We no longer require a Labor Party or a Greens Party, according to a waggish friend of mine, since the elevation of Malcolm Turnbull to The Lodge means we now have everything in the one party; indeed, everything in the one man. Perhaps the Liberals, the ALP and the Greens should form a coalition and let the National Party go out to grass. In these days of PC rectitude no longer do we require the ideological diversity of Australia represented in Parliament.
I shared a table with Malcolm Turnbull at a Liberal fund-fundraising event in November 2012, the day after Barack Obama defeated Mitt Romney. He was effortlessly charming in that perfectly detached way of his. At the mention of Clive James’ The Book of my Enemy Has Been Remaindered, Turnbull casually launched into a recital: “The book of my enemy has been remaindered/And I am pleased…//…It has gone with bowed head like a defeated legion/Beneath the yoke.” Not bad for an Australian politician, my companion and I agreed. Tony Abbott’s self-declared taste in literature, by contrast, runs to Lord of the Rings.
At the start of the evening somebody had introduced me to Turnbull as a writer for Quadrant. I knew that would not impress him for a second but the look of cold, polite loathing came as a surprise – he, of course, enjoys the admiration of magazines of a very different philosophical hue, such as The Monthly, to which he has been an enthusiastic contributor. (The admiration is mutual: see below) Nevertheless, we were seated at the same table and the banter was sharply amusing and his eloquence on the subject of Robert Hughes – my favourite Australian writer, along with Clive James – highly entertaining. Robert Hughes, uncle of Turnbull’s wife Lucy, had died in August that year, and Malcolm Turnbull made a deeply affecting speech on his in-law’s behalf in Parliament. Personable, articulate and even charismatic, Malcolm Turnbull the Liberal politician always seemed to be on the money in every respect except – well – his politics.
The Monthly’s kind of Liberal
Robert Manne gushes about “Turnbull as the last true Deakinite Liberal“.
Amanda Lohrey is awash with admiration for the Liberals’ “last reasonable man”
… and yet more love
It was certainly not electoral appeal that had propelled Tony Abbott into the Liberal leadership position on December 1, 2009. It was, in the end, Malcolm Turnbull’s steadfast determination to force PM Rudd’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) on the Liberal Party that brought him undone. History tells us that Kevin Rudd won the battle to intensify dissension within the ranks of the Liberal Party – and emasculate Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership – only to lose the war and see his CPRS rejected in the Senate. Kevin Rudd, previously unassailable as prime minister, never recovered from the defeat. Tony Abbott, in other words, had clutched victory from the jaws of defeat for the Liberal Party and – like him or not – there was, for something like six years, no real choice for them but to support the self-conscious public performer who possessed little of the élan of Malcolm Turnbull.
At the time of the fundraising evening we were less than a year out from the next federal election. Nobody that night, whatever they might say now, could be entirely sure Opposition Leader Abbott would lead the Coalition to victory against the hapless Julia Gillard. They might have been even less certain of the Liberals returning to the government benches had they known Kevin Rudd Mark II would be returning as ALP leader before the 2013 election. That night in November, 2012, especially after Malcolm Turnbull took control with such aplomb of the inevitable post-dinner auction, I am guessing that almost everyone in the crowded room felt he had more electoral appeal than Abbott and wished he were leader again. If only the man’s politics were otherwise. Not only had he supported the CPRS but, originally at least, cautioned against the Liberals re-adopting John Howard’s comprehensive border policies. And why, for instance, did he have to be so damn enthusiastic that night about Barack Obama’s re-election? When Turnbull briefly returned to our table towards the conclusion of the evening, I asked him if he had changed his mind about Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming (CAGW) given that the global temperature had not increased for 15 years – now 18, of course – but he only managed a few words before we were interrupted by the hostess. He was whisked off to another part of the room and I never spoke to him again that night.
I would still be interested in an answer, although Tony Abbott’s so-called Direct Action plan – like so many other of his policies – provides his successor with a certain amount of wiggle room, something that the wedge politics of Rudd’s CPRS did not permit back in 2009. Would Turnbull, if Opposition Leader, have supported Julia Gillard’s tax on carbon-dioxide emissions? Who knows and who cares, because the Abbott government rescinded her pointless Clean Energy Act (2011) in 2014. Turnbull, if he has any sense, will ward off the warmistas with Abbott’s Direct Action arrangement, at least until he wins the 2016 election. He will be able to contrast Coalition common sense with the Labor-Greens resolve to tax the very air we breathe.
I am, as you might have guessed, a supporter of Tony Abbott. The perfidy of characters like Christopher Pyne, the new Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, astounds me. How about an Independent Liberal or National challenging Pyne in his seat of Sturt? I stand by my article “Abbott: Right Man, Right Time” in the November, 2014, edition of Quadrant, and am somewhat persuaded by anarcho-Marxist Brendan O’Neil’s talk of a coup d’etat orchestrated by the media elite:
Whatever the internal Liberal machinations that led to the ousting of Abbott, the public mythologisation of his removal is revealing and terrifying. It speaks to the new intolerance, where anyone who refuses to buy into chattering-class orthodoxies can expect ridicule, and maybe even the termination of their careers.
The incessant demonisation of Tony Abbott, from Julia Gillard’s 2012 misogynist slur to journalist Clementine Ford’s ‘F… Abbott’ T-shirts, makes it hard to know the extent to which Abbott’s relative unpopularity over the long haul was due to a quirky media persona or hostile media.
That said, there was a certain satisfaction watching Labor-Greens going into meltdown from the instant Malcolm Turnbull announced his challenge for the Liberal leadership on Monday, September 14. Tony Abbott could not get to the microphone before an alarmed Opposition Leader Bill Shorten had called a press conference and insisted that a Turnbull win “changes nothing”, and that the Member for Wentworth was “another out-of-touch arrogant leader”. Nothing changes? So, Bill, why all the panic? Once Turnbull was installed as prime minister, Tania Plibersek introduced into parliamentary proceedings her toxic brand of Identity Politics – except the “mansplaining” smear against PM Turnbull sounded lame. Tony Abbott was no misogynist, as I outlined in the Quadrant Online article “Love in the Age of Choleric” (August 2013), and yet Gillard, Plibersek, et al could usefully misinterpret his old-fashioned style along those lines. Malcolm Turnbull, the charming, sophisticated, man-about-town, is another matter altogether.
Tony Burke, with whom I usually do not agree, never said a truer word with this assessment of Malcolm Turnbull’s first appearance as the Coalition’s prime minister: “It was a nicer suit but basically it was Tony Abbott with elocution.” That is basically right because, for the moment at any rate, PM Turnbull is locked into ex-PM Abbott’s policies. Malcolm Turnbull might not have had the notion or the resolve to initiate Operation Sovereign Borders and yet its obvious success augurs against dismantlement any time soon. The same goes for Abbott’s plebiscite proposition for gay marriage subsequent to the next federal election.
And ditto for the republican cause. Because Abbott helped extinguish it as a burning issue in 1999, it not need be a burning issue in 2015 or 2016. (PM Turnbull can cancel the Australian knighthood scheme because it is neither here nor there.) The free trade agreement with China – Abbott’s baby. The national security legislation – that’s Abbott again. Sadly for Labor, one of the other things Abbott has bequeathed his successor is the possibility of short-term MSM approval, if only as a seasonal contrast to the wintry hammering the former-PM himself endured during his tenure. No less than the Sydney Morning Herald this weekend reported “Rock star reception for PM”. And that’s the Fairfax press – right now, at any rate.
The current state of affairs will not last for long, but perhaps long enough for the Labor-Greens to be crushed at the 2016 election by the policies of Tony Abbott. What happens after that is anybody’s guess. The libertarian-conservative politics of Tony Abbott are not going away, just as the man himself (apparently) is not going away. At some later date, perhaps, an emboldened – or pressured – Malcolm Turnbull might chose to introduce a carbon-dioxide tax of his own devising, but to that we can simply say: forget what the ABC is preaching and remember the events of December 1, 2009.
If Turnbull does try to impose a leftist-progressive agenda on the Liberal Party, then — as Senator Cory Bernardi says — “alternatives will spring up”. You won’t read that in The Monthly.
Daryl McCann has a blog at http://darylmccann.blogspot.com.au