It’s the politics, stupid

Wednesday, 24 June 2009 

So let’s see if this is right. Turnbull, one of the Liberals’ more successful fund-raisers, who probably owes any remaining support in the party to that fact, decides to attack Rudd for giving special favours to a political donor. This must be especially useful the next time Turnbull asks business donors to give the Liberals something a little bit more than the part-time use of a ute.

Turnbull also wants to attack Swan on procedure, based on evidence … wait for it … fed to him, it appears, by a public servant going behind his employers’ backs and leaking government information.

This episode has shown Turnbull’s most chronic problem that has come up again and again in what is likely to be his short political career. He doesn’t understand politics. From someone who managed to lose a republican referendum in a republican country, Turnbull has forgotten a basic rule of scandals, they are only seen as such when they expose a basic political reality.

Labor’s AWB probing never really struck home because Labor couldn’t do what Obama could two years ago, expose the basic political truth behind it, that Howard’s commitment to the war in Iraq was a sham. The reason why being caught out lying about children overboard never did much damage to the Libs at the time was because they had won the political argument on asylum seekers. Whitlam’s loan scandals did do damage because it resonated with the feeling at the time that Labor had lost control of the economy.

Was there ever a political point to the Ozcar attack? Well there could have been. Highlighting that a Treasurer could spend so much valuable time helping someone who could do so little in return, would at least have given the public a sense of a Prime Minister with no real political roots leading a government with no real social base.

Actually Turnbull had a far better opportunity to make the same point on the day he first raised the Ozcar issue; the potentially destructive row Fitzgibbon was having with his Defence department on the day he was forced to resign. Any conservative worth his salt would have recognised the damage Labor’s loss of control over such a vital function of the state would do to the government’s credibility. Turnbull instead chose to concentrate on Rudd’s relationship with a used car dealer. Never mind, even then, handled deftly, it could have given a whiff of rootlessness to a rootless government.

Instead Turnbull decided to go in on the issue so hard that Rudd could feasibly claim such a trivial incident was about corruption, without Turnbull realising that the small town nature of it only highlighted Rudd’s anti-political credentials and detachment from the political class. Turnbull, someone who has made a career out of his ability to nurture powerful contacts, decided to make an issue about the contacts of someone who has made a career out of not having any.

By Monday, the fake e-mail made it clear that attempts to implicate the Prime Minsiter were in vain. So Turnbull continued the focus on Swan, but without being able to make the Rudd link anymore, focussed on a procedural charge that Swan mis-led Parliament. The trouble was that in the anti-political climate that saw the Prime Minster and Treasurer seriously being considered as damaged by the most trivial of causes just a few days ago, the damage was now swinging back Turnbull’s way. With nothing but a procedural complaint against Swan, the coalition was exposed to its procedures becoming the issue.

It was extraordinary yesterday to see how oblivious was Turnbull (and Hockey) to the political fall-out of being associated with Grech. Following Turnbull’s open admission on AM in the morning, the most stunning example was his rather cute reaction to the exchange later in the day in a corridor of Parliament:

JOURNALIST: Has Godwin Grech been supplying you with information from Treasury?

MALCOLM TURNBULL: Well, as an intrepid member of the press core, you would know that the last thing I would do is ever discuss – any more than you would – anybody who may provide us with information. So…

JOURNALIST: Is that a yes?

MALCOLM TURNBULL: So – no, it’s not – it’s neither a yes or a no.

This bizarre attempt to try and pretend a politician’s withholding of sources was somehow akin to a journalist’s was parroted by a jovial and equally oblivious Hockey on Lateline in the evening.

There are of course those in the coalition, like Minchin and Abbott, who understand politics. They are now being forced to do what they put off months ago, and regain control.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Wednesday, 24 June 2009.

Filed under Political figures

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4 responses to “It’s the politics, stupid”

  1. James on 24th June 2009 5:08 pm

    My prediction is that Turnbull’s handling of this crisis and the current turmoil within the Federal Parliamentary Liberal Party will see Turnbull tapped on the shoulder or challenged before year’s end. The burning question is who will replace him?

  2. fred on 24th June 2009 6:57 pm

    “MT …it’s neither a yes or a no.”

    I assume this bit was detail under a headline shrieking:

  3. Just Me on 24th June 2009 8:17 pm

    From someone who managed to lose a republican referendum in a republican country,

    I am no fan of Turnbull, and I would never claim he handled that issue perfectly. But I have some sympathy for him over it.

    Turnbull certainly has to wear some of the blame, after all it was a loss, and he led that faction of republicans. But I do not believe there was much more he and the supporters of that model could have legitimately done.

    And yeah, politically Turnbull is now a dead man walking.

    Politico-klutzus terminus

  4. Rx on 28th June 2009 7:17 am

    They know that getting back to power on the back of an election victory is a bridge too far.

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