Turn­bull smashes the party he loves

The Sunday Times - - OPINION - Joe Spagnolo

JILTED for­mer prime min­is­ter Mal­colm Turn­bull is clearly hurt­ing, but his per­for­mance since be­ing dumped as PM and Lib­eral leader in Au­gust con­tin­ues to hurt the party he pro­fesses to love.

This week on ABC TV, three West Aus­tralian Fed­eral Lib­eral MPs were among those sin­gled out by Turn­bull as ma­jor play­ers in his re­moval from of­fice.

Turn­bull’s move can be in­ter­preted as a name-and-shame ex­er­cise and de­signed to hurt them.

But beyond that, his ac­tions only stand to hurt and make even more dif­fi­cult the al­ready al­most im­pos­si­ble task the Govern­ment faces in re­tain­ing of­fice at the next elec­tion — just as his no-show in Wentworth also cost the Lib­er­als votes.

And here in WA, his vomit on the ABC’s Q&A this week only served to make the task of re­tain­ing cru­cial seats at the next Fed­eral elec­tion even more a mis­sion im­pos­si­ble.

If WA does de­cide the out­come of this im­por­tant poll, as Bill Shorten said it would this week, Turn­bull might have de­liv­ered Shorten of­fice. WA Lib­eral sen­a­tors and coali­tion min­is­ters Mathias Cor­mann and Michaelia Cash were named by the for­mer PM as part of the group that or­ches­trated his down­fall.

Later in the in­ter­view, an­other of his min­is­ters, WA’s Michael Keenan, was also named in dis­cus­sions about his down­fall.

Turn­bull’s ar­gu­ment that those who had or­ches­trated the push against his lead­er­ship should pro­vide an ex­pla­na­tion for their ac­tions is fea­si­ble.

But in the big­ger pic­ture, six months out from an elec­tion, this snip­ing on na­tional tele­vi­sion only re­in­forces what the na­tion, and of course West Aus­tralians, al­ready clearly sus­pect — that the Fed­eral Lib­er­als re­main a rab­ble.

And that will cost seats. Cor­mann and Cash are not up for re-elec­tion next May.

They are sen­a­tors who won six-year terms in 2016. Turn­bull’s spray won’t cost them their jobs, al­though, of course, his name-and-shame serve may dam­age their po­lit­i­cal rep­u­ta­tions.

But Keenan is de­fend­ing a 6.12 per cent mar­gin in his seat.

And in this po­lit­i­cal cli­mate, that is called a mar­ginal seat.

Is it any won­der Shorten was grin­ning like a Cheshire Cat when I asked him about the nam­ing of WA min­is­ters in Turn­bull’s mea­sured, but ven­omous at­tack?

“I wouldn’t want to be de­fend­ing a seat with Mr Turn­bull’s comment about you like that,” he said of Keenan this week.

But the very clear per­cep­tion, and prob­a­ble re­al­ity, that the Fed­eral Lib­er­als are di­vided and racked by self-in­ter­est and po­lit­i­cal greed, does noth­ing to help a swag of other WA Lib­er­als who will fight for their po­lit­i­cal sur­vival next year.

Can­ning’s Andrew Hastie is de­fend­ing a 6.7 per cent mar­gin, Chris­tian Porter a 3.6 per cent seat, Ken Wy­att a 2 per cent seat and Steve Irons a 3.5 per cent seat.

Sure, you could ar­gue that Turn­bull owes those MPs noth­ing.

But if, as he says, he loves the party he has been part of for years, surely he can see that diplo­macy at this point should be his course of ac­tion.

Or is it that he is so deeply wounded and of­fended that he would rather the party he once led be beaten with­out him, rather than rise from the ashes in his ab­sence?

To put WA’s po­lit­i­cal po­si­tion in con­text, con­sider this: New PM Scott Mor­ri­son now runs a mi­nor­ity govern­ment cour­tesy of a loss in Turn­bull’s old seat of Wentworth.

The Lib­er­als hold 11 of 16 Fed­eral seats in WA.

Put sim­ply, Mor­ri­son can­not af­ford to drop one seat in WA come the next elec­tion.

The last thing the Lib­er­als need right now is a ram­pag­ing for­mer PM go­ing on na­tional tele­vi­sion and re-open­ing po­lit­i­cal wounds.

Turn­bull, in one ABC ap­pear­ance, de­stroyed weeks of work by Mor­ri­son, who has been try­ing to stop the Ti­tanic sink­ing.

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