The slow toppling of Turnbull – an update

Friday, 20 February 2009 

OK, so maybe not that slow. Julie Bishop’s departure has made crystal clear what was apparent before – that attacks on her undermined Turnbull. Complaints of Bishop’s performance as economic spokesman implied that there was something wrong with the coalition’s economic tactics and by implication, the leader in charge of it. The steady drips on Turnbull’s credibility that this blog noted a month ago as a sign that the Liberals were starting the process of getting rid of him, has now become a flowing stream – channelled down the right drains, of course.

The way Turnbull is being undermined is clever. They are turning his lack of control over the party’s organisation against him. Because Turnbull came to the leadership by default, rather than a result of a decisive shift in the party’s direction, he is left without the sort of organisational support any leader would expect, especially in a party as leader-centric as the Liberals. But when he attempts to get the normal sort of organisational backing in place, it is being portrayed as Turnbull trying to impose his ‘agenda’ and create splits in the party. This is not just confined to important positions like the federal director and party president. Even an attempt to put one of his henchmen, er, Christopher Pyne, into the role of manager of opposition business attracts outrage. Apparently, not content to lead the party, Turnbull seems to want to run it as well!

Because this is not a clear political row about some external development, but rather an internal one about the purpose of the party, the lines are not clear and keeping shifting. One day it seems to be the left v the right, another day the old guard v the new guard and another day NSW v Victorians. So the pace and direction of this undermining of Turnbull is difficult to tell. It is why Costello keeps bobbing up to the surface without even saying a word. Yet because the lines are so in flux and with no clear alternative exists, what have clearly been attempts to undermine Turnbull can easily spill out of control and just lead to party fragmentation. There was a sense yesterday that the anti-Turnbull forces in the old guard have begun something they may regret.

It is no surprise the Great and Good of the Victorian Liberals piled into the party HQ in Melbourne to get direction from their former leader and an idea for a clear way out of this mess. Well, for a speech that focussed on the economic crisis and the government’s strategy, there are two things to say about it. Firstly, one has the funny feeling that Howard’s lauding of his government’s regulation of the banking system wasn’t quite the same speech he has been earning a crust on over the last year on the neo-con lunch circuit. Secondly, although he didn’t like Rudd’s blaming ‘neo-liberalism’ as the cause, not unexpected perhaps, Howard gave not a single reason for what did cause the crisis. So no comfort there then.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Friday, 20 February 2009.

Filed under Political figures

Tags: , , ,


9 responses to “The slow toppling of Turnbull – an update”

  1. DM on 21st February 2009 12:59 am

    No surprises there! Just old Howard still telling different groups of people what they want to hear. He did the same while he was in office. You see, for Mr Howard that’s one way to make himself appear to be both liberal and a conservative at the same time. While he might have lambasted regulation of the financial sector in the past, he is still only too happy to claim it as one of his achievements in government that he never actually got to deregulating the banking system. It has to be heard to be believed!

  2. Ricc on 21st February 2009 9:33 am

    DM, I think Fraser’s outspokenness on South Africa, Aborigines and so on gave the Right the excuse they needed to demolish his whole government, and let Howard off the hook. Gerard Hendserson, for example, claims Howard batted heavily for deregulation in the Fraser government, but Fraser magically stopped it.

    Howard, for all his great leadership ability, was according to this theory completely powerless in 1981-82. I presume the Right reconcile this image with the strongman they now worship.

    All these Righties, I want to ask them: where were you in 1982? Howard wasn’t the only one with a case to answer. They always want to do rightwing things when they are in opposition, yet fail to do so in government.

  3. Ricc on 21st February 2009 9:44 am

    I think the Howard worship is just as bizarre as Keating worship.

    H was a man who:

    -showed such poor judgement as to lose his own seat to a lightweight central office ALP candidate

    -built the highest taxing big government in history, to paraphrase Thatcher “failed to roll back the frontiers of socialism”

    -used the same industrial relations power that Whitlam tried to use and adopted Whitlams approach to centralisation

    -took away their guns

    -made noise about Muslims while sponsoring record levels of immigration

    -had the good judgement to hang on to the job long after he had become a political liability, which I’d guess 100 different opinion polls, of all pollster, said consecutively, he had lost his mark

    As bad for Liberal folklore as Keating was for the ALP

  4. DM on 23rd February 2009 1:01 am

    I don’t subscribe to the premise that John Howard is a visionless pragmatist who more or less stumbled his way through the years he was in government. He clearly did have a neo-liberal economic agenda which at times conflicted with his neo-conservative social agenda, which is why he didn’t follow the deregulation/privatisation craze through to the end. He knew well that in order to implement the neocon social agenda he would have to use the arm of the state and thereby contradict some of the neolib mantra. The reason why I squirm at his remark about the banking system is that he is trying to claim credit for something which he doesn’t deserve. Deregulating the banking sector would’ve fitted nicely with his overall economic agenda, yet because he didn’t get to do it – rather than didn’t want to – we have a somewhat more accountable banking sector than the USA and Britain.

  5. Ricc on 23rd February 2009 11:34 pm

    did he really have an agenda, or was the economic part of it exhausted by the time Keating lost? No unions to fight except maybe a few stragglers (MUA).

    According to stuff I’ve read, he only had the few policies his father gave him at the kitchen table in the 50s, and all of them sound like what a petrol station owner would say – stop the unions, reduce taxes, that sort of stuff.

    I know it sounds too cute by half, but I do suspect he was fighting the ghost of Ben Chifley, but Ben Chifley himself had been fighting the ghosts of the 1890s and early 1900s. Collapsed banks and the scoundrels that ran them fleeing. In essence we had a politician fighting battles from 50 years ago, namely a battle against another politician fighting battles from 50 years before him. An echo of 100 years!

    Not that the ALP were any different. They became redundant in 1920, with the Engineers Case, just no-one noticed.

  6. Cicero on 24th February 2009 10:14 pm


    >The Sydney Morning Herald, Friday, March 7, 1980.

    Opposition upset by gag on urgency motion:

    The federal government blocked an Opposition urgency motion yesterday on Aboriginal land rights in South Australia.

    The motion yesterday was to condemn the government for refusing to help the Pitjantjatjara tribe.

    It criticized “the failure of the Fraser Government to intervene on behalf of the Pitjantjatjara people, in their fight against the South Australian Government, which is freezing their land claims and giving mineral rights without consulting the local Aboriginal communities.”<

    Then, in April of 1980 we had the curious case of Mundroola, the Chief Justice of the High Court, Sir Garfield Barwick and his reliable friend, Malcolm Fraser. Chinese whispers developed into open questioning of the impartiality of Sir Garfield Barwick who participated in cases involving Ampol Petroleum, Brambles, and, CSR. The Chief Justice’s family company Mumdroola held shares in those companies. Mr Fraser read the Chief Justice’s mea culpa in parliament and found that despite issues of non-disclosure and the appearance of the law as well as other issues, the Chief Justice had no case to answer.

    In a High Court judgment Sir Garfield Barwick said: “…the rule that a judge may not sit to hear a case if it might reasonably be considered that he could not bring a fair and unprejudiced mind to the decision, applies to every court in Australia.”

    The recondite principals of Australian law are indeed esoteric.

    Mr Fraser, introduced Robert Mugabe to the people of Zimbabwe, a fact Mr Fraser can’t run from.

    The above vignettes are but a few and I’ll bet they won’t get a mention in his memoirs.

    Before we smother Mr Fraser in encomiums we had better send all the records off for emendation and that includes all the chronicles in the State Library.

  7. Ricc on 26th February 2009 11:12 pm

    Don’t worry, I agree, Fraser was no friend to Aborigines or Africans in office. And his change of tune doesn’t fit with his time in the chair.

    But he clearly upset enough people on his putative ‘side’ to give them reason to let fly.

    Let’s face it. If Howard hadn’t been able to clear Fraser’s legacy out of his way, he would have never got the top job himself.

  8. DM on 27th February 2009 12:27 am

    The only reason why Fraser is held in such disdain by the vast majority of Liberals today is due to the complete take-over of the Liberal Party by the neoconservative right, or the New Right. The Liberal party of today is a world apart from the party it was 20 years ago. Of course, as Cicero wisely reminds us, Malcolm Fraser is no progressive in any way, shape or form. Yet, the fact that today he so easily passes as one is more telling of the direction the Liberal party has taken since his departure than it is of his time in government. Malcolm Fraser is an old-fashioned conservative; a pragmatist. Compraing his government to that of Howard’s discloses the virulently ideological nature of the latter, which is more akin to that of some radical party than the traditionally cool conservatism of the Liberal party.

  9. The Piping Shrike on 27th February 2009 6:44 pm

    The rehabilitation of Fraser has been fascinating. He was attacked by those Liberals like Howard who thought Fraser had stuffed up their chance to bring in a right wing agenda for economic reform. Fraser then turned the failure into a virtue by acting as though he never wanted to do it in the first place and criticised those like Howard who did.

    But Fraser only got away with it because Howard never managed to introduce reforms either. Does your head in.

Comments are closed.