8
Nov
2017

Rekindling Urgently Needed

Many of us are still recovering from the wrong decisions we made in making a bet on the Melbourne Cup (mine came last!). Who would have thought that two horses from Ireland would have come first and second and that they both came from Tipperary , to which it’s a long way to go according to the song whose joint author was a Williams. News Ltd Cartoonist, Mark Knight has today brilliantly captured the contrast between Lloyd Williams’s sixth cup winner (Rekindling) and what one can only describe as Turnbull’s continued run of losers (and who should now “pack up his troubles in the old kit bag” and move along). At the end of this Commentary  I have included today’s Knight cartoon along with his of 7 November, where he pictures Turnbull “having fun”.

No doubt this “having fun” was intended as a jovial response by Turnbull when asked how challenged he felt. But it captures what is now being more widely realised but has hitherto had little recognition in the media (outside News Ltd) and amongst leading business groups. It has also been “overlooked” within both the parliamentary and organisational sections of the Liberal Party itself. In fact, while some in the faction wanting to “keep Turnbull” as leader consistently failed to recognise that this meant almost certain electoral defeat (more so now), many also appear to have either supported policies alien to the party’s traditional role of “small” government and/or to have sought to fraternise with the other side.

Today’s Australian runs an important report indicating that Victorian Liberal Party President, Michael Kroger, is condemning meetings with Labor’s most active support group GetUp! and declares that the party’s conservative base is “on fire” (see Kroger on Liberal Party). The report quotes Barnaby Joyce as saying that, while MPs were entitled to meet with the group, “I know they poured about a quarter of a million dollars into a ­campaign against me and they did their arse, didn’t they?” Mr Joyce said. “GetUp! don’t help me. They’re just lefties and crazy buggers.” By contrast, “ Malcolm Turnbull yesterday ­defended colleagues from his moderates support base who had ­admitted dealing with the Labor-aligned outfit”, and could only add “GetUp! goes and calls on MPs all over the place,” he said in Tamworth. “So if you’re a member of parliament you meet everybody. You meet people who agree with you and people who don’t agree with you.”

The present difficulty facing the Coalition comes from Turnbull’s failure to handle the emergence  of an increasing number of Coalition MPs who are either not eligible or are suspected ineligibles under S44 of the Constitution. The problem emerged many weeks ago and has been the subject of a High Court decision. It is not Turnbull’s fault, but it’s active handling by the Prime Minister is of critical importance to the functioning of Australia’s Federal government. Yet, during the period of uncertainty about what should best be done, Turnbull went off overseas to the BeerSheba commemoration and is now about to attend a conference in Vietnam where he will get another photo shot saying hello to President Trump. Both of these functions could have been attended by a suitable alternative for the (true) reason that a constitutional problem had emerged which the PM had to handle at home. But he has handled it badly, as Cory Bernardi shows in his weekly newsletter (see Bernardi Newsletter 8 Nov).

If this was the only difficulty faced by the Coalition under Turnbull his poor handling of it might be excused. But as The Australian’s editorial points out

His plan seems to have been one of tinkering and negotiating to massage what he can through parliament and weaken the points of difference between the Labor and Coalition agendas. Clearly it has not worked. To his right, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation rises and Cory Bernardi’s Australian Conservatives lure away Liberal voters. To his left, the Greens and Labor promise superficially attractive (but deeply risky) lines on climate and energy, border protection and budget repair. The Prime Minister’s approach has had the look of neither fish nor fowl. He needs to provide clarity. As if he hasn’t needed that certitude for most of the past two years, he will certainly need it now if he is to campaign for his life in Bennelong later this year or early next”.(see OZ on Turnbull).

This leads on to the conclusion that, having been given a second try as leader, Turnbull’s main interest is in staying there as long as he can by adapting to every issue without unduly offending the opposition including the opposition within the Coalition.

The article in The Australian by former chief adviser to Tony Abbott, Peta Credlin, deals mostly with the eligibility issue but she also rightly argues that

For a Prime Minister on life support, the rolling citizenship crisis is like the power cutting in and out on the ventilator; it hasn’t yet killed him but the chances of recovery are fading by the minute.

How it got this bad is a potent example of Malcolm Turnbull’s lack of political nous. He might have been a successful businessman but politics is a profession, and judgment, along with temperament, are mandatory requirements. Unfortunately for Turnbull, you can’t buy judgment, so he’s left lurching from one poorly managed issue to the next, rather than taking charge of problems that will determine the fate of his one-seat majority and keep him ahead of the game (see Credlin on Turnbull).

Janet Albrechsten makes an even more damning analysis of Turnbull in her article (see Albrechsten on Turnbull)

Like Citizen Kane, the 1940s character created by Orson Welles to tell the story of a very rich man irresistibly drawn to politics with no clue what he wanted, apart from power, and whose convictions cannot be discerned from his positions, Turnbull seems destined to be cut down by his ­arrogance. “I have never had more fun in my life.” That was the Prime Minister last week when asked to comment on the crisis surrounding his government after the High Court declared deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce and Nationals deputy Fiona Nash were dual citizens, in breach of section 44 of the Constitution.

What odds are there for Turnbull to survive this calendar year?

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