The current Prime Minister’s greatest asset after his scrape-home re-election is that there are no obvious candidates to replace him. As credit agencies and economic headwinds enhance the Liberal leader’s demonstrated talent for making a hash of things, that may well change
As the likes of The Australian’s Paul Kelly continue to tout Malcolm Turnbull as merely “wounded” and the other voices in Canberra choir continue to sing their version of The Messiah, there is almost no chance the Liberal party room will take any action to remove Turnbull at this time. The prevailing logic seems to be that removing the Prime Minister just after he has won an election would be madness. Of course, any halfway decent Prime Minister who delivered last weekend’s full-on catastrophe would already have offered his resignation and avoided the need for an ousting. A leader who had the interests of, first, the country and, second, the party, that is. (Am I really that naïve, you ask?)
So, if it’s too soon to remove Turnbull, what is a decent interval between victory and a tap on the shoulder? Is there a time scale based on magnitude of victory that determines when a leader can be replaced? Tony Abbott won a landslide victory, but the knives were out for him within six months. On that basis, next week wouldn’t be too soon for Turnbull.
Six months might now become the benchmark, because it seems that ratings agencies have put Turnbull notice that he will have to get spending under control within that timeframe or risk a credit downgrade. They have signalled that he will have to do more than what is already mooted. And they are likely to be less forgiving than Turnbull’s lemmings in the party room.
What are the chances we will see any sign of meaningful economic improvement in six months? Despite the pious platitudes we’ve heard from Turnbull and Shorten about working together in the national interest, what chance that the big-ticket items — Medicare, Gonski, NDIS, age pensions (all sacred cows of the Left) — will be up for discussion? From this morning’s Australian:
Opposition treasury spokesman Chris Bowen has signalled a tough line to the government’s efforts to repair the budget, saying the Coalition should adopt Labor’s election policies if it wants to balance the nation’s books.
They are now backing away from measures they supported in their election campaign. That doesn’t sound like ‘seeking common ground’ to me. That sounds like ‘scorched earth’. And we’re also hearing rumblings from within the Coalition about reversing some budget measures, such as the superannuation changes. Does anyone believe that Shorten, who showed scant regard for the national economic interest during the last parliament, will now change his tune when he has Turnbull on the ropes? Even Laurie Oakes doesn’t think so.
How effective will Turnbull and his team be if Australia loses the AAA rating? We all know that the parlous state of our economy is almost entirely courtesy of Labor but back in the heady days of Wayne Swan, any criticism of our downward economic direction was met with the smug response that ‘we’ve now got AAA rating from three agencies’, quite conveniently ignoring that this was on the back of the Howard/Costello hard yards. Labor would relish the prospect of a credit rating downgrade as it would effectively torpedo Coalition claims to being better economic managers. They would gleefully push the line that under their watch the credit rating improved, while under Turnbull’s watch it has gone backward. Given the effectiveness of the Mediscare campaign, this theme would resonate with the public.
Better to dump him now and cop the bad press. The next three years is going to be very ugly on the economic front — and pretty untidy on other matters as well.
But in order for a successful spill to happen there must be a believable contender. Graham Richardson in The Australian on Wednesday opined that there are no obvious candidates. Well, that means we must look to the non-obvious ones. Last week I suggested it might be Mathias Cormann, but I’m not wedded to him. I only made that suggestion in the belief that the party room would not wear Tony Abbott coming back, gutless as they are. But without a name for the opposition to Turnbull to coalesce around, things are likely to drift. It doesn’t need to be a party reformer or one of the up-and-coming younger brigade. It needs to be someone who can steady the ship, cop the flak and get through, idealy, the next three years. Someone who may not have the field-marshal’s baton in his backpack and would be happy to serve the country’s interest and then retire gracefully. And who knows, that person might just shine in the role and endure?
If DelCons more influential than I, and more knowledgeable on the dramatis personae involved, wish to see Turnbull gone, I suggest he or she start naming names. That’s how all leadership spills have their genesis. Flogging a dead horse? Possibly, but in the immortal words of Basil Fawlty, this is one equine carcass that warrants ‘a damned good thrashing’.