Where to from here for the Coalition? With Turnbull’s thirtieth negative Newspoll almost certain to drop on Monday, the first murmurings reportedly emerged this week from within his own camp. According to Seven News, key moderates have advised the PM he ‘no longer enjoys majority support within the party room’.
That tidbit does not seem to have been taken up by any other outlet, including The Australian, although Andrew Bolt made fleeting mention of the dissension on his Sky TV show. That’s curious, very curious, since it generally requires only a whisper of party-room vuulnerability to spark media speculation. For example, read this transcript of Christopher Pyne’s foot-in-both-camps appraisal of Tony Abbott’s chances of surviving a party room mutiny from February, 2015, when the first Turnbull attempt at a putsch was about to be implemented.
Of course, ‘no longer enjoying majority support’ is a statement that requires no great wit to grasp. Politicians can be venal, feckless and two-faced advocates for policies they know to be ruinously ineffective, but most are remarkably clear-eyed about their personal prospects. Even the dimmest now realise many will disappear after the next election and that a change of leadership will not avoid that fate. Maybe they have even given up on the idea that anyone, even Julie Bishop, could save some of the furniture a la Rudd redux in 2013.
I’m guessing that most Liberals are resigned to political oblivion, with the most stalwart seeing a term or two in opposition as an opportunity to review, renew and rebuild. That was the grim thinking after Rudd’s 2007 triumph — flawed thinking, as it happens, as Tony Abbott’s leadership lifted the Coalition to within a whisker of regaining government after one term.
Most pundits — many of whom touted for Turnbull as he schemed and leaked and honed his knife — seem to believe that a challenge is unlikely because ‘there is no obvious candidate’. The unspoken caveat, of course, is ‘other than Tony Abbott’.
Columnists such as Miranda Devine, Niki Savva and Peter Van Onselen have sneeringly derided conservatives who remain disgusted at the way Tony Abbott was treated. According to the ever-faithful Turnbull cheer squad, any case for Abbott’s resurrection is ‘delusional’ at best. How then might one describe the dream that Turnbull can overcome the evidence of so many damning polls and win the next election? This is the man, remember, whose tin ear saw him delay going to the polls until his political honeymoon was well and truly over. He scraped back by one seat, as history records, and marked that wan triumph with a testy election night address and a demand that the Federal Police investigate why the electorate did not share the high opinion he holds of himself.
A common criticism of Abbott is to point to mistakes he made or things he didn’t do as PM, suggesting he is incapable of learning or growing from those mistakes. Popular sentiment seems already to have forgiven Steve Smith, confident that he will emerge from his banishment a better man and better captain. Did the things Abbott do wrong outweigh his achievements? Quite the opposite, I would have thought.
Sure, according to political commentary, to polls and to quotes from his colleagues, nobody wants Abbott back in charge. Why then are they all still talking about him? Well, firstly because they suspect he hasn’t stayed around just to keep his seat warm and, secondly, because they believe, in their heart of hearts, that he is the only one who could inflict major damage on Shorten and his apparently inexorable march to the Lodge. Whether or not Abbott actually wants the job once more remains to be seen, but his detractors are convinced that is the case.
There are two reasons why re-instatement of Abbott makes sense. First, he is the best agent to ‘save the furniture’, not that there’s much furniture to save. Turnbull has burned most of it in the fireplace of his ambitions.
Second, because Abbott is the only one with an articulated manifesto that could form the basis of a conservative Liberal revival, one that clearly differentiates it from Labor. Both ideally and realistically, Abbott should be given the chance to take this to the next election, because one of the most critical items relates to the powers of the Senate.
Abbott’s proposal is that the government should not have to resort to a double dissolution in order to trigger a joint sitting of both Houses to pass legislation rejected by the Senate. Under his proposal, if legislation is rejected by the Senate it would go straight to a joint sitting. Journalist, author, academic and columnist Crispin Hull agrees that the system needs reform but argues that Abbott’s proposal goes a step too far and would effectively neuter the Senate as a house of review. His alternate proposal is that, following an election that sees the government of the day returned, any legislation rejected by the previous Senate would only need to be passed by the House. On the face of it, not a bad compromise and one perhaps more likely to be acceptable at referendum.
Be that as it may, if Senate reform is to be on the agenda, the sooner the ball is set rolling the better.
This is also true of the disaster that both sides have made of energy policy. For a start, let me assert that for anyone to criticize Abbott for advocating public funds be spent building a new coal fired power station is, at best, hypocrisy; at worst, mischief by misrepresentation. There is no energy free market in this country and there hasn’t been for quite some time. There is indeed a role for government to step in — indeed, a crying need and moral obligation — when it is government policy that has distorted the market and led directly to some of the world’s highest electricity price. This in a country quite literally sitting on stupendous reserves of gas and coal — resources we dig up and sell to others but will not consider burning ourselves for fear that Tim Flannery will disapprove.
The only way this problem can be solved is if we free ourselves from the shackles of CAGW ideology. Those who thought CAGW would eventually collapse under the weight of mounting counter-evidence must surely by now be completely disabused of that naïve notion. There are now too many vested interests ‘keeping the dream alive’ with outright lies. The next time you hear some green shill swear that wind and solar are cheaper than coal, keep an even tighter grip on your wallet because AGL is coming to pillage its contents.
There is ample evidence that, if warming is occurring, it is much smaller than predicted, largely (if not wholly) beneficial and, judging by the actions of countries such as China and India, unstoppable anyway. If there is a potential problem further down the track, the best thing we can do is to prepare to manage it by building, for example, useful infrastructure such as dams which don’t need to be filled by pumping water uphill.
With acknowledgement to Craig Kelly and his longstanding opposition to our slavish obeisance to CAGW, Tony Abbott is the only CAGW sceptic who might conceivably shoo the rent-seekers and profiteers away from the trough.
I note that even Peta Credlin is supporting the status quo on the basis of putting a stop to the in-vogue practice of knifing sitting PMs and there is some merit to this logic. But I can’t help feeling that even if it won’t make a huge difference if Abbott’s elevation were to occur after the election, there is also a wrong to be righted – an acknowledgement by the party that ‘we got it horribly wrong’. Abbott was not given the chance to defend the handsome majority that Turnbull squandered. At some point, like the dog that caught the car and came off second best, he needs to be taken to the vet and put to sleep. The only reason to leave him in place is so that he can take full and undisputed ownership of the humiliation he has brought upon both his party and himself.
Will he stick around that long? Or, more pertinently, will he be allowed to stick around that long?