It’s here at last. The Turnbull government has had exactly as long as the Abbott government did to deliver its promised Potential Greatness.™
14 September 2015 seems like a long time ago, doesn’t it? There I was in London, waking up surprisingly unsurprised to learn that Tony Abbott had been rolled as Prime Minister. ‘Who knew that Malcolm Turnbull could be such a sneaky, underhanded, white-anting, all-mouth-and-no-trousers narcissist?’ I asked rhetorically.
But in the wake of the defenestration, a lot of people said publicly that they didn’t think Turnbull was that bad. They spoke highly of his sex appeal, his suits, his business acumen, and his ability to poll. Above all, we were told, he is really One of Us on some Key Issues. He’s just waiting to make his move.
Thus the myth of Malcolm Turnbull, Closet Libertarian, was born. And what a persistent myth it was, to the point where heretics – those silly people who believe that past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour – were branded del-cons and Abbottistas. Del-cons were little better than Pauline Hanson voters; crusty and barnacled dead weights holding back the agile and innovative Turnbull Coalition Team (or TURNCOAT™ for short).
We saw some shameful public discourse from people who should have known better: Miranda Devine, Janet Albrechtsen, Nikki Savva, and our own Doomlord (most of whom are now humming a little tune and looking fixedly in the other direction). No matter how many times we said that Abbott had let us down, and that we didn’t want him back as Prime Minister, we were told over and over again that we did. We were also told that Malcolm was the way of the future, so put up and shut up.
Yet aside from his personality issues, Malcolm Turnbull came to the role of Prime Minister on a very obvious record of under-achievement. He was beclowned by Godwin Grech, took away our lightbulbs, never laid a hand on Stephen Conroy or Greg Combet during the NBN debacle, bedded the ABC like Don Juan, and generally signalled in capital letters that he was a leftist inner-city trendy to his (non-existent) core.
Anyone who pointed this out was told to shush. Malcolm was different now. He was One of Us. He alone could save the Liberal Party from electoral annihilation. Turnbull’s subsequent fingernail parliamentary majority was frantically apologised away by his now over-invested cheer squad, who told us that Abbott’s leadership would have led to human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, and mass hysteria.
The TURNCOAT™ government has certainly produced some amazing achievements, ranging from regular and vindictive Cabinet purges to a lemonade-stand festival featuring Wyatt Roy. These have all contributed to its most extraordinary achievement: making the McMahon government look Churchillian.
Catsters were given the opportunity of nominating what would constitute signs of Potential Greatness,™ and we reviewed the government’s performance against these in March this year, to dismal effect. Most of Turnbull’s actual achievements were completions of work begun by the hated Abbott government. His own initiatives had a way of being bungled, withdrawn, or stillborn, disappearing conveniently from the public eye.
But I don’t want to be unfair. The people who I hold principally responsible for this state of affairs are Messrs Anthony Abbott and Joseph Hockey. Abbott promised us fiscally responsible conservative government – an Australia open for business – and was handed a massive mandate to do it. He and Hockey bungled it by chasing peripheral issues and bullying the cross-bench, consistently failing to acknowledge that they had a difficult Senate precisely because people were heartily sick of two almost identical major political parties.
Abbott and Hockey had plenty of chances to show that this time it was different, and that the Coalition was different. Their first Budget should have been a slash-and-burn one; it wasn’t. Until he owns up to this, there is no future for Tony Abbott as leader of the Liberal Party.
Malcolm Turnbull is a con-man who seduced some of the best conservative and libertarian minds in the country. He has delivered a Labor government without even going to an election. The only reason he still polls as preferred Prime Minister is that Bill Shorten has the charisma of an unpainted garden gnome. If Labor replace Shorten with someone else – anyone else – Turnbull is toast, and his own party room will smother him in caviar and eat him alive.
How was someone like Malcolm Turnbull ever allowed to become Prime Minister in the first place? It was probably the last nail in the Liberal Party’s coffin, and it remains to be seen if current State branch problems are death throes, or signs of recovery. Meanwhile the Australian Conservatives, emboldened by Turnbull’s failure, have now achieved fledgling stage. The present ideological wilderness has been a very testing time for conservatives in Australia; hopefully the coming electoral wilderness will be a relief by comparison.