To the politically centrist Australians who abandoned the Liberal Government under Tony Abbott, returned briefly when Malcolm Turnbull became leader then left again shortly after the 2016 election, Christopher Pyne’s recent off the record remarks must have seemed a tad bewildering. Here we supposedly have the leading moderate power broker in the Liberal Party (except perhaps Michael Photios) gloating about being in control of a party after a year of brutal defeats on a wide range of policy fronts. Meanwhile the hard right flank of the Liberal Party, which have seemingly gotten their way in every major policy dispute, are so incensed that they now demand Pyne be replaced by a man who is best known for not understanding how microphones work.
If that weren’t confusing enough, Pyne’s declaration of victory singled out the installation of Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister when it is clear for all to see that Turnbull is now in a terminal decline brought about by his unwillingness to stare down the hard right. And the rise and fall of Malcolm Turnbull is truly that simple. The fortunes of some politicians are fascinating to unpick but in the case of Turnbull it is tediously obvious. The lure of Turnbull was that he straddled the political divide. His promise, as shadow communications minister, to deliver an NBN of comparable quality for half the cost and in half the time encapsulated the essence of Turnbullism. He was going to leave all the lovely Labor infrastructure and social policies but find a way to make the cheaper using that fabled business acumen of his. The “Labor-lite” nickname ascribed to him by his detractors is in fact his strongest selling point. The problem is the Turnbull government has been less Labor-lite than Abbott-lite.
The moderates may have installed their man as Prime Minister, but the hard right seems to call the tune within the Coalition. On an emissions intensity scheme, on s 18c of the racial discrimination act, on the Safe Schools program, on the citizenship tests and on same sex marriage there has been no scaling back of the Abbott governments culture warmongering. The only consistent point of difference between Abbott and Turnbull has been the latter’s refusal to launch into race baiting diatribes in response to terrorists incidents.
And yet we have Christopher Pyne gloating about the moderates being in ascendancy and the right flank demanding his resignation in response. What was Pyne gloating about? It wasn’t about the Gonski 2.0 scheme which would actually have made a degree of sense given it was the first real instance of the Turnbull government significantly moderating a hard-line Abbott government policy. It was about the representation of moderates in cabinet.
The ugly, unedifying spat between senior cabinet ministers has not been about a difference on policy or ideology, it has been about carving up the spoils of victory. Pyne’s club is getting the glamorous jobs and Bernardi’s old club (which he is no longer a member of—or is he?) is pissy about it.
Enter the media wing of the Liberal Party, the fully sick lads of Sky News: Paul Murray, Andrew Bolt, Alan Jones, Rowan Dean and Chris Kenny. These men have built careers on saying grotesquely chauvinistic things on air then dragging a federal minister in fawn over them and legitimise their behaviour. They miss having a cabinet minister turn up at their beck and call to chuckle along approvingly as they are oh-so-edgy and politically incorrect, and are going to keep firebombing the government until they get back their man.
In a microcosm this is why we have Pauline Hanson. And why we have Nick Xenophon and why we got Clive Palmer. For a good two dozen members of the government and their media emissaries at Newscorp and Sky, the issue which elicits the most passion and conviction has nothing to do with policy, nothing to do with ideology and nothing to do with the Australian people. The issue that gets their blood pumping is howthey divvy up the spoils of their last election victory. Is it any wonder so many voters hold the political class in contempt? It is not therefore surprising that that major party vote is fracturing and going to minor, anti establishment parties like One Nation. If anything, what is surprising is that the major parties have not yet been routed by these populist revolutions as occurred in France earlier this year.