QED

Political Marriages That Worked … and Didn’t

I have only ever made two political predictions. The first concerns Peter Beattie, when he was a beleaguered Labor backbencher in Queensland’s one-house parliament. I then predicted that Beattie would become Premier of the Sunshine State. And so he did, and a long-serving and undefeated premier at that.

The second concerns current federal Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg. Last year I predicted that, eventually, Frydenberg (who holds Andrew Peacock and Sir Robert Menzies old Liberal Party seat of Kooyong) would eventually become Australia’s first Jewish Prime Minister.

However in the May 21 federal election, the Treasurer does face a problem. The high-profile, supposedly independent, candidate Monique Ryan is number 1 on the ballot, while Frydenberg is listed last at number 7. Moreover Dr Ryan’s campaign manager is Rob Baillieu, the well-known son of former “wet” Liberal Victorian premier Ted Baillieu.

But Frydenberg is a popular and fierce opponent campaigning hard to keep the inner-Melbourne electorate in Liberal hands. On April 12 the Ucomm poll had Frydenberg losing Kooyong. This survey of 847 residents found that Ryan held a 59 to 41 per cent two-party preferred lead over Frydenberg. Importantly, what wasn’t disclosed, despite the ABC reporting as much in 2019, is that Ucomm is co-owned by the radical Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining & Energy Union (CFMMEU) and the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU)!

Much more reliable polling shows the primary vote of both major parties has fallen, leaving preference deals with independents and minor parties as a potential deciding factor in the upcoming federal election. The exclusive Newspoll conducted for The Australian between April 14 and 17 found support for Labor had fallen to 36 per cent, down one point from a week before, while the Coalition’s primary vote also dropped one point, to 35 per cent.
This translates to a 53-47 two-party-preferred lead for Labor based on preference flows at the last election. If this occurs, it would ensure an ALP government.

But Scott Morrison has proved to be a ferocious campaigner and Frydenberg is possibly the most successful political fundraiser in recent memory. Together they represent the strongest Prime Minister/Treasurer team since Robert Menzies and Harold Holt 60 years ago. The relationship between PM Malcolm Turnbull and then Treasurer Scott Morrison was sometimes tricky, with Turnbull since claiming Morrison most likely played a ‘double game’ during the Liberal Party leadership turmoil that saw Turnbull’s ousting On April 20, 2020, Turnbull also told ABCTV 7.30 that “Morrison is a lifelong political operator and … a control freak.”

The relationship between PM Kevin Rudd and Treasurer Wayne Swan was worse. Former ALP MHR Maxine McKew revealed in her 2012 memoir, Tales From The Political Trenches, how Rudd told her that on the night before Swan decided to “vote for change” and support Julia Gillard in a leadership challenge, he went to Rudd’s office to have a drink and thank him for supporting the mining tax. Rudd said he had no inkling he would not have Swan’s support and was shocked by his decision.

Tensions were many between John Howard and Treasurer Peter Costello. The latter accused Howard of putting his own interests ahead of the Liberal Party’s and suggested that the Prime Minister’s office leaked material aimed at damaging him. In what amounted to an attack on Howard’s trustworthiness and truthfulness, Costello also claimed to be worried about the sustainability of the government’s spending programs, many of which were initiated by the PM. Costello’s comments are cited in John Winston Howard by Wayne Errington and Peter van Onselen, published in 2007.

Relations between PM Bob Hawke and his ambitious treasurer, Paul Keating, and between PM Malcolm Fraser and his treasurer John Howard, were often difficult.

“What does need to be done at the outset,” Bob Hawke told The Guardian 0n January 1, 2016, “is to destroy the myth that has been peddled in some quarters that mine was a period of do-nothing government.” This , Hawke claimed, was “essentially the creation of Paul [Keating] and his acolytes who advanced that proposition as the basis for arguing there was need for a change of leadership.”

In the last years of the Fraser government, treasurer John Howard aligned himself with the “dry” faction. Howard is rightly remembered as a brave politician pushing for deregulation against a controlling and rigid Fraser.

According to The Australian on February 21, 2010, “Fraser is characterised as a conservative farmer at heart, enmeshed with his Country Party (now the Nationals) friends and colleagues, suspicious of banks and big business and determined to resist financial deregulation at all costs.’

The relationship between ALP PM Gough Whitlam and Treasurer Dr Jim Cairns was even worse. Early in 1967 Arthur Calwell retired as Labor leader. An ex-policeman and left-wing ideologue, Cairns contested the leadership but lost to Gough Whitlam. In 1968 Cairns again contested the leadership but lost to Whitlam again.
In December 1974, Whitlam appointed Cairns as treasurer, but relations between the two were fraught with problems. This reached a crescendo when the Loans Affair scandal hit and Cairns was forced to resign from the Whitlam cabinet for misleading parliament.

In comparison to all the above, the relationship between Liberal Party PM Scott Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has always been mutually supportive. Despite being tested by bushfires, floods and throughout the COVID pandemic and grave economic difficulties, the two have stayed very close. The lack of animosity between them even applies to their respective political offices and staff, who are known to work well together. If the Coalition is to pull off another surprise election victory, it will in large part be due to the combined efforts of Morrison and Frydenberg.

Win, lose or hung parliament on May 21, it is likely that, at some stage in the not too distant future, Frydenberg will take over from Morrison as leader of the federal Liberal Party. This would occur either if Morrison wins the forthcoming election and hands over the reins of leadership to Frydenberg in mid-term or if Morrison loses the election, Frydenberg will win a party room vote and become leader of the Liberal Party Opposition. In either case, my prediction that Frydenberg will be our first Jewish PM may eventually come to fruit.

Ross Fitzgerald AM is Emeritus Professor of History and Politics at Griffith University. His most recent books are a memoir, Fifty Years Sober: An Alcoholic’s Journey,and the Grafton Everest political satires, The Dizzying Heights, and The Lowest Depths, co-authored with Ian McFadyen, all published by Hybrid in Melbourne

17 comments
  • Farnswort

    Too bad that Frydenberg doesn’t really stand for anything.

  • Biggles

    I sure hope you are right about Frydenberg taking over, Ross. He strikes me as being intelligent, well-educated, and as honest as can be hoped for in any politician.

  • Adam J

    I hope not. Frydenberg is fully signed up to the mass-migration, multiculti project. No thanks.

  • ianl

    As Net Zero remains the policy choice of both major parties, whoever becomes Leader of the Opposition is completely irrelevant. Squealing that “Labor is worse than the Libs” is a dead end – frankly, m’dear, I don’t give a damn (always liked that wonderful line from Clark Gable).

    Within a few years, Eraring is being forced to close through the simple expedient of denying it a market during daylight hours. A completely reliable 3GW generator is to be replaced by a 0.7GW battery. That, not who will be Leader of the Opposition, will remove the “civil” from civilisation.

  • 27hugo27

    More of the same with Frydenberg, the libs drifting further left. Every Conservative gets railroaded out of the party of no spine with Deves the latest target.

  • DougD

    Frydenberg our first Jewish prime minister? Never – not in this racist, anti-semitic nation. [Our greatest soldier- the Jew, John Monash. Our first Australian-born governor general – the Jew, Isaacs Isaacs. We are a hopeless land.]

  • RB

    Ianl. It matters not a jot who sleeps at the lodge. Tweedle dum or tweedle dumber are the same thing dressed in different skirts. It would be nice if the minor parties can be kingmakers, perhaps some policy mitigation would be possible but in the absence of any thought independent of the party machines’ headlong rush to oblivion, we are screwed.

  • Ceres

    Josh Frydenberg is from Victoria but like Morrison had virtually nothing to say when Daniel Andrews was putting the screws into us here with draconian curfews, lockdowns, rubber bullets and so on. I understand State/Federal powers but these two should have had heaps of verbal criticism to direct at what Andrews was doing. Lost me over that and now going along with net zero and other woke rubbish just like Labor. Can we please import Ron de Santis ?

  • Lawrie Ayres

    I don’t think Josh will any more conservative than Scott. He will continue to fund the Labor/Green PR machine, the ABC. He will continue with the Net Zero crap and will not fund the development of the North. I doubt he will make any difference unfortunately.

  • Geoff Sherrington

    Ross,
    Was hoping for some learned words form your experiences, such as ways to improve the workings between key Ministers.
    Also, I cannot work out why Josh stood up in public a few weeks ago to state that Australia would have to go along with “net zero carbon by 2050” because otherwise financiers might make money difficult to get. In my old-fashioned thinking, this would be cause for complaint of criminal activity. Do you have a background story for this somewhat alarming sentence? Thanks Geoff S

  • rod.stuart

    It is a fallacy to suggest that Australia is a “democracy”. At best it is a “representative democracy”.
    In this time of compulsory voting, and simultaneously a period in which many, many people (if not the majority) are so enamoured with the bread and circuses that politics is “boring” the results of the “official poll” are results that have been purchased lock stock and barrel by the wealthy. (Holmes A court and Turnbull I’m looking at you).
    A true democracy is a political system first and formally established in ancient Greece by Cleisthenes (c. 570–500 BCE). Following the overthrow of the last tyrant of Athens (Hippias) in c. 508 BCE, Cleisthenes led the political and legal reforms that created the Hellenic Athenian Constitution.
    In order for this political system to operate, the populace must be intelligent, interested, curious, and schooled extensively in critical thinking. Unfortunately, the indoctrination system that has been the substitute for education in the country (and the ROW) has destroyed the ability of the populace to execute true government of the people, for the people, and by the people. So it is that democracies typical last only a few years until they are devoured from within.
    It is a fallacy to suggest that Australia is a “democracy”. At best it is a “representative democracy”.
    In this time of compulsory voting, and simultaneously a period in which many, many people (if not the majority) are so enamoured with the bread and circuses that politics is “boring” the results of the “official poll” are results that have been purchased lock stock and barrel by the wealthy. (Holmes A court and Turnbull I’m looking at you).
    A true democracy is a political system first and formally established in ancient Greece by Cleisthenes (c. 570–500 BCE). Following the overthrow of the last tyrant of Athens (Hippias) in c. 508 BCE, Cleisthenes led the political and legal reforms that created the Hellenic Athenian Constitution.
    In order for this political system to operate, the populace must be intelligent, interested, curious, and schooled extensively in critical thinking. Unfortunately, the indoctrination system that has been the substitute for education in the country (and the ROW) has destroyed the ability of the populace to execute true government of the people, for the people, and by the people. So it is that democracies typical last only a few years until they are devoured from within.
    Democracy Is Dead…Long Live Democracy – OffGuardian (off-guardian.org)

  • Watchman Williams

    Whoever is the PM after the forthcoming Federal election will only be keeping the seat warm for Xi Jinping. That is the achievement of Australia’s political class over the last fifty years.

  • whitelaughter

    oh, so the BCE/CE drivel has even infected Quadrant comments….and we wonder why the yuppie filth are ascendant everywhere!

    Agreed that the ‘not quite as crap as Labor’ spiel doesn’t cut it any more, and that if you aren’t voting independent then you are part of the problem. However, I would like it if ScoMo hangs on as PM. He’s currently 13th longest serving PM: if he hangs on another year, then he’ll be 9th, so that 8 of the 9 longest serving PMs will have been some variant of conservative. If he could hang on until mid 2027, then he’ll be 3rd, so that the longest serving PMs would be Menzies/Howard/ScoMo.
    So what you say?
    One of the few arguments that can penetrate was the trendies are pleased to refer to as their minds is “do you trust the Liberals with this power”? Hammering home that the Coalition is the *default* Australian govt can open them to the idea that governments cannot be trusted with too much power – and that is the opening to wisdom.
    Finally, I get to the article.
    Well, it’s good that they are working as a team. Good for them, good for the country. But surely that means that anything that destroys ScoMo risks destroying Frydenburg?

  • christopher.coney

    As well as Jewish leaders in the military and as heads of state, many of Australia’s very good judges have been Jews, including Isaacs. Ditto for many of our musicians, and doctors etc etc.
    Personally, I don’t think that Frydenberg would be either a great or a terrible PM, but I do think that at some level his opponents will be able to use his Jewishness to try to promote their political interests.

  • Peter C Arnold

    Oops, Rod Stuart.
    Australia does NOT have compulsory voting; only compulsory presence at the polling booth or via a postal vote.

  • Rebekah Meredith

    In other words, people are either compelled to vote or compelled to lie and pretend that they have voted.

  • Tezza

    I would once have supported Frydenberg as a pretty decent guy, though unfortunately sharing Morrison’s inability to think strategically. But then he pretty much led the collapse of the Liberal wets on net zero, with his nonsense claim delivered as Treasurer that international financiers would give us no choice but to be stupid self-destructive idiots playing into China’s and Russia’s hands.

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