Leading article Australia

It was Mr Turnbull wot dunnit

25 August 2018

9:00 AM

25 August 2018

9:00 AM

As we go to press, it’s unclear whether the inevitable second round of the Liberal party spill drama will already have played out or waits until parliament resumes in September. Either way, prime minister Malcolm Turnbull looks finished. Whether his final nemesis is Peter Dutton, a restored Tony Abbott or some compromise candidate, the ABC-Fairfax narrative labels this week as the denouement of Mr Abbott’s determined revenge for his ousting almost three years ago. According to this narrative, Mr Abbott has used all the means at his disposal, and his platform as a former prime minister, applying relentless pressure to Mr Turnbull as de facto opposition leader while the official title-holder, Bill Shorten, stands by gleefully. This is not only disingenuous, but wrong. As he enters his prime ministerial end game, with his margin against Mr Dutton in Tuesday’s pre-emptive spill nowhere near enough to give him comfort, Mr Turnbull should reflect on his predicament.

If he had lived up to the hype of his own relentless, leather-jacketed campaign to snatch the leadership from Mr Abbott, if he had not overpromised and underdelivered, he would now not be at this pretty pass. Instead, Mr Abbott would have been confined to the dustbin of history, with Mr Turnbull’s coup vindicated by electoral success and a track record of solid economic and policy achievement. Instead, and having defined 30 bad Newspolls as the benchmark of failure, Mr Turnbull has lost 38, and 40 by the time parliament resumes next month. Having snatched the top job by offering nothing but his genius, Mr Turnbull exposed himself as the emperor with no clothes.

It was Mr Turnbull who took the Liberals to the left and alienated not just hard conservatives but mainstream centre-right supporters. It was Mr Turnbull whose foolish tax raids on superannuation nest eggs treated rusted-on Liberal retiree voters with reckless contempt. It was Mr Turnbull who called an unnecessary double dissolution, and it was he whose poor campaigning and refusal to denounce Mr Shorten’s ‘Mediscare’ lies carved a paper-thin 2016 majority out of Mr Abbott’s 2013 landslide. It was Mr Turnbull who failed to sell the great economic and competitive benefits of the government’s sensible and jobs-creating company tax cuts, let alone Australia’s strong economic health. It was Mr Turnbull who has been continually out-thought, out-played and out-campaigned by a shamelessly populist union hack in Mr Shorten, and it was Mr Turnbull who needlessly turned the Super Saturday by-elections into a test of his leadership, setting the scene for his final showdown. And it was Mr Turnbull who repeated his fatal mistake of 2009, making energy policy his crown of thorns.

Whatever one thinks of the National Energy Guarantee’s merits, Mr Turnbull invested so much of his political capital in it that to not test its support in parliament, changing it on the run not once, but twice, in just days, turned leadership chatter into hard party room votes overnight. But from the outset Mr Turnbull’s determination to appease the Green Left on reducing emissions, rather than the sensible centre on reducing energy prices, was his fateful and, it appears, fatal choice.

Now the leadership genie is out of the bottle, if it must be done ‘twere best done quickly. If Mr Dutton snatches the crown as looks the most likely outcome, it’s imperative he not only sets out a policy vision solidly coloured centre-right blue, but that he surrounds himself with his best and ablest conservative colleagues in a new ministry, including Mr Abbott, Andrew Hastie, Michael Sukkar, Zed Seselja, Angus Taylor, Craig Kelly, Steve Ciobo, et al.

Bedwetters may pack up their bedpans and take a long-overdue nap.

Furthermore, the new leader must immediately pull out of the pointless Paris Agreement on climate change, alerting investors that from now on Australia puts cheap, reliable energy above virtue-signalling climate fantasies. Then call an election to seek a mandate from the hard-pressed, bill-paying voters of Australia rather than from the panjandrums of the environmental lobby who will never vote Coalition in a pink fit anyway.

John Howard joins Speccie Forum

What trade and cultural ties should we be forging between Australia and post-Brexit Britain? Join us at the Spectator Anglo-Australian Forum on Friday morning Sept 7 in Sydney. A stellar line-up now includes John Howard, Tony Abbott, Nigel Farage, Steve Ciobo, Matt Canavan, Andrew Neil, Janet Albrechtsen, Ticky Fullerton, David McCredie, David Flint & Michael Baume.

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