Will Barnaby Joyce save Malcolm Turnbull?

Peter van Onselen, a university professor who also goes under the title of ‘Contributing editor’ at The Australian, told us last Monday that a group of Liberal MPs had tried to bring Malcolm Turnbull down (paywalled):

    A group of conservative Liberal MPs calling themselves “the deplorables” held regular phone hook-ups after last year’s close election result to co-ordinate a strategy to attack Malcolm Turnbull on several policy fronts and to get Tony Abbott back into cabinet.

    The hook-ups throughout the second half of last year were instigated by Mr Abbott and Eric Abetz via calendar invites and group texts, with the pair chairing meetings that included directives to junior MPs to use the media to pressure the Turnbull government on issues such as Safe Schools and amending section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

The idea was to avoid Abbott having to push too hard on various issues, given he had publicly declared there would be “no sniping”. Others would do it for him. The group included Kevin Andrews, Michael Sukker, Rick Wilson, Andrew Hastie, Zed Seselja, Ian Goodenough, Cory Bernardi, Nicolle Flint, Jonathon Duniam, Craig Kelly, Scott Buchholz and Tony Pasin.

Problem was that most of the junior members of the group thought that the focus was on policy, and trying to press Turnbull on conservative issues. They gradually twigged that it was really about Tony, and that they were being used.

So Abbott’s outburst came at a time when his support group was in fact falling apart. This supports my impression that Abbott in effect blew himself up. Van Onselen says that some of the group told The Australian that:

    the intervention of conservative minister Mathias Cormann, slapping down Mr ­Abbott for his remarks on Friday, was a marker for other conservatives to distance themselves from the former leader. “It’s all about Tony, that’s what most of us have come to realise,” one said.

Paul Syvret in a piece in the Courier Mail beginning “IF THE answer is Tony Abbott, then it was a pretty dumb question to begin with” (paywalled, Google the first line) outlined Abbott’s legacy:

    In opposition he was a wrecking ball wrapped in a scare campaign; a man who marked his policy turf on what he would dismantle rather than what he would build, Australia’s carbon pricing scheme being a case in point.

    In campaign mode he was a series of slogans painted on a tissue of lies: remember “no cuts to education, no cuts to health, no change to pensions, no change to the GST and no cuts to the ABC or SBS”?

    In government he was dysfunctional, impulsive and politically tin-eared, his legacy being one of division and destruction.

    His promises to end the “debt and deficit disaster” delivered us instead record deficits and a debt now approaching $500 billion.

    Tony Abbott has defined himself by what he would dismantle rather than what he would build.

    Along the way he delivered a first Budget so toxic and inequitable many of its measures remain in limbo nearly three years later.

    He found the time to gut VET funding, kill Australia’s car industry and fan the flames of culture wars wherever they burned – free speech, marriage equality, progressive education and multiculturalism.

It is clear that Abbott is going to keep speaking his mind, as Peta Credlin says, speaking out on policy as a “custodian” of the party’s right-wing base. However, if there was ever any hope of a second coming for him, it has now evaporated.

It is also clear that Turnbull can’t blame Abbott for the parlous state the party is in. When Turnbull took over in September 2015 the LNP surged in the two-party preferred vote from 46-54 to 53-47. Turnbull looked unbeatable. The fact is, as I pointed out in Poll stuff: the redhead on the surge the LNPs primary vote has lost 10 points since that time, while One Nation, polling only 1.3% in the House of Reps in the last election is now up at around 9-10%.

There is a tendency in the media to say that both major parties are bleeding to One Nation. This may be so, but that post also showed that Labor’s primary vote has picked up since Turnbull took over, and since last October looks remarkably stable while ON has surged. Similarly the Greens’ vote looks stable.

Tim Colebatch in The Saturday Paper has nailed the real problem. The Nationals made Turnbull an offer he couldn’t refuse by insisting on Turnbull continuing with Abbott’s policies. He should have refused, but he didn’t. The right continues to dominate the policy agenda, and no-one in the government will criticise One Nation because they depend on ON to get their policies through the senate.

    The Coalition today seems to be increasingly dominated by … people focused on securing conservative dominance of the party, even if it ends the party’s dominance of politics. Malcolm Turnbull’s star still shone just brightly enough to win them the 2016 election; it has gone out now. If they want to win the next election, they have to step back, and let it shine again. They have to let Turnbull be Turnbull.

    If the Nationals are frightened of One Nation, then the Coalition needs to treat it like the opponent it is, exposing its idiocies, while tackling the problems that are generating its support. But the votes the Coalition needs to win back to get over 50 per cent of the vote are not to its right but in the middle, and that is the direction it needs to move in, and govern from.

Colebatch says that only one person can take the lead in doing that – John McEwen’s heir, Barnaby Joyce. He needs to match McEwen’s foresight, courage, and sense of responsibility.

Personally I don’t think Barnaby has it in him, but unless he changes tack no-one else will want Turnbull’s job either. Not this side of the next election.

Bernard Keane at Crikey thinks we deserve better as Coalition backbenchers return to their electorates to hear what voters think about penalty rates and economic growth that’s not delivering wage rises:

    Something has to give. A government can’t remain this cripplingly dysfunctional for an extended period.

But one way or another we stagger on.

15 thoughts on “Will Barnaby Joyce save Malcolm Turnbull?”

  1. The Syvret extraction is a priceless summary of the Toxic legacy of Tony Abbot.

    I am extracting that into a document for printing and framing.

    Thanks Brian.

    It should serve as a warning to all trump supporters, but they would not see the connection.

  2. Yes, Tony must rate as one of the worst PMs we’ve ever had.

    The Colebatch article is also an excellent analysis and well worth the read.

    In the papers this morning there is talk of leadership troubles within the Liberals and Peter Dutton’s name to the fore.

    Dennis Atkins, the CM’s national affairs correspondence and a well-informed straight shooter, says he can’t perceive any real taste amongst the Libs for a leadership change, and questions whether Dutton would go down well in Melbourne and Sydney. I don’t think he goes down anywhere particularly well, even in his own electorate.

    I needed to get this post out of my system last night, so new SS will have to wait probably until midnight tonight.

  3. Turnbull’s unpopularity is not Turnbull himself being unpopular, it is the right wing policies that are unpopular. The fact is they cannot be sold to the Australian public, and ramming them down the throat routinely proves fatal as seen in state politics as this takes out premiers one by one.

  4. Barnaby’s problem is that , at this stage, the Nats look like losing seats to ON. The coalitions problem is that the things it might do to fight off ON take it out of the contest at the next election.
    You have to say that the Nats have been brilliant at influencing what goes on when they get about 4% of the national vote if that. The Greens can only look on with envy.

  5. If the Libs were smart, Concetta Fierravanti-Wells vacates citing family reasons, Kelly O’Dwyer takes her place causing bi-election in Higgins, Peter Costello wins on the promise to challenge for the top job.
    And be quick about it.

  6. Apparently if Turnbull gets rolled he will leave parliament, so Wentworth would be up for grabs. It would be vulnerable to an independent, and even to Labor.

  7. Peter Costello couldn’t credibly make that promise, Jumpy.

    While perfectly placed to challenge while in Parlt., he never did as far as I recall. His supporters kept the pot roiling. But he
    wouldn’t make that long and lonely walk to see the PM.

    And during the Chaser Conference in Sydney, organised to make fools of the NSW police, the other senior Ministers conferred and decided NOT to go and tell the boss his time was up. Not sleepwalking to disaster. Wide awake and too polite.

    The only explanation I’ve ever seen for Peter’s reluctance was his realisation that most of his colleagues couldn’t stand him and wouldn’t vote him in.** The hagiographers cite Howard and Menzies as the towering Liberal leaders; not so many cite Mr Costello.

    PJK: “All tip and no iceberg”

    ** I cannot know if that was true, but it IS consistent with his decision to retire from the House after the Howard defeat.

  8. At least you’re trying to work out a tactic for success, Jumpy.

    It seems that Mr Turnbull, Mr Morrison, Mr Dutton and Mr Frydenberg cannot.

  9. Brian,

    If Mr Turnbull were to leave Parlt, why, that would be a betrayal of the Party he loves! Having done so much to secure a truly magnificent one-seat majority, he would put in jeopardy all he has striven for.

    I dare say his erstwhile colleagues would be somewhat miffed, nay, troubled.

    I can scarcely believe that there are finite limits to his munificence, he who has bestrode the very realms of the law, high finance, long-form journalism, epigrams, Parliamentary cut and thrust; and wrote a very fine monograph upon the subject of his legal team’s outstanding work in the Spycatcher case. All Australians are in awe of him, and should he depart, most will say “We will ever see the like of him again.”

    And a majority of those will add, “thank heavens!”

  10. At least you’re trying to work out a tactic for success, Jumpy.

    Lol, not a success as such but avoid another green led ALP Government.

  11. Success for the Coalition, I meant.
    Sounds as if you think the Coalition is the least worst of a poor lot.

    Many voters would agree with you.

  12. I’ve heard that the standard phrase is, “voting Coalition while holding one’s nose”

    No ‘lol’ for me, it’s all too sad.

  13. Sounds as if you think the Coalition is the least worst of a poor lot.

    You got that right, personally I reason we’ed be better of sacking 80% of them, both sides and their cronies and minions.

  14. Jumpy: Would tend to agree that the coalition is the least worse of the crazy right parties. Doesn’t mean that they are fit to govern.
    Gillard is the last prime minister I had any respect for.

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