Features Australia

Farrago of leaks, libels and downright lies

A treacherous fifth column within the Liberal party have made the case for party reform more urgent than ever

7 March 2015

9:00 AM

7 March 2015

9:00 AM

The principal skill of some Liberal MPs, acquired over years of taxpayer funded mobile telephoning, is Machiavellian intrigue. Normally, this is in the service of some factional boss who has simultaneously captured the rivers of gold which flow from that most parasitical of occupations, the political lobbyist. Now it is being used against their own PM.

As that leading party reformer John Ruddick reminds us, there was a time when the Liberal party room was populated by people who had typically achieved something before seeking election, and were not mere factional apparatchiks.

Old time Liberal politicians believed in those basic principles of liberalism enunciated by the founder, Sir Robert Menzies. Instead, ‘new-style’ Liberal MPs often share the outlook of the inner city elites, readily endorsing all manner of new and passing fashions. Those certified as ‘inevitable’ by the commentariat seem to hold a particular attraction. It is ironical that the client-patron system centred on the factional boss/lobbyists, a veritable nomenklatura, could be imposed on such a party. The one leading Liberal who has the strength, integrity  and moral purpose to cleanse the party of this vice is the nomenklatura’s greatest enemy, Tony Abbott. Few remember that one of his very first acts on coming to power was to hound the lobbyists out of Canberra.  They fear he’ll eventually clean them out and democratise the party.

In the meantime our ‘new-style’ MP’s  show little concern about such matters as restoring the country’s financial viability, controlling the borders, neutralising the jihadist fifth column or even sensible bail laws. These are issues on which they are flexible, indeed very flexible.

But last month they immediately  agreed with the commentariat’s assessment of Abbott’s ‘captain’s pick’ of  knighting Prince Philip as a scandal worse than, say, the deaths of hundreds of asylum seekers or of workers installing pink batts. This was so serious, ‘new-style’ liberals claimed, that it could only be cured by replacing Abbott with Malcolm Turnbull. Extraordinarily, they see nothing inconsistent in the fact that Turnbull had almost split the party through the exercise of the mother of all ‘captain’s picks’. More serious than a knighthood, this was Turnbull’s unilateral instruction to the party to come behind Kevin Rudd’s misleadingly named Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme which if passed, would impose enormous costs and which Rudd could glory in at Copenhagen. (He didn’t and was so disappointed he described the Chinese delegation as ‘rat f–kers’).

Rather than undermining Turnbull anonymously by selected leaks, a number of shadow ministers then did what honourable men and women do in such circumstances. They resigned. A spill motion followed and the leadership changed.

Compare that with the disgraceful way the ‘new-style’ liberals are undermining the very man who turned the party’s fortunes around after the disaster of the Turnbull leadership, brought down three Labor prime ministers, almost won the 2010 election, presides over the most successful government in seven years and is the reason why they are so securely ensconced on the Treasury benches.

Soundly defeated on their spill motion, like some obsessed Brussels eurocrat, they insist that the party room must ‘keep on voting until they get it right’. As Paul Kelly reveals, their current tactic is to ensure Tony Abbott cannot govern. They are feeding the media with a farrago of leaks, libels and downright lies, secure in the knowledge that their cowardly anonymity is protected by the journalists as if they were noble whistleblowers acting in the public interest. They are deliberately  trying to suffocate thePM to block his message to the people.

So we had the front page beat-up in the Australian that Tony Abbott had proposed a unilateral invasion of Iraq to the nation’s military planners, who to a man denied any knowledge of this alleged event. Then the Prime Minister pointed out, no doubt to cheers from the nation’s rank and file, that while he had often heard Western leaders describe Islam as a ‘religion of peace’, he wished ‘more Muslim leaders would say that more often, and mean it.’ The ‘new-style’ Liberal MPs joined a small minority to declare this a grievous fault. Then they attacked him on his  answers to a series of provocative questions about the government’s completely understandable lack of confidence in the President of the Human Rights Commission, Professor Triggs.

With exquisite political partisanship, the HRC delayed holding an enquiry into children in detention under the previous Labor government, when they numbered almost 2000. Instead they held it when the Coalition had reduced the number by about 90 per cent. The president gave different and contradictory accounts concerning this. Then there were extraordinary recommendations for the payment to a murderer and a fraudster of substantial damages for their being held in detention.

Like  the great majority of rank-and-file Australians, Tony Abbott was absolutely right to say the government can have no confidence in Professor Triggs.

The behaviour of the ‘new-style’ liberals, and in particular their treacherous deceit, is unacceptable to most party members and supporters. One measure of this has been the extremely hostile reaction from a flood of callers to talkback, indicating they would never vote for a party headed by Malcolm Turnbull. Their hostility is no doubt increased by the fact that the plotters are able to behave so treacherously with absolute impunity.

Under this truly ancien régime, how different it is for mere members. Rank and file preselectors are even stripped of their mobiles before a selection process. At least in NSW, members know they can be dragged before some auto-de-fé if they dare say more than g’day to a journalist.

There is a widespread anger over these events among the rank and file. The view is emerging that the leadership is far too important to be the gift of a party room in which such a vicious fifth column is operating so powerfully and with impunity. Indeed the Canadian precedent is to strip the party room of even the right to force a spill motion. If the party room is to retain this, they should be voted on by a show of hands and only once a term.The election itself should be determined by the party membership as in the Canadian and British parties.

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  • studmeister

    Marvellous article by Flint. I marvel that there is no mention of who this fifth column may be. No mention of Abbott’s many broken promises, record low approval rating or poisoous impact on the VIC & QLD elections. He also presided over a budget considered unfair by many and doubled the deficit from what Labor handed him. Surely these are important factors in any discussion of his leadership?