Features Australia

Turnbull’s chicken entrails

Was the poor North Sydney by-election result an omen of things to come?

9 January 2016

9:00 AM

9 January 2016

9:00 AM

If an election were held now, the Turnbull government would probably be returned, but with a majority significantly less than Tony Abbott won. This comes from an analysis by Newspoll of its last quarter’s polling. That support for Turnbull is lower than his adoring media acolytes suggest was confirmed by the North Sydney by-election, the only time he has faced voters as PM. In surely the most profligate campaign for a blue ribbon seat, voters were bombarded with robocalls from Turnbull and literature dominated by his photograph, as if he were the candidate. This resulted in a negative swing of over 13 per cent, an increased informal vote and a record low turnout. There is no Turnbull honeymoon however much the Left tell pollsters how much they love him. That was never enough to get him a safe Labor seat, nor is it enough for them to change their votes to compensate for the fact that he remains on the nose with a significant number of coalition voters.

This is not so much because they know his default trajectory is to the Left − Labor without the unions. Nor that had he led the government from 2013, our borders would not be secure, opposition to jihadists would not have been strong, the CO2 tax would have morphed into an ETS and the Heydon Royal Commission would not exist. Nor even that his coup was grounded neither in policy nor principle, but naked ambition.

As John Stone has explained here (5/12), what makes so many hostile is that if treachery and betrayal on this scale go unpunished, ‘they will beget more such treachery and betrayal’. Turnbull knows that such support as he has now may not hold if, as he says, he sees out Abbott’s term. No doubt he is tempted to go early. On this he will be guided by Newspoll which is to him what chicken’s entrails were to the Romans. Indeed it was in meticulously following Newspoll that he finally worked up the courage to unsheathe his assassin’s dagger. Newspoll has now increased in importance. With the release of the key MYEFO statement, Turnbull has abandoned any claim to the very economic leadership of the nation which, apart from Newspoll, was his only justification for knifing Abbott.

A ‘lacklustre document… without economic vision’, MYEFO shows no sign of Turnbull’s promised ‘new economic leadership’, lamented the Australian’s David Crowe, who was not unsympathetic to his cause. Worse, the rise in gross federal debt to $647 billion is a ‘humiliation’ for him.

Turnbull’s approach is the very antithesis of what those greatest of Liberal leaders − Menzies and Howard − would do. Instead of a frank admission that the nation’s fundamental economic problem is that his government’s unacceptably bloated expenditure is now out of control, he intends to rely on that thief in the night, bracket creep. Billions more will be extracted clandestinely from the wages of lower to middle income working Australian families, while all the while he mouths the increasing untenable mantra ‘Everything is on the table’.

Turnbull’s path to the next election will be smoothed by an overwhelmingly supportive commentariat. Much of Australia’s mainline media has long abandoned what the Guardian − no conservative newspaper − rightly declares to be the ultimate statement of values for a free press: ‘Comment is free, but facts are sacred’. If anyone doubts this, just imagine what would have happened if a blue-ribbon seat by-election had been held under Abbott with vast amounts spent on robocalls from him and literature dominated by his photograph but with the same disastrous results as Turnbull’s in North Sydney. We would have had weeks of press headlines and stories on the TV news with the unanimous theme that the Abbott government was doomed. Certain cabinet ministers and backbenchers would have accelerated their leaking and backgrounding the usual media suspects.

That North Sydney was reported blandly or almost ignored should come as no surprise. Most of the media had collaborated with treacherous elements in the cabinet and backbench in their long campaign to undermine Abbott, magnifying trivia, publishing gossip and even fiction as fact. Quadrant’s new editor, John O’Sullivan, coming with a distinguished international reputation, has the advantage of seeing us through fresh eyes. He writes that our media, ‘including some of the conservative media such as the Australian, were hostile to Abbott not only in opinion pieces but also in their selection of news stories and the promotion of “leaks’’ from the cabinet designed to weaken him.’ This followed the eventual triumph of the media’s similar long campaign against John Howard. The under-reported admission by the outgoing editor of the Australian, Chris Mitchell, explains much. He said that his ‘worst mistake’ was to ‘persuade Rupert Murdoch… that we should back Kevin Rudd’. This no doubt contributed in some considerable measure to the replacement of one of the nation’s very best governments by one of its most profligate and incompetent.

What Australia desperately needs is that more than a small part of the media be prepared to honour the principle that while comment is free, facts are sacred.

In the meantime, the commentariat is still campaigning against Abbott, but not because they fear he will organise a similar vicious and treacherous campaign as that waged against him. This they know   would be out of character. What they fear is that too many voters will over time forget their trivial ‘leaks’ and confected ‘scandals’ and recall the strength and courage with which he governed, whether this be on border control, national security, global warming, union corruption, trade or the budget; a strength and courage rare among modern Western leaders.

Regrettably, as with the confected outrage, exaggeration and untruth over That Knighthood − a reaction unique in the world − some conservative commentators have been unable to resist jumping onto the Left’s bandwagon to silence Abbott. The fundamental point is that this unprincipled seizure of the Liberal leadership by the Left is the ultimate conquest by the elites in their long march through the nation’s political institutions.

Resistance is inevitable, just as the Tea Party, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are resistance against what is seen as the takeover of the GOP. A significant number of traditional coalition voters in North Sydney let Turnbull know what they thought of his treacherous coup, as they did at the NSW Liberals State Council. Coalition voters across the nation will have their opportunity this year, especially where real conservative candidates are available.

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  • Gerry Flower

    “A significant number of traditional coalition voters in North Sydney let Turnbull know what they thought of his treacherous coup”

    Perhaps not surprisingly, Flint has this utterly wrong. Voters were actually furious with two things:

    1. Joe Hockey’s petulant resignation – resulting in a by-election less than twelve months out from a general election. A by-election that cost the tax-payers millions – perhaps the “budget emergency” that Hockey bleated about for so long had slipped his mind in his unseemly rush to Washington?
    2. The Liberal Party’s underhanded, sneaky and undemocratic process of pre-selection. Most Party members who cut out of the process and were rightly furious.

    But why bother with facts when Flint can maintain the rage against Turnbull and his inconvenient popularity with voters (unlike his un-lamented predecessor’s standing) on the basis of ill-informed thought bubbles…