Leading article Australia

Friends like these

2 June 2018

9:00 AM

2 June 2018

9:00 AM

The Liberal-National coalition lately has been showing signs of electoral recovery. Malcolm Turnbull’s and Scott Morrison’s budget was generally well-received. The government is finally talking policy and ideas that matter to ordinary Australians. Labor and Bill Shorten are floundering in the wake of four by-elections caused by the citizenship fiasco (plus one due to a Labor MP quitting for family reasons); by-elections Mr Shorten once gave a rolled-gold guarantee were unnecessary. There is widespread public support for Mr Turnbull’s tax cuts, including the job-creating company tax package. Mr Shorten is losing ground against Mr Turnbull in Newspoll, with the Liberals finally breathing down Labor’s neck after almost two years of political ineptitude. While the Coalition is still in trouble, winning the looming general election isn’t an impossible dream.

Yet the Liberal organisation is a rabble. In NSW, moves are underway from the party’s all-powerful moderate faction to unseat MPs with strong conservative voices, including the indefatigable champion of affordable power and cheap, clean coal, Craig Kelly. Tony Abbott’s ‘Warringah motion’ preselection reforms are stymied by party warlords. In South Australia, the moderates similarly have conservative MPs in their sights, including up and comer Nicolle Flint and new recruit with a wonderful back-story, Senator Lucy Gichuhi.

In Victoria, the position is reversed: a religious faction has captured control and appeals to arch-conservative fundamentalists while alienating mainstream centre-right members and voters. It likewise aims to purge ‘termite’ backbench senators not sharing their hardline social views, including, astoundingly, the very sound and talented conservative James Paterson. In Queensland, longstanding former MPs Peter Lindsay and Gary Hardgrave have been driven out for daring to criticise the party leadership, and sitting MP Jane Prentice was rolled by her own former staffer (admittedly she’s achieved diddly-squat, but loyalty is in short supply in Queensland’s LNP).

The Northern Territory CLP is an irrelevance. And don’t get us started on the Western Australia Liberals, whose decision not to contest the Perth and Fremantle by-elections may save money for later but is a strategic political blunder of the first magnitude.

Instead of being spread so thinly he could lose several seats and his leadership, and hand momentum back to the government, thanks to the myopic generosity of the WA Libs, Mr Shorten can concentrate Labor and union resources on saving his endangered by-election seats of Braddon and Longman.

Only in Tasmania are the Liberals looking good, having run an outstanding state campaign in March, but even they can’t stop an egotistical rookie MP putting herself before party and taking the state speakership with Labor and Green connivance.

Liberal federal president Nick Greiner and director Andrew Hirst are being fatally hamstrung by state parties dominated by warring factions and ambitious individuals, all seemingly determined to put ideological frolics, personal power and self-interest above the national interest of keeping Mr Shorten and Labor out of government.

If the party is to have any chance of being competitive at the general election, the respected Mr Greiner must knock heads and trample egos in his out-of-control state divisions, hose down divisive party games and stop the party of Menzies becoming its own worst enemy.

Retailed pollie

So former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce and Vikki Campion have accepted $150,000 from the Seven network to do a tell-all interview for the Sunday Night programme.

Mr Joyce was criticised from all sides, including by Liberal and National MPs from the PM to Ms Kelly O’Dwyer. The Joyce love affair is a real barbeque-stopper, with public opinion fairly evenly split as to the rights and wrongs of him accepting the fee. On the one hand: serving federal MPs are already generously paid to do their jobs, including cushy ‘entitlements’ the rest of us can only dream of. They don’t need to take cash for comment. On the other hand: we live in a free enterprise culture, or rather, it is to be hoped that we do. Barnaby and Vikki have broken no laws. They are merely playing the media game such as it has been thrust upon them. As Neil Brown points out in this issue, through no fault of their own they have become our own Kardashians.

Tony Abbott once called Mr Joyce the best retail politician he knew.So is it really all that surprising that he’s taken such a golden opportunity to, well, retail himself?

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