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October 03rd 2015 print

Peter O'Brien

Turnbull, the Lesser of Two Weevils

Our new Prime Minister, while no conservative, might just be able to deny The Lodge to Bill Shorten. True, that prospect is small and bitter consolation, but what the usurper's detractors need to remember is that Abbott's conservatism was more often alleged than observed

weevilsMalcom Turnbull’s seizure of the prime ministership was despicable, not least because it was both his passive, self-serving mediocrity as a minister and active white-anting that helped create the climate for his coup. The new leader’s devious self-promotion has led many to postulate that Abbott’s departure from the top job signals the death of conservatism within the Liberal Party, but is this an accurate reading of the situation?  Is his departure really a justification for conservative Liberals to leave the party?

What follows is not an apologia shortenfor Turnbull nor a further demolition of Abbott.  It is an attempt to put events into perspective. Conservatives are justified in their excoriation of Turnbull and they are right to be concerned at how far to the left he might push the Liberal Party. But the fact of the matter is that, at least until the next election, we are stuck with Turnbull for better or worse. Abbott has called for unity within the party, in order that Labor should not prevail at the next election.  That is the pragmatic approach, towards which I am inclined.

Many conservatives — including, I suspect, a good many Quadrant Online readers — may feel that even a Labor government might be preferable  to a Coalition in which the senior party has abandoned conservative principles – the idea being, presumably, that eviction from office after only one term will return Liberals to both their core values and their senses. At the heart of this proposition is this key question: just how conservative were the Abbott government and its leader?

Abbott’s conservatism is most evident in two issues: his determined opposition to same-sex marriage, and his enthusiasm for the monarchy. Certainly, opposition to same-sex marriage can be seen as a conservative position, although I suspect Abbott’s resolve is driven as much by religious conviction as the conservative disinclination to fix things that aren’t broken.

The republican issue is touted by many as a left concern, but there are many conservatives, myself among them, who support the idea of an Australian Head of State along the lines proposed at the 1999 referendum, i.e. the minimalist model.  But it is not a burning issue and is unlikely to go anywhere for some time. Even Turnbull recognises this.  As an example of Abbott’s conservatism, this is neither here nor there.  Again the thought occurs that Abbott’s opposition to the minimalist republic is driven more by his delight in the traditions and trappings of the monarchy (as evidenced by his restitution of knights and dames) than by any apprehension of any real damage that might occur as a result of its implementation.

One could also argue that Abbott’s successful asylum-seeker policies are quintessentially conservative, but it seems to me a sad day when protection of our national borders (not to mention preventing deaths at sea) is the sole preserve of conservatism.  The fact that the other side of politics doesn’t recognise as much suggests its return to government should be prevented at any cost, even that of a second Turnbull term.

But what about other issues of concern to conservatives, the ones that really matter?

On the repeal of Section 18C, surely a conservative issue if ever there was one, Abbott was conspicuously missing in action. Indeed, after promising its repeal, he fell at the first hurdle.

On climate change, I accept that political reality dictated Abbott toe the warmist line to some extent, and he does deserve credit for scrapping the carbon tax, renegotiating the RET and telling the Climate Commission to find supporters other than taxpayers to underwrite its alarmist propaganda.  But on the negative side, he failed to seize the opportunity to shift the narrative provided by the mounting evidence that the whole CAGW scam is just that. Scuttling the climate careerist’s boondoggle should be a stake in the ground for all true conservatives, yet how many in the Liberals’ party room have vigorously prosecuted the case? Nick Minchin comes to mind, but he is long gone from Canberra. As for the rest, while many are sceptics, none dare announce as much in public.

On the economic front, given the mixed messages, it is hard to know if Abbott is a conservative or one more exponent of the same old tax-and-spend paradigm. His paid parental leave scheme suggested the latter. Abbott also sidelined Cory Bernardi, presumably because he was embarrassed by the South Australian’s conservatism.  Why should Bernardi feel any more disenfranchised under Turnbull than he was when exiled by Abbott?

And, of course, Abbott is front and centre on the need to recognise Aborigines in our Constitution. I am not a philosopher, much less a political scientist, but surely the essence of conservatism is that, while accepting some change is inevitable, those changes should be for the good or, at the very least, they should cause no harm.  Abbott let the genie out of the bottle on this one. Regardless of whether a future referendum succeeds or fails, the animosities and resentments unleashed during the debate mean this exercise in constitutional tokenism can only end in tears.

So, what is the point of having a ‘conservative’ prime minister if he is unwilling or unable to act according to what supporters hoped were his convictions?

By all means, regret the fact and the manner of Abbott’s demise.  By all means vote against Turnbull if you think that the need to punish him for his duplicity outweighs the national interest in preventing a Shorten-led government. But let’s not pretend that we have lost a great champion of conservatism.

 

Comments [14]

  1. Jody says:

    Abbott was a conservative mostly because of his catholicism, his adherence to the Monarchy and the honours system and his failure to latch onto opportunistic, popular causes – like the Republic and SSM. The media complained that he was anachronistic – the love-child of Bronwyn Bishop and from another century. To a degree he allowed those labels largely to go unchallenged and his position then became untenable. But these qualities were only red herrings – excuses. What the left despises is somebody who has conviction and opinion and is unafraid to spruik these. That’s why they hate Scott Morrison.

    The Left is largely in a morals and values-free vacuum so anybody who displays these – or is perceived to display these – and who reminds them of themselves is destined to be pilloried and socially undesirable. I worked with these lefty hippy types at the ABC in the 70′s – I know all about it!! Now their children are dictating policy from the hilltops.

  2. gray_rm says:

    I remain unconvinced that, since Abbott was a disappointment to Conservatives, we should accept Lord Turnbull as his replacement, since he isn’t much of a Conservative either.
    The disappointment with Abbott was only felt by Conservatives who wished him to live up to his promises.
    We knew already what sort of candidate was Turnbull, and with his sop to the UN, his apologia to the Muslim community even as they seek to kill us, his obeisance to the ABC in his ‘oh-so-worldly’ bien pensant nod to the vulgarises of Abbot and his crew, only confirm that whilst with Abbott we had a conservative who failed us, with Turnbull we know there is no Conservatism and he fails the Party.

  3. Jody says:

    Well, we shall see.

    • PT says:

      Jody, you’ve already seen what he’s put “on the table” in that summit! It’s clear Turncoat is not to be trusted, and he’ll be off the leash is he manages to scramble a win.

      • RGH1955 says:

        PT. Turnbull, unlike the dogma of either left or right; will engage, challenge, debate and if on the right track get the numbers to carry the day. This is strength and joy of cabinet and a democracy. Unfortunately Abbott did not understand or participate in this process. In the end, a majority voted him out of office – this being after he was given the chance of redemption.

        And, the excuse it was the ABC, et al is a nonsense. Abbott in is own words had a “near death experience”. Did he learn? No and he paid the price. While a great opposition leader who fought an incompetent government, the transition to PM eluded him. He was even afforded the respect of being allowed redemption. Time to own the problem and accept the outcome.

        • PT says:

          But who does Turncoat listen to? If he’d won on 2009, the ETS would have passed, and Krudd would likely still be PM! Whatever Abbott’s failings were (some were due to appeasing Turncoat and his cronies), it doesn’t make Turncoat a good choice. And do you think he will continue to “listen” if he manages to win the election?

          • RGH1955 says:

            PT, clearly redemption is not part of your creed. Turnbull was belted in 2009. He has (hopefully) gone off and learnt the lesson – time will reveal. Further to assume the narcissist Rudd would have have survive is naive at best. Abbott could and did not learn, dispit the life line. I submit we may someone who believes it is better to have them in the tent than pissing on it! PT come in the tent!!

  4. Alistair says:

    Excellent analysis of Tony Abbott – although I think you missed one of the main Abbott problems, and the one that ultimately ended his PM-ship, that is his complete failure to confront the ABC, leaving it in the hands of his major enemy in Malcom Turnbull. That was tantamount to suicide. I believe that Abbott, as a small l liberal, identified too strongly with the ABC, wanted to be liked by them, and just couldn’t bring himself to disappoint them. One of the great positives to come out of Tony Abbott’s PM-ship and his eventual demise is the revelation that the Liberal Party is not a Conservative Party, and hasn’t been for a very long time. That in itself might at last galvinise the true Consrvatives to real action instead of wishful thinking, and leaves the ground open for the rise of a genuinely Conservative Party to evolve.

  5. Bill Martin says:

    The reasoning and logic of the above article couldn’t be faulted. However, it doesn’t quite manage to convince those of us who are sickened by the despicable Turnbull coup to except the situation and make the best of it. To us, the Liberal party will never be the same again, not with the 55 traitors pretending that their treachery was for the sake of the party and the nation. While most of us would never vote Labour, we can’t vote Liberal, either. Not any more. The very thought of a self-serving, progressive, lefty egomaniac is at the helm is totally unacceptable. Thinking of the possibility that Labour might win next year is certainly frightening. On the other hand, loosing the election would once and for all dispelled the bogus myth of Turnbull and destroy him politically. How much worse would a Labour government be than one led by a victorious Turnbull? Don’t forget, he would then be free of all the constraints imposed on him by the Nationals and many of the 55 traitors. Gay marriage, emission trading scheme, ever more commitments to a host of UN programmes, and who know what other progressive policies would be proposed and enacted with the support of Labour and the Greens. Surely, would that be preferable to a one term Labour government, particularly when coupled with the inevitable demise of Turnbull? One hopes for some acceptable independent candidate being available to vote for at the next election. Failing that, voting informal is the only acceptable alternative.

    for the “best redeemer

    • Peter OBrien says:

      Bill, you raise some valid points. The issue of particular concern to me is the ETS and climate change in general (also UN commitments). I don’t trust Turnbull on this one iota and can only rely on the Nationals to keep him honest. It seems the agreement they made with him is not watertight and already there is talk about how he can bypass it. I am coming to the view that the Nationals should consider running candidates in any seat where there is a lefty liberal. All I am trying to say here is that we should base our decisions on logic not emotion.

  6. Bill Martin says:

    The reasoning and logic of the above article couldn’t be faulted. However, it doesn’t quite manage to convince those of us who are sickened by the despicable Turnbull coup to accept the situation and make the best of it. To us, the Liberal party will never be the same again, not with the 55 traitors pretending that their treachery was for the sake of the party and the nation. While most of us would never vote Labour, we can’t vote Liberal, either. Not any more. The very thought of a self-serving, progressive, lefty egomaniac is at the helm is totally unacceptable. Thinking of the possibility that Labour might win next year is certainly frightening. On the other hand, loosing the election would once and for all dispelled the bogus myth of Turnbull and destroy him politically. How much worse would a Labour government be than one led by a victorious Turnbull? Don’t forget, he would then be free of all the constraints imposed on him by the Nationals and many of the 55 traitors. Gay marriage, emission trading scheme, ever more commitments to a host of UN programmes, and who know what other progressive policies would be proposed and enacted with the support of Labour and the Greens. Surely, would that be preferable to a one term Labour government, particularly when coupled with the inevitable demise of Turnbull? One hopes for some acceptable independent candidate being available to vote for at the next election. Failing that, voting informal is the only acceptable alternative.

    for the “best redeemer