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March 01st 2017 print

Alan Moran

Chaos, Opportunity and Abbott’s Agenda

Escorted to the prime ministership by the trumpeting phalanx of his media shills, Malcolm Turnbull has produced exactly what detractors anticipated: division, desertion and, ultimately, his party's likely defeat. Why not take a new tack?

turnbull glumDisunity is death, according to many of the voices critical of Tony Abbott.  They point to the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd episode the poisoning of the ALP’s chances of beating Tony Abbott in 2013.  Reaching back in time there was the Hawke-Keating jockeying in the 1990s and, for the Coalition, the Joh-for-Canberra campaign of Bjelke-Petersen in 1987 and the oscillating Liberal Party leadership of John Howard and Andrew Peacock.

One feature of these episodes is that they were based on personality politics.  There were no substantive policy differences between challenger and incumbent.  The leader was under pressure because the polls suggested electoral defeat.

Style-versus-substance is what differentiates these earlier events from more recent ones, starting with Tony Abbott’s 2009 wrestling of the Liberal leadership from Malcolm Turnbull on the issue that remains the left-right fault line: climate change policies.  Other matters delineating leadership aspirants from incumbents, especially migration, crime and trade, are more prominent overseas.

But where leadership tussles arise on the basis of policy substance, not aesthetics, disunity need not lead to loss of office and can bring about resurgence. This was certainly true of Abbott post-2009, when he displaced Turnbull, whose climate change policy (and sentiments) were identical to Labor.  Abbott went on to overtake what had been a popular government – at least among the media elites.

More rcently we saw Donald Trump winning power, not only by contesting the ground against Democrats but also while fighting within his own party against both grandees and similar-minded parvenus like Ted Cruz.  In Europe we see parties previously regarded as minor players on the right achieving prominence, if not yet leadership, in France, the Netherlands, and Germany.

This is similar to the situation in Australia, where Hanson and Cory Bernadi are hoovering support from conservative Liberals/Nationals, just as the Greens have done for decades with the Labor left.

Last week, Tony Abbott speaking at the launch of Making Australia Right,  injected into the debate five policies he considers the Liberals need to take on board if they are to become competitive.  These policies are:

  • closing or curtailing the renewable-energy poison,
  • reducing immigration — ostensibly to combat house prices, but arguably a dog whistle against those rejecting the existing rule of law, particularly Muslims
  • re-allowing freedom of speech by scrapping the Human Rights Commission
  • stopping all new spending
  • reforming Parliament to reduce the Senate’s veto powers.

Abbott may have been using the address to launch his return as prime minister — or he may have been laying out an agenda which others could embrace.  In any event, his speech was most definitely a challenge to Turnbull, whom he was well aware would find the key issue in this quintet — Abbott’s energy-policy proposals — to be utterly unacceptable. Far from changing course on a policy that has  brought about his political downfall once already, Turnbull is seeking solutions to maintaining the renewable surge via vacuous technological fixes being conjured by his latest mystic, Chief Scientist Alan Finkel.

Forcing the demise of coal is a premium goal of the “elite media”.  Terrified of politics falling into a philosophical realm that they have spent their lives contesting, its response to Abbott’s “manifesto” was epitomised by the most recent of AFR pundit Laura Tingle’s frothing rants (“Abbott an utter waste of space”).

Abbott’s detractors have a case.  While he got rid of the Mining Tax and the Carbon Tax, he also embarked on spending programs that have been his hallmark: health R&D spending and a whole clutch of expenditures for the welfare sector and telecoms inherited from the previous administration.  And, one new commissioner aside, he did nothing to de-fang the Human Rights Commission.  Moreover, his efforts to turn the tide on green energy regulations were totally inadequate.

While Turnbull has not achieved much, he has made some advances in industrial relations and chipped away at spending.

The reaction of Abbott’s colleagues has ranged from one of sadness to one of visceral abhorrence.

This reflects three different interests within the Coalition.  First there are the wets, presently holding the commanding positions, who never liked Abbott’s deviations from the centre and were not mollified by his disappointing follow-through, as seen by dries.

Secondly, there are those, in some cases overlapping the first group, who see a new Abbott administration as cruelling their own chances of seizing the field-marshall’s baton or, more immediately, of seeing themselves knocked down the pecking order.  Stand up Josh Frydenberg, Mathias Cormann, Christopher Pyne, Julie Bishop.

Thirdly, there are those – comprising any member with less than a 10% margin and, as George Christensen’s resignation demonstrates, even some with huge margins, who fear the politics of disruption.  Most MPs, like the fictional Peter Mannion MP in the Thick of It, will say they entered the vocation “to make a difference”–  but the key difference is to their own lifestyles. Most will bend over backwards to retain it.  Almost all politicians recognise that the Brexit and Trump polls have announced seismic shifts away from the positions and worldviews endorsed and beloved of the elites. They cannot, however, find a way to exploit this development.

Abbott is, like all politicians, doubtless motivated by personal ambition. But he is also promoting policy positions that might prevent the haemorrhaging of support to the right while proving attractive to the sort of blue collar ALP supporters — those being slugged with jaw-dropping electricity bills, for starters — whose US equivalents flocked to the Trump banner.

Alan Moran’s new book CLIMATE CHANGE: Treaties and Policies in the Trump era, is to be published by Connor Court next week. 

Comments [30]

  1. ianl says:

    > ” … policy positions that might prevent the haemorrhaging of support to the right while proving attractive to the sort of blue collar ALP supporters — those being slugged with jaw-dropping electricity bills …”

    While I appreciate Alan Moran’s persistent and accurate analyses of the drift in power grid affairs, the nuts ‘n bolts, the nitty-gritty, is being driven by State Govts. Our power grids are being wilfully destroyed in full, democratically elected view with the Feds having little input apart from funding various noisy but useless manifestations of the Green Blob.

    Consequently, Federal politicians are in the electoral firing line while almost impotent to affect the actual outcomes. So Federal arm wrestling is best regarded as coming from the Dilettante’s Corner. The Renaissance is reversed, the Unenlightenment proceeds.

    Having said that, the outcomes of the imminent Q’ld and WA State elections will provide interest, rather like reading the entrails of the sacrificial lamb.

  2. en passant says:

    Alan,
    I agree with 4/5 of Abbott’s proposals. The one that I disagree with is reducing the power of the unrepresentative swill. Every so often they do manage to do something sensible that reins in the greed, stupidity and aggrandisement or current crop of politicians feel it is their right to inflict on us.
    Viva the coming Revolution when the Tumbrils are rolled and they are swept into the dustbin of history.

  3. Jimbob says:

    Arguably one bad poll (really bad poll) may be dismissed as an outlier but given the trend since January/February 2016, I think that the writing is on the wall for the “Turnbull Liberals”. Given there are now competitors for the “base” vote, many will not return in a hurry if at all. But , so what!

    Maybe it’s for the best. Why have “Labor lite” when you can have the real thing if that’s your bag.

    Once again, with the S18C debacle, this once great party has proven itself under MT to be utterly principle-less and I heard reports today that certain Liberal MP’s on the committee sided with Labor and the Greens in this committee’s deliberations. Even the treasurer has turned to jelly on this matter and I really thought that as a principled Christian (for which I personally admire him)he was made of much sterner stuff. Cultural Marxism, it would seem manifestly obvious, has now penetrated the Liberals!!

    I know the parliamentary party mostly hate him but Tony Abbott is now their only hope. He may or may not stem the bleeding to the alternatives but will definitely “save some of the furniture”. He is far more popular with the real Liberal rank and file than almost all the current members of parliament and may shore up their support. Even if the Liberals are greatly diminished at the next election, at least there is just enough common ground in between Tony Abbott and the splintering right to make a coalition government of right of centre conservatives a real possibility.

    After seeing Shorten’s complete lack of any kind of ethics demonstrated so brazenly with “Trent the poor Worker” affair, there may be enough Liberal/Nationals lefts with their wits about them to realise that the alternative is extremely high risk for the long term welfare of the nation.

    Ladies and Gentlemen of the Liberal National coalition in Parliament, please consider what may happen if the current state of affairs continues. It may be nasty tasting medicine for you but there is no-one else other than the one you love to hate who can save some of your respective rumps. You have all used up your credits with the current and former Liberal electors and the “middle” cannot save you. They never could and in this respect you were sold dud advice – only those you have marginalised can but none of you except Tony Abbott can get some of them back.

    • Jimbob says:

      Rumours confirmed – Liberal member for Hornsby area voted with Labor and the Greens. Straight from the members mouth.

      Stop Press – government of nation unity Liberals Labor and the Greens combine to establish Cultural Marxist Paradise!!!

  4. Keith Kennelly says:

    See my comments as published in The Australian today.

    Basically Turnbull hkas lost the conservatives and Howard’s battlers. They have parked their votes with One Narion. Only Tony Abbott can bring them back home.

  5. Keith Kennelly says:

    Where are those odds Jody? They’ll be shortening by the day and I’ll have to put up an inordinate amount to win your sheepstation.

  6. Bill Martin says:

    The hope of Tony Abbott resurrecting the Liberal Party is sadly misplaced. For one thing, that party is beyond hope of being resurrected. It has far too many unprincipled, weathervane people in influential positions and it is well and truly contaminated by the Marxist poison. As for Abbott, he is nowhere near feisty enough and resolute enough to drain the Canberra swamp, especially while wallowing in it. He could be far more useful to the nation by joining Cory Bernadi in establishing a genuine, uncompromising conservative party.

    One notes with considerable desperation that there is no-one on the horizon who is likely to be the Australian Trump. Bernardi is far too nice and gentlemanly for the task, as is Abbott. Pauline Hanson, on the other hand, is intellectually challenged as well as lacks the verbal skills to communicate effectively. It is difficult to be optimistic about the future of this country.

    • ianl says:

      Yes, fully agreed, Bill. A real measure of desperation is actually counting on PHON to produce useful policies … anyone doing that, even subconsciously, has already gone through the Looking Glass with Alice. Disruption, gingering-up, yes and all that is much needed – but hard, useful policies ?

      There are now unconfirmed reports (FakeNews rumours, perhaps) that Yallourn is under consideration for closure in 5 years rather than 15. Between Hazelwood and Yallourn, almost half of Melbourne’s power supply is bundled together and LaTrobe Valley is the linch-key for the national grids. Yet people think it’s razor-sharp to encourage Waffle and Abbott to arm-wrestle rather than pound on State Govts for sensible, accountable policy. If the Feds actually manage to reduce or even repeal their RET (an almost impossible ask), at least three (3) current State Govts will revert to their own State-based RET, despite anything they say now. If the ALP wins WA, expect a total renege on a State-based RET if Waffle is still bleating about suppressing the Fed RET.

    • Homer Sapien says:

      Bill, your comment of Pauline Hanson is unbecoming for a gentleman like you. Don’t stoop to the same level as Ahmed Fahour.

  7. Keith Kennelly says:

    There is no one else. Abbott is the only possible candidate to arrest the slide.

    I expect he’d have a landslide win in both the house of reps and the senate.

    Could you imagine a front bench led by Abbott, Dutton and Bernardi
    As opposed to Turnbull, Bishop and Morrison? And an opposition of Shorten, Bowen and ?

  8. Bran Dee says:

    The soundest advice in The Australian today came from the Janet Albrechtsen article headed “NO ONE CAN TAKE ABBOTT SERIOUSLY”. She suggest a ‘potential dream team’ to lead the coalition: “Put Michaelia Cash in the lower house so she can become deputy leader with Peter Dutton as Liberal leader. Both regularly rise above the parapet to defend our values”.

    My take on Abbott as PM is that he thought the intense animosity of the Left media could be assuaged if he governed as Labor-lite. How disillusioned! He sought accolades from appointing Natasha Stott-Despoya instead of a conservative. So foolish! He funded the Gillard-Abbott [not so]Safe Schools Program: “As PM, Abbott implemented the Left’s cause celebre and Julia Gillard’s brainstorm, the Safe Schools Program”.

    We have observed the last two Prime Ministers lacking similar amounts of conviction and credibility. History may well show Abbott and Turnbull left a wrecked Liberal Party that only PD and MC could revive.

    In the US it is said; Kennedy put a man on the moon and Obama put a man in the ladies toilet. In Australia Abbott and Turnbull did much the same as the latter.

    • Jimbob says:

      BD – I get what you’re saying but surely by now we must realise that the search for “saviours” (other than the one that really counts) is fraught with danger. Their popularity generally only lasts for a week before it’s time to “nail” them. I’ve had enough of these types leading us from one disaster to the next. It’s time for some real experience. If he’s learnt from the experience, Abbott won’t be the first or the last Australian PM to make a comeback for a second or even third go but I hope this time he is far more prepared to be hated and despised by the “majority” while sticking to his principles rather than selling them out.

      He won’t need to please all of the people all of the time. He’ll only need to please some of the people most of the time. It only takes a fraction of one per cent to govern. This crop of ning nongs were sold the lie that the “marginals” didn’t matter. Well! How utterly foolish is the “wisdom” of this world eh?

  9. Keith Kennelly says:

    Difference is Abbotts listening to the electorate.

  10. Jody says:

    I expect the government to be ditched sooner rather than later, which is good because my son won’t have to work upwards of 85 hours a week and can go on that public service gravy train “stress leave”!!!

  11. Keith Kennelly says:

    Hater is a label the elites merit

  12. Keith Kennelly says:

    When the facts don’t fit the haters spit bile

  13. Keith Kennelly says:

    Stopped the boats, ditched the carbon, tax ditched the mining tax, set in train the cost cutting, set up RC into construction industry, won an election by 15 seats. Only haters can’t credit Abbott that.

    So we now see who has the courage of their convictions. Jody you havent had the guts to back your judgement.

    You offering bets was just blow hard nonsense.

    Btw The Australian doesn’t publish rubbish letters or letters with opinion that is irrelevant or nonsensical. They maintain a high standard. Your bleating of wrong wrong wrong and the sourpuss comment about your son just smacks of desperation. Wrong about Trump … twice.

    Now tell me how the government is going to be ditched and who is going to replace it? And could you please provide the time frame?

    • Jody says:

      I say again, do some analytical reading and find out how complex the world really is. Then you’ll become a bit more skeptical of populists who have simple answers to complex problems.

  14. Colin S says:

    I had hoped that a near-death election result would cause the demise of MT. Under normal, (old fashioned) circumstance, such a result would have caused a spill. It now seems obvious that there is no one capable of leading the Coalition to success. I was/am a frustrated (with him) Abbott supporter and applaud his recent foray with decent policies, although they don’t go far enough, as usual.
    My hope, now, is that the next federal election will result in a new coalition of Liberal dries, National bright sparks (if there are any) and One Nation. I would be more than happy if Bernardi is in the mix. I also feel that Abbott is better off in a senior ministry rather than being the Prime Minister. Maybe later, but not now.

    • Doc S says:

      That was Turnbull’s major blunder – not putting Abbott on the front bench where he could keep an eye on him (as in the old maxim of ‘keeping your friends close, but your enemies closer’). Giving Abbott a ministry (Health would have been a good one) would have more likely worked in everyone’s favour (if only as a sop to Abbott) but this and other examples of Turnbull’s short-sightedness (Iftar dinner anyone?) demonstrate his astonishing capacity for political misjudgements and general lack of political acumen. Its too late to change leaders now and frankly, after witnessing the Labor debacle with Rudd-Gillard-Rudd – why would you even contemplate it, continually plummeting popularity polls notwithstanding. Perhaps expanding the coalition with Hanson and One Nation may offer a way to keep Labor (and the Greens) out of government but the Libs are locked in behind Turnbull and will have to see it through. What alternative do they have? It’s not like there’s the ‘Marshal’s baton’ in the knapsacks of the current front bench! (more’s the pity)

  15. Keith Kennelly says:

    I know enough to know you educated elites thrive on making simple things so complex everything becomes mired in nuance and impossibility and confused. And nothing gets done. That’s where you educated elites have lead us right now.

    My experience is that if the simple things are addressed in a forthright manner complexity becomes the realm of academics and people who are not practical.

    Look what your a analytical reading has got you.

    Wrong on Trump in the primaries, wrong on Trumps election, wrong on your shill claim it’s only a matter of time before Tump is ditched, wrong on Turnbull, wrong on Abbott.

    Why would I give up my practical and straightforward analysis, thinking and ‘reading’ when I picked both Trumps election and Trumbils demise and the likely return of Abbott.

    And all you can do is chant in a shrill manner

    ‘Wrong wrong wrong’. And ‘You make things up’ and then spit hate.
    You have not put your money where your mouth is, and make loathsome comments about getting on a gravy train.

    You’re getting like Ian