David Tyler discusses the Coalition's continuing civil war between its own factions and the ramifications for Turnbull's ability to deliver "stable government".
TASMANIAN senator Eric Abetz fearlessly leads the charge of the right brigade this week into a stoush between his beloved Team Abbott and the Pollyanna faction led by tub-thumping, sub-stumping $50 billion dollar man Christopher Pyne. Eric is out to keep the bastards honest.
Abetz takes a pot-shot at the Turnbull Government’s legitimacy – the issue of the political week if not the 45th parliament’s lifetime – after sub-marathon Mal’s hamstrung election performance, which saw the PM forced to fund his party’s manifest destiny to the tune of $1 million.
Can he just do that? Millionaire Mal’s DIY fund-raising does not raise an eyebrow on ABC Insiders. Fran Kelly, Nikki Sava, Karen Middleton – all senior journos – see no problem posed to our democratic processes by a rich man buying a prime ministership. If Laura Tingle has reservations she keeps them to herself.
Karen Middleton sighs,
“He’s done it before and he’ll do it again.”
Perhaps she recalls Turnbull’s desperate battle for Liberal preselection for the blue-ribbon seat of Wentworth thirteen years ago, when his opponent Peter King says Turnbull told him to “fuck off and get out of my way.”
Money talks — and often in the Turnbull story. Perhaps this time, too, his million dollar investment may help to stem rising Liberal Party disquiet. The election has cost him too much personal authority to do it any other way.
Some say millionaire MPs do this sort of thing. Queensland Nickel donated $288,516 to the Palmer United Party (PUP) last December, a fortnight before sacking staff at the Yabulu refinery near Townsville. Nothing was left in the kitty to pay wages. Ewen Jones, then member for Herbert, wept on camera.
“we don’t have the rivers of gold that come from the union movement.”
AEC Labor Party records do not match the foreign minister’s fantasy, showing instead a broad set of donors. In 2015, the CFMEU donated $50,000 yet WestPac gave $1.5 million. No-one challenges Bishop.
Most likely, however, Turnbull’s party was just caught short as its uber-rich supporters, fearing penury if superannuation rules were to change, withheld donations.
A $500,000 lifetime limit on how much of one’s after-tax contributions one can make to one’s super is at issue. Currently the limit is $180,000 a year.
The IPA opposes the “diabolical” changes along with Coalition plans to impose 15 per cent tax on income generated by balances above $1.6m. Director, John Roskam, says the changes are also clearly retrospective. So central is the IPA to controlling Liberal policy, this means the Turnbull Government is at war with its own brain stem.
Its civil war with the IPA aside, most of the Liberals’ pain is self-inflicted.
Arthur is unable to recall
In March, the NSW Electoral Commission denied the party $4.389 million in public funding because it accepted illegal developer donations for the 2011 NSW election via its “Free Enterprise Foundation” — a matter the ICAC needs expert help to sort out, hence its request to then Liberal Party Treasurer and President, now Coalition Cabinet Secretary Arthur Sinodinos. As yet Arthur is unable to recall.
No big fan of Arthur, who was numbers man in Turnbull’s coup, an ear-to-the-ground Abetz reckons the super changes were never properly ventilated and massively cost Liberal votes in Tasmania, an insight he has gained by door-knocking and national report:
“From right around Australia I got very strong feedback that that was not the way to go forth and I trust that we will revisit aspects of that policy.”
Can a party change its policy after the campaign? Abetz seems to think so. He’s not alone. Mad Dog Morrison, our reverse Robin Hood treasurer, is on standby with a solution which may see the super changes watered down. Protect the rich.
In the real world over 31,000 people have lost their disability support pension in the past year, the biggest annual drop on record. As several years worth of government crackdowns begin to bite, 90,000 may expect to undergo a medical review in the next three years. More “savings” are promised as Mad Dog Morrison has promised to find another $3.5 billion.
Don’t expect schools or hospitals
It costs money to keep negative gearing for speculators and then there’s the cost involved in “fine-tuning” its super changes to protect the wealthy. Don’t expect schools or hospitals from this mob.
Unhappy Abbott camper Eric is bucking his party’s line on its campaign, a failed gamble on an early election double dissolution which has left its PM’s authority in tatters; its future on a knife edge.
“A lot of our colleagues see the election result as the barest of victories, if we can a call it a victory having declared victory two weeks out."
For Turnbull toy dog Christopher "Gertrude Stein" Pyne, however,
“ ... a win is a win, is a win.”
Mincing poodle, as Julia Gillard so aptly dubbed Pyne for his performances as Abbott’s yap dog in three years of relentless negativity in opposition, has done well out of our defence policy.
Pyne’s SA seat of Sturt is now secure thanks to the government’s astonishing flip-flop on protectionism to the tune of a $50 billion industry subsidy. The ASC will assemble a dozen French submarines in the SA rust belt state, when it would be so much cheaper to have them made in France.
For half the price we could have had them made in Japan. And Germany quoted $20 billion for the subs to be delivered six years earlier.
$490,000 for every vote
Winning has not come cheaply. The $50 billion amounts to to $468,000 per potential vote in Hindmarsh, $490,000 for every vote in Pyne’s Sturt and $480,000 for each potential Boothby vote.
It may sound expensive but it’s an investment in not just Pyne’s seat but in the democratic pork barrel itself so vital to mandate creation. And it’s not a subsidy to car-makers, a prospect former federal treasurer Joe Hockey hated.
For one per cent of the sub investment, car manufacturing would still be able to employ 200,000 Australian workers, directly and indirectly.
To be fair, it wasn’t all about boats. Pyne does admit,along with dog-catcher Barnaby Joyce and other National Party campaigners that they departed from the official script. Yet although success came from not plugging policy, he does not hesitate to claim a mandate.
Also leading the charge in the battle of the mandate is lynx-eyed Attorney-General George Brandis, a chap who may have failed to explain metadata and who was unable to open a spreadsheet warning of a terrorist threat but who has got a safe pair of hands on everyone’s metadata, nevertheless.
Signed letter of permission
Just in case, four days before the election, Brandis elevated the attorney general’s status. Anyone, including the PM, who needs to see Solicitor-General Justin Gleeson, now has to get signed letter of permission from Brandis — a move which has legal experts legal experts describe as an “unnecessary impediment” to expert advice.
Members of the legal community point to a growing tension between the nation’s first and second law officers over matters, including the 2013 same-sex marriage High Court case, the 2015 advice Mr Gleeson provided over changes to citizenship laws and over the drafting of same-sex marriage plebiscite legislation, a matter which Brandis is overdue to report back to government on.
One of the new Cabinet’s first tasks after the Governor General Peter Cosgrove returns from France to swear in the new government, will be the wording of the plebiscite so that it is unlikely to succeed.
Of course, it may be that we never see the plebsicite at all just as we will never see the secret agreement between the Liberal Party and the Nationals. It may request the government not to budge on same sex marriage, given that it can lead to polyamory, as Eric Abetz suggests, or to bestiality, one of Cory Bernardi’s big bugbears.
There is no mandate for a secret Coalition agreement.
What the secret agreement is also likely to reflect is a Nationals push to nudge the Coalition even further towards Hansonism, given that One Nation’s support base comprises an fair muster of alienated single fathers who blame their marriage and relationship breakdowns on the Family Court.
A kangaroo court
One Nation, which apart from its familiar figurehead, is now a blokes’ party, attracts such voters with its policy of abolishing the Family Court and replacing it with a kangaroo court which it calls a "community panel".
A mandate man, Brandis was under the illusion on Monday’s Q&A that this is Turnbull’s second term as elected PM. His memory lapses are eclipsed, however, in the company of Cabinet secretary Arthur Sinodinos, who is appearing all over the media to talk up his Government’s mandate while awaiting a call back from ICAC on Australian Water Holdings and the Free Enterprise foundation.
Now that the Turnbull Government may attain a whopping seventy-seven seats in the House of Representatives of the forty-fifth parliament – as the vote count continues in the seat of Herbert shows Labor’s Cathy O’Toole behind the LNP’s Ewen Jones, by only a dozen votes – Liberals have been vigorously pumping the handle of the mandate organ.
Soon hagiographers rewriting the history of Australia will be telling us this is Chairman Mal’s finest hour.
Mandate? Michaelia Cash is dashing into TV studios to madly impress us with her claim that the Government has 700,000 more votes than Labor. Yet it is only true as a Coalition. Labor’s 4.3 million first preferences put it ahead while if you total all minority parties, the Government is outstripped.
As Guy Rundle points out, the mandate issue becomes even more vexed if you consider the fundamentally flawed nature of our democratic voting process where the Nationals with one million votes get 23 seats, while the Greens get one seat after receiving 1.2 million.
Almost another million dollar man
Amazingly, making the same claim to a mandate is a pin-striped Malcolm Turnbull who is careful to be photographed with Martin Parkinson, head of the department of prime minister and cabinet and on $860,000 per annum.
What they are doing is not revealed because like the Coalition agreement, it is secret. And like our imports of asbestos in portables from China, none of our business. What is likely to be on the agenda, however, will include the promotion of Zed Seselja, whose opposition to same sex marriage is but a small element of his valuable contribution to good government in the 45th parliament.
Team player and good captain, Tony Abbott will not be attending The Lodge for pre-blood-letting drinks Sunday night, says Julie Bishop. Nor will he find himself back in the cabinet, in a welcome sign that some sanity at least has prevailed in Mr Harbourside Mansion’s Point Piper decision making processes. Expect press releases to tell us he has a contribution to make in other areas.
Expect to hear a lot about the Coalition’s mandate to provide stable government. How we must knuckle under, pull together, go without to get us all on a “credible path back to surplus” and other unreal stuff. Watch out when Eric, Tony and Kevin find themselves surplus to requirements.
What is real is that the first shot in the Turnbull Government’s war with itself has just been fired.
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