A Hastie victory in Canning can only add to Malcolm Turnbull’s problems.

dark Hastie

The Liberal Party has blown a million dollars on the Canning by-election. $1.2 million so far, to be precise – not that anyone’s counting. Not that we will ever know.

A fortune has been wasted in a final, futile attempt to save Tony Abbott’s career as PM.  Now Malcolm Turnbull has deposed Abbott, what sort of a return will the Liberals get on their investment? Or the nation? Not to mention the eternal bridesmaids, the electorate of Canning, the people of Australia?

Turnbull will not rush to embrace the Abbott vice-captain’s pick. He has enough ultra-conservatives frustrating his control of the parliamentary party as it is. Another Cory Bernardi with all the extra baggage of an ex-serviceman is no help to him.

Especially an Andrew Hastie who clearly has not had time to work out who he is or exactly what he stands for. If he ever can.

Not that the Canning Liberal candidate wants to share too much; give very much away. Bonding with the electorate is best done at arm’s length. Hastie sees his fundamentalist views as off limits, as if somehow they are not integral to his decisions as a politician. Besides, ‘voters are sick of this crap,’ he tells a reporter.

Andrew Hastie was still telling ABC listeners this week that he wasn’t a politician. One host corrected him on air. Yet you can understand his confusion. The youngster was an SAS captain until Julie Bishop coaxed him out of his uniform and into politics a few weeks ago.

Why was the junior army officer recruited? Bishop liked the cut of his jib. Tony Abbott’s conservative journo mate Greg Sheridan was also attracted to the young man years earlier using him in a piece on the war in Afghanistan. The local selection committee were also all over him like a rash.

What exactly it is about a soldier that makes conservatives drool is a complex issue but it appears to include a fondness for authority and a nostalgic hankering for simple certainties, black and white thinking, a backward looking affection for security by the imposition of force.

These very same qualities may be found in spades amongst the hard right core of the modern moribund Liberal party if not liberally dispersed throughout.

If looking backwards is a worry, so too is assuming that a military background is an asset in modern politics. Whatever it is that suggests Hastie or anyone like him will become a ‘good politician’ is never spelled out but it is equally disturbing. The new young candidate is more likely to turn into another right-winger like Tony Abbott with all his rigidity, his inability to empathise; communicate; represent ordinary, decent Australians.

Military types are seldom democratic or flexible in their thinking.

“I know what I believe and I believe what I believe is right,”

George W Bush, once endearingly said about his own closed mind; his opinionated dogmatism. Bush could have been channelling Tony Abbott. Similarly, Hastie refuses to even discuss his fundamental religious beliefs, state his grounds, especially on his creationism. Does Australia need more of this mindset in Canberra?

Soldiers are well-trained in taking orders.  Bullying and bastardisation also remain part of their rites of passage, their culture despite many well-meaning promises of reform. Andy’s professional obedience would have been handy to the former PM.

A weak leader, independently minded subordinates bothered Abbott. Toadies did a lot better. How else to explain the rise and rise of Bruce Billson? Or Abbott’s indulgence of the misrule of Joe Hockey as treasurer. But the choice goes beyond the PM’s need for tame followers or any other personal weakness.

Putting to one side ‘Two year Tony’s Abbott’s fetish for the military, his eagerness to bond with another macho man of action, the Hastie runs deeper than any one actor; any individual’s agency.  Choosing a man with a military background helps to perpetuate the old guard, the male oligarchy, the boys’ club if you will. The old guard, an endangered species, is fighting a rear-guard action in the real world but it will spare no expense to turn back the clock in politics. It remains convinced it is born to rule. Witness Tony’s abject blaming of others right to the end.

Tony Abbott was deposed on Monday but to hear him talk, it was nothing he had done, no reflection on his decision-making, his dud prime ministership. Narcissist old guard politicians are like that. As he bleated on TV, it was all someone else’s fault. The media did him down by publishing malicious leaks and false rumours. So unfair.

Unfair? Nothing like the leaks his office fed the Daily Telegraph, daily? Nothing like the way Murdoch’s papers boosted this political nonentity  into power?  Left to his own devices, he would always find his job too big for the man. As it was at the end.

The uniform was no consolation to the former PM when the chips were down. He broke with protocol. The representative of his beloved monarch was sent a fax. Abbott did not have the ticker to concede defeat to his own knight, Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove. A military fetish did not help his personal bravery.

Besides a personal appearance would have meant shaking that bastard arch rival Turnbull’s hand. No. As he said on each of the three brief occasions he visited, the Canning by-election was not about him. Nope. Nope. Nope. So what is it about?

Canning is about Liberal values. Forget the rhetoric about individualism in action, self-help, keeping our great nation safe and how the coalition government has a PLAN. Despite there being all sorts of talk about choosing a woman candidate, or a local candidate, the Liberal plan is all about the man. Hastie, the young reactionary was head-hunted. He was approached by Julie Bishop, agreed to stand and then resigned from the Army. Then the money was tipped in.

Who needs hospitals, schools, women’s refuges? Helping Andrew Hastie buy a safe Liberal seat is a real priority. Canning show-cases the independence, the freedoms, the respect for the individual and other slogans Liberals like George Brandis are so fond of repeating over a reflective single malt in his all-male Savage club. A lad from a privileged background can’t possibly be abandoned, left to his own devices or be trusted to win a safe seat on his own merit. What he needs is a massive subsidy.

But it’s a hand up not a hand out. Tomorrow Hastie should have a job for life with all the other ‘lifters’ in parliament who have succeeded by their own hard work unhindered by their wealthy, powerful and privileged families. Now the ex-soldier has taken an opportunity to make something of himself, despite his opportunity being pre-made, offered to him on a plate. Of course he must behave himself; follow party room directions; read the daily talking points.

In Canning, our taxes are hard at work, the Liberal poster boy for rugged self-reliance and initiative, Andrew Hastie must pretend he has something to offer voters. Not that he was selected to suit the party’s needs. The Liberal machine picked Hastie because they liked his kerb appeal. In the post-modern era, politics has moved on – transitioned – from ideals of public service and commitment to principles to whatever looks good. Exalting image over substance, matches the party’s elevation of pragmatism over any kind of principle.

For most of us Hastie represents a bridge too far; a travesty of the whole process of candidate selection. In Canning, however, an advertising campaign is enabled to usurp a political campaign. The selection of the new recruit has nothing to do with seeking a people’s representative or grass-roots or any other form of democracy. It’s about making the Liberal Party look better than it really is. That is hard enough, especially in its current crisis. By choosing Hastie, however, the Liberals have made a hard task impossible.

Malcolm Turnbull, by nature a more moderate Liberal, has just won a leadership coup more by default than by personal popularity with his party.  He already has his hands full attempting to assert his authority over a bitterly divided party. The new PM does not want to have another rabid right wing pup to call to heel.