A fight for the soul of the Liberal Party

    “This is a fight for the heart and the soul of the Liberal party,” says one moderate MP. “These people surrounding Dutton – these people are not Liberals, they are not conservatives, they are fucking reactionaries, and I have nothing but contempt for them.”

That comment came from the end of Katherine Murphy’s remarkable article Turnbull shows no mercy as warring Liberals tear out the party’s heart and soul.

The issue that finally broke the Liberal Party open was climate change (see ‘Coalsheviks’ want to head renewable energy off at the pass, the tag Coalsheviks, and The die is cast – Turnbull chooses political power over the future of the planet and humanity.

Whoever becomes leader of the Liberal Party and hence prime minister until an election will face a National Party that insists on going full steam ahead on coal-fired power.

They already hold the infrastructure portfolio. I’ve heard that they now want energy as well.

However, the cleavage which has split the Liberal part goes deeper than climate change. Phillip Coorey reports that the Right-wing Liberals threaten to tear Scott Morrison apart. Julie Bishop would fare no better.

Clive Hamilton in How Tony Abbott Destroyed the Liberal Party sees climate politics as now carrying almost the entire burden of Abbott defending his view of the world. I think he is not paying attention. It goes to immigration and a wide range of policy areas.

However, Hamilton says:

    A reliable source told me that the Nationals keep a document signed by Turnbull promising that he will never support an emissions trading system.

It’s unthinkable that this demand would not be upgraded in any future Coalition agreement.

Turnbull has made reference to “intimidation and bullying” in the political process. He is certainly referring to sections of the media:

    Turnbull was speaking of enemies outside Parliament, Ray Hadley and Alan Jones from 2GB and News Corp’s and Sky News’ Peta Credlin, according to sources familiar with his thinking.

Katherine Murphy confirmed this on RN’s Breakfast this morning. This is the Daily Tele on Friday:

Turnbull also seemed to be fingering the Dutton camp. Threats are said to have been made over preselection.

Turnbull in deferring the shootout for a day, and in specifying that he needs 43 signatures to call a party meeting when party rules only require two is allowing reflection time, a chance for alternative candidates to make their case, and people having to be accountable to their electorates for bringing on the spill.

There are two other important conditions. Turnbull wants advice from the Solicitor General about Dutton’s eligibility under Section 44, a hand grenade that Labor have sat on since April, waiting for the strategic moment to throw it into the ring. Dutton has received over $5 million in subsidies for two childcare centres since 2010.It’s unthinkable that the SG will give Dutton a clean sheet – only the High Court can do that.

One scenario is that the GG may ask Dutton to clarify that little item before accepting his eligibility to serve.

Turnbull has also indicated that if he if turfed out he will leave parliament, and has indicated that it is proper that the electors should have a role to play.

On one hand this is Turnbull’s revenge. On the other, the process has revealed a deep cleavage in the Liberal Party, which can’t be papered over. Turnbull may believe that a stint would allow the space for proper reflection about what they have done, and more importantly, what kind of party they want to be.

Coincidentally, Radio National’s fearless philosophers Scott Stevens and Waleed Aly ask:

    When is one permitted to pronounce a fellow citizen or member of a political community ‘beyond the pale’ or beyond the reach of political communion? Can we ever truly say, ‘the conversation is over’?

They were contemplating a scenario when people holding alternative views are so egregious themselves as agents, beyond the particular views they hold, that communication with them is shunned.

Certainly this happened in the Obama presidency when republicans refused to approve anything emanating from the Obama presidency simply because Obama was Obama.

Now certain members of the Coalition are indicating their unwillingness to remain in the tent if certain other people are made leader.

I think the best way forward would be for a new moderate liberal party to emerge. A conservative ‘liberal’ party based on the ideas of Abbott, Abetz and Dutton would would almost certainly die on the vine, receiving little support from business and industry if a more moderate alternative were available.

Back to Katherine Murphy’s article, she has a particular view of the role of Matthias Cormann. I’ve just heard him explain the after the meeting on Tuesday four ministers came to him and said they had voted for Turnbull but had then changed their minds. A number of backbenchers did the same, making it clear that Turnbull no longer had the numbers.

Finally here’s the definition of a reactionary:

A reactionary is a person who holds political views that favor a return to the status quo ante, the previous political state of society, which they believe possessed characteristics (discipline, respect for authority, etc.) that are negatively absent from the contemporary status quo of a society. As an adjective, the word reactionary describes points of view and policies meant to restore the status quo ante.

Political reactionaries are predominantly found on the right-wing of a political spectrum, though left-wing reactionaries exist as well. Reactionary ideologies can also be radical, in the sense of political extremism, in service to re-establishing the status quo ante.

They are not given to tolerance or changing their minds, and hence are not open to rational discourse.

PS. SG has ruled that Dutton is “not incapable’ of sitting in parliament, while indicating that there is uncertainty.

37 thoughts on “A fight for the soul of the Liberal Party”

  1. I’d just like to point out that there are four options as to who will be PM at the end of today. It might still be Turnbull.

    Also the Liberal Party is in no shape to go for an election this year. Candidates not selected. Antony Green says it will be in early May 2019, after the NSW election.

    Business typically goes into hibernation under these circumstances.

  2. My betting is that there won’t be a Liberal Party today, even if 43 names appear on the petition.

    The SG advice did not unequivocally clear Dutton. It was as close as it could be to clearing Dutton, but it didn’t.

    Turnbull will move in Parliament on 10 September to send the Dutton thing to the High Court.

    Then call a party meeting on Tuesday 11 September..

    I could be wrong, of course. Expect they unexpected.

  3. Brian (Re: AUGUST 24, 2018 AT 10:25 AM):

    The Guardian has just published Solicitor general says Dutton likely to be eligible but ‘some risk’ high court would disagree – politics live.

    The only way to remove doubt about Dutton’s eligibility to be in parliament is to refer him to the high court.

    Also the Liberal Party is in no shape to go for an election this year.

    I doubt Turnbull will be chipping in serious money this time around. It seems to me some of Abbott’s supporters are freeloaders:

    Fairfax Media understands Liberal MP Craig Kelly – one of the chief agitators behind this week’s dumping of the National Energy Guarantee – has contributed just $5000 of a $75,000 fundraising target his electoral conference was expected to provide to head office this term.

  4. Brian,

    Whoever becomes leader of the Liberal Party and hence prime minister until an election will face a National Party that insists on going full steam ahead on coal-fired power.

    The Aug 20 Bendigo Advertiser article you link to in your post above includes:

    Grattan Institute associate Lucy Percival describes the ACCC’s recommendation as “a risk sharing mechanism” which could spur beneficial investment in power supply, but coal would likely miss out.


    “All major generation companies in Australia are moving away from coal. It’s unclear if coal plants would be an attractive investment under this mechanism – given they require a 40 to 50 year commitment and the ACCC is looking at a 15 year investment horizon.”

    Last Friday, I sent to Michael McCormack (The Nationals leader & deputy PM) a copy of my letter to Andrew Gee MP that urged Gee to not support the NEG as it stood, outlining the reasons why. I also included a copy of the Monash Forum’s Coal “Factsheet 1” with my marked-up corrections to reflect the latest data from CoalSwarm to July 2018, to highlight the substantial decline over the last six months for the planning of coal-fired generator units globally. On Monday (Aug 20), I rang McCormack’s Wagga Wagga office to confirm receipt and talk-through the key points of my letter with a staffer.

    It will be interesting to see whether McCormack gets the message and changes his tune.

  5. Brian, in your post:

    Turnbull has made reference to “intimidation and bullying” in the political process. He is certainly referring to sections of the media:

    In yesterday’s SMH paper edition I spotted this article Radio host Ray Hadley in storm over Peter Dutton text message:

    “He’s told those he’s lobbying he won’t serve as my – as the deputy to Peter Dutton.”

    The reference to “my” deputy led some listeners to think the text came from Mr Dutton, adding to the impression that the 2GB radio host was part of a political and media clique determined to force a leadership change at the top of the federal government.

    Hadley denies it, but questions have grown when an edited version of the segment was posted on the 2GB website with the stumble removed.

    Today on-air, I heard Hadley downplaying his influence in the leadership battle.

  6. What an unpleasant combination of characteristics, Mr Dutton: treachery and incompetence.

  7. “(the PM) might still be Turnbull…”

    Indeed, Brian. A close run thing.
    Apparently the spill motion was only carried 45:40.

    So 40 eligible persons voted to keep Mr Turnbull as PM.

  8. ScoMo then.
    At this point the PMship has no gravitas anyway.
    And Australian politics in general ( along it’s media parasites, Insiders, partisan boosters and leak inducers ) is a fetid sty of trough feeders that care nothing for their Bosses.

  9. I want to make the obvious point that…. how there be a fight for that which does not exist,…the Liberal Party has no “soul”. What they have in the place of heart and soul is a “greed for dominance” over power and the money that accrues from that.

  10. ABC News has posted on YouTube Malcolm Turnbull’s final message as PM.

    At time interval 15:19, Turnbull was asked when he will resign from parliament? His answer was: “not before too long.”

    It suggests to me that he will resign before the next federal election. Whether Turnbull will be persuaded to stay on to the end of the parliamentary term in November this year, to allow ScoMo to settle-in and stabilise the party, or goes in the next week or two, remains to be seen.

    If he resigns in November, the Speaker may decline to issue a writ for a by-election because it avoids the need for two elections within a short period of time.

    If he resigns within the next few weeks then a by-election is likely, and per The Guardian article by Anne Davies, headlined Liberals could face tough fight to retain Malcolm Turnbull’s seat, there are some significant challengers for the seat. If the Liberals lose the seat of Wentworth then the Coalition government would be in minority for the remainder of this term of parliament.

  11. Yes, GM.

    Perhaps PM Morrison will have a word to his predecessor about timing?

    But Mr Turnbull was very specific yesterday: former PMs should not stay in Parliament.*

    So, given that view, I reckon a very prompt exit by Malcolm is likely.

    I look forward to reading his memoirs.
    The only sure thing: excerpts will not be offered to The Australian for serialisation.

    *Just a wild guess, … might he have been thinking of Mr Abbott as a particular case in point??

  12. Ambigulous (Re: AUGUST 24, 2018 AT 5:02 PM):

    But Mr Turnbull was very specific yesterday: former PMs should not stay in Parliament.*

    *Just a wild guess, … might he have been thinking of Mr Abbott as a particular case in point??

    I suspect he was also pointedly referring to Abbott.

    So, given that view, I reckon a very prompt exit by Malcolm is likely.

    I wonder whether Turnbull has an eye on protecting his perceived PM legacy, and some reciprocal loyalty towards ScoMo for standing with him? PMs like to protect their legacy wherever they can.

    Parliament is in recess for the next two weeks. Per the parliamentary sitting dates there are:
    Sep 2018 = 8 house sitting days
    Oct 2018 = 8 house sitting days
    Nov 2018 = 4 house sitting days
    Dec 2018 = 4 house sitting days.
    There aren’t too many house sitting days to hang around for. It depends on whether he finds (or is offered) other things to get stuck into. We’ll see soon.

  13. Yes, so we shall.

    I agree with you, Brian, that Clive is seeing things through a narrow ‘climate lens’.

    Mr Abbott has views on a wide range of areas; don’t we all?
    He was happy to speak about all kinds of things: economic growth, hospitals, taxation, welfare, immigration, infrastructure, Aboriginal welfare, etc. Happy to speak on many platforms and into many microphones.

    Mr Turnbull was less vigorous in engaging with the public, I think. Several commentators thought he had a rather languid approach to campaigning during the 2016 Federal election.

  14. Morrison and Frydenburg are not beholden to the reactionary right for their elevation and probably don’t want to die the death of a thousand cuts that is the fate of those to pander to them.

  15. BilB, I’ll repeat her your comment of 4:41PM, which got stuck in moderation for some reason:

    I want to make the obvious point that…. how there be a fight for that which does not exist,…the Liberal Party has no “soul”. What they have in the place of heart and soul is a “greed for dominance” over power and the money that accrues from that.

    I see your point.

    I don’t think Turnbull will linger long. He said yesterday that he felt the electors would want to have a say in who governed them, and he said today he thought the electors would regard what happened today with horror.

    It’s why I said (I think) that Turnbull seemed to think it just that the Libs get the opportunity to think about what they did in the space that opposition allows them.

  16. There were two AFR articles I didn’t get time to include in the post:

    Chinese media describe Peter Dutton as a ‘low version of Trump’


    Malcolm Turnbull’s shame: being slain by such halfwits

    In the latter Joe Aston doesn’t hold back. This one is worth highlighting:

    But what of the rabble? James McGrath, Turnbull’s own parliamentary secretary, has enacted bastardy of a level not managed since Andrew Robb came back from sick leave. The Queensland senator was sponsored into the Liberals’ federal secretariat off the back of his supposed masterminding of Boris Johnson’s run for Mayor of London. In a rare show of backroom unity, this was an amusing postulation to both serving federal director Brian Loughnane and his predecessor (and Boris’s campaign director) Lynton Crosby. Go back to Channel Seven’s election night coverage in 2016 and you can’t say that Alan Jones didn’t tell us so.

    James McGrath is a LNP senator from Qld, basically a political tool. As henchman for Turnbull he turned out to be plotter for Dutton.

  17. The AFR takes a look at how the world media represents our political crisis and habit of frequently culling prime ministers.

    You have to scoll a fair way down to see that CNN and the NYT spotted the association with climate change:

    Both CNN and The New York Times examined why climate change seems to equal political suicide in Australia, with the Times asking bluntly, “what on earth is going on?”

  18. Zoot, Turnbull rattled on for ages about what he achieved in his farewell speech. Unfortunately my mind wandered to something else. It sounded like the same old…

    I remember Rudd did the same, but Rudd was crying and I was in the dentist’s chair so I stayed awake.

    Turnbull caught the great Gough W in terms of length of PMship, but fell a few days short of Julia Gillard.

  19. Your statement:

    Turnbull caught the great Gough W in terms of length of PMship,

    reminds us of how very, very little Malcolm, Howard and Abbott achieved in comparison with Gough. Or Julia for that matter.

  20. Brian your Rudd dental chair experience is a laugh and to the point. However, it takes extraordinary people, and particularely leaders, to be graceful at the time of their biggest stumble in life.

    In a measured way, Judith Brett answers her question of Where is the Liberal Party’s ‘heart and soul’, anyway?

    Last week a shouty and self-absorbed crowd, inside and outside parliament, nearly bullied their way to the highest office in this Nation.

    Not sure if ScoMo has the soul to rid himself of the haunting cronulla riot and preselection demons he is so desperate to clap away in big halls with shouts of halleluya. Where as it will be interesting to see if Frydenberg has the heart to go into senseless battles with the fossils, like the recent NEG, which in the end broke the camels back. How do you deal with climate change zealots who just HATE greenies, windmills, science, civility …. or people like Murdoch, who is adamant to gamble away his birth nations fortune for another line in his massive glistening black granite tombstone … or the bottom feeders on commercial radio.

    One of the best summaries I have found online:

    People are too scared to go out to dinner in Canberra. There are gangs of old white men with blue ties stabbing each other in the back. They should go back to where they came from.

    Also David Rowe cartoon is classic too.

  21. 🙂
    Wonderful quote, Ootz!

    Robert Menzies Home for the Perplexed
    Distress Facility

  22. In a Politician I’m not interested I their heart and so much. Too much is decided on feelings.
    An economically logical brain would be preferable.

  23. Jumpy: As Zoot pointed out we can now see that Whitlam achieved more lasting changes that we take for granted than any other prime minister in my adult life. Although his dismissal was the result of outrageous behavior by Joh, Askin and Frazer he wasn’t handling the results of the oil crisis well and would probably lost the next election anyway.

  24. A great many Australians didn’t think Gough was that great in the 1975 election.

    And a great many Australians didn’t think John Howard was that great in the 2007 election. But Gough did manage to hold his seat.
    Furthermore, in the 1983 election a great many Australians didn’t think Malcolm Fraser was all that great.

    I could go on, but since the topic is Whitlam’s achievements (not his popularity), is there a point to your pettiness at 4:26 pm August 25?

  25. Perhaps Whitlams poor popularity was because of his other “ achievements “ that get airbrushed out of contemporary retelling of the story.

    “ Achievements “ like doubling the tax take, blowing out inflation by 20%, tripling unemployment and blowing out the deficit.

    The 25% across the board tariff cuts were outstanding though.

    I much prefer Bob Hawke as Australia’s best ALP PM,

  26. When you have some spare time, Mr J, look into “The Loans Affair”, a self-inflicted wound that coloured about eight months of 1975, up to the Dismissal.

    It was way beyond Godwin Grech, as a millstone hanging around political necks. Many of the most senior Whitlam Ministers were involved, including the PM.

    But zoot is right. It was a list of Whitlam government achievements. Some of those (evolved of course) endure. Politicians should be assessed by their achievements, don’t you think? An election win is a means to an end: implementing policy.

    An electoral loss is a footnote. The voters have judged, the villain leaves the stage.

    BTW if you look at election wins,….

    Whitlam 2
    McMahon 0
    Fraser 3
    Hawke 3
    Keating 1
    Howard 4?
    Beazely 0
    Crean 0
    Latham 0
    Gillard 0.5
    Abbott 1
    Turnbull 1
    Shorten 0

    What does the list tell you?

  27. That list of election wins is incomplete.
    Whitlam won 2 and lost 3.
    Fraser won 3 and lost 1.
    etc. etc.

    Nonetheless, achievements matter.

    We remember the magnificent centuries a cricketer scores, rather than how they got out. (Excepting of course, Bradman’s final Test innings.)

  28. Whitlam was a mixed bad at best.
    Some social policies were good but most of his economic policies were terrible.
    Social policies have to be payed for by the private sector, particularly “ the big end of town “.

  29. ScoMo should send this to every MP and staffer associated with the Liberal Party as a reminder. Anyone that disagrees can resign.

  30. John
    Which part/s do you find so egregious?
    Sincere question.
    I didn’t see any greed or injustice in it anywhere.

  31. Here’s an op-ed by Jenna Price in today’s SMH paper edition (online version headlined Me and Mr Jones: What I know about media bullies). I highlight what I think is good advice:

    So when politicians behave badly, what can you do, dear readers?

    Here’s my suggestion. If you don’t like what your leaders are doing or the way they behave, tell them. Ring them. Write to them. Email them. We had a rule in Destroy the Joint that we had to be civil in our correspondence.

    Try it. How else are they going to know what you think?

  32. John Hewson in Fairfax online today:

    As leaders fail and fall – Howard, Brendan Nelson, Tony Abbott, Julia Gillard, Kevin Rudd and Turnbull – we have squandered a host of growth opportunities, investment, and jobs.

    Climate change policy has proved just too big an issue for our politicians and our political system to handle. It is reasonable to doubt the new Scott Morrison government will do any better – indeed, we may slide even further backwards.


  33. Jumpy, your Liberal party thingie ignores collective effort, aspires to lean government, and wants to minimize ‘interference’ in our lives when it is interfering in the energy sector in a way few communist countries do.

    It sees the environment as something we enjoy. Basically hopeless.

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