Daily Bulletin

The Conversation

  • Written by Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra
The Conversation

The Liberals stand at a crossroads. As Malcolm Turnbull flagged on Thursday, this battle is about an attempt to drag the party to the right.

Let’s be frank: Turnbull has made a hash of his prime ministership. In a business where expectations are crucial, he’s failed to meet those he raised. Maybe they were too high, but when you knife your leader, people have a right to be demanding.

Turnbull has small-l liberal values. But he has always been driven by his overweening ambition to be top dog. This led him to sell some of his political soul to get the leadership, and another slab of it when PM, as he tried to placate his party opponents.

He confused many of those voters who thought they knew the old Malcolm. He failed to deliver what would have rusted on backbenchers – a thumping victory in 2016. This made him even more vulnerable to the conservatives’ assault.

They were never going to be satisfied until they got him out the door. Tony Abbott was on a mission. The ideological hardliners were obsessed with the climate, free speech and other culture wars. Their discordant voices have been amplified a hundred-fold by their good mates in News Corp, including Sky, and on 2GB. Events then played into the critics’ hands with the poor Longman byelection result.

Abbott did much of the spade work to weaken Turnbull but even the conservatives couldn’t contemplate his return.

So they coalesced behind Peter Dutton, one-time Queensland policeman for whom Turnbull fashioned that massive home affairs portfolio from which Dutton resigned this week.

The plan apparently was to move against Turnbull after the expected 40th losing Newspoll next month. But events accelerated, as Turnbull’s National Energy Guarantee collapsed under a backbench revolt. As the clouds gathered Turnbull, looking for a tactical advantage, called on Tuesday’s leadership vote, defeating Dutton 48-35. The indifferent margin exposed him to a second Dutton tilt later.

Initially, the second round had been expected in weeks, not days. But by Wednesday the Dutton forces judged they needed to move instantly; delay could erode their support.

Out on a personal and policy charm offensive, Dutton was already running into flak. His proposal to remove the GST on electricity bills was attacked; his desire to smile evoked cynicism. And the question over his constitutional eligibility to sit in parliament (because of a pecuniary interest issue) was looming larger.

When the Duttonites moved to get a quick vote, Turnbull again played tough, saying they had to muster the required 43 votes on their petition for a meeting.

Partly, he was trying to ensure if he couldn’t have the prime ministership – and that became clear when a batch of senior ministers resigned on Thursday - Dutton wouldn’t have it either.

On Tuesday, the contest was Dutton V Turnbull. The field for Friday – assuming Turnbull loses the “spill” vote - comprises, besides Dutton, Treasurer Scott Morrison and Liberal deputy Julie Bishop.

Dutton’s first hurdle is to get a favourable Solicitor-General opinion about his parliamentary eligibility. If he doesn’t, he’ll be headed to the High Court, not the Lodge.

If he receives a legal tick followed by the party tick, the conservatives will have gained an unprecedented grip on the Liberal party’s throat (although they’d have some internal squabbles, for example over populist-versus-dry economic policy).

This triumph of the right would bring its own costs. Dutton is very unprepared for the job. He’s well versed in national security but underdone in senior economic policy experience (he held the junior post of assistant treasurer in 2006-07 in the Howard government).

He’s little known in the broad Australian community and, while he might help the Coalition vote in parts of Queensland, he could lose votes elsewhere.

He would have little time to “grow” in the job, or refashion his divisive, rather cardboard image. With Turnbull promising to quit parliament, and suggestions about flaky House numbers, he would have an extremely difficult situation to manage, and perhaps an early election – for which the Liberals are not in good shape.

Morrison, with his experience as treasurer, is much better prepped. Of the three candidates, he’d garner the most respect in the business community, and could be expected to run an economically responsible line. He’s something of a chameleon and highly pragmatic, so where he would position the party ideologically is unclear. But he’d not take it to the extreme right.

Among the trio, Bishop is the longest odds but the most interesting. She’s the only one with some recognition on the international stage and a good deal of popularity in the opinion polls.

Bishop has the stamina of a horse, with an unrelenting foreign travel schedule that also makes time for visiting MPs’ electorates (will some be remembering her welcomes?). There’s a question, however, about her capacity to carry the economic debate. The Liberal party she presided over would be middle of the road.

Probably any of the three would lose the election. As with Labor when it reinstated Kevin Rudd, the question realistically is who’d best “save the furniture”. But more fundamentally, the ballot is about the sort of face the Liberals want to turn to the Australian people.

Authors: Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

Read more http://theconversation.com/grattan-on-friday-a-dutton-win-would-give-the-conservatives-a-strangleold-on-the-liberal-partys-throat-102062

Writers Wanted

Israel-Palestinian violence: why East Jerusalem has become a flashpoint in a decades-old conflict

arrow_forward

How much can I spend on my home renovation? A personal finance expert explains

arrow_forward

4 Top Reasons to Install Range Hoods

arrow_forward

The Conversation
INTERWEBS DIGITAL AGENCY

Politics

Prime Minister interview with Karl Stefanovic and Allison Langdon

Karl Stefanovic: PM, good morning to you. Do you have blood on your hands?   PRIME MINISTER: No, it's obviously absurd. What we're doing here is we've got a temporary pause in place because we'v...

Karl Stefanovic and Allison Langdon - avatar Karl Stefanovic and Allison Langdon

Prime Minister Scott Morrison delivered Keynote Address at AFR Business Summit

Well, thank you all for the opportunity to come and be with you here today. Can I also acknowledge the Gadigal people, the Eora Nation, the elders past and present and future. Can I also acknowled...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Morrison Government commits record $9B to social security safety net

The Morrison Government is enhancing our social security safety net by increasing support for unemployed Australians while strengthening their obligations to search for work.   From March the ...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Business News

The Age Of Advertising: The Importance of Online Business Advertisements

The language of advertising had long grown since its modern beginning in the 15th century when printing was all the jazz. Nowadays, it continues to flourish and adapt as new mediums are created, a...

NewsCo - avatar NewsCo

What is Hampering Your Good Sleep? 7 Things to Check

A good sleep is the pillar of a healthy body and a strong mind. Countless studies have proven how a good night’s sleep goes hand in hand with good health and a productive day ahead. Sleep has an i...

NewsCo - avatar NewsCo

Perks of Acquiring an Established Business

There is a growing trend of buying well-established businesses in Australia. It seems like budding entrepreneurs are finally understanding the perks of buying an established firm as opposed to start...

NewsCo - avatar NewsCo