A lame duck at the mercy of the lunatic right is no win for Turnbull

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Whichever way you look at it, Turnbull's decision to go for a Double Dissolution was an unmitigated disaster. Another example of his poor judgement, now leaving him at the mercy of the hard right, writes David Tyler.

BEFORE THE Electoral Commission’s glacial vote count even ends in finely divided electorates, Christopher Pyne sticks his head out of the Coalition campaign train-wreck window to crow victory. Even Eric Abetz can see he’s wrong; the government has won nothing but “a kick up the pants”.

Welcome to the 45th Parliament of Australia, whose foundations are already being laid firmly in the realms of fantasy, delusion, denial and secrecy, not to mention confusion and division; where an election result is just like the outcome of a football game. 

The false analogy is as bad as Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce’s comparison on Thursday RN. He sees the National’s secret agreement with Liberals to be the same as a journalist protecting his/her sources. It’s as spurious as the PM’s claim, Thursday, that a win is a mandate.

No mandate results from any small-target campaign. The Coalition bypassed real issues such as climate change, or how to pay for health and education, provide equal pay for women, invest in renewables, or what to do with the gulags on Nauru and Manus Island.

It ignored the yawning abyss of social and economic equality, that even Bill Shorten could tell it is one of the lessons of the Brexit revolt. Instead it ran a reality-denying campaign show of magic words. Hey Presto! Endlessly repeating jobs and growth and stability would make them appear.

Conservative unrest from The Feed. The scary thing is you've just elected them to govern you for another term!

Now, Mathias Cormann is claiming that the government’s empty sloganeering amounted to an agenda and that it can now get on with “implementing the plan we took to the election”.

In reality, the Government has just enough of a majority to get itself into trouble. An existential nightmare of negotiation and infighting lies ahead of it. Eric Abetz and Kevin Andrews are already demanding Abbott returns to cabinet. The IPA won’t rest until Turnbull drops his super changes.

The real game is only beginning. And the captain’s in trouble already, whatever his game plan.

Turnbull is a lame duck. A weak leader who campaigned poorly, his approval as PM rating, taken over the last two weeks, dropped three points to 37 per cent in Tuesday’s Essential Poll via The Poll Bludger, which now has Labor 51% to the Coalition’s 49% two party preferred. At its current rate of decline it will not be long before Turnbull overtakes Tony Abbott’s record unpopularity.

Popularity is not everything – as Tony Abbott always said – but repelling the electorate will not improve Turnbull’s position with angry backbenchers whose seats are more precarious than ever as a result of his early election gambit failing. His natural arrogance and impatience do not help. 

Even MPs in safe seats will be emboldened. A slim majority means every one is a kingmaker who may make demands of a PM whose lip-service to cabinet government and his need for the company of the like-minded makes him vulnerable.

Turnbull is guided by Pyne, aka “The Fixer”, self-deluded master tactician and reality denialist, in an inner circle of advisors that includes foundation member Lucy Turnbull; Arthur, party amnesiac, yet to hear back from ICAC, cabinet secretary, Sinodinos; and show pony Julie Bishop, a wimpy foreign minister so desperate to avoid a spat with China over The Spratlys or anything else, she can’t do her job. No danger Turnbull’s inner sanctum will tell him anything he doesn’t want to hear.

Nor will Turnbull’s poor poll showing give him the authority to break free of his Faustian compact with the Nationals. He turned hard right to win support to depose Abbott. Now he cannot turn back.

Barnaby Joyce has succeeded in keeping the Nationals’ agreement with the Liberals secret. While a pro-Government ABC boosts the Nats’ success, claiming their bold showing bestows greater negotiating power, the reality is the Nats won a 0.4% swing. The real question is what is in the hidden detail of their hold over Turnbull?

On Sky, Joyce quips

"The first aspiration is the agreement remains confidential. That's aspiration one, two, three, four, five and six."

His flippant disregard for democratic process makes a mockery of the Coalition’s promises of open, transparent government.

On RN Breakfast Thursday morning, Joyce tells Patricia Karvelas that Coalition secrecy is the same as reporters protecting their sources. Then he’s off blaming Labor for lying about Medicare; causing all our economic problems. We could lose the ABC, he reckons, unless we push ahead with tax cuts which will do nothing for budget repair.

Coalition agreements have not been public in the past, but why the secrecy? Whatever Joyce is hiding is bound to be a matter of public interest. Crikey’s Bernard Keane makes a compelling case for Barnaby’s chasing the Hanson vote, building on the AFR’s Phil Coorey’s report that the Nationals are keen to take some One Nation turf, including her proposal to abolish the Family Court.

In a move which would further disempower women and increase suffering, One Nation would replace the Family Court with a panel of “mainstream” community members, dump current child support arrangements, change legal aid to require losing parties to pay costs and make joint custody the “option of choice” for the family law system, in an echo of the Australian Christian Lobby.

Australian Institute of Family Studies research shows that two thirds of separations involve partnership violence with one third of women reporting serious violence. One in five parents have concern for the safety of their children as a result of contact with the other parent. Yet violence against women is hugely under-reported.

Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS) research shows less than eight per cent of media stories about violence against women includes comments from survivors, but there is a body of embittered males amongst One Nation supporters convinced the system is loaded against men and the only solution is to do away with the Family Court entirely.

The Nationals may wish to increase their political relevance but why indulge the misogynistic, irrational mythology of men’s groups who feel discriminated against despite all the evidence?

Lurching to the right with a secret agreement will not help a Coalition, which couldn’t govern even with a solid majority in its last incarnation.

We will be “getting on with good government”, Turnbull tells us, borrowing Abbott’s phrase. We are to overlook its thin majority and pretend it will all be plain sailing with a senate crossbench, which includes Pauline Hanson, Derryn Hinch and other incoherent, opinionated populists.

Finally, the double dissolution early election was supposed to be the making of Turnbull; a cunning plan whereby he could snatch the victory he needed to establish his authority over his party; a master stroke to rid his government of an uncooperative senate cross bench.

Instead, Turnbull’s gamble has turned out to be an unmitigated disaster; another stunning example of his poor political judgement and the single most compelling reason why his win is no win at all.

You can follow David Tyler on Twitter @urbanwronski.

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