Another week, another Prime Minister struts and frets the poop deck of Federal Politics as the Liberals throw mad Captain Abbott overboard and bring back Malcolm Turnstile from the brig in a desperate attempt to calm rising seas, distract circling sharks and other monsters of the deep and to keep their leaky vessel off the rocks.
Captain Ayatollah, as Malcolm Bligh Turnbull is known to former crews, appears delighted to be at the centre of the political universe and in his rightful appointed place at last. He can’t get seem to get that thin grin off his face. Turnover flashes his barracuda bottom teeth as he contemplates his new cabinet demotions and the settling of old scores. Ever gracious in victory, he congratulates Fortune on finally coming to her senses, even if it did take five long years for her to get it right.
Tony Abbott finally gets something right. Nothing becomes him, so much in his Prime Ministership as the leaving of it. Not that he makes a good end. Like all bad hams, he drags his out too long. Not until mid-day Tuesday, does he share with the nation his parting pearls on losing Monday’s leadership spill against him by a margin of ten votes. Abbott watchers are mystified.
Where is he hiding? Has his stint in the Top End convinced him to copy Adam Giles and refuse to step down? Like a shark can he only swim forward?
A SkyNews helicopter quarries him out at lunchtime Tuesday outside Parliament House, a hunched figure walking awkwardly as he were a farmer with a pig under each arm. It circles above, upstaging the former PM who rants and rattles the mental leg-irons of his slogans, clichés and lies, in subdued but nevertheless classic Abbott fashion.
Beelzebub, God of lies, Lord of the Flies why hast thou forsaken me? Am I to be destroyed by my own hubris?
‘an honour to be asked to leave.’
Abbott lies that he sees it as ‘an honour to be asked to leave.’ The rest of his farewell oration is shredded by the noisy blades of the hovering media chopper. Right to the end he has trouble getting his message out. He is stung by the mischief done in that final reshuffle leak, a catalyst in his final undoing. He lectures the media against leaks.
Luckily half his audience is deafened or they might be upset by hypocrisy and ingratitude; take issue with his attack on them. Unbelievably, he promises to stop his sniping, hoping doubtless to buy some kind of truce with the totally devalued coin of an Abbott promise.
Abbott whimpers. Snipes. Curses Turnbull. This isn’t the twenty-one flag ‘Presser’ of the week he had planned; his glorious war on Syria’s ‘first bombs away’ of his rabbit-out-of-a-hat recovery is planned for Wednesday.
Abbott blames everyone but himself for his fate, a true anti-hero to the bitter end. The ‘Meeja’ cop a broadside. But a bad end cannot detract from his accomplishment. Going. It is the best thing he will ever do as PM. Or have others do to him.
Colleagues choke back tears of grief and pity. Oh, that it took so long to get rid of him. Tributes flow from the lips of those who lopped him; cursed him when he held power. Only a few hacks in the Daily Telegraph gush unadulterated love. Abbott’s will be the least mourned Prime Ministership in history.
Morrison’s Father Confessor, His Eminence raving Ray Hadley, Alan Jones and Andrew Bolt go ballistic. But theirs is a different loss. They have lost the best ratings milch-cow in the history of shock-jock demagoguery. They know they won’t be telling Malcolm what to think. Besides his head is too big.
The consensus among these opinionated egotists of the shock-jock-racy is that Turnbull thinks too much of himself. Australia be warned.
...a different sort of track record.
He who falls in love with himself shall have no rivals. Turnbull take note. Not that an oversize ego is not unknown even amongst our great Prime Ministers, such as Whitlam or Hawke. Nor is it necessarily a handicap. But these leaders inspired adulation. Turnbull has a different sort of track record.
A staffer working overtime shredding documents in Abbott’s office Monday night calls out to Turnbull, who is taking a nocturnal stroll around his palace, noting who’s still at work, congratulating himself on taking possession.
‘Yes, what is it, my loyal and dutiful subject?’
‘You are a c**t.’
Some such as Nick Whitlam a former business partner would say the staffer is a model of moderation and restraint. Or he is simply channelling his former boss’s feelings. Consumed by recrimination and regret, with a good measure of loathing, Abbott cannot bring himself to attend his rival’s swearing in, the formal handing over of his wonderland of power. Flushed out of hiding, all he can do is play the victim. He flails about him; lashes out.
‘We have more polls and more commentary than ever before — mostly sour, bitter, character assassination. Poll-driven panic has produced a revolving-door prime ministership, which can’t be good for our country, and a febrile media culture has developed that rewards treachery.’
Tony Abbott wimps out.
For all his macho swagger; for all his fearless shirt-fronting, onion-eating, public courage; for all his adults-in-charge rhetoric, Tony Abbott wimps out. In the end he cannot face even his own knight, Sir Peter Cosgrove.
The avowed monarchist, resigns by fax in one last gaffe. He breaches protocol, committing Lèse majesté against the Australian Governor-General representative of Her Majesty the Queen.
The deposed PM is absent from parliament all week. An ABC camera lingers on a vacant backbench seat now allocated to him, unwarmed by his nether regions all week, the unfilled place, a metaphor for his time at the top. A hot-shot Opposition Leader, the job of Prime Minister proved just too big for the man. Not that it stopped him ‘having a go.’
Abbott was always prepared to punch above his weight. Foolishly at times. Yet it was his pugnacity, his conviction that he could beat Bill Shorten and that beating Shorten was all that being PM entailed, more than any other flaw which made Abbott the architect of his own downfall.
Scribes are quick to list his many other failings. His war against the Left caused him to flip-flop on the economy, on the emissions trading tax he had once supported; on anything, anywhere he needed to oppose Labor.
Abbott’s captain’s calls were the signature notes of his capacity for monumental ineptitude. Last Friday’s leak to the Daily Telegraph purporting to be his Cabinet reshuffle plans was taken as a leak from his office, whatever its true origin, such was the pattern he’d established. It creates a swell of disaffection to boost Turnbull’s recruiting drive.
‘burning the house down.’
His grandiose delusions, his mendacity, his broken promises helped make Abbott the most unpopular and least successful Prime Minister in Australian history and contributed inevitably to his spill. And more than a touch of madness. Turnbull tells anyone who will listen that the increasingly erratic PM is ‘burning the house down.’
A liability to his party and an ever-increasing threat to the seats of growing numbers of his colleagues, Abbott is deposed by his nemesis, the man he, himself, did down five years earlier. It is karma with more than a whiff of betrayal. Of course when pressed, Scott Morrison has his hands clean despite his Holiness Ray Hadley wanting him to swear his innocence on a Bible. Similarly Julie Bishop has played no part at all, she protests, in her PM’s downfall.
Scott Morrison does not contend the deputy leadership spill despite the PM summonsing him the day before, promising him the posts of Treasurer and party Deputy Leader, provided he stand for Deputy. Morrison cops it from Ray Hadley but denies he colluded with Turnbull. Hadley is angry that a Turnbull government will have no need of the on air talk-back rub-down and recharge so pivotal to Abbott’s strategy.
This is the most amazing ‘hands-free’ leadership coup in history, it would appear, but give it a week and the dirt will start to come out. Already there are leaks about Turnbull’s claim to favour women. He has the worst record as Communications Minister for employing female staff members. Of course, the figures are misleading as he happily explains to Labor questions, when they can get their questions right.
Having got its worst actor ever off stage, the Liberal Party has no choice but to fall back on another old ham, Malcolm Bligh Turnbull, who seizes his chance to finally knife his rival. He promises less shouting in Parliament. He always prepared to argue clearly and equably why he is always right.
Turnbull, a long-winded narcissistic know-all proceeds at length to talk himself and his party up and to put everyone else down through a week of Parliament in which Labor appears under some sort of hypnagogic spell. In the meantime several Abbott Cabinet Ministers, Andrews, Hockey, Dutton keep nicking out to appear on TV auditioning for their former jobs. A disgusted Liberal MP calls their performances ‘craven.’
Abbott in a better suit.
It is not an edifying performance from either side. Some see Turnbull as a Rumpole reprising his best barratry. Most are distressed to hear him embrace the Right. Labor accuses him of being an Abbott with elocution; an Abbott in a better suit. Burke notes that the new PM has locked himself in to every one of the Abbott government policies. This is realpolitik we are witnessing; the hard Right rump is too large to leave out in the cold. There were thirty votes for Kevin Andrews in the ballot for party Deputy.
Turnbull hectors, lectures and patronises even Tanya Plibersek on Foreign Aid who responds with a request for a little less mansplaining. Leave the bloviating to Brandis, she could have added - for everybody’s sake. There is a palpable sense, however, of the new PM having got what he wants, just going through the motions of being engaged by parliamentary debate.
The key task at hand for Turnbull is to choose a Cabinet that will tide him over until an early election delivers him another three years of power at least. The new PM may be fond of the sound of his own voice but he is even fonder of getting his own way. Coalition godfather, Rupert Murdoch freely dispenses his well-intentioned advice.
‘Sad to see such a decent man as Abbott toppled,’ Murdoch writes in a tweet. ‘Now Turnbull needs a November election before Labor sacks Shorten.’
Not so fast, Rupert. Malcolm has to pick the right team. He’s had plenty of prompting, thank you. The Liberal parliamentary party is not shy of self-promoters. Happily, such types are also like their former leader undone by their own hubris. Look at Morrison, for example.
Scott Morrison, becomes Treasurer and not just because Joe was hopeless. Morrison, the people smuggler, the arrogant bully of Gillian Triggs is held up in contrast as a ‘good performer.’ Iranian Reza Barati’s family won’t be writing any character references. Barati was bashed to death in February by a Manus Island guard and an accomplice. Those sexually abused in the Nauru camp won’t be writing any testimonials for either Morrison or Dutton who recently swept aside the findings of the Senate Committee as being politically motivated.
‘Good performer’ is a self-referential, self-serving term, as if it matters not a jot what it is that is being performed, be it cruelty, secrecy and utter contempt for accountability and due process. No-one who presided over the indefinite offshore detention of men, women and children in conditions of punitive neglect in the Abbott government’s mission to stop the boats is fit to be in government, let alone hold a ministry.
...woefully out of step ...
Malcolm Turnbull will not be guided by such concerns, however. He will be interested only in balancing power within his Cabinet, of keeping a political lid on things until the party can get re-elected. But don’t think that after this the ‘true Malcolm’ will return to his ‘small l’ Liberal, progressive ways. Turnbull has to appease and control a Right-wing party where power resides yet in throwbacks to the Howard era, conservatives whose attitudes and values are woefully out of step with modern society as the party’s recent marriage equality fiasco suggests.
Turnbull may be Australia’s new Prime Minister and an intelligent and capable man with progressive personal views. And unlike his predecessor he has a background of professional success. Yet he inherits a parliamentary party harbouring climate change deniers and other refugees from reality. He is bound to their blinkered conservatism for his very political existence, let alone his continued survival. Expect the path ahead to test his mettle as his government grapples with some harsh realities in a world of increasing environmental, economic and international challenges.
*Urban Wronski Born in England, raised in New Zealand and an Australian resident since 1979 Urban Wronski grew up conflicted about his own national identity and continues to be deeply mistrustful of all nationalism, chauvinism, flags, politicians and everything else which divides and obscures our common humanity. He has always been enchanted by nature and by the extraordinary brilliance of ordinary men and women and the genius, the power and the poetry that is their vernacular. Wronski is now a fulltime freelance writer who lives with his partner and editor Shay and their chooks, near the Grampians in rural Victoria and he counts himself the luckiest man alive. A former teacher of all ages and stages, from Tertiary to Primary, for nearly forty years, he enjoyed contesting the corporatisation of schooling to follow his own natural instinct for undifferentiated affection, approval and compassion for the young.
• Lenore Taylor, Guardian: Seven things the cabinet reshuffle tells us about Malcolm Turnbull He won’t die wondering – this reshuffle is big. Joe Hockey, Eric Abetz, Kevin Andrews, Ian Macfarlane and Michael Ronaldson are all out. Although most were on the Daily Telegraph’s list of ministers Abbott was thinking of demoting anyway, Turnbull has not responded to threats of retribution or destabilisation by proceeding with hesitation or caution. Twenty-first century government requires changes, he says, which seems to imply something about the modernity of his predecessor. The conservative far right is threatening to split from the Liberal party, there is talk of resignations from some branches and an unnamed but diligent conservative is putting together stopturnbull.com – a website dedicated to proving Turnbull is a kind of Labor/Green sleeper agent who has infiltrated the Liberal party in order to destroy it. Turnbull has ignored all that and chosen to seize the day. Tough calls, he says, are “what leaders have to do.” This ministry is more moderate than the one it replaces, and Malcolm Turnbull’s backers got the biggest promotions. • HERE, for the other six points ...
• Tess Lawrence, Independent Australia: Having the hots for Cory Bernardi, Andrew Bolt and Jeff Kennett IA Contributing editor-at-large Tess Lawrence wanted to be the first to sign up to Dr Bernardi Anti Panty Bestiality Party, but was beaten to it by his many groupies.
• Guardian: Malcolm Turnbull’s rise to power delivers Coalition a five-point bounce Newspoll puts the government at 51% to Labor’s 49% on two-party preferred measure, a change from 46% to 54% in the last survey under Tony Abbott
• Phil Coorey, AFR: Tony Abbott’s backers target Scott Morrison Liberals still seething over last week’s leadership spill are vowing to target Treasurer Scott Morrison, who has found himself the ongoing focus of Tony Abbott’s ire. Mr Abbott accused Mr Morrison of “badly misleading” the Australian people after Mr Morrison said last week that he had tried to warn Mr Abbott ‘s office three days before he was ousted by Malcolm Turnbull that the brewing coup was a real threat. “Not true, not true; Scott never warned anyone,” Mr Abbott told The Daily Telegraph. “He certainly never warned me. I spoke to him on Friday [before the coup]: not a hint of a warning. “So I’m afraid Scott badly misled people. I was doing what I could do to save the government, that’s what I was doing.” Mr Morrison voted for Mr Abbott in the spill but was elevated to Treasurer, replacing Joe Hockey. His former friends accuse him of running dead by knowing all along he would benefit from a change to Mr Turnbull, and not using his numbers to protect Mr Abbott. One Liberal still angry at events said Mr Abbott’s outburst was “not the end of it” and the new Treasurer would be the target of ongoing ire from the right.