Turnbull’s divided Coalition hanging by a thread

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Alan Austin examines the deep-rooted factional grievances within the Coalition that threaten the stability of the newly elected Turnbull Government.

NEVER has there been a more divided political entity in Australia than the Coalition today.

That was established in April. Since then, divisions have increased in both number and intensity.

Never has the nation suffered so badly from internal conflict — with racism openly supported, the economy slipping further and further down the global ranking, social cohesion crumbling, the disadvantaged further pushed to the margins and Australia’s once proud international reputation trashed.

And yet the Turnbull Government has won another term. This is a monumental tribute to the Canberra press gallery’s success in concealing reality.

The latest Coalition spats bring to 70 the number of serious divisions. These are not the normal, healthy divergences of opinion on policy detail but fundamental conflicts which hinder effective government.

70. Bernardi’s new right wing alliance

The most serious of the current rifts is Senator Cory Bernardi’s new right wing grouping, which may yet become a political party. He is calling together the far right parties, including the Australian Liberty Alliance, the Christian Democrats and others, as well as disgruntled hard right Liberals and Nationals.

Bernardi emailed supporters last week:

'The election result should be a wakeup call to the Liberals. Conservatives cannot be silenced or ignored. If the solution means that I ought to break free of the Liberal Party and completely sever my grip on reality, then so be it.'

69. Homophobia in the Liberal Party

The ruptures between conservatives and mainstream Liberals on homosexuality and same-sex marriage were publicly revealed last month in Bernardi’s angry response to Turnbull’s innocuous comments on ABC’s Q&A program.

Asked if he had confronted Bernardi over his homophobic views Turnbull replied,

“I have had firm discussions with a number of colleagues. Yes.”

Bernardi repudiated this in another angry blog spray.

68. Loyalty to Malcolm Turnbull

An attack this week by an anonymous Liberal MP reported in the Murdoch media asserted:

'His (Turnbull’s) theory was to win and win comfortably so the conservatives would all have to kneel at the altar of Malcolm Turnbull; well, I think someone else will be kneeling at the conservative altar now.'

This prompted an angry rejection from front bencher Christopher Pyne:

“Without their name, it is just cowardice ... I am not going to respond to cowardly statements in the press from anonymous sources who haven't got the strength of character to put their names to those kinds of flowery statements." 

67. Economic direction

One prominent Liberal who did put his name to open criticism of Turnbull’s performance – specifically in economic management – was Victorian Party president Michael Kroger:

"In that period when we were putting things on and off the table and the electorate formed the opinion, 'well if you ... people, don't know what [you] are doing, that's a problem ... The electorate got a view that we didn't have a clear idea of where we wanted to take the country in terms of the economy."

The tax cut for big business has critics inside the Coalition as well as outside.

66. Superannuation tax changes

Divisions over superannuation policy have deepened since the election, with cabinet secretary Arthur Sinodinos claiming the Government will now change its policy.

Turnbull insists the pre-election policy shift is "fair" and "long overdue".

65. Backpacker tax

Official Coalition policy on working holiday visas has been condemned by MPs who want it scrapped. Its introduction has been pushed back six months and another review scheduled, exacerbating uncertainty among primary producers.

64. Asylum seekers

The Coalition’s inhumane policies are regarded with disgust not only by the watching world and most enlightened Australians but by Liberal Party members as well.

This sorry series of sordid splits began in December 2013, just three months into the new administration, when IA documented the first 17 areas of internal dissent. Those were:

17 First areas of internal dissent

63. Same sex marriage

62. Cabinet solidarity

61. The Liberal club

60. Ministerial portfolios

59. Order to sack family members

58. Honouring Gary Humphries

57. MPs marginalised 

56. Peta Credlin’s power

55. Travel rorts scandal

54. School funding fiasco

53. Grain Corp sale

52. Holden closure

51. Badgerys Creek airport

50. ABC and SBS funding

49. Wage levels

48. Relations with Indonesia

47. Northern development

This was followed in January 2015 with the 33 areas of dissent which emerged through 2014:

33 Further areas of dissent

46. Saving SPC

45. Independence of the ABC

44. Lack of vision within the Coalition

43. Punitive 2014 Federal Budget

42. Cutting science funding

41. Brawl over Liberal Party constitution

40. "Dictatorial, tyrannical powers" over lives of asylum seekers

39. Abbott’s doomed paid parental leave scheme

38. Libs ‘played the Nats’ over Fuel excise

37. Abbott’s sexism and misogyny

36. Stacking the ABC with Liberal Party supporters

35. Hockey v Turnbull trust failure

34. Bypassing Senate funding process

33. Divisive Team Australia rhetoric

32. Abbott’s inept anti-terror response

31. Backflip on abolishing section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act

30. Hockey’s arrogance towards the poor

29. Decree that telecoms keep metadata for two years

28. Six months wait for youth welfare payments

27. Renewable energy target

26. Federal independent commission against corruption

25. ANU divestment of fossil fuel shares

24. NSW election preselections

23. Burqa ban dispute

22. Asia Pacific infrastructure investment bank brawl

21. Liberal/National split on direct climate action

20. Appointing Scott Morrison to social security

19. Australia’s capacity to build naval vessels

18. Julie Bishop’s delegation to Peru climate conference

17. Industrial relations and reinstating Workchoices

16. Drought assistance

15. Cutting the Medicare rebate

14. Knighthoods

In April this year, IA documented another 12 areas of damaging division:

Another 12 areas of division

13. factional fighting over federal pre-selection

12. Climate change denial

11. Allocation of funds to regions

10. Shifting the tax burden from the rich to the poor

9. Health care funding

8. Relentless increase in government borrowing

7. Failure to curb government spending

6. Melbourne to Brisbane high speed rail

5. Banking inquiry

4. Backing former PM for the United Nations top job

3. Rural property sell-off

2. Tougher competition laws

1. Selling off Fremantle port

That’s an even 70. A house divided against itself cannot stand, declares the ancient wisdom. Unless, of course, those charged with reporting what is happening in the house are working flat out to hide it.

This increases the urgency – among those committed to effective government – of boycotting all mainstream media and advancing the truthful alternative press.

You can follow Alan Austin on Twitter @AlanTheAmazing.

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