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December 07th 2016 print

Peter O'Brien

Go Now, Malcolm. Just Go

Josh Frydenberg was sent out to test a re-named and revived carbon tax, only to see his leader reverse course amid mutterings of a back-bench revolt. As there is still some spine in the Coalition, I yearn to see it flexed in the name of  principle, pragmatism and the noble cause of this PM's immediate ouster

turnbull selfie smallBack in April, Telegraph columnist Miranda Devine coined the term ‘delcon’ for delusional conservative.  It was intended to describe traditional conservative supporters so incensed at the knifing of Tony Abbott by Malcolm Turnbull that they would vote for almost anyone but a Liberal. The delcons’ rationale was that the party of Menzies had grown so corrupt it could only be reformed and resurrected by the salutary experience of a term on the Opposition benches. Whilst I sympathized with this view I could not bring myself to fully subscribe.  As I wrote

I have been a Liberal supporter all my life but how I vote in the upcoming election is line-ball.   For me the only compelling reason to vote for a LNP government that is looking increasingly like an ALP one is my absolute conviction that, if Labor gets back, the illegal immigrant trade will start up again regardless of what Labor may say or do, and that they will re-introduce some form of pointless and costly carbon tax.

A renewed flood of illegal immigrants was too big a price to pay for a possibly reborn Liberal Party, so my vote went to the Coalition with grave misgivings. The government did scrape back and, to date, the boats have not resumed. Thank God for that, but I fear there is still time for Turnbull to stuff this one too. His US solution for re-homing illegals from Nauru and Manus could still prompt a resurgence in the trade. What happens if President Trump repudiates the deal?  My guess is that Turnbull will be scrabbling frantically for an alternative destination, which could well turn out to be Australia.

How might he justify that?  Well, Turnbull believes, or claims to believe, that the US relocation will be the last concession of its kind and that it will deter the smugglers when coupled with a strengthened border-protection effort. That is highly debatable but, for the sake of argument, let’s go with him on this. If this logic works as a deterrent in relation to the US option, why wouldn’t it also work for Australia? Why didn’t Turnbull link the US option with the proposed lifetime-ban legislation?  It would have been the logical and sensible thing to do, but he let it go without so much as a whimper.  Conveniently, the absence of the lifetime ban gives Turnbull a fall-back position, which, as I suggest, could well be Australia.

Regarding the illegal immigrant issue, I may yet prove to have been over-optimistic in supporting the re-election of the Coalition.

What weight should people smugglers give to Turnbull’s firm statement on anything, given his waffling and vacillation on so many other issues? Here the confusion and contradictions of the Coalition’s recent re-visiting of a carbon tax — albeit  presented as “an emissions intensity scheme” — make the perfect example. In recent days and presumably with the Prime Minister’s endorsement, Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg was sent forth with a brief to see how the notion of further elevating the nation’s electricity bills might go over with the electorate.

“We know that there’s been a large number of bodies that have recommended an emissions intensity scheme, which is effectively a baseline and credit scheme. We’ll look at that,” Frydenberg dutifully intoned to purrs of satisfaction from his ABC interviewer.

Forty-eight hours later — again, presumably, with his leader’s support — the minister was furiously back-pedalling his green bicycle while point-blank denying he had intimated anything resembling a carbon tax might be in the offing. “I didn’t mention an emissions intensity scheme, it’s not in any document that the Coalition has put out, in relation to this review,” he told 3AW, adding: “The Turnbull Government is not contemplating such a scheme … we’re not advocating for such a scheme.”

From “we’ll look at that” to “we’re not contemplating such a scheme” in the space of just a few hours! Even by the standards of Turnbullian oscillation this was a remarkable about-face. If you don’t like Team Turnbull’s utterances on Monday, don’t worry — by Tuesday there will be entirely different positions in cabinet members’ daily talking points. Not that Frydenberg should feel especially aggrieved. Treasurer Scott Morrison could console him with his own experience of prime ministerial caprice, having been left similarly isolated and betrayed when told to go out and sell a program of sweeping tax reform, only to see himself embarrassed, abandoned and betrayed by his leader’s sudden retreat.

According to reports, Frydenberg’s repudiation of his own words followed a back-bench revolt, which prompts the hope that my decision at the ballot box to back Turnbull’s party might yet be proven righteous and correct. Apparently, somewhere in the Coalition, a vestigial backbone remains — a spine that might, just might, prove resilient enough to flex in the service of Turnbull’s ouster.

The Prime Minister’s most ardent — some would say “shameless” — groupie, The Australian‘s Nikki “Mrs Woolcock” Savva loves the term ‘delcon’ and uses it in almost every column, by which she means to heap scorn on anyone critical of her hubby’s boss. With the government looking increasingly like Labor on most issues and, worse than that, stumbling incoherently toward the extreme likelihood of a Labor victory at the next election, how disastrous would it have been if Labor had won? Just how deluded were those delcons, Nikki?

So call me a neo-delcon if you will, Mrs Woolcock, but it’s time for Turnbull to go. He should have offered his resignation after the election debacle. Any other leader would have, but he did not. Failing that, the party should have dumped him before he could do any more damage. Given that Turnbull’s own polls are every bit as dire as were Abbott’s at the time of his defenestration, now would be a good time for Turnbull to retire gracefully. If he can put the interests of the Liberal Party and nation ahead of his ego, that is. Yes, it’s a dubious proposition, but one lives in hope that there is something our current Prime Minister cares about more than himself.

Conventional wisdom says it would be political suicide for the government to dump another PM.  But conventional wisdom, like the current Prime Minister, does not have a great track record of late.

Comments [31]

  1. en passant says:

    Peter,
    Unfortunately their remain within the il-Liberals a sufficient number of useless hacks that the Party is beyond reform. My local Liberal was re-elected (without my vote). Fortunately, my wish that Senate would be ‘Balkanised’ and defenestrated only partially came true as some of those who sneaked in are as useless as those they replaced.

  2. EVR says:

    “team Turnbull’s utterances on Monday etc”

    To quote Groucho Marx, “Those are my principles, if you don’t like those I have others”.

  3. Colin S says:

    I gave a preferential vote to the Coalition in the last election, in the hope they would scrape in and Turnbull would be ousted. At first, it seemed the high risk strategy had worked, except Turnbull is still around. IMO, Australian politics is at an all time, low. Trump’s win keeps me optimistic and even deliriously happy, as he continues to “Drain the swamp”.

    I had hoped Abbott, and in particular, Benardi, might have started a revolution, but it seems not to be.

  4. Bill Martin says:

    Spot on, en passant. Sadly, Peter’s hope for the Liberal Party is hopelessly optimistic. It must be remembered that not only the 54 traitors who voted for Turnbull constitute the disease of the party, but also the rest of the parliamentary members who failed to resign in protest at the shameful betrayal. One despairs witnessing the death throes of the once great party of Menzies but there appears to be very little hope of its resurrection.

  5. Jody says:

    Turnbull HAS to go. He threw Morrison under a bus earlier this year when he said “everything about tax is on the table” and now Frydenberg for saying the same thing. Turnbull is a joke and the sooner he goes the better. But Abbott is NOT the answer; they need someone of the heft of Christian Porter or Josh Frydenberg at the helm; calm, rational and cool heads with the political smarts. Turnbull is going to sink the party further into the mire.

    • pgang says:

      They will never go back to Abbott because they think it will look too much like krudd-grillard-krudd. The fact that it already looks like that apparently hasn’t occurred to them.

      By the way are there two Jody’s here?

      • Jody says:

        No; it’s still me. I’m fed up with Talk-Bull and his ministrations of mindlessness. He is absolutely PATHETIC at politics. As one of my sons has quipped, “he still thinks he’s in a board room giving instructions to the CEOs”.

        But he’s STILL better than Tony Abbott, who lied about wrecking the joint when he was over-thrown. He can’t help himself.

        I think the Coalition needs to lose the next election, regroup with a new leader and re-learn the conservative brand. There’s no other way. Let Labor mess up the country, but one wonders if they’d do a worse job than this mob anyway. I just fear more open borders under Labor.

  6. pgang says:

    It doesn’t matter whether he goes now or not. Australia is completely stuffed already, and the next government will be Labor’s no matter who is leading the Coalition. We are on the road to ever greater financial ruin.

    • Jody says:

      And I’m uncertain about whether Labor would even be elected next time; I think a hung parliament is more likely, since the last election showed people moving away from both major parties in droves – but with Labor it was more obvious. Shorten is a quarter wit (half is too generous) and I don’t like any of the other dunces on the front bench. If I hear Jenny Macklin one more time crying that shrill “taking ME MONEY OFF ME” I think I’ll take to the drink.

  7. Keith Kennelly says:

    Neither Frydenberg nor Porter are the answer. Abbott teamed with Dutton as deputy and Treasurer would do the trick.

    Abbott would have a field day with both Shorten and the media.
    He’d carve them both up.

    How could media do anything but support Shorten and Abbott would crucify them with their own hypocrisy and their confirmed lack of judgement and credibility. Their bias against Abbott caused the return of Hanson and her rabble instead of a labor government. Everyone ignores that fact.

    Dutton would solidify a straightforward approach as both would speak their minds. The public would flock to them.

    And what would Nikki do? She’d be properly flummoxed.

    • Jody says:

      Disagree. Abbott was superb in opposition but patently unsuitable for the job of PM. It turns out Credlin had all the brains in that outfit. Watching her on Skynews, she’s absolutely brilliant and way ahead of the curve. All the comments she makes about the government are absolutely laser accurate. I would definitely want her on my team, but not behaving as a PM which she did under Abbott. He just wasn’t up to it.

      Porter is a confident performer and, as ex Attorney General or Treasurer of WA (I forget which) he has the smarts and the conservative credentials. Watch that guy; he’s got a great career ahead if he makes all the right moves and strikes when the time is right. And he’s sincere in clamping down on welfare.

      I’m sorry to say Morrison has destroyed his chances with Team Turnbull and his trashing of the conservative brand via superannuation changes.

      • pgang says:

        Will never understand your strident dislike of Abbott. He actually achieved quite a lot, but was disappointing in other areas. That’s politics. At least he was steering a steady course, which is all Australia wanted. If he were to become leader again (won’t happen), I’ve no doubt he would learn the lessons of past mistakes and improve his performance.

        • Jimbob says:

          Never say “never” – Even a grand potentate like Nebuchadnezzar had to learn to eat “humble pie”. Hearing both Abbott and Dutton speak, I must say I don’t feel so despairingly about Australia’s possibilities. Abbott has always been impressive both as a political performer and as a human being and Dutton really does have it – superior political ability and skill.

          Without these two in key positions of power, the Liberal party is finished at the next election. I travel the countryside and do regular industry seminar presentations (in my particular industry) and though this is only anecdotal, the personal dislike for MT is palpable and all he is doing is sending more people to the likes of Pauline Hanson (who I don’t mind necessarily – she’s certainly no worse than the hypocrites in all the other parties and better than most as a human being – but I cannot support all her policies). What the Libs are missing is that at the last election despite the bleeding to One Nation and other right of centre parties, many voted “traditionally”. What I hear at the coalface is that many if not most of these voters are now lost. They’ve seen enough of MT, SCOMO and JB to deliberately jettison all previous loyalties to the Libs – this triumvirate is damaged goods and a liability to the Liberal party.

          Of course, the current Liberal leadership team won’t believe a word I write here (if any of them even bother to read it) but so be it. They will continue to rely on the “pollsters” at their peril – what a voice says on the end of the phone is not the same what the person will say face to face. If the truth be told, maybe the time has come for the nation to eat “humble pie”. The road to glory is through the valley of humiliation.

    • Trog says:

      Wholeheartedly agree. All Tony needed to do last time was headbutt the media instead of trying to be polite and reasonable when mocked and scorned atrociously.

      Old Joh did it years back. If they aren’t your friends or even prepared to be manner lyrics, go for the jugular as Trump so beautifully did.

  8. Keith Kennelly says:

    The fact significant number of people preferred Hanson to both Turnbull and Shorten is an indictment of both. I’d opine If the Liberals return to Abbott he’ll also win the Senate … easily.

  9. Bran Dee says:

    So many share the concern of Peter O’Brien but we must seek all avenues to avoid a Labor victory. Is there anyone out there like Trump? Someone with business experience and parliamentary experience and proven strong conservative values who seeks opportunity to take on the media and all the Left with assertiveness along with an engaging manner and ready smile. It is not Tony Abbott, not Josh, not Scott, not Bernardi.
    It could perhaps be Michaelia Cash who is called a brilliant media performer in the winners and losers table by Janet Albrechtsen in her column today 7/12. M C as leader, Angus Taylor as deputy and Christian Porter as treasurer would be a brilliant team. They could swap preferences with One Nation and go into coalition with them and the Nationals and appoint Pauline Hanson as deputy.
    One Nation is now accepted as having skyrocketing support and Dick Smith is now a supporter along with many who call in to radio 2GB.

  10. ianl says:

    Both Morrison and Frydenberg have suffered for their ambitions, but volunteering to be a test pilot is inherently risky. Still, one can imagine that Waffle is now running out of volunteers.

    The idea of running up a flag of increasing any and every tax was quite astonishing, even more so that Morrison thought it would help his CV.

    But proposing to increase the cost and unreliability of power, even using the meaningless Gillard phrase “a price on carbon” (what *does* that mean ?), when we are watching the ongoing debacle in SA, the loss of the Portland Alcoa smelter, the closure of Hazelwood and the insane CO2 “targets” that various ALP luminaries are spouting without any empiricism at all, marks Frydenberg as spectacularly enthralled by his own ambitions … he doesn’t need intelligence, does he ?

    Waffle is not a figure of pompous fun anymore. He’s dangerous because he cannot help but pander to his vanity.

    • Jody says:

      Disagree: I think Josh is one of the few with real intellectual heft. He’s young, so any short-term damage can be overcome. (Mind you, my sons ex-girlfriend – on the parliamentary staff – couldn’t stand Frydenberg, claiming “Josh is all for himself”, and we used to have ding dong arguments about him!)

      • ianl says:

        My view is that Frydenberg deliberately subsumes his ability (which in any case may just be facile) to his overweening ambition. So I suppose I agree with your son’s ex ! [Does she have an older sister ?]

        Waffle is determined to indulge in a punch up with his own party. What triggered this ? Trump’s totally unexpected electoral success, I think. Such an outcome was never, ever considered as even possible in Waffleworld – now he has no powerful ally, no big and influential lefty to do deals with, just the ABC and Fairfax … treacherous as they are. So Waffle is acting out now.

  11. Don A. Veitch says:

    Getting rid of Turnbull is pointless.
    Get rid of bad economics.
    There is hope! Trump just had to mention: ‘tariffs’, ‘anti-free trade’, steel in Pittsburgh, infrastructure, anti-war/deals with Putin, and he won. The first party to follow suit will win (Hanson is part proof). M/s Clinton focussed on Trumps personality

    The Liberal Party IS the problem. They don’t need branches with real people. They have forgotten, again, the forgotten people

    I joined the Liberal Party in 1973 to fight Whitlam’s psycho-politics and the Fabian stuff. But under Fraser we got multiculturalism and Australia’s continued de-industrialisation. Then ‘same-same but different’ with Labor (Hawke/Keating).
    I left the Liberal Party in 1990 (and stood as an independent. On an anti-free-trade platform after a nasty fight with a Mount Pelerin Society mob about who was stacking branches in Melbourne’s Western suburbs. The MPS free-trade economic politics were not much different to Hawke/Keating, just nastier, more brutish and more extreme. Howard did little except ban guns. He continued to play the racial card, union bashing (Reith), de-industrialisation, flogging free-trade and joining in a few neo-con wars (Bush’s ‘man of steel’). I can’t remember anything Rudd Gillard did, except the unnecessary cringing Black Apology (the ultimate in identity politics). And we still got free trade and de-industrialisation and the ‘Washington concensus’

    The Liberals (especially ‘delcons’) are Bourbons who learn nothing. ‘Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”, the more things (pretend to) change, the more they stay the same.

    • Jody says:

      Tonight on “Credlin and Keneally” (Skynews) Peta Credlin has been talking about economic reform in the wake of the bad retraction of growth this quarter. She said Australia needed reform and, above all, to lower the company tax rate – just as Trump is doing. She said this will soon be the new world order and Australia has to get with it!! (Credlin is smart as paint!)

      What did Keneally say? “No, we need the money to fund the NDIS etc”. These Labor people just have NO BLOODY IDEA. But it’s the government’s fault for not making that argument about Labor themselves. The only conclusion I can draw is that they don’t get it either!!!!

  12. whitelaughter says:

    The decision on who to replace Turnbull with will be made in the partyroom, so not much point discussing it.

    However, if “Delcon” is going to be a thing, perhaps we should start referring to our preferred politicians as “DELightful CONservatives”: if nothing else it’ll infuriate the trendy set.

  13. Keith Kennelly says:

    Abbott is the only answer. He has backbone. That’s why he was so hated by the media.

    He’s also the only who could reform the Liberal Party. That’s why he was hated in his own party.

    The failing of Turnbull is only highlighting the misjudgement and lack of credibility of the Turnbull faction and media who supported him and

  14. Keith Kennelly says:

    The only person who could hope to gain from the Liberals talking about a carbon tax is …. Malcom. He’d be hoping it might swing his popularity ratings around by ingratiating himself with left wing voterrs. You know the ones who said he’s a great PM but who didn’t vote for him.

    Josh just wasn’t smart enough to see that.

    • Jody says:

      I disagree. Nobody in the government has any illusions about Talk Bull. Not at all. They’d be amoeba if they didn’t get it by now.

      What really galls me is that Talk Bull will sail back along Sydney Harbour to his mansion and a continuing rich lifestyle, while the career politicians like Morrison, Freydenberg and others who have families to feed, will be left with young families and careers in tatters. So reminiscent of the Rudd years!! But the people must share responsibility in this too; they voted for a shambles Senate and every idea Morrison has brought forward to fix the budget – every single one – has been howled down in different sectors of the community. Then that shrill rent-seeker Jenny Maklin screeches like a parrot from the opposition benches, “taking ME money off me”!!!!!!!!!

  15. pgang says:

    The Hanson/Smith combo might throw up something interesting. Smith is a weirdo, but he’s a clever weirdo. He might be what Hanson needs to give her nationalistic agenda some serious legs. A policy or two wouldn’t go astray either.

    • Avalon says:

      It’s been put to me that the choice is Turnbull or Shorten – decide. I reject that. We can vote Liberal in the Representatives and rightist small party in the Senate, thus forcing Turnbull to be a conservative despite himself.

      • Jody says:

        Talk Bull is daily becoming more reminscent of “The Portrait of Dorian Gray”.

      • pgang says:

        Personally I think we need to rid ourselves of the habit of attempting to use the senate to control government. It’s self defeating and undemocratic To vote for one party for government and then another for the senate is like short circuiting a battery.

  16. Malcolm Bligh Turnbull = Captain Bligh II. OZ = HMS Bounty, which was incinerated at Pitcairn.