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July 06th 2016 print

Peter O'Brien

Where Next for the Coalition?

John Howard, invoking his status as an elder statesmen, could do both his party and the country a huge favour by placing a quiet call to Malcolm Turnbull and telling him that he simply cannot remain as leader, either in government or opposition. After that it gets trickier

guillotineJohn Howard, the Liberal elder statesman one might expect to be a source of guidance for the party he once led, has been guarded in his comments. This is understandable but also unfortunate, as he has the record and authority to spell out the one thing that should by now be crystal clear and needs to be stated loud and clear: Malcolm Turnbull cannot remain as party leader.

Not only has he presided over an election disaster for the Coalition, turning a comfortable majority into a possible loss of government, he has made political train wreck he orchestrated infinitely worse by infecting the nation and its prospects with a Senate that is even more unworkable than the one he inherited and which he so ham-fistedly attempted to clean out.

One doesn’t need to be a confirmed pessimist to suspect the country will be virtually ungovernable, in any meaningful sense, for at least the next six years, by which time we will surely have seen a budget emergency.

Had Tony Abbott delivered Saturday night’s result and then carried on as if it is business as usual, the calls for his head would be deafening. Then again, as a man who understands the meaning of the words “integrity” and “honour”, we can be sure he would have removed himself before someone else had to do it.

We DelCons, by which I mean those of us outraged at the defenestration of a first-term PM and worried by the leftward drift of his usurper, might not have voted against the government in the numbers feared by certain commentators.  I didn’t for reasons that I have explained here. If the Liberals are dumb enough to persist with a mountebank who failed as Opposition Leader, failed as Prime Minister and indulged and encouraged the ABC’s worst tendencies when he was the minister in charge of the national broadcaster, all bets should be off. As far as the Liberal “base” is concerned, Turnbull’s survival — if that proves to be case — will be finished as an effective political force.  It is a mystery why so many media commentators, The Australian’s Paul Kelly in particular, are still canvassing the proposition that Turnbull can survive, even if the Coalition somehow manages to scrape home.

But what of the party itself?  The wets who backed Turnbull from the start, viz prior to the Abbott assassination, will no doubt be in denial and stick with him. Thankfully, their numbers have been reduced somewhat with the forced departure of the duplicitous duo, Hendy and Roy. Regrettably, Sinodinos is likely to survive.

Those who supported Abbott in the party room vote that toppled him will push strongly for Turnbull to go if, that is, they have any sense.  Ideally they will want him to resign of his own accord, but there’s no sign of that at present, such is the arrogance of the man.

But what of the Abbott turncoats? Will they be sufficiently enraged by the mismanaged election campaign to reverse their earlier decisions, or will they stick with Turnbull at any price by way of justifying their own gutlessness. Paul Kelly reports that Bishop, Morrison and Dutton (if he survives) are all pledged to Turnbull. If that is true, we know the answer to that question.

Kelly says:

Many backbenchers who have worked their guts out to be re-elected — and are deeply aware of the mistakes in the campaign — have no interest whatsoever in converting a serious setback into a full catastrophe.

The point of forming government is not to form government but to govern. Turnbull’s legacy in the new Senate ensures that a Coalition government won’t be able to do that in any meaningful sense. Rather, it limp along as a lame duck that can achieve nothing worthwhile, particularly on the economic front, and subject to constant sniping from a re-energized Labor, which would almost certainly win the following election. The country would have nothing to show for three wasted years, if it lasted that long, of impotent Coalition governance.  That would be the ‘full catastrophe’ indeed.

I can’t agree with Kelly’s logic in supporting the continuation of Turnbull’s leadership, but he may well be right that it will be the outcome.  Self-interest in the Party room and a collective inability to admit the monumental mistake of  last September, may well prevail. But given how Turnbull has alienated the wider conservative base, he cannot survive in the long term. Let’s assume wiser counsel prevails and Turnbull does the near-unthinkable and resigns or is pushed. To whom do the Liberals then turn?

The obvious choice is Tony Abbott but, despite my preference for this option, it must be admitted that it has its drawbacks. As prime minister, Abbott did not cover himself in glory and doubtless will remain deeply unpopular with many voters.  Whatever happens, Abbott should be brought back into Cabinet. My preference would be to see him in  Defence.

But who is the alternative?

Scott Morrison, a solid performer as Immigration Minister and not so long ago touted as a future leader, has tarnished his credentials as Turnbull’s Treasurer. But perhaps he could be rehabilitated. It’s hard to know how much of his underwhelming performance as Treasurer was all his own work and how much can be laid at Turnbull’s door. He might do for the general public, but I doubt he could swing the party room. Much the same goes for Julie Bishop.

Let me make a bold suggestion. In the event that the Coalition gets back and is able to govern in its own right, it will have to deal with a very fractious Senate. Abbott’s inability to get Senate crossbenchers on-side regarding no-brainers such as the ABCC and sensible reforms to university funding, was one of his key failings. The ability to deal with the Senate will be one of the major considerations in selecting a new Coalition PM.  It seems Mathias Cormann was apparently well regarded by the Senate cross-benchers and he has the inestimable advantage of not having any prime ministerial blood on his hands. He has also performed well in his media engagements and appears to have no background skeletons, other than a propensity to enjoy a good cigar, which would no doubt be resurrected in a heartbeat by our friends at Fairfax and the ABC.

If the party room can’t bring itself to re-instate Abbott as PM, Cormann, as unlikely a choice as he may seem, might just be the one who can bring all sides together.

If it comes to a hung parliament, the Coalition should run a mile and let Labor seize the day, even at the risk of facilitating a re-run of the asylum-seeker fiasco. Surely the insanity of going into minority government, relying on the whims of the latest crop of crossbench ferals, would be a bridge too far, even for a party so resolutely stupid as to have backed Turnbull.

If it comes to choosing an Opposition Leader, Abbott is the clear choice, providing he is willing to accept the job. And why wouldn’t he, despite Peta Credlin dismissing the idea?  Presumably, he decided to remain in Parliament in order to serve. I doubt his long-term vision sees him remaining on the backbench.

Whoever the Liberals choose, the more important task is to stake out a policy position that balances the concerns of traditional Liberal voters, both conservative and small ‘L’, while differentiating themselves from the Labor/Green touchy-feelies.

One good way to start would be to stop being half-pregnant about global warming. There must be a significant number of Liberal and National members who recognize CAGW for the costly scam that it is. Let me borrow from St Gough’s immortal line: It’s time they stood up and spoke out.  It’s time Tony Abbott once more said ‘climate change is crap’.  It’s time they used the mass of evidence readily available to call out the sinecured alarmists and pseudo-scientific charlatans, the renewable industry’s rent-seekers and the mindless ideologues and parrots infesting the mainstream media.

The Coalition has stood firm and prevailed against all the screams and invective from the Left on asylum seekers. It could, and should, do the same on global warming.

More than that, if the Coalition cannot parlay into a convincing argument for reform of Section 18C the Human Right’s Commission’s disgraceful treatment of QUT students for some innocuous Facebook posts after being barred on the basis of their skin colour from an Indigenous computer lab, they’re not really trying.

Cutting out the cancer of the Safe Schools Coalition and its twin, Building Respectful Relationships, rather than just tinkering around the edges of these excrescences, might also help. Differentiating themselves from Labor by proposing a plebiscite on same-sex marriage, rather than a parliamentary vote, just doesn’t cut it.

It might not yet be a ‘full catastrophe’ for the Coalition government but it certainly is for the country — especially if Turnbull is allowed to linger at the top.

Comments [29]

  1. Bill Martin says:

    Besides calling out CAGW, the coalition should likewise call out Islamic terrorism. Never mind trying to “keep Muslims on side” they simply don’t want to be “on side” whatever we do to appease them.

    Still, it’s all hypothetical as far as the future of the coalition goes. The Liberal Party is beyond redemption at least for a generation. Not only the backstabbers have to be gone, but also those tainted by serving in the team of the traitor in chief. Practically all of the parliamentary Liberals are tainted to varying degree, genuine renewal is not possible until they are all gone and forgotten.

  2. Jody says:

    Agree that Morrison’s performance has been affected by Turnbull pulling the off-switch in response to public concerns.

    Turnbull will remain leader because throwing him out will cause a bi-election in Wentworth after the inevitable resignation of the slighted Turnbull. Then it’s back to more difficulties for a possible minority government. It’s always a possibility for a Greens win in Wentworth.

    So, I’d say the option of tossing Turnbull is totally out of the question NOW.

    • PT says:

      He has to go Jody.

    • Bwana Neusi says:

      I get irritated by the slagging of Morrison.

      It was implied outrageously that even though he voted for Abbott, he was covertly a Turnbull man.

      Then as treasurer he was encouraged to make public policy statements only to be sand bagged by Turnbull with monumental “U turns”.

      What would you do? Leap over the cliff with the narcissist leader, or try to modulate and keep his powder dry.

      Don’t allow yourselves to be conned by the MSN and the leftists.

      • PT says:

        Forget Morrison. The architect Turncoat had to go. Where that leaves Morrison is up to others.

      • Jody says:

        Totally agree. Morrison was talking on Ray Hadley about the GST and Turnbull was back in parliament house with his ‘supporters’ inside cabinet having already made the decision to dump it!! Morrison loves a project; he’s a problem-solver and fix-it man. His day will come.

  3. PT says:

    Cormann is a Senator. Whose seat is he going to take, and are we really going to have a by-election immediately and before any negotiations take place?

    • Peter OBrien says:

      Yes, the by-election is a wrinkle that the party would have to solve. Cormann could remain a Senator for a limited period as PM elect. Certainly this would only happen if the Party had the gumption to make the necessary hard yards. Someone would have to be tapped on the shoulder, presumably one of the old guard who might be persuaded to put the national interest before their own and be content with a generous pension and whatever other perks might come their way. Unless the Party is prepared to take drastic steps it will never rehabilitate itself.

      And yes, they would also have to take the risk of a by election in Wentworth. If they’re not prepared to take a gamble on Wentworth then there is no hope for them anyway.

      • Peter OBrien says:

        And further to my last, if Turnbull did resign, Cormann could be parachuted into Wentworth.

        • PT says:

          Yesssss. But he’s based in Perth. It’ll be harder to sell than Gorton, the only precident (Lord Home apart). Gorton was Melbourne based, and took Holt’s vacant seat. No way to pretend Cormann lives in Wentworth – and that all presupposes the Prime Ego does the right thing. How likely is that?

          • Peter OBrien says:

            Why not? As Henry IV reportedly said ‘Paris is worth a mass’.

          • PT says:

            Peter, I don’t doubt Cormann could move to Sydney. But how would that play in Wentworth? Would they risk it?

          • Jody says:

            Agreed. The Wentworth voters would see through that in a heartbeat and react accordingly. Cormann is good but tends towards the robot. He stays on message but it’s the same thing over and over and over again.

          • Peter OBrien says:

            I’m not saying it has to be Wentworth. It’s just one option if it becomes vacant. And if they did decide to parachute Cormann or anyone else for that matter into Wentworth, they wouldn’t be attempting to fool the voters. Of course it would be obvious what they were doing. It would be a matter for the party to decide whether or not it was too risky. If Turnbull resigned in a huff, many latte sippers, who might previously have voted for Turnbull, would vote against the Libs regardless of who they put up. The real liberal supporters might be quite happy to vote for a PM elect.

            But regardless of that, my real point is that the Libs need to find someone to replace Turnbull. If it’s not going to be Abbott, who else could it be? Cormann is just one suggestion but he has certain advantages. Staying on message and going over the same thing again and again might not be a bad thing. If he doesn’t have to win an election he doesn’t need to be a show pony.

            Whoever they pick, the mechanics of getting it done will be tricky.

        • Gogs says:

          Forget Cormann, and get a parachute for Credlin.

  4. Rob Ellison says:

    Now is the not the winter of our malcontent.

    There are 8 seats in play with leads – Liberal or Labour – of less than 1000. I’ll check back in a couple of days. About the best analysis I’ve seen – and I have been reading a lot – is a tweet from a Labor strategist. A lead of less than a thousand at this stage for Labor is disastrous. So perhaps 78 seats for the Liberals. A result that was surely anticipated? A 49 to 51 result in the polls surely implies it? You then put the anti-corruption legislation it to a dual sitting, shrug your shoulders if it doesn’t pass and use it to bash Labor and the Greens over the head every time the unions act up. While you shore up support in the centre of politics and give the extreme right notice to quit. Sound like a plan?

    And I am a little bored with the fall of civilisation happening every time gays kiss or someone is presented with halal snack pack. It will probably kill you – not the kiss – lamb, gravy and chips in a styrofoam box. Maybe this is slow motion terrorism – culinary jihad – but it is pretty funny if you’re not too busy pulling a sour face at the very idea. We instead have the opportunity to create a global spanning but diverse civilisation worthy of the name this century. All it takes it tolerance, imagination, compassion and smarts.

    The worst analysis was one in Monthly by a Greens strategist – but it’s followed closely by some on the extreme right. Mal must quit they say at the start of a long rant. But nowhere but the fringes is this heard. Most of the Liberal Party prefers Mal to Tony. Is this another unholy alliance between extremes? Liberals would be ill advised to buckle to the baying from either extreme. Stamp your feet and threaten to leave the broad church? Go right ahead.

    The increase in government spending that occurred in the 1970′s – thanks to Gough – occurred in response to expectations about the sort of society in which we want to live. Indeed the sort of society that noted liberal Hayek discussed – when he wasn’t discussing economic policy. Subsequent governments increased spending in health and education more than the economy grew. It swallowed up more of the economy and strangled economic growth. It culminated in a wanton increase in spending by Kevin Rudd at the same time as a decrease in revenue in the GFC. It created a structural deficit that is bequeathed to future generations if it is not brought under control. And no you can’t just print money without causing other serious problems. Adult responsibility and discipline is needed. Governments since the 1970′s have ruled over a relative decline in defence and infrastructure spending. Health, education and welfare spending is not of course a bad thing but the economy needs to be where it is sustainable – and we are far from that in taxes and expenditure.

    The party was intense and we can anticipate a long recovery. We have unfortunately been here before – but these guys superpower is amnesia. Recovery needs to be based on a very good model of growth, income, taxes and transfers. You have to look at the numbers and not simply regurgitate half understood terms and notions like an angry child.

    First the impact of trade, innovation and tax lowering on income growth and distribution across deciles. There is an unquantified meme on increasing income unfairness. This is based entirely on a smaller than proportional increase in income in the lowest decile over the last 30 years. To be addressed by a reallocation of transfers. Please – do the top 50% need any transfers at all? Trade and innovation increase economic growth – as does a decrease in corporate tax. The latter decreases leakage to Singapore inter alia – as well as increasing capital intensity and creating new jobs. Dividends paid locally are taxed as income. Profits repatriated should be subject to reciprocal rules. The bottom line is how much more money there is in our pockets. Profits reinvested are of course how it should be.

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/interactives/chart/?chart=primary-vote-since-1949

    The picture tells the 2016 election story. A 3.4% drop in the Liberal primary vote and a 1.9% increase for Labor. Enough to swing seats. Longer term the Liberal vote has held up better than Labor’s against a long term drift to minor parties – whose preferences flow mostly to Labor. The longer term strategy seems clear – to continue to shore up primary support and steal the wind from Labor’s sails. Frankly – if that means losing a few more of the right wing malcontents to minor right wing parties – good. But short term let’s see where the chips fall before pointlessly speculating on what ifs.

    There are a couple of things that need better explanation over the next term in office. The importance of trade and innovation – and of spending and tax reform – to the welfare of Australians and the ability of government to spend on health, education and welfare.
    On the environment – the success of the emissions reduction fund in contracting to sequester 150 million tonnes of carbon – the potential is to sequester much more – and to do that while conserving environments, building agricultural productivity and providing income for remote Aboriginal communities. Taking care of land is the next logical step to land grants. Sign up to the French 4 pour 1000 initiative on soil carbon and support farmers all over the country who are doing revolutionary things in ‘holistic grazing’. This is the way to ‘save’ the Great Barrier Reef. Turn a negative into a positive.

    There are things that need inspired policy change. Off shore processing has been an expensive, inhumane and failing proposition. I’d replace it with onshore processing on Palm Island off Townsville. Let refugees work in our tropical food bowls and live in the community – without the right to gain citizenship. Encourage the return home or third country relocation. Save the concentration camps for criminal recalcitrants.

    Innovate on energy. Of course they are wrong on climate change – but it doesn’t matter. Fossil fuels are getting both scarcer and harder to access. There is a limit where other sources of energy become cost competitive – and I suspect that point is quite close with new gen nuclear in particular.

    Safe, cheap and abundant energy is the mantra for the new left with a high energy future in mind.

    “Climate change can’t be solved on the backs of the world’s poorest people,” said Daniel Sarewitz, coauthor and director of ASU’s Consortium for Science, Policy, and Outcomes. “The key to solving for both climate and poverty is helping nations build innovative energy systems that can deliver cheap, clean, and reliable power.”

  5. Michael Muscat says:

    So Rob is pro taxes, pro wealth transfers, pro gay marriage, pro Islam, pro renewables, pro open borders and most importantly pro Turnbull (no surprise). He mentions “innovation” and “growth” ten times in seven paragraphs.

    People like you need to be purged from the party.

    • PT says:

      He’s in the party?

    • Rob Ellison says:

      It is so much nonsense you come out with.

      1. Taxes at 38% of GDP are far too high – not sure how you get the reverse from anything I said.

      2. “But there are two kinds of security: the certainty of a given minimum of sustenance for all and the security of a given standard of life, of the relative position which one person or group enjoys compared with others. There is no reason why, in a society which has reached the general level of wealth ours has, the first kind of security should not be guaranteed to all without endangering general freedom; that is: some minimum of food, shelter and clothing, sufficient to preserve health. Nor is there any reason why the state should not help to organize a comprehensive system of social insurance in providing for those common hazards of life against which few can make adequate provision. It is planning for security of the second kind which has such an insidious effect on liberty. It is planning designed to protect individuals or groups against diminutions of their incomes.” F. A. Hayek

      Transfers are an inevitability. You say it like it’s a bad thing. It is part and parcel of living in a civilised community.

      2. I am in fact inclined to preserving traditions and religious sensitivities. Freedom of religion is a God given human right. You may believe what you will and civilised government may not make laws on religion. Governments have no mandate to redefine marriage. It’s in the Constitution. But I’m sure you appreciate that – as well the quandary presented by equality before the law. Now you may in fact dispense with civilised norms of government – but I’d rather not.

      3. I’m pro halal snack pack, freedom of religion, personal freedom unless crimes are committed and a civil society worthy of the name.

      4. I am for cheap energy – because surprise surprise that’s where we get economic growth. I think that’s new gen nuclear in the near term – https://watertechbyrie.com/2016/06/18/safe-cheap-and-abundant-energy-back-to-the-nuclear-energy-future-2/ – but I’m happy enough to be surprised.

      5. Open borders is a pretty odd term for processing refugees and sending them back to their own country when possible – or to a third country where not. Because leaky boats are to be discouraged.

      6. I voted a straight Liberal ticlket in Capricornia – as is my wont. We are still hanging in there with a shot. I’m not sure that unhelpful advice from the peanut gallery is all that welcome. If and when the majority is won – and it’s getting closer – the time will come to form a government. Like it or lump it. If you didn’t vote Liberal then what’s it to me.

      I’m sure I didn’t count but trade and productivity – the innovation bonus – are the keys to economic growth and a list of trite little catch cries don’t change economic realities. Economic growth – and spending restraint – is how taxes are lowered and further growth initiated.

  6. Marcus Walker says:

    just been working on my “dream team” on the magnetic whiteboard …… Michaelia Cash leader , Tony Abbott deputy … (was gunna put TY first , but worried about the PC , LGBTI…..Q.. sections of this webpage)….silly I know , but she is a trooper and a cleanskin (yet to be noticed by the MSM) …..just thinking aloud after a few ales ….

    • Jody says:

      My dream team: Morrison, Cormann, Frydenberg, Hunt, Porter. Did anybody watch the National Press Club address earlier this year when Frydenberg acquitted himself in a statesmanlike, cool and controlled manner? It was VERY impressive.

      • Peter OBrien says:

        Jody,

        didn’t see Frydenberg at Press Club but he has impressed me. Agree that Porter also seems good. Hunt – no! too wedded to CAGW

        • Jody says:

          We’ll all have our preferences but what I like about GH is that he’s unflappable!! Frydenberg was very polished, as I said, and he used humour and loads of grace and charm. Yes, it was a magnificent performance. See if you can catch it on I-view.

  7. wisernow says:

    Mathias Cormann appears to be an adequate minister and a polished TV performer but I’m not convinced that he is leadership material, nor has he the ability to heal the rift and bring the party together.

    Most of his adult working life has been in politics and the Liberals need a leader with a broader knowledge of private enterprise and one who is prepared to listen. Common sense is also a requisite and that could be lacking as it is with Malcolm.

    My first hand experience of Cormann is that he puts a lot of reliance in the opinion of the bureaucrats and lobbyists at the expense of the stake holders. I believe that he still has a bit of growing to do and of course must be prepared to face his electorate every three years.

    Scott Morison could be the answer but like Cormann it may be a tad too early to elevate him to that position and I only thank heaven that I’m no involved in the decision making process.

  8. Lo says:

    So you don’t see Abbott as Prime Minister but you don’t mind him having to slog up as Leader of the Opposition. And you didn’t vote against Malcolm Turnbull but you’re happy that we others did, not without agonising, that’s for sure. Do you really think we have stopped being angry, disappointed, disillusioned? Do you really think just popping in another anybody will heal the incredibly deep wounds and fix the problem?
    All my Labor acquaintances and some of my children really liked Malcolm Turnbull. But they didn’t vote for him, of course. They voted green or red or pink as usual. We’ll be undeservedly lucky if Abbott comes back but he might not bother. And with articles like this I’m not surprised.

    • Peter OBrien says:

      Perhaps you might like to read why I voted for my local liberal member. And as I said I would much prefer to see Abbott take over again as leader but I just don’t think it will happen if the Coalition gets back into government. There are too many vested interests at stake. That being the case I was merely canvassing some other options. But if the coalition goes into opposition, I think the obstacles to Abbott’s return as leader will lessen. At least I hope they would recognize they have no-one to touch him in that role. And as to asking him to muscle up for a second time, presumably he decided to stay on for the hard yards.

  9. Lo says:

    Could you think about having a party led by someone with real intelligence, real ideas and real talent, not just someone who presents well, looks good, has grace and charm and wears a great suit? What on earth are you interviewing for? A newsreader?