Leading article Australia

Private Pyne deserts

9 March 2019

9:00 AM

9 March 2019

9:00 AM

In 2016, the Turnbull government committed Australia to a $50 billion deal with the French to buy a dozen conventional submarines to replace the ageing Collins class boats.

The Royal Australian Navy recently tweeted a photo of four of them at sea together as an ‘awesome’ sight: it was awesome because so many of them were in running order and there were enough sailors to man them.

Enter Christopher ‘I’m a fixer’ Pyne. As Minister for Defence Industry, he spearheaded the government’s push to replace these submarines, and build new frigates and patrol boats, using Australian facilities as much as possible. Or, rather, mainly South Australian facilities, creating not all that many new jobs in a rustbelt state, boosting the state election chances of the SA Liberals, and not least sandbagging support for Mr Pyne in his marginal Adelaide seat of Sturt.

Some called this massive investment in submarines for which there was no business case bar half a page in the 2016 Defence White Paper, and which may well be made obsolete by drones before they enter service, ‘saving Private Pyne’. And lo, Private Pyne was saved from Mediscare and the then Nick Xenophon Team, with taxpayers stuck with the bill for generations.

But now, in the looming shadow of May 2019’s election in which the Coalition’s chances of winning look bleak, Private Pyne has deserted. Mr Pyne has concluded it’s time to seek greener pastures and hasn’t ruled out a greater media role for himself, either. After all, he is only 51 and has a long life ahead, and after 26 years surely he is entitled to step aside and bring in some new blood without causing a by-election?

No, he is not. Mr Pyne deserts HMAS Coalition at the very time Scott Morrison needs the two strengths he possesses: tactical smarts and rat cunning. As we said last week, Labor is beatable, but only if the policy strategy and the political tactics are right. Having Machiavellied his way into parliament by double-crossing and rolling his then MP boss Ian Wilson and ever since scheming his way into the ‘winners’ circle’ du jour, he owes it to help his party in their hour of need. Whatever else is said about Mr Pyne, he certainly knows tactical politics, which is what an election campaign is all about.

Mr Morrison should be extremely angry about Mr Pyne’s departure because it makes the PM look like a goose. Only in January the PM insisted there would be no more frontbench retirements. Yet Mr Pyne (and Steve Ciobo) last weekend made a mockery of that statement either out of pique or because they saw the writing on the wall and didn’t want to stick around in likely Opposition.

Mr Ciobo was a respected trade minister. But his departure is unlikely to excessively rock the Coalition boat. High-profile Mr Pyne, however, should have stayed to the end. His sudden quitting, coupled with Ms Bishop’s hissy fit she was betrayed in the Liberal leadership ballot by Mr Pyne above all, make Bill Shorten look like a rock of stability just as the green shoots of Coalition electoral fight were starting to bloom. His selfish departure gives two fingers to Liberal colleagues, candidates and volunteers striving valiantly to prove the opinion polls wrong.  Mr Pyne never has shown much interest in policy: to him, parliament is merely an extension of the student politics of personality and power, with loyalties determined by who is winning. On that, just ask John Howard and Tony Abbott. Surely Mr Pyne knew his eleventh-hour desertion would damage Mr Morrison and the Liberal cause which has given him so much and from which he has taken very much more.

Annabel Crabb wrote dolefully last weekend that Mr Pyne’s departure would ‘sap the Parliament of significant colour’. Federal politics may well be a less colourful place without Private Pyne, but it will lose nothing of actual substance when he goes.

In his selfish desertion and leaving little behind but nearly three decades of political intrigue, Mr Pyne, like Shelley’s Ozymandias, will soon be forgotten. And deservedly so.

Melissa Price must go

The comments made by the Coalition’s Environment Minister Melissa Price, in which she linked the tragic Victorian bushfires to the impact of ‘climate change’, are as ignorant as they are deadly dangerous. Australia has always suffered from bushfires, and we have learned through loss of life and tears that the only way to prevent disaster is through careful but strict management of native bush; a task that runs at odds with leftist eco-agendas.

Ms Price has added fuel to the fires, politically and environmentally. She should be sacked today.

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