Leading article Australia

Plots and prayers on a highway to hell

8 June 2019

9:00 AM

8 June 2019

9:00 AM

Australia has a new opposition leader and luckily for Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Mr Albanese is already dispensing advice on how to run the country. It is this sort of humility that has helped Labor to monopolise the opposition benches since World War II. Mr Albanese was unable to tell the nation whether Labor will support the Adani coal mine because the faceless men and women that run its franchise have yet to tell him what it is acceptable to say on the subject but he has appointed the party’s strongest coal advocate,  Joel Fitzgibbon, to the resources portfolio and has appointed Terri Butler, an outspoken opponent of the Adani mine to the environment portfolio, suggesting that Labor hopes to continue its election- losing strategy of having a bob each way.

Mr Albanese’s policy of hedging his bets is valiantly backed by his deputy, Mr Richard Marles, who regrets calling a potential collapse of global coal markets ‘a good thing’, but wouldn’t go so far as to back the opening of the Adani coal mine. Mr Albanese has promised to come out with a policy sometime before the next election in 2022. In the unlikely event that it’s the right one, he should prepare to go into hiding from his own electorate.

Mr Albanese says Australians are suffering from ‘conflict fatigue’ and has suggested the government could give the nation — or at least him — some respite on climate and energy by proposing ‘better policy’ – by which he means ‘Labor policy’. Having recently divided up the country into those to the left and to the right of Mr Turnbull, Mr Albanese seems, so far, to be siding with Malcolm’s merchant bankers — with their penchant for renewables — rather than the Howard battlers, Tony’s tradies and Morrison’s miners. It must have come as a blow to Labor to hear Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor say that if it wants to create a bipartisan approach it needs to adopt the government’s plan; the one supported, after all, by the Australian people.

If Labor’s policy on resources and energy is all at sea, it’s nothing compared to their border security strategy. Mr Albanese has consistently opposed boat turn-backs, and as vessels bearing asylum-seekers and people smugglers appear on the horizon, the appointment of Ms Keneally to shadow Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton seems particularly dubious. Ms Keneally previously said that she ‘instinctively disliked’ boat turn-backs, supported onshore processing, wanted a royal commission into Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers, supported the Medivac legislation, and accused the government of being cruel by allowing people to sit indefinitely in offshore detention centres. Yet she also claimed that Labor ‘stands with the government’ when it comes to keeping Australia’s borders secure. It is obvious that both positions cannot be true, and it is highly likely that if Ms Keneally were Minister for Home Affairs, she would lack the resolve to implement ‘boat turn-backs’ which would fatally undermine the system.

The fact that Labor has chosen a leader from the Latte Belt of La La Land, tells you all you need to know about the difficulties it will face winning the next election. The biggest challenge is that to win, Labor needs to repudiate nearly all of its social, economic, environmental and industrial policies; but it also needs to prosecute its case with conviction. With most of the same old team in charge it’s hard to see how it can square the circle.  Mr Albanese made a point of telling the nation that he was not Mr Abbott, as if anyone might have been in any doubt; he seems to be in no danger of winning a landslide victory at the next election, as Mr Abbott did in 2013.

Meanwhile, the news that Mr Turnbull is rewriting his life story promises hours of entertainment for fans of the nation’s favourite ‘miserable ghost’. The doorstopper, already 600 pages long, will be called A Bigger Picture, not A Bigger Ego as some might have imagined or The Secret Diary of a Coup Plotter, Aged 64 ¾.

In other publishing news, it seems Niki Savva is not So Greek, as her first book claimed, as to avoid being knocked over by hubris on her very own Highway to Hell.  Her latest book, of that name, originally subtitled, The Coup that Destroyed Malcolm Turnbull and left the Liberal Party in Ruins, has had to be hastily rewritten.

Before the election, Ms Savva took to the ABC to indulge in a little biting of the hand that feeds her, criticising the political coverage of the paper that publishes her, the Australian, and opining that ‘once you sacrifice your credibility for the sake of… whatever, then I think you get into real trouble.’ Indeed. Perhaps her book should be retitled, The Coup that Destroyed Malcolm Turnbull and left My Credibility in Tatters, but Ms Savva has opted for Plots and Prayers, which probably sums up the strategy of everyone to the left of Mr Turnbull who is trying to salvage their reputation.

Revenge is a dish best served piping hot and readers and writers at The Speccie have had a feast since the federal election, liberally washed down, so to speak, with copious quantities of schadenfreude. Enjoy it while it lasts.

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