Image for NATION: Turnbull tries to hide in Menzies’ mantle ...

First published July 17

“The Queen has embodied selfless public service, dignity, wisdom, leadership for and more magnificently than anyone alive today, there is not doubt.”

In a florid tribute which betrays more than he realises, a fawning Malcolm Turnbull, proclaims himself not only an Elizabethan but also a Republican, a surprisingly belated affirmation of a cause which he has shunned since being out-manoevered by John Howard in the skewed 1999 plebiscite. He also declares the Liberal Party is centrist.

It’s another incredible twist in a week of surprises as the PM extends his G20 junket to buddy up with Macron, hoping he won’t notice how we treat meeting our Paris Accord as a joke, return Abbott’s sniping, evade his fifteenth damning News Poll and do the dirty on the states on clean energy. All up, his grand tour is a tonic.

Saturday, Lazarus Mal is back, lurching to the right to massage Queensland Liberal Party prejudices. Coal-fired power opponents are “delusional”, he hollers. He’s all about energy security, stability and lower prices. The sunshine state is committed to coal-fired electricity. The coal bludgers also have the nation’s highest electricity prices.

In the real world, the US, our neocolonial dominatrix, leaves us in the lurch by not declaring war on North Korea after all. It also abruptly halts its processing refugees on Nauru, an ominous sign for Dutton and Turnbull’s US refugee swap deal .

The halt follows ABC’s Chris ”I only wrote what I was told to” Uhlmann’s honest and objective review of Trump as a total G20 failure, a your-emperor-has-no-clothes report which goes viral. Could the two events possibly be related?

Time to look more closely; first to Turnbull’s public coming out as an Elizabethan. It’s not the first time, as Judith Ireland reminds us, that the PM’s played the Elizabethan card. Last December he disappointed an Australian Republic movement sit-down do, at $150 a head, with his specious argument for not ditching the monarchy while Elizabeth reigned over us. The Queen is a vital tribal totem, as important to our identity as Vegemite.

“few of us can say we are not Elizabethans”

So admired and respected is the Queen, he claims, that “few of us can say we are not Elizabethans”. Especially himself.

It’s a conundrum if not an identity crisis which annoys the Duke. “What’s wrong with these people? Prince Philip is reported to have said when the republican plebiscite failed in 1999. “Can’t they see what’s good for them?”

“They just couldn’t agree about the model”, replied Elizabeth. Little bull-dog, Howard, Order of Merit, had seen to that.

The 91 year old Queen, impeccably prepared, receives her Elizabethan-republican and recently proclaimed follower of Menzies’ Australian PM wearing her Ming bling brooch, a diamond-encrusted spray of wattle. It is a gift from a smitten Robert G Menzies, who “… did but see her passing by …” long enough to pin it on her during HM’s 1954 Commonwealth Tour.  It’s a sign Her Majesty trusts Turnbull won’t spoil things by raising The Palace letters relating to The Dismissal.

A Federal Court case to force the release of the letters, is set to begin in August, a move The Palace can veto, however, at any time, even after the 2027 embargo is up. Our figurehead of state still retains an extraordinary power.

Turnbull’s Palace reception lifts his spirits after the G20 letdown. He’s looking like a goose now war on North Korea is off the menu despite his urging and hectoring of China for letting its minion get dangerously and “recklessly” out of hand.

The Coalition’s attempt to jump the Trump was gazumped when the tweeter-in-chief failed to rail against North Korea. Not even an emoji escapes from under his thumbs alerting the twittersphere to the rogue state’s aim to nuke the world into oblivion. No idle-threatening. No behind the scenes lobbying. Not even a statement.

Behind the scenes, our PM blames The Donald ...

China and Russia objected to the G20 making any joint statement being made on North Korea and tougher sanctions, arguing the summit was an economic forum. Behind the scenes, our PM blames The Donald for his lack of leadership.

“… nobody round that table was defending the North Koreans, in terms of their conduct” at the G20 meeting in Hamburg, Turnbull tells Fairfax’s James Massola. Nor, however, was anyone making such a spectacular effort as Australia to support US Defence Secretary mad dog James Mattis’ anti-Kim madness in public. No-one else is that desperate to impress the US.

So embarrassing. The ABC has been dutifully screening endless loops of rockets and manic goose-stepping North Korean soldiers intercut with images of Kim taken on a bad hair day as Malcolm, Marise, Julie and Barnaby denounce the rogue.

“Experts” are quoted by Barnaby. Maps of the Top End appear on TV showing that all of North Queensland could be at risk of Kim’s nuclear warheads.  Darwin, anyway. Kim’s a monster, a one man yellow peril to be stopped at any price.

Yet there’s a bright side. Australia has done the world a favour by inadvertently exposing the hoax of international censure of Kim to be no more than a US-orchestrated beat up. It’s the same with every illegal invasion it has ever dragged us – however eagerly - into. So much for stable leadership. Full war alert one day; a deafening silence the next.

When the leader of the free world can’t even bother giving a press conference it leaves little even for a sycophantic media to embellish. Thank god for Malcolm and Lucy’s ride in the French President’s Falcon jet.

It’s a first, gushes Fairfax’s James Massola. Has Turnbull also persuaded Macron to withdraw France’s application to the UN Human Rights Council?  Over night, it seems, France is out, virtually guaranteeing Australia a place in October. Two years and hundreds of thousands of dollars has been well spent. Nothing to report here, though.

... he’s left treading water on the jobs hoax

Turnbull’s keen to talk up our twelve submarines on order, a deal which is far from water-tight. He continues to pretend that a $50 billion investment in an untried concept is a stroke of genius. But he’s left treading water on the jobs hoax.

90% of the submarine build would take place in Australia, the government was promised. But in a senate committee hearing last month, French builder DCNS backed away from that commitment. DCNS has “no formal agreement” with ASC. The company now intends to “absorb” ASC workers, the ones David Johnston wouldn’t trust to build a canoe.

With a sinking feeling Turnbull returns to his own survival. He has a cunning plan to redefine the Liberals to exclude those who are giving him trouble. He’ll invoke Menzies. Portray him as a leftie. Brilliant. What could possibly go wrong?

Bill Shorten knows. He sticks his head up from his holiday reading to lob a well-aimed zinger. “The Turnbull government is in the middle of an identity crisis and they’ve forgotten what their real job is – it’s to look after the country.”

Jeff Kennett doesn’t get it. “Why would you do it from overseas? Why would you throw a can of petrol onto a fire?”

“The Liberal Party has never been a conservative party”, asserts Turnbull, who knows he has nothing to lose. Moreover, he’s always been a PM who will say or do anything. He waxes historical in an address in London to Policy Exchange, deadly Dave Cameron’s favourite right wing think tank aka the “neo-con attack dog”. His audience glowers.

In 2009 Policy Exchange (PE) commissioned veteran opponent of wealth redistribution Peter Saunders to rebut Kate Picket and Richard Wilkinson’s case for reducing inequality. He denounced their book, The Spirit Level as a left-wing manifesto.

It’s an odd mob to tell “Menzies did not want his party to be reactionary”. But Turnbull has a wider audience.

... we’d only taken one sixth of the Syrian refugees we promised ...

It’s my party, not yours, Tony, is his message to his nemesis. It’s part of his thankyou speech to PE for its “Disraeli Award” for his government’s “non-discriminatory policies which help make Australia a land of opportunity”.  Last year, a report found a we’d only taken one sixth of the Syrian refugees we promised a year earlier. It takes time to pick the Christians.

Are we getting a Disraeli for stopping the boats? Our offshore detention policy is based on discrimination. On Manus Island, the PNG government cuts the power off to force 800 refugees into a transit centre in the town. The men fear for their safety and they fear abandonment. Fear makes us feel our humanity wrote Disraeli. Or not.

The government deal with the US to swap the refugees who will never be allowed into Australia has fallen in a heap. Opportunity? Julie Bishop on ABC Insiders Sunday skitters away. Blames Labor. Keeping a straight face, the prim white hope of Liberal leadership assures us “the process” will be resumed after 1 October. “... as the President promised ...”

She repeats the lie that “Australia is one of the most generous countries in the world since the second world war.”

Our annual humanitarian intake of around 20,000 people is far from generous when placed in a historical context. In 1949, when there were 60 million global refugees and Australia had 8 million we gave refuge to almost 75,000 people.

“Processing” is a cruel farce. What could there be to discover after years of our multi-billion dollar Immigration Department processing? The US has threatened extreme vetting without deigning to explain what it means. The truth is that it is just something Trump made up in a speech. In the meantime the hopes of 800 men continue to be abused.

The camp will be completely demolished in October. Yet the government has no plan whatsoever – apart from the punt on Trump following through on Obama’s offer. Apart from all its inhumanity, Manus is a debacle. Dutton would have been asked to resign in any other but a Turnbull government. Instead, he is about to be given a promotion.

... slap down Abbott and rebadge, if not reinvent, the party ...

The award is a set up. Or ironic. Never was any recipient less deserving, politically or personally. But it’s an irresistible opportunity to bloviate, slap down Abbott and rebadge, if not reinvent, the party to suit his own, current, orientation.

An insufferable egomaniac, only Turnbull would attempt such a party trick; remaking the Liberals in his own image.

Normally no-one would notice. But when he claims the Liberal Party sits in the “sensible centre of politics” howls of outrage erupt from the party’s reactionaries, even though he’s craftily borrowed the phrase from tin-eared Abbott.

Jeff Kennett and Eric Abetz, who delude themselves they and their party are conservative, go right off. Barking. Acting PM Barnaby Joyce, nearly drops his Adani tar-baby. The Coalition has become “a philosopher’s club”.  In Barnaby’s barnyard, as in Craig Kelly’s cave or Jeff’s shed only tossers give a toss about ideas. Let’s tell it like it is, he snarls.

“In North Queensland, they have 20% unemployment. You know the only thing they want to hear? How you are going to get them a job? You know what they want to hear in regional areas? How you are going to invest in infrastructure, like inland rail.” There’s a lot of such reductive nonsense aired in regional seats but Barnaby’s blarney hits a new low.

The deputy PM’s nitty gritty is a myth. Inland rail is a hollow promise which has been repeated by Liberals and Nationals since 1996. It is unlikely to even pay its way – even if you could get it funded – let alone deliver a job bonanza but Barnaby’s one of the government’s big picture men.  Politics all comes down to a lump of coal or a barrel of pork.

The original inland train of thought envisaged a parallel energy corridor. Perhaps a natural gas pipeline that doesn’t have to contend with environmentalists is what really piques Barnaby’s interest today. As Tony Windsor points out it would harness a populist issue to to solve the problem of gas permits, access across private lands and NSW energy demands.

If it is, he concludes, maybe it’s time for some honesty. Instead, the acting PM opts for a poor man’s Bob Katter routine.

Joyce riffs a front bar ear-bash.

I’m want a life with dignity and I’m on the pension ...

“They look at political candidates and say ‘have you ever actually lived, mate? Do you know what it’s like to not have any money in your wallet? Do you know what it’s like to think, shit, I’m want a life with dignity and I’m on the pension, and I can’t actually afford food, so how do I do this and keep my dignity in this town?’”

His rhetoric is as empty as the dead centre. Barnaby may have moved his office from Sydney to Armidale, but it’s all he’s done to “grow regional jobs”. His mob, moreover, tends to look out for the wealthy while it turns its back on the battler.

The Turnbull government cuts assistance to families. In March, Coalition welfare cuts included a two-year freeze on the indexation of the Family Tax Benefit. As a result the payment will no longer increase to keep pace with inflation.

Money in your wallet? Joyce was silent when his government phased out the Energy Supplement for pensioners.

Centrelink’s robo-claw automated debt recovery, should help Joyce’s constituents retain their dignity. Cutbacks to hospitals and schools are morale boosting. Character building. So, too the decision to keep pensions so low a third of pensioners are on the poverty-line.

Penalty rate cuts are other helpful Coalition “reforms” which help make the unexamined life worth living.

Duty bound to stop the rot, Eric Abetz looks for someone else to blame. With the ease of long experience he quickly finds a scapegoat. “Hysterical media have decided to dishonestly spin the speech in such a way to inflame tensions.”

He’s heard the speech. It’s “a great speech; a unifying speech”. Undone now by the media who seem to have had time to sit down and collude to mis-report it. In tandem, Dutton still wages war on the leftist, Jihadist ABC.

... not a skerrick of evidence for Abetz’s assertions

Has Turnbull been misreported? There’s not a skerrick of evidence for Abetz’s assertions. It’s easy to locate the text of his speech, posted promptly after the event. But that’s not the point of his tactic. He’s commenting on some comments, a tack the Liberals always swear they are not going to take as if you can be an MP without giving opinions.

Let’s return to Turnbull’s argument, despite Abetz attempt at distraction. It’s a great stretch to see Turnbull as any type of Menzies. Our protean PM, whose identity, legitimacy, credibility and authority are all always works in progress, is brave, moreover to align himself with Menzies, a man who when he wasn’t trying to outlaw the communist party or despatch our chaps off to stop the dominos of communism falling from Viet Nam on to Australia.

Menzies would have hated Turnbull. Ming whinged to his daughter, Heather Henderson, in 1974,

“The main trouble in my state is that we have the State Executive of the Liberal Party, which is dominated by what they now call ‘Liberals with a small l’ – that is to say, Liberals who believe in nothing but still believe in anything if they think is worth a few votes. The whole thing is tragic.”

The speech goes down well with a few party sycophants. Christopher Pyne praises it as an “historically accurate rendition of the party’s foundational principles.”

” Considered and powerful”, says Josh Frydenberg says, a public speaking connoisseur. Julie Bishop loves it to bits.

Yet not every Liberal is tickled pink.  Jeff Kennett turns the air beyond blue. Abetz saddles up his inquisitorial war horse.

Howard ... blocked progressives throughout his long period in office ...

Lying rodent, John Howard, who carefully blocked progressives throughout his long period in office and over promoted the likes of Abbott, helpfully tells the press that the Liberal Party will always have room for conservatives before blowing any question of political judgement by mounting a case not to prejudge Donald Trump. But the rot’s set in.

Sole, surviving Tasmanian Liberal Senator, Eric Abetz can sniff decay like a Lagotto Romagnolo can snout a truffle. A man on a mission, his hypervigilance once helped him proclaim a link between abortion and breast cancer. Lynx-eyed, he, alone, could see treason in rainbow flags in government offices, discerning flags of “a cause” and of “a hostile nation.

“Australian policies for gay and lesbian citizens had caused them to plant a flag in the Coral Sea Islands of the Great Barrier Reef, naming their own nation and declaring war on Australia”, said activists in 2004. Eric remembers.

Eric loves to keep the nation up to the mark. It’s a tough love. In May, the former Abbott employment minister whose PM’s approach to policy was notoriously underdone, he had the hide to call public servants professional slackers.

It’s not an easy call even for black-pot Eric. As Liberal Party affiliate Judith Sloan, notes Abetz did not impress many with his work effort himself. “The ineffective Workplace Relations minister, Eric Abetz,” she writes “submitted a number of relatively inconsequential and technical amendments of the Fair Work Act to the Senate, but they were rejected”.

When Yassmin Abdel-Magied dares voice opinion on our challenged system of government, he shows her the door,

‘If Ms Abdel-Magied thinks our system of government is so bad perhaps she should stop being a drain on the taxpayer and move to one of these Arab dictatorships’. Ouch. No good at her job? Doesn’t deserve to be here? It’s Eric’s way.

... the nation sees a wave of xenophobic anti-muslim, misogyny ...

It’s government by dog whistling the unhinged, and with his help, the nation sees a wave of xenophobic anti-muslim, misogyny hurled at Julia Baird who declares Yassmin Al-Magied the latest woman to be roasted on the public spit.

Few can sniff conspiracy like Abetz and he’s as daft as David Leyonhjelm on the nonsense of political correctness being a leftist plot; a tyranny. Call him an “angry white man” and he’ll be quick to tell you that’s racial vilification.

And so it is this week, brows beetling, nostrils twitching, our national guardian of the straight and narrow spots a perfidious plot. Media twist the PM’s words. Turnbull may be fighting for his political life but Eric won’t let the press lead us up the garden path. Let hacks laugh themselves silly over the PM’s hubris and deception in “sensible centre”.

Abetz wilfully misses the point. Turnbull’s “sensible centre” is a dig at his nemesis Abbott, an expression of a hatred that cannot speak its name. Menzies, he says,” chose the name Liberal” because he never wanted a conservative party.

Never is no time at all in politics. But never conservative? Think energy; marriage equality or tax cuts for the wealthy. Think equal pay for women. And so much more. What can he mean? It’s a “Tony Abbott slapdown”, scream News Corp’s Tory Shepherd, Peter Jean and Sheradyn Holderhead, who are always keen to sell ringside seats to a stoush.

An anti-Liberal media conspiracy or an anti-Turnbull plot? Regardless of what he means, in the wider view, Eric Abetz is on to something huge. Attacking the media when you don’t like the message. And he’s a front-line combatant.

... the world is at war with reporters who tell the truth

From America’s Tweeter in Chief’s battle with fake news to Saudi Arabia’s tussle with Al Jazeera, originally a BBC outpost until it ran factual news reports on Saudi Arabia and found its satellite switched off, the world is at war with reporters who tell the truth. What’s needed is good news; positive news; news that’s a faithful echo of its master’s voice.

Luckily news comes this week that some of this will be fixed. Australia awaits the financial wizardry being performed on Channel 10 as it is being transformed by the alchemy of limited liability from a bankruptcy into another successful Murdoch venture. A nurturing Turnbull government has slashed TV station licence fees.

News reports invariably barrack for 10 as if it were some benevolent charity. Even voluntary administration, a process which could see 17,000 ordinary investors lose everything is cheered from the sidelines.

A Fox News type channel may well eventuate, a sign of the times which can only cheer on the sensible centrists in power.

An equally chilling sign is Turnbull’s dip into a think tank to “get his message out”  So much of the Coalition’s political discourse is shaped by an echo-chamber of think tanks, shock jocks and Murdoch hacks; a claque of noisy, like-minded, powerful voices who also just happen to dictate so much of party policy. Little wonder the electorate despairs.

Turnbull is in serious trouble. His leadership is in tatters. His credibility is spent. Evidence accumulates on all fronts of a government in crisis largely as a result of its own indecision and poor policy.  The problem will not to be solved, however, by sophistry; by redefining the party as small “l” liberal to exclude its conservative critics.

In promoting the sensible centre, the Prime Minister is looking to his own survival and settling, tellingly for another clever trick. Instead, he should address his government’s many real failures of policy in energy, education, environment, immigration and economics.

Standing up to the mutinous few in his crew will do more to put his ship to rights than trying to run up a false flag.

*David Tyler (AKA Urban Wronski) was 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.

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