“Lay on, Macduff, and damned be him who first cries ‘Hold! enough!’” Macbeth Act V Scene viii.
It might have been heroic. Given another time, place or PM, Malcolm Turnbull’s call for a Liberal leadership spill Tuesday, might have been inspiring -“Turnbullian”, as Turnbull torch-holder, fan-girl Annabel Crabb would have it. Perhaps she could run a new hit TV series: “Kitchen cabinet makeovers you can safely enjoy at home.”
As it is, Turnbull makes a typically, ill-judged, call. Rattled by the jungle drums of the Dutton camp, amplified in True HD Dolby stereo in the Murdoch media, Turnbull demands a Liberal leadership spill, Tuesday. It is his undoing.
He gains 48 votes, 57.8 percent of all ballots cast. Making public his meagre victory, however, serves only to advertise how many oppose him. It helps prematurely end his own vexed term as the 29th PM of Australia by Friday; a mixed blessing.
Dutton says he’ll challenge again, (and again) Turnbull demands his Home Affairs Supremo supply 43 signatures by Friday.
Calling a spill may throw Dutton off-guard, but with Turnbull’s modest support now public, his insurgents have some useful vulnerability to work with as they hit the phones, twisting arms, tweaking role descriptions, even promising portfolios.
Don’t be sucked in. Monstrous, soulless, merciless, the Coalition is a horror-show, Labor Deputy, Tanya Plibersek warns the house.
“This is a Frankenstein’s monster of a government. It has the face of the member for Wentworth, the policies of the member for Warringah and it has the cold, shrivelled soul of the member for Dickson.”
Others, out of right field, voice disappointment that Tuesday’s coup has not delivered Mal’s head on a platter. Or under a strappado. Some may be heard getting pilliwinks ready.
“… in its current state the Liberal Party cannot even organise an assassination, let alone run the country,” Catherine McGregor carps in Fairfax, disappointed that Abbott and his monkey-pod rebels or his Monash Mensheviks have been so overtly unsuccessful. Rasputin’s hit job is beginning to look more professional.
Rasputin was poisoned, shot three times, bludgeoned with a dumb-bell, before he was bound and thrown from a bridge through the ice and left to drown in the river Neva. Even so, when his corpse was recovered, the position of the hands suggested he was trying to untie the bindings. The Turnbull government is just as messily despatched.
The final twist of the knife, happens mid-morning Thursday. Three cabinet ministers claim publicly that Turnbull has lost majority support among his colleagues and that they have to bring the leadership dispute to a head. Had they not defected, their three votes would have been enough to thwart Friday’s spill. Turnbull would still be PM.
Ultimately, Turnbull is undone when his three loyal lieutenants desert him. Cormann, Fifield and Cash all defect to the enemy en masse. Why? There’s no logical reason to pull their vital support. “It’s just the vibe of the thing”, Tony Wright writes in Fairfax. Do the three musketeers nobly elect to go with the flow in order to purge their party?
True, the Liberal Party, itself, is paralysed by division; gripped in a “cataclysmic, existential” fight, as Liberal shill, Terry Barnes, adviser to former Health Ministers, Abbott and Medicare levy Michael Wooldridge, hypes party discord to Fairfax.
Malcolm’s political miscalculation; misjudgement plays into Labor’s hands: Shorten calls a vote of no confidence. Pity there’s no vote of over confidence.
“The conduct of this narcissistic government is both shocking and selfish and undervalues the Australian people.”
This house should vote for no confidence because the prime minister has no authority, no power and no policies. And the reason for that sits behind him. If nearly half of his own government do not want him to be prime minister, why should the rest of Australia put up with him?”
Shorten echoes former Howard adviser, former QLD and SA state Liberal Party President, Geoffrey Green, a “senior Liberal” strategist who told The New Daily astutely and fearlessly last year that,
“The Turnbull government is at war with the people. This is a government which hates their own constituents. The Liberal Party has lost touch with what it stands for and will be decimated unless it changes tack.”
“The Turnbull government has attacked every core constituency, small business, superannuants, pensioners, families with children, all because they have a budget that is out of control.” OK there’s a class war they have to win too but he leaves that out.
“They have not done anything about their own backyard. Public servants still fly at the front of the plane.” Or anywhere in the plane if it’s a chartered RAAF jet to the football.
Far from having his knuckles rapped, Greene, moreover, now runs Peter Dutton’s campaign in the seat of Dickson which he holds by a margin of 2%. But he’s going to have to hose down Spud’s coup-mania, or his urges toward auto da fe.
Even for the modern Liberal Party, an oxymoron which rivals “Turnbull government” as a contradiction in terms, Tuesday’s botched right wing coup is a colossal cock-up. It sets in train a farcical series of miscalculations, aided and abetted by Murdoch’s media, Australian politics king-maker supreme. And by its own, internal fifth column.
Be it group madness or poor arithmetic, or Turnbull’s sheer bloody-minded revenge on Dutton, Scott “where the bloody hell are you?”, Morrison wins narrowly 40-45 against Dutton, Friday, after Julie Bishop is unfairly eliminated first ballot with only eleven votes.
A leaked WhatsApp reveals the party is instructed not to vote for Bishop in round one as this is a ruse to enable shonky Morrison to drop out and give all his votes to Dutton.
Dirty Tricks? Morrison is victorious 40-45. The MP whose capacity to foster racism and resentment makes him the “greatest grub in Australia’s political history”, according to Peter Hartcher, is sworn in as Prime Minister, Friday.
A divided, dysfunctional, party musters all its sublime ineptitude to transform chaos into catastrophe. Above all, as David Marr argues, the fiasco reveals an atavistic right wing desperate to wrest control of a party it doesn’t reflect.
Trouble is already brewing for Morrison if it is true that Peter Dutton, is – or was a stalking horse for Tony Abbott’s own return from exile. Morrison has already wisely excluded Abbott from his cabinet, fobbing him off with a job as Coalition water-boy.
The latest Newspoll shows a massive blowout in what Turnbull bragged, this week, was a closing of the gap – but which is more likely to have been an aberrant result. The two party preferred split showed a slim two point gap of 51/49 in favour of Labor a fortnight ago. Now it’s blown out by twelve points. Labor now leads 56/44.
For the first time since 2015, Bill Shorten emerges as preferred PM, reversing a 12 point lead by Malcolm Turnbull, two weeks ago, into a six-point lead (39/33) for the Opposition leader over Morrison.
As The Australian’s Simon Benson puts it mildly, popular support for the Coalition has crashed to the lowest levels in a decade with the newly elected Prime Minister Scott Morrison now faced with leading a shattered government out of the wreckage of last week’s leadership coup and rebuilding a Liberal Party in crisis.
Yet there’s a lot to Morrison’s rebuilding of his own background before we even get to his party leadership or to his fitness to be Prime Minister. His success as state director of the NSW State Liberal Party 2001-4. His subsequent $350,000 PA post as head of Tourism Australia, bestowed by a grateful then Tourism Minister, Joe Hockey, is widely seen as cronyism or part of the Liberal tradition of jobs for the boys.
Morrison soon, however, ran into trouble with the nine man board of Tourism Australia inspiring complaints which echo those from Immigration Department Officials when he militarised the nation’s compassion by setting up Border Force in what it suited the xenophobic Abbott government to pretend was “strengthening our borders”.
Nick Bryant reports of Tourism Australia in The Monthly, “Its members complained that he did not heed advice, withheld important research data about the controversial campaign, was aggressive and intimidating, and ran the government agency as if it were a one-man show.”
His contempt for then Minister, Fran Bailey, also reveals qualities of mind and spirit that do not augur well for any neophyte Prime Minister. Morrison boasted that “if Bailey got in his way, he could bring her down”. In the end Howard backed his minister. Morrison was paid out in an “agreed separation” believed to have been A$300,000.
Much of the secrecy and the absurd officialise and bureaucratic jargon of “operational matters” and “on-water” matters are part of Morrison’s lasting legacy to obfuscation if not secrecy. Morrison’s incoherence owes a great deal to meaningless jargon.
Morrison’s dealings with the media and accountability to the public have been widely criticised. A 2014 Australian Human Rights Commission report to government found that Morrison failed in his responsibility to act in the best interests of children in detention during his time as minister.
In 2014, he also succeeded in passing a bill through parliament which gave him more power than any previous immigration minister. He could now return asylum seekers to their place of origin, detain asylum seekers without charge, and refuse any asylum seekers who arrive by boat. No-one made much of a fuss. Unless it was all hushed up.
In his two-year career as Immigration Minister Morrison saw at least one major incident where he was shown to lie about an attack 17 February 2017, on a 23 year old refugee Reza Barati, who, Morrison maintained for days, was outside the compound of the Manus Island detention centre, until incontrovertible evidence emerged later that the young Iranian man was in fact attacked by a gang of guards inside the compound.
Witness and fellow Iranian refugee, Behrouz Boochani writes: “Even though four years have passed, the killers have yet to be brought to justice, and there are still no clear answers to the fundamental questions concerning the riot.”
Reza Barati’s parents still hold Morrison completely accountable for their son’s death. A senate inquiry found the cause of the riot to be a failure to process asylum seeker claims, stating the violence was “eminently foreseeable”.
It also found that the Australian Government failed in its duty to protect asylum seekers, including Barati. Morrison accused Labor and the Greens of using the report “as a blatant attempt to whitewash their own failures in government“. Nice.
Many similar miscarriages of justice and neglect of duty of care are documented in the 2000 leaked reports which detail the abuse of women and children on Nauru Island during May 2013 to October 2015. Morrison was Minister for Immigration and Border Protection 2013-2014.
Other examples of Morrison’s behaviour suggest that he is not a fit and proper person to be Prime Minister.
These include politicising suffering. When 48 people died in the Christmas Island disaster of 2010, Morrison objected to the Gillard Government offering to pay for families’ fares to the funerals in Sydney. The cost of the fares would have amounted to a few cents per Australian taxpayer.
Morrison did admit later that his comments were insensitive and in appropriate. But how many incoming PMs have hung with Hun Sen? Or sipped champagne with Pol Pot’s former Khmer Rouge battalion commander, a mass murderer and his cronies in Phnom Penh, just four years ago, as he sealed a bargain A$55m deal, whereby they would take five of our refugees off our hands?
The corrupt regime got A$40 million vaguely described as “development assistance’. In other words we bribed a corrupt Cambodian government to take our refugees, aka “illegal maritime arrivals”, whom our domestic political theatre has been taught are illegal aliens, persons we cannot accept because of their links with Islamic terror and their capacity to encourage demon people smugglers and other monsters of our leaders’ febrile imagination.
Finally, together with this selective account, offered as a clue to “Scott Morrison: Who the bloody hell are you?” (as Nick Bryant entitles his Monthly essay) must be included the means by which Morrison secured preselection for the safe Liberal NSW seat of Cook, prior to the 2007 federal election.
Michael Towke, a Lebanese Christian from the right faction, won with eighty votes. Morrison managed only eight. Four days later, amid allegations of branch stacking, Towke became the victim of a smear campaign, suggesting he’d inflated his CV, along with a series of damaging personal stories alleging his family has unsavoury connections leaked to the Daily Telegraph. (After mounting a legal fight, News Limited offered him an out-of-court settlement).
A Lebanese Australian could never win a seat that had recently witnessed the Cronulla riot, it was muttered. Consequently, the NSW state executive refused to endorse Towke’s nomination, and demanded a second ballot. The beneficiary was Scott Morrison, a cleanskin in the factional fight, who was parachuted in as a unity candidate.
Turnbull looks relieved. In part he is happy, no doubt, to see Dutton come unstuck. Some part of him also must be relieved to be rid of a role no-one could master; a straightjacket imposed by the Nats’ former leader, Warren Truss who, in the secret Coalition Agreement, dictated Turnbull’s Faustian compact: Malco could be PM just as long as he was never himself – especially on such matters as climate change, energy, water or same-sex marriage.
There’s a lot of the thespian in the PM; a ham actor. Yet quitting office is quite the best thing Turnbull’s done to date, a measured, if not restrained performance, not that he’s likely to get any thanks for it. The right wing mistrust him as a dangerous leftie, a threat to the purity of their Menzian ideological mish-mash. He’s not one of them.
Our media, once again, rush to air with “vox pops” interviews with “ordinary Australians” (there is no such thing as an ordinary Australian” – “ordinary people” are extraordinary – but that heresy is never part of the narrative).
The narrative is to deplore the change of Prime Ministers. In the next breath, it is time to bag Labor. Sheesh, the Coalition’s caught the Labor disease. Enough said.
Yet for all the truth that people like to get the PM they vote for and for all they suspect that a change means they’ve been sold a dud, the notion of betrayal is nonsense, a cheap and easy way to expose a raw nerve. We all know that our pollies our parasites. How much joy it gives to express our futile righteous indignation. And envy.
Aussies love to take the mickey out of those with tickets on themselves – even if we’re paying for them. We love to puncture the pomposity of the over-exalted. There’s nothing wrong with that. But Shorten’s on to something when he claims Turnbull’s government undervalues the people. We’re all ripped off.
The popular narrative has two skeins. Men and women in the street obligingly decry the incessant changing of our PMs, while behind our backs, other parts of the media find virtue in a new pretender, a process ScoMo helps with a brilliantly timed set of releases including a puff piece in the Australian Women’s Weekly that takes the cake.
You have to hand it to Morrison. His knack of being in the right place at the right time, his Zelig-like shape-stealing self-camouflage, his overweening ambition, his lust for realpolitik and his PM’s backing all help him see off his rival. ScoMo riskily insinuates himself between Dutton’s coup and victory; snatching the nation’s thirtieth Prime Ministership all for himself. For now at least.
Dutton is undone. ScoMo robs an ugly mob of reactionaries, opportunists, and the malignant malcontents of the monkey pod room, Monash groupers, a scurvy crew of climate change deniers orchestrated by Tony Abbott and Peta Credlin in league with Sky, The Australian and other Murdoch media outlets out to depose Turnbull.
Just how many days will it take before they turn on him? How long before telling the truth about a prime or any other minister will become an indictable offence?