First Turnbull, then Morrison, next … Albanese?

What’s the best basis on which to judge a person?  By what he has done in the past  (actions and past behaviour)?  Or by what he now says and promises  (words)?  I don’t think you have to be a professor of psychology to think that past actions, rather than today’s promises and words, are a better predictor.*  At any rate, as a perspicacious Quadrant reader I suspect you’ll agree with me in thinking that actions count much more than words in judging someone’s likely future conduct.  And that most certainly goes for politicians too. 

Think back to 2015.  Was I disappointed in the way Tony Abbott (with, or without, the pushing of a far-more-than-we-knew-at-the-time ‘moderate’ or lefty partyroom) simply gave up on free speech and the attempt to repeal s.18C?  You bet I was.  Did I wish he’d be as hard-headed as a PM as he’d been as an Opposition leader?  Yep, right again.  Did I at any time support a coup that would see Mr. Abbott replaced by Mr. Turnbull?  No.  Never.  All the world could see that Abbott had right-of-centre beliefs because he’d always had them and had acted on them.  Likewise, Mr. Turnbull’s past made him indistinguishable from a stock standard chardonnay-sipping lefty.  At a pinch he could squeeze into the far-left-end of the Liberal Party partyroom.  If you thought PM Abbott was a bit weak on all things freedom and conservative-related, in no sane world was the answer to that problem ‘Mr. Turnbull’.  Only by being sucked in by words, and cheap promises, and adoring ABC coverage could you succumb to that mirage.  I said as much at the time and have never had reason to reconsider.

Meanwhile more than a few 2015 conservative Turnbull supporters have had cause to admit they made a very bad mistake in supporting the defenestration of Abbott, one that still afflicts the Liberal Party to this day.  Some of these 2015 coup supporters have publicly (and admirably) confessed the error of their ways, though many have not.

At any rate, let’s now jump back to the future.  Here we are in 2021 with Prime Minister Scott Morrison.  What do we know about Mr. Morrison’s past actions?  Well, he was intimately involved in the coup against Abbott.  In fact, he was downright sneaky about it, sending all his supporters to Malcolm but voting himself for Tony (knowing that his vote, without theirs, wasn’t enough).  ‘Just the hard world of politics’, I hear some say.

And then there was Mr. Morrison at it again in helping to bring down Turnbull himself.  Sure, all of us can gaze in astonishment at an embittered Malcolm Turnbull, unable to come to terms with being knifed despite the fact that he himself had been the knife-wielding defenestrator extraordinaire of Abbott.  Does the man have no self-awareness at all?  (Don’t answer that; it was a rhetorical question. Anyway, we all know the answer.)  But that said, Malcolm does have a point about ScoMo being involved in his downfall, doesn’t he?

Now as someone who would have sold his soul to get rid of Turnbull as leader of the Liberal Party I was glad to see him go, whatever the machinations involved.  At the time I strongly preferred Peter Dutton.  I thought Dutton as PM would run a principle-based campaign and beat Shorten.  But Morrison had the support of the ‘Turnbull wing’ of the partyroom, which all Liberal Party members by now surely realise is the preponderance of the Coalition MPs.

Morrison went on to win, and then won what the press (not conservatives, but the lefty press) thought was an “unwinnable” 2019 election.  But he did so as a man of no observable values.  He was wholly dismissive of free speech and wider freedom concerns.  His government’s appointments to the courts, the Administrative Affairs Tribunal, public broadcaster, you name it, pretty much just carried on in the Turnbull tradition, though the High Court appointments may prove to be better.  Yet in winning the 2019 election ScoMo was forced to stake out a position against Labor’s net zero ambitions.  Morrison mocked and ridiculed them.  Words, dear readers, simply words.  It now appears that in the course of a couple of years things have changed so drastically that Australia has to do what Morrison only a few months ago said was idiotic and impoverishing.

And that’s what happens when cheap talk is rewarded.  Scott Morrison is a poll-driven politician. That the man can’t get out of bed without seeing what a focus group thinks has become patently clear during these past 20 months of the COVID pandemic. Morrison has done nothing to stand up against despotic premiers.  Nothing whatsoever.  What he did was empower them with his ‘agile, innovative’ National Cabinet, which he created out of thin air. 

Dan Andrews has to get the gold medal for most despotic democratic leader in the world throughout these lockdown laden days.  Mr Morrison has not criticised him even once, as far as I know.  Not when Victoria Police were acting as thugs in sneaking up behind a quiet, apparently placid citizen and throwing him to the ground; not when they handcuffed a pregnant woman in her home; not when they knocked an elderly person to the ground and used pepper spray; and not when Melbourne became world’s most locked-down city.  And recall that ScoMo is the man who in the first twenty minutes after a tendentious ABC report can condemn our SAS troops, throw Christine Holgate under a bus, and omit to take the practical steps that would allow Christian Porter to defend himself.  Heck, I don’t recall this Morrison government doing anything about Their ABC, other than appointing the top two people, who have done nothing to tame the national broadcaster’s bias, nepotism, profligacy and secrecy.

Okay, is Morrison as bad as Turnbull?  No.  If you have to choose between the value-free, hollow, poll-driven politician and the one who has beliefs and values but they’re almost all lefty ones, take the former.  But sooner or later the empty suit is going to lose.  And he’ll lose because he alienates the base – because he shares no core beliefs with the party’s core voters.  He won’t alienate them as much as Turnbull did.  But still plenty – a despotic handling of the pandemic; caving in to the inner-city renewables lobby in the party; spending like drunken sailors (save that sailors spend their own money); the list goes on. 

Right now my bet for next year’s election is a sizeable Morrison loss.  That supposes that Albanese can keep his mouth shut, not threaten to tax property owners or raise taxes or some such other idiocy.  Just mimic whatever lefty net zero garbage Morrison tries to sell and that should put Albo in The Lodge.   We’ll see.

*Correction to the opening paragraph: Given the state of today’s universities, with their revelling in virtue-signalling and being at the forefront of virtually all of today’s left-leaning pieties, it may well be that the people most likely to value words over actions are in the universities.  Well, maybe the corporate HR types and their woke boards would give the professoriate a run for its money.  And let’s not forget the public service caste which, by-the-by, has not lost a penny of pay throughout this entire despotically mismanaged pandemic.  And Lord knows, there’s the ABC.  Actually, on reflection, I stand corrected.  The psych prof would be in good company.

James Allan is Garrick Professor of law at the University of Queensland

  • Lawrie Ayres

    I do like to comment but in this case there is no point except to agree with the writer. We have a complete dud in Morrison and I still do not understand why the Nationals did not just walk away from the Coalition rather than accept the Net Zero crap. Mind you the Nationals seem to be infected by leftists as well. I just want the names of the Net Zero supporters so I can determine whether to vote for my member Gillespie. I know he is a Nuclear adherent so maybe he voted with Canavan and Joyce. I hope so.

  • sabena

    I also agree.
    In my case the local member is Paul Fletcher who represents all that James despises,as do I.What I will do will depend on the candidates who decide to stand.I am hoping that Fletcher fails to win on first preferences.

  • Ian MacKenzie

    What has the Morrison government ever done for its conservative base? So far, it looks like saying they’ll buy nuclear-powered subs in time for World War 4, Peter Dutton has pushed back on wokeness in the military and Alan Trudge has pushed back (a little) on the Marxist National Curriculum. Against this nothing on free speech, nothing on getting the ABC to follow its charter, nothing on limiting immigration (just more, more, more) and nothing on opposing racist and sexist identity politics. All words and no action. Now we have the largest deficit in Australia’s history and the industry destroying stupidity of net zero by 2050. Well, I’m not going to vote for that. There are plenty alternatives out there, and let the preferences fall where they may.

  • Simon

    @Lawrie -” We have a complete dud in Morrison and I still do not understand why the Nationals did not just walk away from the Coalition rather than accept the Net Zero crap.”

    -The answer is we have a complete dud in Joyce as well. I think his ‘deal’ with Morrison was to get more cabinet posts for the Nationals, but that is going to make zero difference to his country constituents, clearly.

  • Simon

    I love Morrison suggesting ‘the world is moving to net zero’ and therefore we have to follow suit. Firstly, it’s the world apart from the main ‘polluters’, and secondly, just because the rest of the world is jumping over a cliff doesn’t mean we have to do the same.

    What a caricature of a Liberal party leader Morrison is.

  • en passant

    I was going to say that the Liberal Party is dying, but that is about as obvious as saying Biden is not all there. The Liberal Party is dead as its membership numbers shows. Our branch President (for centuries just resigned last week and joined the United Australia Party – as have I. By not updating their website they still disigenuously claim o have 80,000 members. <40,000 more likely with <50% taking an active role. That's what happens when hollow men take ver.

  • exuberan

    And the Alternative Party to lead Australia is ?

  • Charles

    It’s more than passing strange when we have a Liberal PM who can make Clive Palmer almost seem a reasonable alternative.

  • Stephen

    Just about everything Turnbull and Rudd say these days is pompous, arrogant and resentful. Not worth listening to. Just ignore them. Australia’s commitment to Net Zero probably means that we’ve joined a lot of other countries in promising in 30 point caps and failing to deliver in the 7 point footnote. Australia has actually reduced CO2 by some 20% whilst the woke New Zealanders, 5% and the very woke Canadians a whopping 1%! I guess the truth doesn’t matter you know; it’s the Vibe that counts! You could even say that it was a cynical tactic to kill the issue without actually making any difference.
    Next election I may well give my first preference to some one else rather than the Libs but I wont be prefering Labor to the Libs.

  • Daffy

    So many thoughts…@exuberan, political parties do not lead us, they form governments to serve us and organise things so we can get on with our lives…but of course, now they do think they ‘lead’ us. Before long they will be thinking ‘dear leader’ thoughts.
    And @sabena: you write to Fletcher, and I will too. The ABC is both an embarrassment to its heritage, past its use-by, and a sink hole of nepotistic indulgence.

  • Stephen Due

    It’s either begets or begat in my dictionary

  • Stephen Due

    The problem with poll-driven politics is that it effectively eliminates the one political virtue a career politician might exhibit, namely principled leadership. The reason poll-driven politics exists is not that it guarantees success of sorts. The reason is that the politicians lack the ability to create good policy and then persuade the electorate and carry it through – despite lack of popular support at the start.
    That’s why Donald Trump was so widely acclaimed not just in America but around the world as US President. He was not poll-driven. He was Trump-driven. He inspired people because he was honest, and because he genuinely wanted what was best for his country. Poll-driven politics is always directionless, changing with the wind. Trump determined on the right course, set out and kept going. Trump showed character. He relished the fight and led from the front. A true leader.

  • pgang

    Preferential voting, now that we effectively have a mono political culture in Canberra, is proving its absurdity. With its mis-definition of ‘majority’ as, ‘having to beat all other comers combined’, rather than just ‘all other comers’, it has ensured that we will never emerge from this two party socialist race to the bottom.
    This election is likely to throw up a massive independent vote, and even independent majorities (in the true sense), in quite a few seats, but that vote will simply be swept away as though it never happened, and with it any chance to change direction.

  • Rebekah Meredith

    I’m not positive, but if the next election does see the major parties shunned, and all the others could actually get together (which is surely unlikely) and form a coalition, then they COULD form government, couldn’t they?

  • Doubting Thomas

    Be careful what you wish for. Peta Credlin pretty much said it all the other day when she suggested, words to the effect, that the only reason to vote for the Coalition is that the alternatives are worse. All of them.
    Net zero is an impossible aim, and I’m sure Morrison knows it, so he can happily promise the stupid true believers anything he likes knowing full well it’s pie in the sky. He can drop the pretence after the election.

  • vickisanderson

    Many years ago – I think it was 2010 – I listened to a speech Scott Morrison gave at The Sydney Institute. It was in the days of debates about Islamism in western communities, and Morrison delivered an amazing speech on “Australian values”. This was at a time when it was felt that the latter were being side lined, and few spoke up to defend such values. I was really impressed, & wasn’t surprised when, as Minister for Immigration & Border Protection, he was the first Minister to confront the “unstoppable” infiltration of our international waters.

    Therefore, when both Morrison and Dutton stood up to replace Turnbull, I supported Morrison, writing to a national newspaper that Morrison “best represented Middle Australia” & that Dutton should “fall on his sword”.

    Wow! Do I regret those words??? If Morrison does represent “Middle Australia”, we are in deep trouble.

    I erred in thinking that Morrison was one of that endangered species – “a conviction politician”. I was wrong. He really IS “Scotty from Marketing”. Peter Dutton, on the other hand, is more likely the “conviction politician” that I thought Morrison was.

    My first inkling was Morrison’s handling of the Big Drought of 2017/8. He just had a “tin ear” to the incredible suffering that the drought generated in rural Australia. This was repeated in the shocking bushfires of 2019 when he just seemed to lack an understanding of what it was like to endure those fires. Rural/regional Australia is like a foreign land to Scott Morrison. It is all being eerily repeated in the current Glasgow fiasco with his support of zero emissions.

    What to do? Pray, pray for a coup which will put Peter Dutton in the job he should have won after the dethroning of Turnbull.

  • ianl

    On a similar, parallel track, talking heads pretending to individual rights rather than collectivism have rightly repeated the “No carbon tax under a Govt I lead” diddlipops as an example of egregious contempt for the populace. But Morrison and friends have just committed a contempt for the populace much deeper than Gillard’s – and after only two years after an election win explicitly denying that possibility. Now these talking heads are using the line:” At least they’re not Labour”. As if that makes a difference to the double cross (predicted by many, myself included, for at least 12 months now). To the talking heads (too many quislings to list exhaustively, but Kenny/Credlin/Murray/Cater are noted), the counter question is:”Why should that behaviour be rewarded with another term ?”.

    In my view, the only way to control this repulsive contempt is to flatten it completely – total electoral wipeout. Yes, the ALP will then win but when they behave similarly (and they cannot help themselves), they too are electorally flattened. Rinse/repeat just a few times – the message will finally be respected, at least for a few election cycles.

  • Biggles

    Albo in The Lodge, James Allan? The man is solid ivory from the neck up. Listen to him speak and weep.

  • Peter C

    Turnbull was a shocker & Morrison little better. The once great Liberal Party will not recover & will disappear as it should after unjustifiably knifing outstanding Tony Abbott. I voted Liberal Party all my life except when Turnbull was PM Unless Dutton is PM at the next election I will not vote Liberal but perhaps Liberal Democrat. Great Menzies started up the Liberal Party & no doubt another good Party will now take over from the now Lefty Liberals

  • STD

    @DT. So essentially, if what you allude too, comes to pass ,Morrison is a force for good- a good politician if you will- right again DT.

  • lbloveday

    “Victoria Police were acting as thugs”
    I see humans generally as thugs restrained by the social and legal constraints of civilisation developed over a long time, but still by instinct thugs, hence more drunken brawls/attacks than when all are sober. .
    The thuggish actions of Aborigines before being subjected to English civilisation have been well documented on this site.
    Way back in time, playing country football, as we left the field after the final siren a team mate, a police officer, came up and said “The last quarter was as if X (coach, also a police officer, a dog handler) slipped your lease”. Free of the normal restraints I could, for a short time, be my natural thuggish self (in my defence, against men my own size and bigger, not pregnant women, 70yo grannies or from behind).
    The leash analogy brings to mind domestic dogs – no matter how thoroughly trained they are, the wild beast lurks beneath and too often unleashes, as evidenced by about 13,000 Australians attending hospital and 2,500 being admitted each year as a result of dog attacks, and some killed – 27 in the last 10 year period I’ve seen figures for, mostly little children, none of whom knowingly antagonised the dog or were capable of defending themselves from these instinctively wild animals.
    Andrews gave the Police immunity from normally illegal, thuggish actions, dressed them like storm troopers, slipped their leashes, sicced them onto civilians, and the results are plain for all to see. Will they be leashed again? How? When?

    Milton Friedman in The Fragility of Freedom, wrote:
    “The fact is, however, that the natural state of mankind is not freedom but tyranny and misery”.

  • lbloveday

    “leash”, NOT “lease”

  • STD

    Lbloveday, same as DT . We have arrived at Messrs Keating and the Hawk’s dog eat dog world ,that in particular Paul Keating envisaged prophetically before the foreseen avarice of globalisation and before he picked up the mantle of the bankers award for the worlds greatest treasonous act as treasurer.
    The same dogs keep returning to the same……………………….

  • lbloveday

    STD, I’ve had a privileged life, living in Australia during what seems to me to be about the best period anywhere, anytime, the Vietnam conscription excepted (and of course the past 20 months), but then I have a good mate – spent last Saturday solving the world’s problems with him over a beer or 12 – who was called up and reckons it was the best time of his life.
    So, if the last few years are crappy, oh well.

  • ianl

    The general tenor of the comments here seems to be as I alluded to above: “At least they’re not Labour”.

    That is, with that response the utter contempt Morrison and Cabinet showed for the electorate will be rewarded with another term. No principles there, then; on both sides, tribalism is all.

    lbloveday is correct. We have seen the best of days in Oz. Gone now.

  • brandee

    Strange coincidence that 2 national leaders, Morrison and Johnson, seem to have no basic political principles except some survival cunning. We watch alarmed as they are carried by the ebb and flow of noisy opinion.
    Either never engaged in the skirmishes against the climate catastrophists, Public Broadcaster, Greens, Teachers, etc., and as a result of attrition they surrender, swap over to the enemy’s side, and with the enemy think they are victorious.

  • BalancedObservation

    I was very sorry to see Tony Abbott white- anted. He was hardly politically assassinated. It was a very underhand and prolonged white-anting campaign that got him.

    Tony Abbott was a man of principles and values. Unlike you could argue others might have, he didn’t egotistically seek the leadership for himself. He was happy, loyally doing his bit as a senior team member, helping further the values he stood for and those he felt the party stood for. But when the leadership presented itself, he stood up and took it and the responsibility with it. Unlike Peter Costello.

    Was Tony Abbott perfect? Certainly not. But he was a man of values. And you knew what those values were. He didn’t sleaze around presenting himself to be something he wasn’t.

    It’s valuable to remember it wasn’t a well-aimed political bullet that knocked him down in the end – it was a clear majority of Liberal Party MPs who were pre-selected by the Liberal Party branches to represent the Liberal Party.

    Pretty much the same people elected Scott Morrison as leader. It’s drawing a very long bow – as a few here seem to be doing – claiming that he and the people who appointed him don’t represent the Liberal Party.

    Before the election ( yes the seemingly unwinnable one) I wouldn’t have given two bob for him as a leader. To me the borders issue success was really down to the leadership of Tony Abbott and John Howard. Nevertheless Scott Morrison did administer the program well.

    But before the election he didn’t look like a leader. He looked a lot like another successful plotter. (Although I should add, though I’m not quite sure why – I couldn’t have imagined him plotting against Tony Abbott. So I’ll give him that. Others might not.)

    So what do I think now?

    He’s more than met my low expectations of him.

    First of all winning the unwinnable election.

    Secondly his management of the pandemic has had its flaws, the main one being the disastrous vaccine procurement and distribution but he’s done reasonably well. I’d give him a good pass overall. The statistics – economic and health wise – bear that out.

    The national cabinet was quite an achievement. It, the early border closures, the contribution of all the premiers and the late arrival of the vaccine cavalry appeared to have just about got us there. And in better shape than most countries – losing far fewer lives.

    And now the sub deal. He’s done very well with that. He’s extracted us from the defence equivalent of the NBN.

    Why would anyone buy basically nuclear designed subs and have the design converted to diesel? It’s like buying jet aircraft and having them converted to propeller driven. Or it’s like converting a technically leading edge NBN to a mess of old copper, the latest optic fibre and leftover coaxial cable. And we all know who was the great thinker behind it and PM at the time of the French sub disaster.

    Hopefully the sub deal is just the start of Australia equipping itself to meet our biggest existential threat – and I’m not talking about climate change.

    On the environment Scott Morrison seems to have done enough to neutralize the issue. He’s also probably protected our economic interests in the international trade area – they had looked threatened. Quite an achievement considering how the the climate issue had previously ripped the Coalition apart.

    And I reckon he’ll pull the next election off as well – with a lot of help from the fence sitting Anthony Albanese and Bill Shorten in the shadows.

  • BalancedObservation

    And I should add further to the sub deal … the cheap political points Labor is trying to make out of the tantrum France is throwing over losing the sub deal won’t win Labor any votes. Most people will see the decision as the right one in our national interest.

    Labor were too scared to oppose the new sub deal ( as many in their left wing would have preferred. They’re now seemingly doing their best to placate the Labor left.) However Labor know that most Australians would approve of the sub deal. Now they’re ratting on Australia by trying to undermine Scott Morrison in his dispute with the French – thinking there’s a vote in it. There isn’t.

    The three parties to the deal, the US, the UK and Australia, had referred to the talks leading up to the nuclear deal as secret. How can President Joe Biden now imply Australia should have informed France of the deal before it was announced? In any case if they should have been informed and kept in the loop why didn’t he (Biden) discuss it with them? France is a major US ally too. He didn’t because all three who were part of the nuclear deal regarded it as secret.

    Australia had told the French that their subs weren’t matching up. French President Emmanuel Macron has been reported as saying after discussing the subs with Scott Morrison before the nuclear decision was announced , that he didn’t like losing. So it looks like he’d certainly already got the message that the French sub deal wasn’t matching up.

    The contract provides Australia with a option to withdraw from the deal. We’ve simply taken it up.

    The deal is a big plus for the Coalition and Scott Morrison, and if Labor try to make cheap political points rather than standing with our PM against the French accusations the issue is going to be a big loser for Labor – making the franking credits issue look like nothing at all.

    Of the two major parties … Australians who are increasingly concerned about defence know Labor is the most suspect on defence issues. This cheap political approach Labor’s now taking with cost them. And it deserves to cost them.

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