bet on balance than a wish for duds to metamorphose into something other than duds: they won’t.
It is true that the commencement of Turnbull’s Prime Ministership coincides with very low expectations on my part; but I am open-minded about such things — as the inclination to extend a wait-and-see approach should suggest — and I would like nothing more, in a few weeks or a few months’ time, to be singing the praises of the continuing government, and with very sound reasons for doing so.
Readers know that I will do nothing of the sort if I don’t believe it is warranted.
Yet the fact the advisory pool appears set to be gutted and rebuilt meets a demand this column has been making of the government for almost 18 months: ever since it became woefully evident that Ms Credlin’s outfit was hopelessly unsuited to the task, and gauged against actual political outcomes rather than some half-arsed entreaty that she is a “smart” and “fierce” warrior.
I can be fierce. Just ask my cat if it pisses on the carpet. It doesn’t automatically follow that I’m effective.
Top marks to Turnbull for elevating this crucial aspect of governance to the very top of his list of priorities. It’s an indication he may really be as serious about fixing things as he says he is. The ministry will be Turnbull’s next test, and the signs already are that he isn’t going to flub that one, either.
My criticisms of him aside, I’m more than happy to accept any call to Canberra to help if asked: and yes, following the message in yesterday’s column, I am already inclining towards remaining in the fold and fighting to help push the government back into a winning position.
And as for Credlin — as hard as this sounds — it is impossible to feel any compunction, even if the imminent purge renders her unemployable: I don’t have any sympathy for her, and nor should anyone else.