Gap­ing Lib­eral Party wounds need at­ten­tion, but the mob needs a plan


Loy­alty is im­por­tant in any sphere of en­deav­our. In pol­i­tics, loy­alty to col­leagues and party group­ings is im­por­tant in the way a politi­cian is re­garded. For some, like Mal­colm Turn­bull, loy­alty is never given but is ex­pected. This is in keep­ing with the view Turn­bull has of the world. He has al­ways be­lieved that hu­mankind ex­ists merely to serve him. I found it odd that so many stuck with him af­ter it was wise to do so — our new Prime Min­is­ter and Trea­surer in­cluded — as he swayed to and fro like a boxer be­ing wan­tonly bat­tered while re­fus­ing to throw in the towel and lose the ti­tle. They were still there as the death knell was sounded. Yet they have been treated with treach­ery and be­trayal by Turn­bull.

The Went­worth by-elec­tion where Turn­bull re­fused to lift a fin­ger was a dis­as­ter for Scott Mor­ri­son. Had Turn­bull sup­ported Lib­eral can­di­date Dave Sharma, the govern­ment might well have kept the seat. In­stead, the big­gest by-elec­tion swing in the his­tory of the com­mon­wealth was laid at Mor­ri­son’s feet. The PM is a slow learner when it comes to his for­mer boss. De­spite Turn­bull’s be­hav­iour, Mor­ri­son al­lowed him to rep­re­sent the govern­ment at a meet­ing with In­done­sian Pres­i­dent Joko Wi­dodo in Bali. Once again, the PM’s gen­eros­ity was met with dis­ap­point­ment. Turn­bull at­tacked Mor­ri­son’s de­ci­sion to con­sider mov­ing the Aus­tralian em­bassy in Is­rael.

I doubt that any­one would have com­plained if Turn­bull had rung his suc­ces­sor and told him, pri­vately, that the em­bassy thought bub­ble was go­ing down poorly in the most pop­u­lous Mus­lim na­tion. That Turn­bull chose to do his nasty work pub­licly says more about Turn­bull than it does about the an­nounce­ment he was crit­i­cis­ing. You would be en­ti­tled to ask which coun­try was Turn­bull rep­re­sent­ing.

Now a com­bi­na­tion of gap­ing wounds in party unity and a dif­fi­culty in com­mu­ni­cat­ing a clear dif­fer­ence be­tween the govern­ment and the op­po­si­tion has Mor­ri­son in dire straits. Be­fore he ad­dresses the ur­gent need for points of dif­fer­ence with La­bor, he needs to re­set his own side.

The mob has stopped lis­ten­ing, and to re­gain its at­ten­tion re­quires much more than a bus ride through Queens­land re­peat­ing tired mantras. The mob needs some­thing new. Mor­ri­son must stop be­ing the one who re­placed Turn­bull at the head of the Turn­bull govern­ment. The same team, the same poli­cies — it’s not go­ing down well.

There is a trick to get­ting the mob to lis­ten again. You need some­thing bold and big. It is not to fire up your base. It is to at­tract those de­sert­ers who re­main nor- mally un­com­mit­ted. When you are start­ing a con­ver­sa­tion with some­one for the first time, it is a good idea to be­gin with some­thing you know they will agree with. I have not yet met any­one who thinks it a good idea to give $440 mil­lion or so to a small char­ity that never asked for it and that in any case will have to turn to the govern­ment agen­cies to whom the money should have gone (the Great Bar­rier Reef Ma­rine Park Au­thor­ity and the Aus­tralian In­sti­tute of Ma­rine Sci­ence). This al­ways looked like non­sense. Turn­bull had lunch with his mates and pulled one of the worst cards from the bot­tom of the deck I’ve ever seen. What is more, the money was shov­elled out in one huge whack. Nor­mally this would have been doled out over five years or more.

For the Prime Min­is­ter, be­ing a de­cent bloke is not enough. Noth- ing re­places sub­stance and when Newspoll came down with that 46 per cent to 54 per cent re­sult, that alone should have been enough to spark new think­ing. Those who tell you not to worry be­cause there are six months to go are get­ting fewer and are speak­ing sotto voce. A rout awaits those frozen into in­ac­tion. What was good enough yes­ter­day won’t cut it now.

En­ergy Min­is­ter An­gus Tay­lor is do­ing well. He at least looks like he is threat­en­ing ma­jor power com­pa­nies with a big stick if they don’t cut prices sig­nif­i­cantly. This bloke is one to watch in the fu­ture. In the re­build­ing of the Lib­eral Party af­ter the next elec­tion he will play a ma­jor role.

Now that a truly des­per­ate NSW Pre­mier Gla­dys Bere­jik­lian has moved on from vi­ciously slur­ring out­go­ing Op­po­si­tion Leader Luke Fo­ley, she has called for sig­nif­i­cant cuts to im­mi­gra­tion num­bers. She has a rea­son­able point and no doubt will find many a sym­pa­thetic ear. Syd­ney and other cap­i­tals are over­crowded and des­per­ate for huge lumps of money to fund in­fra­struc­ture needs. The Prime Min­is­ter is a be­liever in the Trea­sury line that with­out sub­stan­tial im­mi­gra­tion num­bers, our growth will de­cline, so I doubt he is up for turn­ing on the is­sue. But he could pick up ground dress­ing up his back­flip by talk­ing about a re­turn to the Howard-era num­bers. If he con­tin­ues to refuse to buckle on this then I am run­ning out of ways to work out how this govern­ment saves it­self.

In days gone by you could of­ten rely on the La­bor fac­tions go­ing to war. These days that just doesn’t hap­pen.

Lib­eral dis­unity re­mains at the fore­front of party busi­ness and there re­mains an­other tip­ping point for trou­ble. The con­trol­ling left group in NSW, headed up by lob­by­ist Michael Pho­tios, seems de­ter­mined to dump prom­i­nent right-winger Craig Kelly from his south­ern Syd­ney seat.

When I first hit some high notes in my party, the Vic­to­rian branch was headed up by plumbers’ union heavy Ge­orge Craw­ford and se­rial id­iot Bill Hart­ley. They saw it as their main task to con­tinue to lead their patch and scut­tle any real chance of win­ning elec­tions, state or fed­eral. Pho­tios may well pre­side over the loss of NSW and the fed­eral elec­tion, and he will not es­cape re­spon­si­bil­ity.

In days gone by you could of­ten rely on the La­bor fac­tions go­ing to war. These days that just doesn’t hap­pen

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