Turnbull re­opens party wounds

The West Australian - - OPINION - MICHELLE GRATTAN Michelle Grattan is a pro­fes­so­rial fel­low at the Uni­ver­sity of Can­berra. This ar­ti­cle first ap­peared on the­con­ver­sa­tion.com.

Mal­colm Turnbull has de­liv­ered a hefty blow to the strug­gling Mor­ri­son Gov­ern­ment by re­fo­cus­ing at­ten­tion on the one ques­tion it has des­per­ately tried to smother. Why was he sacked?

When he ap­peared on Thurs­day’s Q&A spe­cial, Turnbull had a dual mis­sion.

His neat blue jacket told the story. There would be no re­ver­sion to the pre-prime min­is­te­rial free-wheeler dressed in leather.

He was there to hold his ex­e­cu­tion­ers to ac­count, to en­sure they have no es­cape, from him or from the pub­lic. And he was primed to de­fend his record, to write the his­tory of his three years in of­fice as a story of ac­com­plish­ment and suc­cess. He wants to be de­fined by what he did, rather than by how badly things ended.

Essen­tially he pre­sented him­self si­mul­ta­ne­ously as the vic­tim and the vic­tor.

The open­ing ques­tion was pre­dictable but cen­tral: “why aren’t you still prime min­is­ter?” Turnbull’s re­ply was re­hearsed and tar­geted per­son­ally as well as gen­er­ally. This was “the ques­tion I can’t an­swer,” he said. “The only peo­ple that can an­swer that are the peo­ple that en­gi­neered the coup — peo­ple like Peter Dut­ton and Tony Ab­bott and Greg Hunt and Mathias Cor­mann — the peo­ple who voted for the spill.” (He fin­gered more cul­prits later.)

“So, there are 45 of them…. They have to an­swer that ques­tion.”

Those who chose “to blow up the gov­ern­ment, to bring my prime min­is­ter­ship to an end … they need to re­ally ex­plain why they did it”. “And none of them have,” he said. He saw a “fair prospect” of the is­sue res­onat­ing in the elec­tion cam­paign.

So much for Scott Mor­ri­son ar­gu­ing the pub­lic have gone be­yond the “Mup­pet show”, or De­fence In­dus­try Min­is­ter Steve Ciobo claim­ing Aus­tralians didn’t care about what had hap­pened.

La­bor has kept press­ing the “why” ques­tion — now Turnbull has given it fresh am­mu­ni­tion. This makes it harder for min­is­ters to shrug it off; those specif­i­cally named are back on the spot. Once more Bill Shorten is the ben­e­fi­ciary of his op­po­nents’ self-de­struc­tion.

An­other round of di­vi­sive de­bate and anal­y­sis has started.

Christo­pher Pyne yes­ter­day sup­ported Turnbull, agree­ing those who brought him down had to be re­spon­si­ble for their ac­tions. Cor­mann, much di­min­ished by his role in th­ese events, again protested that he had only moved when Turnbull’s po­si­tion be­came “ir­re­triev­able”.

Mor­ri­son said the lead­er­ship was a mat­ter for the party room; he thanked Turnbull “for his kind­ness to­wards me”.

The Q&A ap­pear­ance showed the am­biva­lence in Turnbull’s be­hav­iour to­wards Mor­ri­son.

When his own lead­er­ship was doomed he helped Mor­ri­son beat Dut­ton. But his in­ter­ven­tion is now hurt­ing his suc­ces­sor.

In wish­ing Mor­ri­son “all the best in the elec­tion”, Turnbull em­pha­sised that he per­son­ally was out of Par­lia­ment and he’d had lit­tle to say since he left — he’d wanted to give his suc­ces­sor “clear air”. But of course Turnbull’s as­ser­tion he’s “out of pol­i­tics” is disin­gen­u­ous, or at least pre­ma­ture. What could be more po­lit­i­cal than this high-pro­file TV gig?

Apart from in­ject­ing new vigour into the is­sue of his sack­ing, Turnbull’s cri­tique of the Lib­eral Party’s move to the right was pow­er­ful and dam­ag­ing, en­cap­su­lated in his ob­ser­va­tion about Lib­eral-minded vot­ers in­stalling like-minded cross­benchers.

He pointed to Mayo, Indi and Went­worth, seats pre­vi­ously solid Lib­eral. “They are now oc­cu­pied by three in­de­pen­dents who are all women, who are all small-l lib­er­als”. By elect­ing th­ese MPs the vot­ers were say­ing “we are con­cerned that the Lib­eral Party is not speak­ing for small-l lib­eral val­ues”, he said.

This brings to mind the spec­u­la­tion about a pos­si­ble high-pro­file in­de­pen­dent emerg­ing in War­ringah who could give Tony Ab­bott a run for his money.

Turnbull talked up an ex­ten­sive legacy for him­self, high­light­ing the achieve­ment of same-sex mar­riage (though some would give the praise to cer­tain pesky back­benchers). Typ­i­cally, he wouldn’t cede ground over stand­ing back from the bat­tle in his old seat.

As al­ways with Turnbull, Thurs­day’s ap­pear­ance will po­larise Lib­er­als, mak­ing it un­cer­tain whether it will help or harm his rep­u­ta­tion.

En­e­mies will see it as be­ing all about Mal­colm. But his ar­gu­ments were po­tent re­minders of the stu­pid­ity of what hap­pened in Au­gust and the present poor state and sit­u­a­tion of the Lib­eral Party.

Mor­ri­son this week had to deal with an early man­i­fes­ta­tion of the hung Par­lia­ment he now must man­age. Cross­bencher Bob Kat­ter saw the op­por­tu­nity to make some gains for his north Queens­land elec­torate of Kennedy dur­ing Mor­ri­son’s tour of the State, so the mav­er­ick MP sug­gested he might con­sider sup­port­ing the re­fer­ral of Lib­eral MP Chris Crewther to the High Court over a pos­si­ble Sec­tion 44 prob­lem.

By Thurs­day Mor­ri­son had met Kat­ter, and ex­tracted a pledge of “on­go­ing sup­port of the Gov­ern­ment”. Kat­ter had ex­tracted dol­lops of money for wa­ter projects.

Their re­spec­tive per­for­mances this week em­pha­sised the chalk-and-cheese con­trast be­tween the for­mer and cur­rent prime min­is­ters, a dif­fer­ence be­ing ac­cen­tu­ated by Mor­ri­son as he seeks to por­tray him­self as a man of the peo­ple.

Turnbull was crit­i­cal of the hard right-wing me­dia; Mor­ri­son in the past few days has done an in­ter­view with Alan Jones and a Sky peo­ple’s fo­rum in Townsville hosted by Paul Mur­ray.

Turnbull might have had a pen­chant for trams and trains and self­ies but not the faux bus tour with cheesy videos.

But as Turnbull said of the man who’s in­her­ited the fall­out of the Au­gust “mad­ness”: “He has dealt him­self a very tough hand of cards, and now he has to play them … he has to get on with it.”

With Mor­ri­son it is not so much a mat­ter of get­ting on with it — he’s hy­per­ac­tive — but of pre­cisely what it is that he’s get­ting on with.

Il­lus­tra­tion: Don Lind­say

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.