Managing editor David Donovan considers the downfall of Tony Abbott before considering Malcolm Turnbull's new ministry and what we can expect from the new PM in the future.
What a week last week was. It all started out with Peter Dutton being in the firing line over his racist Cape York "joke" and ended with a new prime minister announcing a new ministry. And in between, Tony Abbott was tipped out of the leadership and Malcolm Turnbull took over the top job. Interesting times.
First a few words about the demise of former Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
In March 2015, I told the Gold Coast March in March that I did not believe Abbot would last long.
Here's what I said:
... allow me to let you in on a secret. I think the people who put Abbott in power know he won't stay there very long. He is too bigoted, too awkward, too unpopular, too strange, too aggressive, too extreme, too out of touch with the mainstream of Australian society...
In short, he is too much of a dickhead to be Australian prime minister for long.
Abbott was a terrible PM. Perhaps the worst Australia will ever have. He reportedly ended his tenure with a raucous drunken, emetic, falling down, furniture smashing party at Kirribilli House — a neat analogy for his time in charge. He will not be missed. Enough said about him. Good riddance.
And now we have Malcolm Turnbull. Will he be a good prime minister? That remains to be seen. Certainly, with his party comfortably winning Canning and a new ministry announced – one that contains far less dead wood, a focus on innovation and more women – there are some promising signs.
The removal of Howard-era dinosaurs such as Eric Abetz, Kevin Andrews, Ian McFarlane, Michael Ronaldson, as well as the economically illiterate Joe Hockey, could only be positives. And the promotion of Marise Payne, a moderate, republican MP to become the new minister for defence – the first female ever occupy this role in Australia – is an inspired move.
In addition, the Government's renewed focus on innovation is a welcome move — although innovation would be far easier with an NBN that actually works and a new minister who is more focussed on the needs of the nation rather than party political games. Christopher Pyne was a relentlessly poor education minister and his sideways move into the industry and innovation portfolio looks like a cynical move designed to bolster his precarious hold on the Sturt in South Australia — a state in the process of being crushed by Abbott and Hockey's destruction of the car industry. The promotion of Pyne's callow fellow Ashbygate plotter Wyatt Roy as assistant minister for innovation is also an "interesting" move.
In fact, Ashbygate conspirators appear to have won big in this ministry, with the architect of the Northern Territory Intervention, former Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough becoming special minister for state and minister for defence materiel and science. That's right, Mal Brough will be the minister responsible for MP's entitlements.
Mal Brough Special Minister for State. Yep Ashbygate in charge of MP's entitlements— Rob Mitchell (@RobMitchellMP) September 20, 2015
There are, of course, other anomalies. For a start, dud minister Peter "Cape York Time" Dutton retaining the immigration portfolio was simply astonishing. How many Border Farce style stuff-ups and idiotic comments does a minister need to commit before being sacked? Worse than that, Dutton has presided over alleged systematic sexual and child abuse in our offshore immigration torture camps, as well as contractors spying on MPs visiting these facilities. It is mind boggling that Turnbull would retain this person in any key role. And Arthur Sinodinos as cabinet secretary? The one who seated and squirmed and couldn't remember anything at ICAC? You never know, he might get lucky when ICAC hand down their report. The kicker is George 'Metadata' Brandis being retained as Attorney-General and, indeed, promoted to become leader of the Government in the Senate. Brandis is a man whose level of incompetence is only matched by his immense self-regard. He is the same arrogant fool who read poetry during important Senate Committee hearings.
I suppose George will now need a bigger bookshelf.
Malcolm's main problem, however, will be himself and the angry right of his Party.
Despite his well-chosen words about a more inclusive style, Malcolm is at heart a pompous, ego-driven autocrat, with an inflated sense of his own brilliance. His condescending style in Question Time last week, where he lectured the Opposition on the sort of questions they should be asking him, is the kind of stuff that will wear thin very fast with the Australian public. It is not smart — it's half smart. It was just this sort of arrogance that saw him lose the Australian Republic referendum in 1999.
He talks about having a "more inclusive" and "democratic" style, but I'll believe it when I see it. Having being involved with the Australian Republican Movement for many years, I have spoken to many old-timers about Turnbull and the stories of his undemocratic, overbearing and domineering style are legion.
One of my favourites was from former Gold Coast ARM forum convenor Roy McKeen, who was standing beside Turnbull at the meeting to establish the Queensland branch of the ARM in Brisbane, in the mid-1990s. At the meeting, Turnbull was becoming visibly agitated by prolonged discussion and votes about who would occupy key positions within the new branch — president, treasurer, secretary and so forth.
According to Roy, Turnbull said to him out of the corner of his mouth:
"This should have all been fucking organised beforehand."
To which Roy allegedly replied:
"Malcolm, this is fucking democracy."
Some people also think Turnbull's ascension means the Liberals are sure things in 2016. This is ignorant. As shown by his previous stint as Liberal leader, his overblown self-belief, impetuousness and bravado mean it is quite likely that he will, at some point, stumble and lose the goodwill of the public and/or his colleagues.
Also, some people see Turnbull as a leftie, but that is plainly incorrect. He has some progressive ideals and good on him for that, however this former investment banker has the same sort of dry neoliberal economics as Hockey and will, I suspect, continue to pursue policies that benefit the so-called "lifters" over the "leaners". Whatever style Turnbull has, these policies will be continue to be widely unpopular.
As for the hard right of the Liberal Party, their fury over a "leftie" coming in and knifing their man, a first term prime minister, has left them seething. Cory Bernardi is even talking about forming a new conservative party. This is not over by a long shot. Expect Godwin Grech-style dirty tricks from the bitter right of the Liberal Party, who have now become Turnbull's fiercest opponents.
Good luck, Malcolm.
David Donovan is a former vice chair of the Australian Republican Movement. You can follow Dave on Twitter @davrosz. The Ashbygate book mentioned in this piece is due out in print and e-book form in the very near future. If you would like to pre-order this book, please email us here.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License
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