by Joe Aston
Contrary to the prevailing wisdom (or whatever you want to call it) emanating from the Canberra Press Gallery, there is almost nothing about our Commonwealth’s latest regicide that passes even barely for a battle for the heart and soul of the Liberal Party.
Moderates versus conservatives – it’s been relentlessly characterised so. “The old moderate leadership of Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop” and “the old conservative leadership of Tony Abbott“, The Australian‘s Dennis Shanahan put it on Monday. “It is a makeover,” he reckoned, “of immense proportions.”
“This can be seen as a revolt against the moderate control of the Liberal Party,” intoned little-known party historian Gregory Melleuish.
“Hardcore moderates and conservatives are now knife-fighting each other,” added former Abbott adviser Terry Barnes. Scott Morrison “is a conservative but not part of the conservative tribe of the party,” wrote Paul Kelly.
“Millions of words have been written analysing the broad church of the party and its conservative and liberal strands,” editorialised The Oz, adding that ScoMo “is less clearly aligned to the party’s moderate wing” and “given the number of MPs who opted for [Peter] Dutton, Morrison will need to recognise the role of conservative members and ensure they are strongly represented in cabinet and in policy direction.”
This is all complete and utter bullshit, a funereal fig leaf, a post facto rationale for a room full of elected children blowing their own brains out, without exception to their own detriment.
Turnbull was never aligned particularly with “the moderate wing” of the Liberal Party’s NSW division. He entered parliament in 2004 by steam-rolling the moderate’s MP Peter King with the backing of the cartoonishly arch-conservative, anti-abortion, anti-gay rights MP David Clarke and his then protégé Alex Hawke (ScoMo’s numbers man and a new minister for his troubles), who the following year declaimed John Howard‘s “broad church” doctrine, arguing that first “you’ve got to agree it’s a church; it’s not a brothel, for instance.”
Hawke’s then ally, Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, wrote to Turnbull last week to resign her ministry, complaining that “our conservative base strongly feel that their voice has been eroded… They needed some demonstrable indication that there are conservative voices around your cabinet table.” We seem to recall that she voted in 2015 to replace “conservative Abbott with “moderate” Turnbull, and having done so, merrily ascended to the ministry.
What was so moderate, or progressive, about the Turnbull Government? Gay marriage? The plebiscite instrument was designed wholly by conservative figures Dutton and Mathias Cormann. The most senior “moderates”, Julie Bishop, George “be a bigot” Brandis and Christopher Pyne (a Catholic who voted against stem-cell research and the abortion therapeutic RU486) were constantly frustrated by Turnbull’s store in Dutton’s and Cormann’s political counsel.
Energy policy then? As canvassed to fraying, Abbott endorsed the Paris Agreement and the commitment to renewable energy quotas.
Was it personnel, as insisted above? Well, who put Turnbull in a cheaper house than he already lived in? Pyne and Simon Birmingham, to be sure. But the other ring-leaders? Tinder dry IR brain Peter Hendy; Scott Ryan and Mitch Fifield, of the Costello Right. Howard’s chief adviser Arthur Sinodinos, a Treasury lifer, and a fascist by Australian Public Service standards. Northern Territory interventionist Mal Brough. And Morrison himself, whose pilgrimage to Hillsong was never to pray for gender neutral ADF manuals or the Safe Schools program. And JBish, pioneer of fashion diplomacy, now beyond reproach, her popularity absolution for her vacuity.
As PM, Abbott left proper maddies Angus Taylor, Zed Seselja, Michael Sukkar and Alan Tudge (Westpac’s most loyal customer) on the backbench, even there their duties insurmountable stretch targets. Turnbull promoted them, but led the dangerously moderate administration?
How did Turnbull meaningfully divert the Liberals from the Howard/Costello doctrine? JWH refused to sign Kyoto, but Abbott supported Paris (until he didn’t). Turnbull lowered income taxes after Abbott increased them. Turnbull didn’t budge on border control.
But it’s all about “shoring up the conservative base” – in a system of compulsory, preferential voting, the greatest lie of them all. Voters fleeing right while you burnish the 1367 days Mohamed Wrong-Colour has spent languishing on Manus Island. That’s no base at all, especially when 75 per cent of Abbott’s constituents voted for marriage equality.
Which brings us to histrionic broadcaster Alan Jones, who last week defiantly, unapologetically used the evil word n—– on air, then undefiantly apologised hours later. There exists sundry, vile pejoratives imagined especially for men who linger in the toilet blocks of public parks, as he once did, back when such activities were cruelly maligned. Jones, of all people, could attempt to channel a soft corner of his heart – were one to exist – for those who don’t fit the hetero-normative WASP mould, having spent his entire life as one of them.