one seat majority
To those of you who dispute the assertion embedded in the title, let me provide you with supporting evidence.
First some questions for you to answer:
Is Malcolm Turnbull the man you thought he was when he rolled Tony Abbott almost a year ago?
Has he fulfilled your initial expectations?
Is he as secure in his position as PM as he was initially?
Has he been limply acting as a proxy for Abbott and his policies?
Has he disappointed you?
Has he disappointed many voters, even LNP supporters?
Has he disappointed many in his party?
Has he disappointed/angered politicians in other parties?
If you answered ‘No’ for the first three and ‘Yes’ for the others, you will be in tune with the thinking in this piece.
But the crucial question is a Julius Sumner Miller favourite: ‘Why is it so?’
This piece addresses this central question.
It is apparent to all that elements within the LNP distrust, dislike and even despise our PM. This dates back to when he was Leader of the Opposition at the time Kevin Rudd was PM. Many in his party, particularly the conservative clique, believe he is more suited to be in a progressive party – several have suggested he would be more comfortable with Labor.
For some, it was the last straw when he sided with Rudd in proposing an Emissions Trading Scheme to ameliorate global warming, a move that led to a party revolt and his removal, by just one vote, in favour of Tony Abbott. That a majority of the party regarded Abbott as preferable to him shows how deeply the antipathy towards him ran within the Liberal Party!
Initially, after he returned the compliment by toppling Abbott in 2015, Turnbull’s personal popularity soared, and the awful two-party preferred polling under Abbott that had persisted month after agonizing month (the LNP had lost 30 Newspolls in a row) reversed into positive territory. The LNP was then able temporarily to put aside its doubts and outright antagonism to Turnbull. If Turnbull could win the upcoming election that Abbott looked certain to lose, the conservatives would be able to swallow their enmity. There was nothing sweeter than the anticipation of victory to make the bitter Turnbull pill go down. The doubts persisted, but were pushed underground – an uneasy rapprochement was achieved. But it was not long though before the doubts resurfaced.
Everyone realized that Turnbull had sacrificed several of his strongly held principles to obtain the endorsement of the conservative clique that gave him the leadership.
The man who said he would not lead a government that did not take climate change seriously, folded when the conservatives insisted he stick to the highly suspect Abbott/Hunt ‘Direct Action Plan’, which he then defended as if it was Holy Writ. During the election campaign there was no mention of the Coalition’s cut of $1.3 billion from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency or the disgraceful censorship of the UNESCO report on climate impacts on the Great Barrier Reef, even as recent reports highlighted the frightening damage already caused to the reef.
Turnbull said he had paid a ‘high price’ for his previous stand on climate change; clearly he was unprepared to pay it again!
The man who insisted that the marriage equality matter ought to be settled by a parliamentary vote gave in to the conservatives’ demand that it be settled via Abbott’s plebiscite, despite the government's $66 million price tag (and Price Waterhouse Coopers calculated ultimate cost of $525 million), and the risk of community discord arising from the toxic debate that the ACL and their ilk would initiate.
The man who promoted the concept of a republic so vigorously in his earlier years, quietly put it on the back burner.
The tech-savvy man who was prominent in initiating one of the early email services – OzEmail – was dragooned by Abbott into scrapping Labor’s superior fibre-to-the-premises model, and inserting the inferior, slower, multi-technology, fibre-to-the-node model with boxes on the street corner and ageing copper wire connections to the premises. Despite all his talk about innovation and competitiveness he was prepared to give us a lesser service so as to meet the demands of the conservatives. Innovation, competitiveness, nimbleness and agility took a back seat.
With every passing week, we see a diminished Turnbull pandering to the conservatives, looking weaker by the day.
Just when he wanted to look decisive and show leadership after the Four Corners
exposé on youth justice in the NT, he jumped quickly, but with little consultation with indigenous leaders, and appointed a ‘law and order’ judge to be the Royal Commissioner into juvenile justice in the Northern Territory. Having been involved in judgments as Chief Justice there, it was not surprising that a protest eventuated that saw the Royal Commissioner as potentially biased. Judge Brian Martin, showing better judgement than Turnbull and Attorney General Brandis, decided to step down on the grounds of ‘apprehended bias’, which ought to have been obvious from the outset.
This, and the pressure from indigenous groups who wanted a co-commissioner with an indigenous background, caused Turnbull and Brandis to turn turtle and appoint high-profile Indigenous figure Mick Gooda, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, and former Queensland Supreme Court judge Margaret White as co-commissioners.
How much pressure came from his cabinet we will likely never know.
On the issue of supporting Kevin Rudd’s bid to be Secretary General of the United Nations, how much influence the conservatives had in the cabinet discussion is a matter of conjecture. We do know that Julie Bishop supported Rudd and that more spoke for Rudd than against. But conservatives Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton were strongly opposed to nominating Rudd, and the meeting ended with Turnbull and Joyce being left to make a decision.
Clearly, Turnbull, more concerned with propping up his leadership among the conservatives than doing what many, even from a Liberal background, thought was correct protocol – supporting a previous prime minister on the international stage – squibbed making this decision, told Rudd he was unsuitable, leaving him fuming, and in the process attracted strong criticism from many quarters for not supporting an Australian for this post.
And most recently we see Turnbull ‘slapping the banks on the wrist with a feather’ with his threat to force their CEOs before the Coalition-dominated House Economics Committee to explain their reasons for not passing on RBA interest rate cuts. It is his way of avoiding a Royal Commission into Banking, which his conservative colleagues are intent on avoiding.
There are enough examples of Turnbull making decisions that bewilder, enough to ask: ‘Why is it so?’ Enough to evoke the suggestion that it is to placate Abbott’s conservative forces in the LNP that threaten to upend him if he does not comply. We see ‘the three As’: Abbott, Abetz and Andrews poking their heads above the parapet in their own subtle way expressing their dissatisfaction with Turnbull, as we witnessed in this week's episode of Four Corners
. And we have seen George Christensen threatening to cross the floor unless the superannuation legislation is altered to his satisfaction!
With the balance of power so delicately balanced with a majority of just one in the House, and a polyglot and quite unpredictable Senate, one might have expected tight unity within the LNP to hold onto its tenuous grip on power. Instead we see actions that threaten that unity. Why is it so?
I can’t explain why some LNP members feel as they do, but it looks as if some would sooner see the leader turfed out if he does not support the party line on climate change, on marriage equality, on the NBN, and on proposed Royal Commissions. They seem hell-bent on tightly controlling their leader, and if they can’t, destroying him. They are well on the way already.
It seems more logical to do what’s necessary to retain power, even if at times uncomfortable, than to destroy the leader and the party with it. Have they got another more acceptable leader lined up? Do they want Abbott back as leader? Do they think that is possible? Insider Gerard Henderson doesn’t think so.
I can’t explain such aberrant behaviour except to offer the suggestion that sometimes, entrenched ideology, the desire for personal power, and feelings of hurt and rejection, are more powerful than the desire for self-preservation and political power. John Howard was easily able to decide which principles ‘he would die for in a ditch’, and for which he wouldn’t. Abbott’s conservatives seem to not have that gift.
Expect therefore that some will continue to say and do things that threaten their leader, and that in the end they may unexpectedly upend him.
Can you offer any other explanation for the Abbott conservatives’ anti-Turnbull behaviour? Has Turnbull the strength to counter them? What will happen when parliament resumes?