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article imageOp-Ed: Australia - Turnbull and the Liberal Party death wish revisited

By Paul Wallis     Oct 9, 2009 in Politics
It happened to John Howard, Andrew Peacock, and many other Liberal leaders: The Brat Factor. Malcolm Turnbull, Australia’s Parliamentary Liberal Party leader, is facing a self destructive obsession which seems to afflict parties in opposition.
Somebody in the party throws a tantrum, and leaders can’t lead.
It’s a well known fact that Australian voters can’t stand, and won’t vote for, an Opposition that looks like a dog’s breakfast. It kept Labor out for years during the Howard decade, and the Liberal Party appears determined to do the same thing.
During the Utegate Affair, one thing was quite noticeable: A completely improbable source was the origin of pure fiction which turned into a major Parliamentary debacle for Turnbull. This source managed to get right up to the top of the Liberal Party, no questions asked, and provided a poison pill to the leader of the party.
The average press release gets more scrutiny than that information seems to have received before finding its way into a Parliamentary action. Turnbull, who’s an ex solicitor, isn’t a mug by nature. He must have had some sort of reassurance that this drover’s dog of a situation was bona fide. In practice, nothing stood up to scrutiny, and even with the winds of the House blowing, it only took a week or so to be discredited.
He had some help getting in to that minefield, and none getting out of it.
We now have the Emissions Trading Scheme debacle, in which the Liberal Party has managed to erase any credibility it might have had by taking every other position but Turnbull’s stated position. Apart from some fairly blatant diving into the back pockets of lobbyists, not a lot of sense has come out of this post nuclear LEGO set of a platform.
He’s not getting a lot of help with this one, either. Even the rhetoric’s the same: “We stand by the leader…” Someone must have dusted off the Hawke/Keating era statements about supporting all those failed leaders: Peacock, Downer… there were so many, and the public commentary was identical. Even a perfectly natural leadership contender like Peter Costello got all support short of actual support.
So far information from the Netherworld of Liberal Party Press Statements, official and off the record, is “He’s had it”, which even by the broad standards of Canberra bitchiness is unusually direct. Almost as if somebody knows something… But that couldn’t be the case, could it? Nobody knows anything in Canberra until it’s been approved by at least the level of magnificence of a Press Secretary, or some other deity.
To use a famously Turnbull-related phrase, “Being economical with the truth” as a metaphor: The Liberal Party is being downright frugal with its chances of reelection. The only known working option for a replacement, Joe Hockey, isn’t interested in the job. Hockey’s an experienced Liberal politician whose obvious preference for staying out of the snake pit does his intelligence credit. It doesn’t require a lot of analysis to see that a guy with decades of experience knows better.
There’s a mystery here some Liberals may want to consider:
Who are the white ants?
In every party there’s a well known ratbag element, the fanatics, the unelected power brokers, the “groups”, and other primarily anti-democratic forces. In living memory, since Gorton, the ability to bring down a leader, even a serving Prime Minister, in Gorton’s case, has been a feature of Liberal politics. The source of this self destructive enthusiasm has never been clear.
Labor’s ability to reduce itself to a raffle through faction fighting is well known, but what’s the Liberal equivalent? “Twelve Faceless Gerbils”, as distinct from Labor’s “Twelve Faceless Men”?
The probability is that a lot of deals are in progress, post- election portfolios, perhaps even lemonade and ice cream. Give the brats their lollies, and everyone's happy, thank you Beatrix Potter. OK, normal politics, pitiful as it may be, but there’s another, much less obvious side to this.
The Liberal Party of Queensland, and the National Party on a national basis have managed to marginalize themselves by a range of moves which took them slowly but steadily out of the main drag. It took decades, but the funeral was obvious enough electorally long ago.
The secret weapon for political self-annihilation? Irrelevance, disengagement with the electorate. The most damaging part of this exercise for the Liberal Party is that it’s now being seen as too dysfunctional and too self interested to be relevant to the issues. Polls don’t tell the whole story, but the drastic drop in recent Liberal polling is a pretty hideous indicator of at least one sample that’s less than amused.
One small thing: Labor’s threat of an early election could flatten a lot of Liberal Parliamentarians. There’s something that rhymes with “sitting” members…
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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