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November 12th 2015 print

Michael Warren Davis

Turnbull’s Knife, Bishop’s Duty

The Deputy Leader swears she was ignorant of the coup, innocently and absolutely oblivious, right up until the conspirators revealed their hand. That was her real betrayal. As a party leader, what a pity she cannot claim to have been foremost among those who saw a lame PM and backed a better one

bishop IIWe’ve yet to hear why Julie Bishop is uniquely culpable for the role she may have played in the recent Liberal leadership spill—why, as Eric Abetz claims, that, “One would imagine if there were such a meeting there might have been an obligation as a loyal deputy to report that to the leader of the time.” Sure, there are those who, against the tide of constitutional law, oppose the concept of a midterm spill altogether, but why is it uniquely scandalous that the Deputy Leader was privy to the movement before it occurred? Why should Deputy Leader be such a weak and indecisive position? Since when, as Bishop’s critics imply, is she a mere flunky of the Leader, stripped of her right to act in the best interests of the party and the country?

The Deputy Leader ought to be just that: a leader. If Bishop had been elected Prime Ministerial Whip, well that would be another matter, but insofar as the Deputy Leader is a leader in her own right, Bishop has both the prerogative and the obligation to play a major part in steering the party. That’s just common sense. So the implication that Bishop had some unique duty to tattle on Turnbull’s supporters—indeed, that she felt unable to attend the meeting in person—means that she was aware she couldn’t exercise her position of leadership fully. If she felt that putting up Turnbull was the best thing for the country, she ought to have gone along to the meeting. Had she done so, she would have been well within the law. That she didn’t betrays a perverse and pervasive misunderstanding of leadership roles in the Liberal Party.

This misunderstanding is what Christian Kerr calls the Liberal Führerprinzip, and Tony Abbott the Captain’s Call. It’s the near-dictatorial authority exercised by the Party Leader, often compounded with a startling cult of personality—and it’s sunk more than one leadership in its time. On par with Abbott’s Knightmare scandal, of course, was Turnbull’s push for an ETS during his first stint as big cheese. On one hand, we can blame both men for their rubbish, single-minded decision-making; on the other, we should wonder how the culture of centralized authority wouldn’t lead to such self-destructive bungles.

Put it another way. Chris Kenny recently penned an impressive op-ed for The Australian [1] recounting the Spectator’s contributors’ lunch—a charming affair he likened to “an Irish wake, with alcohol ­lubricating black humour.” Kenny also points out, quite rightly, that the lunch was a hotbed of Turnbull-blasting Abbott loyalists. He says of our Dear Leader, “[Rowan] Dean was obviously smarting, if not seething, about the Turnbull transfiguration and agitated by the way other media, including this newspaper, seemed to have taken it in their stride.” As for the rest of us: “Several speakers mocked Malcolm Turnbull as they mourned Abbott… Prominent at the gathering were leading News Corp Australia commentators Andrew Bolt and Miranda Devine, as well as Sky News host Paul Murray—friends all—who have been frontline Turnbull sceptics.”

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But Kenny reckons “it is time to call last drinks on the wake—what’s done is done—and the future of the Abbott project is now in Turnbull’s hands.” Having attended the lunch, and having taken what I think was the only swipe at Abbott  (there are no sacred cows at the Speccie)—I’m not sure we were exactly representative of the tone of Abbott loyalists. By and large we’re conservative journalists, not honest hacks, and most of the contributors simply think Abbott is better for Australian conservatism.

Having not a few friends in the Liberal Party, I can tell you the bulk of real Abbott loyalists weren’t in good (if black) humor over the spill. They were hysterical. Many of the junior ones, who looked up to Abbott from their sunny sandboxes as a sort of budgie-smuggling Ronald Reagan, wept bitter tears when the result of the vote was announced in Turnbull’s favor. I can quote a friend Catherine Priestley, who wrote in the Spectator[2] of a “heartbroken party base” trying to pull itself together and “never forget that politics will cost us a lot.” Why on earth would anyone feel that sort of attachment to Tony Abbott? Yes, he led the party out of opposition. Yes, he was a leading light of Australian conservatism. But he’s still a politician. That’s not to say I don’t like him. I do. But the black armbands, the weeping and gnashing of teeth… for a politician? It strikes one as unhealthy.

Yet that’s the leadership cult the Liberals have meticulously cultivated, and it’s precisely why Julie Bishop was expected to act as the strong arm of the Lodge. In a more sober political climate, I’d like to think we’d all agree that every Member of Parliament has the obligation to act in the best interests of the Australian people, not the best interests of the current Leader’s political career. We may disagree on what exactly the best interests are, but surely that ought to be the universal M.O.

So we should hope that Turnbull makes good on his promise to install “a thoroughly consultative, a traditional, thoroughly traditional cabinet government,”[3] because the Führerprinzip really ought’ve been tossed in history’s rubbish bin long ago. Whatever Turnbull’s motivations—and maybe he just doesn’t have the personality for a personality cult—it’s the best thing for the Liberal Party, and so the best thing for roughly half of this country’s governments. It will put an end to the authoritarian top-down decision making that keeps devastating leaders. Just as importantly, when the odd, necessary reshuffle does occur, it will prevent pockets of guerilla revanchists from sabotaging their own party. And it will save ordinary Liberals a lot of grief. So if some swaggering Napoleon comes along and earns the suicidal devotion of Liberals across the country, let’s eat our hearts out. But it’s a good rule of thumb to really make them earn it.



[1] http://www.theaustralian.com.au/opinion/columnists/tony-abbott-loyalists-need-to-accept-malcolm-turnbull/story-fn8qlm5e-1227572167579

[2] http://new.spectator.co.uk/2015/09/australian-notes-259/

[3] http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/malcolm-turnbull-and-julie-bishop-address-the-media-following-leadership-spill-20150914-gjmjyk.html

Comments [12]

  1. Jody says:

    Those Liberals who are still grieving over the Abbott toppling ought to stop and accept the change, or vote Labor. Fact is, he only ever really appealed to the very right wing of the party because nobody but they would be willing to forgive his gaff-ridden tenure. Now we have, at least, a government that LOOKS a little refined.

    It would be nice to see the Coalition really in support of small business instead of punishing those who sold small businesses in order to fund their retirement and now facing superannuation taxes because, apparently, not enough other retirees have any money! All, that is, except Defined Benefits and the riches endowed upon them; but, then again, they were public servants!! Nothing whatsoever to do with small business.

  2. Patrick McCauley says:

    If Abbott had repealed 18c – I would bleed faster … until I see Turnbull show his spine I remain unconvinced … all my leftie friends ( who will never vote for him) love him (Turnbull) … middle class Catholic nurses with children in private schools are prepared to change their ‘party’ as long as they can keep their ‘wing’ (??) Until somebody makes it illegal for any Australian to ‘take offence’ about anything, ever ( …in fact you could make it an offence to ‘take offence’)… so that the citizens once again begin talking to each other in public places … and the law courts of the land are emptied of this entire cesspit of utter selfishness … I can only view left wing politics ( of any persuasion) with contempt and distrust.

  3. pgang says:

    You go on about this at quadrant. Well perhaps it shows that neither side of the secular divide possesses any real moral character. Take mike Baird, who is about to demolish half of the NSW democratically elected councils against the wishes and interests of the majority of rate payers. Power is everything for conservatives as much as for progressives.

  4. Geoffrey Luck says:

    Mike Baird is certainly a case in point. Behind that genial facade there lurks the power of a government which has stripped the paltry protections of strata owners in favour of developers. And this at a time when, increasingly, a massive building boom is under way in flats, units and apartments. Within a decade the consequences of jerry-building, lax certification, and lack of developer responsibility for defects will be a national scandal.

  5. DRW says:

    Madam Bishop can be prone to gaffs.
    Yesterday in Parliament a table tennis completion was mentioned and an Australian/New Zealand team will play Chinese, Korean, etc, teams. Instead of using the term Trans-Tasman, she invoked the Anzac spirit.

  6. Bran Dee says:

    If Malcolm Turnbull proves incapable of making necessary tough decisions like stopping Mohammedan immigration then I hope he also will be replaced for the good of the country. In the interim I am enjoying seeing his confidence as PM, and clever riposte to entrapment questions such as ‘are you happy with that’ and he avoided the trap with ‘I am a happy person’.
    Unfortunately the dour Tony Abbott became a punching bag for the media. He was our accidental PM who could well have been in office 3 years earlier if he had more charm and better negotiating skills. Those lost 3 years were the ones that Welch born ‘red’ Julia [Gillard] used to place the dead hand of socialism back on much of Australia.

  7. Jody says:

    Bran Dee, absolutely agree (I’m a poet and I didn’t know it!!).

  8. en passant says:

    Jody, welcome back from Venus or Mars, or whatever planet you have been on. Judging by your analysis it may have been the gas giant, Uranus. However, the Jody View is an aside to why I am commenting.

    I was a great supporter of Tony Thought-Bubble but in the end I had had enough of his failure to ‘do the right thing’ and keep his promises to his voters. Here is a short list of the Abbott Government failings for consideration:

    1. Failure to repeal Section 18C – a specific promise and a betrayal that grates with many Liberals
    2. Failure to deal with the ABC bias – perhaps a promise the Liberals should have broken as the ABC will destroy any form of truth with lies and more lies
    3. Failure to recognise the giant scam that is the ‘Climate Alarm Industry’ – and a continued waste of funds to bury CO2 at Colac, trips to Paris, the RET and the setting of targets that are no more than random numbers with zero effect on the climate. A Royal Commission into the science, the BoM falsification/adjustment of records and the cost incurred would have revealed the scam and saved $Bn’s (including Greg Hunt’s wasteful Direct Action, with the added benefit of exposing Hunt to the light of day).
    4. Failure to organise the Party along competent lines – the debacle in Victoria was only a symptom, not the core problem. I sent The Bunker some emails pointing out that myself and others had identified the managerial deficiencies. In fact, I commented in one email that “Party HQ is the best asset the Labor Party has” – yet the Liberal Royal Family did nothing and the Victorian Kingdom was lost.
    5. Failure to rein in the Defence bureaucracy while using Defence as a Petrie Dish for social experiments. There are actually two failures here:
    a) Defence is too important for social experimentation and Stuart Robert’s slogan ‘Capability through Diversity’ is truly Orwellian. Strength comes through UNITY.
    b) the strategic requirement is unclear and is reflected in our ad hoc acquisition programmes that are beggaring the nation, emasculating the capabilities of the few military we have and placing the nation at risk from neighbours and from afar. Are you aware that we have 54 x 155mm guns? It will be too late to place a mail order when more are needed. Oh, the F-45 Joint Strike Fighter will not defeat the Indonesian Sukhoi Su-35 and our old (and fantasy new) submarines are 20-years away. Can you hold off please until we are ready?
    6. Failure to take the pain and cut the Federal expenditure to the bone in the first year is the soft-Left approach and not based on Liberal principles. Now it is too late before 2016. What can I say, or more importantly, what can the usurper say?
    7. Failure to recognise why people are resigning from the Liberal Party (even before the Ides of September) and the delusionary thinking that follows this unreality. I have a wide contact group and it is being populated more and more by ex-Liberals rather than Liberals. Bizarrely, a senior Liberal Princess stated at a Forum into the Victorian Election Loss “Yes, we have declined in membership, but when the time comes I am sure we can count on these former members to return to the fold.” What? Like sheep and ignoring the 22.4% who voted for Minor Parties as their primary vote in Victoria. That makes the minor parties collectively the third largest voting bloc in Victoria. This will be repeated Federally. As an aside, I asked the former Liberal Party Member behind me at that Forum what he was doing now “I am the voluntary State Director of the xxx” was his reply. He ain’t coming back when he is needed, Princess.
    8. Failure to address the potential for electoral fraud. I raised the need for a comprehensive review and overhaul of the voting process, but was told there are bigger issues the Abbott Government needed to deal with first.
    9. On a matter of pure politics and propaganda – Bronwyn Bishop was deservedly brought down, but the Liberals did not bring down the far worse expenses of Tony Burke, her nemesis. Why not? The impression left (and it is just a guess) is that an equal number of Liberals would also have been exposed, so Tony was allowed to survive so that the Liberal MP’s could too. Unless the promised ‘root & branch review (anyone know what happened to it?) can categorically show that this impression is wrong, you need not wonder why the public has little respect for politicians in general or why conservative supporters are bemused at their once great party.
    10.The ChAFTA, non-boat immigration, internal security, the NBN, infrastructure development, foreign land ownership, decline of manufacturing capabilities, taxation rather than expenditure cuts, etc

    So, the tally was boats stopped balanced by a litany of failures that are not being addressed by what looks more and more like a one-term government despite the no-hope muppet the Liberals face and the faceless men who control him.

    Should conservatives rally behind a PM whose sole focus appears to have been becoming PM? As the weeks pass by and thankfully nothing happens and nothing changes it appears that Malcolm has much in common and about as much substance as the smirk Alice’s Cheshire Cat. Having got to his destination, the question of what to do next was apparently never considered. That’s a positive because it means that this unelected has not yet taken action to implement Agenda-21 and sell Oz sovereignty to the UN in Paris.