There’s delicious irony that political judgement was the at the heart of Peter Dutton’s divisive weekend outburst against former colleague Malcolm Turnbull; an unnecessary disturbance that reveals a lot about the Home Affairs Minister.
There was Dutton in the Queensland Sunday Mail, saying he wants people to know why he attempted a spill – only its four months late because he lacked the political ability to convey the message at the time.
Let’s talk about judgement.
Imagine getting yourself on the front of the Daily Telegraph, as Dutton did in August in the lead up to the spill, saying you had the numbers to become prime minister.
And then abjectly failing.
This commentary is coming from the titan responsible for the GP copayment, who couldn’t coherently argue its merits or handle the politics, and who earned a rebuke from his then prime minister, Tony Abbott, for his failings.
Then there was his mishandling of South African farming refugees, who are still suffering.
He successfully signalled his virtue by speaking out on the issue but, critically, was unable to deliver.
And imagine having such sterling political judgement that you spent weeks, maybe months, organising a spill only to find yourself completely bereft of any ideas for policy change.
Except, of course, to water down the GST that the Howard government so painfully constructed.
Dutton had a plan to takeover the party but not a plan to improve the country.
It’s not his first act of treachery to the party.
He tried to abandon his seat of Dickson in 2009, lost a preselection, and then demanded to be endorsed in an alternative safe seat.
And this is a man that attacks Malcolm Turnbull for loyalty to the party?
Dickson was won in 2010 on a 6 per cent margin.
Now it’s held by only 1.6 per cent, running counter to the trend that competent long term MPs usually make seats safer over time.
Or maybe he just isn’t competent.
Speaking of Queensland seats, Dutton spent more time in Longman in the lead up to the 2018 by-election than Turnbull ever did.
That means he must wear some of the blame for the loss, even if the swing against the government was less than the average in by-elections.
Dutton’s weekend rant continues this ongoing pattern of selfishness and conceit.
It no doubt caused great frustration for Scott Morrison, trying his best to keep the coalition appearing united to save the electoral furniture.
In the interview, Dutton said he believes the base stopped supporting the Turnbull government.
Surely he shares responsibility for that as a senior member of it, particularly as a so-called conservative.
And yet he said the government’s record was a good one, and should be defended.
Dutton is right on that measure.
As a team, they delivered record low spending growth that has enabled the budget to return to surplus, and tax reform to support both small business and middle Australian wage earners.
In fact, the income tax package that past parliament effectively created a flat tax system in Australia, with 90 per cent of workers to be on the same marginal rate, a serious economic reform.
On energy, the government moved the party away from the leftist drift of the Abbott years and designed a policy which would cut off the taxpayer funded handouts for emissions reduction and instead focus on reliability, with retailers obliged to back up solar and wind farms with dispatchable power.
Together, the team improved Australia’s position in trade by securing the TPP, among other deals.
And together, they delivered on security.
That was until the days after Dutton quit, and people smugglers took advantage of the chaos to land a boat of asylum seekers in Queensland.
Then there was the politics.
Turnbull helped the party avoid the humiliating first term defeat all but locked in under Abbott, and was basically at level pegging with Labor in opinion polling.
So don’t be fooled by the rewriting of the story.
For Destructive Dutton, this spill was not about the government’s direction or about political effectiveness.
It was about him.
His colleagues knew that, and that’s why he failed.
Matt Mckenzie is a Perth business journalist. Views are his own.
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