After six months of mind-numbing indecision and ineptitude, Australia’s incredible shrinking PM is suddenly judged “bold”, “canny” a “man who can transform his prime ministership in one fell swoop.”
Veteran Turnbull groupie, Mark Kenny has a crush on the new Power-Mal which produces a purple patch which owes a bit to the Scottish play and a bit to King Canute with a nod to the valour of the old time Bondi surfer south of the Ocean Outfall Sewer.
“In one fell swoop, the Prime Minister has taken control of a sea of floating imponderables.”
Canberra’s press claque are all over themselves Monday to flatter Captain Malcolm Bligh Turnbull. Malcolm (wedged) in the middle is at last acting like a leader, they rave, yearning for a strong leader to bound through the surf like a bronzed Adonis with a life belt to save us from ourselves and monsters of the deep like Cory Bernardi, who, flushed with terminally endangering Safe Schools is up for more of the same against equal marriage.
Clearly, the Press Gallery forgives the PM for his dodgy right wing speech about our place in our region at the Lowy Institute Wednesday where he forgets to include the Pacific and leaves out all mention of “our dear friend New Guinea” as Julie Bishop refers to the island paradise to our north which minds Manus for us.
Most alarmingly, he insists, in a bit of an Abbott-like rant that Syrian refugees may be ISIS terrorists:
“Recent intelligence indicates ISIL is using the refugee crisis to send operatives into Europe.”
However many points he thinks he is winning from Abbott and the monkey pod room at home, the rest of the world is underwhelmed. Belgian ambassador to Australia, Jean-Luc Bodson, rebukes Turnbull for playing into ISIS propagandists’ hands, ” making a confusion between terrorism and migrants and between terrorism and Islam.”
Abbott, on the other hand, is still looking at himself in the mirror. The former PM has just published a well-timed reminder of his genius as a world statesman in an essay in in Quadrant Sunday celebrating his boat stopping, his disdain for wimpy human rights groups and congratulating himself on the achievements of his two year crack at the top job.
Modestly entitled I was right on national security, Abbott’s essay will be an absolute godsend to any Australian conservative Prime Minister seeking re-election who is in need of a reminder of how his predecessor was so much more than he could ever be.
Turnbull will learn how Abbott “put aside the moral posturing” and got on with the job of “making a difference”, a motive which lay at the heart of everything his government did.
Turnbull, on the other hand, can’t resist a good moral posturing even if he fails to do his homework first. In January, in Washington in his first foreign policy speech, he called for the UN convention on the Law of the Sea to be upheld. The PM was trying to persuade China to behave itself in the South Pacific but the ploy backfired when it was pointed out that the Law of the Sea is one which Australia has flouted over Timor Leste.
This week, 10,000 people demonstrate at the Australian Embassy in Dili Timor-Leste, calling upon Australia to adopt fair and permanent borders in the Timor Sea. Protesters claim East Timor had lost $6.6 billion in oil and gas revenues to Australia under provisional arrangements for resource sharing between the two countries.
John Howard a former Liberal leader, recently canonised St John of the double-cross at a Sydney Liberal anniversary back-slapping back-stabbing dinner featuring an Abbott cheer squad floor show, pulled a swiftie on East Timor according to UN officials and local politicians who accuse Australia of taking advantage of East Timor’s economic and strategic vulnerability in pressing for an early signing of the treaty in 2002.
Since Australia bugged their cabinet rooms in 2004 to take the guess-work out of our diplomacy, East Timorese feel we ripped them off in our oil and gas treaty and demand justice in The Hague. We are, however, under Bishop and Turnbull both agile and innovative in our support of our regional neighbours. We won’t be letting our spy who set up the bugs leave the country.
Currently, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop denies a passport to former ASIS agent, known as Witness K, preventing his giving evidence at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague about an operation to bug East Timor’s cabinet rooms during negotiations with Australia over an oil and gas treaty in 2004.
“It will prejudice Australia’s national security to allow him out of the country” to tell the truth, her office says, – not mentioning it would lead to the repudiation of our 2004 oil and gas treaty.
Turnbull will doubtless have an agile solution handy. After all, he justified his knifing of Abbott as just taking care of business, something he had to do as the servant of the god of better economic management.
A movie could do the trick. The Immigration Department has just completed its $6 million anti-refugee blockbuster, The Journey, which explains why you should not dream of leaving your troubled country for Australia. Film apart, who would want to risk a returned Abbott-style Turnbull government?
This week the PM’s scheming with his new chum the Governor General is all over the media. Turnbull will get rid of the senate cross bench, organise an early election and wedge his rivals, a cunning plan which has the press gallery gobsmacked. The truth is more prosaic.
After six months’ dithering Turnbull is panicked into a high-stakes gamble. After half a year of capitulation to a rabid Liberal right wing our PM is frightened he is being found out to be an imposter.
A new, dramatic role is called for with bold new lines. Somehow, despite paying a fortune to keep a small army of advisors fed and watered, he embraces “continuity and change” which is ” the most meaningless political slogan we could think of” according to a VEEP writer. Julia Louis-Dreyfus says she is dumbstruck and laughs hysterically at him from the other side of the world.
With continuity and change on his side, Turnbull won’t be letting Abbott kick sand in his face any more. Or suffer George Christensen’s homophobic hi-jacking of the party room. Or stand by while opinion polls confirm what his opponents got right in 2009, he is rubbish at being Liberal leader; a disaster as a Communications Minister let alone a Prime Minister. Above all, don’t let him open his mouth overseas.
Turnbull announces a cunning plan. Recall parliament early. Push for a double dissolution election 3 July. He neglects to tall Scott Morrison, insisting, later, that he was “in the loop”. On Lisa Wilkinson’s Nine Networks’ breakfast television show, it seems that “the loop” is effectively a cabinet by-pass. “A small circle of people” were told, he tells Lisa. Those he trusts.
Perhaps, as with Abbott who also concentrated power narrowly, replacing cabinet with “a small circle” is why we are seeing even more dud decisions recently.
Turnbull rules through a DIY coterie which includes his wife, Lucy, the colourful bean counter Arthur Sinodinos, his assistant and- anyone- but- Pyne Education Minister, Simon Birmingham and of course the Attorney General George Brandy who refused to allow Dreyfus to see his diary because of the unreasonable burden it would place on him and his staff .
In December a tribunal ruled that Brandis was not only not complying with the aim of the Freedom of Information Act, his behaviour was “thwarting the intentions of parliament”, thereby making him uniquely valuable to any cabal dispensing with cabinet government.
It is not known if household pets are permitted to contribute to the proceedings at Salon Turnbull but Arthur Sinodinos, the PM’s numbers man in his coup is threatened with a rolled-up newspaper if he tramps any more ICAC droppings into the house. Labor is asking for Sinodinos to resign over his involvement in the Liberal Free Enterprise Foundation which effectively laundered the identity of donors to the NSW Liberal Party.
Former Abbott political pet, Scott Morrison the boat stopper cum champion Abbott cabinet leaker who is now said to be Treasurer, despite all budget work now being done in Turnbull’s PM&C Office was not only excluded, he was slapped down in two radio interviews which Turnbull subsequently gave.
“I believe that government should look at these issues very carefully, take all of the matters into account, confer confidentially in the cabinet and then, when we make a decision, announce it, rather than providing hints and leaks, and briefs and front running,”
Turnbull says in a clear demonstration that he’s secretly a very tough dude who’s prepared to duke it out with bare knuckles if necessary. He will make foreign policy announcements and not Tony Abbott, who just happens to be in the UK visiting his old pal David Cameron, as former great world leaders do.
World statesman Abbott is able to get on TV with London images of bridges over the Thames and buses behind him claiming that Turnbull is only running an Abbott agenda anyway; a fellow-traveller.
It’s tough but Turnbull goes back on radio to do a Tony slap-down, insisting feebly that the innovation vibe, the amazing deals with media ownership laws — which may well not be passed this year anyway — and his cities policy make this election clearly all about him.
New, improved, with added aggro, Tough-guy Turnbull ‘s warned us and Tone recently that he’ll publicly correct the record when necessary. The electorate readies itself for a campaign with policy by slap-down, an innovative approach to an election nobody wants over an issue few can be bothered by with. Peta Credlin helpfully comments that it is war between the Abbott and Turnbull camps.
Turnbull’s cunning plans include a few tough patches. He’s had to drop by Abbott knight, Sir Pete Cosgrove’s joint. It does mean swallowing his republicanism, but, heck, a man has to make a stand. Play that ace up his sleeve. Despite a six-month losing streak, he’s really been secretly, political poker-playing, a move or two ahead of the game. If only the same could be said for his new script.
‘The Time for game-playing is ah-over’, declares the great prevaricator, dazzling many by deploying a House of Cards reference to announce his own game plan. The House of Cards Twitter account tweets him back in a digitally disruptive duet between fiction and PM in an ominous pre-election flash of narcissism.
After six months of kow-towing to his troublesome right wing and being pushed around by the homophobes and climate deniers in his own party, the PM will take on a recalcitrant senate cross bench whom he says are obstructing his mission to clean up the construction industry. He has no economic policy; he has squibbed the much tabled tax reform. Eighty per cent of his policies are Abbott’s.
It is a gusty effort. Now the chips are down, the PM is putting everything on the (new black) of an industrial hammer to crack a walnut. Turnbull’s stagey, “dramatic” decision to con Sir Peter Cosgrove into recalling parliament three weeks early allows the government time to call a double dissolution if the cross bench block his reinstating the ABCC.
Do we need to go back to a John Howard Australian Building and Construction Commission? It’s a bad law which we don’t need that he misrepresents as “a tough new cop on the block.”
The ABCC grants STASI-like powers that deny the right to silence or a lawyer of choice to anyone it chooses to investigate. Despite the coalition’s lies, it is not a cop at all; it has no powers of criminal investigation but it does have the ability to act in the civil jurisdiction to impose massive fines for behaviour it deems unacceptable.
We already have a watchdog on the job that as Paul Bongiorno says “works without denying legal rights we are supposed to value as a free country.”
No real policy. No real motive other than self-preservation for calling an early election over some legislation we don’t want or need. Sounds like one of Abbott’s captain’s calls.”At war” with Abbott, his right wing and with Morrison fit to kill, Turnbull sets up an interminably long election campaign everyone will resent, which he can’t even launch honestly or without dissent.
With apologies to Mark Kenny, the PM is diving head first into a sea of ugly imponderables. What could possibly go wrong?