The Turnbull demolition and the Murdoch coincidence

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(Mark David Cartoons / @mdavidcartoons)

The mainstream media have finally gotten what they wanted, another leadership spill — but it wasn''t the one they worked towards for so long.


DUTTON vs TURNBULL. It all escalated so quickly. How did this latest political bout come about? When, for the last couple of years, all we have heard about was the battle between Bill Shorten and Anthony Albanese.

Well now, it may all be quite coincidental, but it is worth noting a few interesting facts. If you wish to join the dots between them, that is all up to you.

Consider the following timeline.

Just over a week ago, on Friday 10 August, U.S. media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s private jet touched down in Sydney and unloaded him back in the land whose citizenship he’d spurned years before for reasons of rank ambition and untrammelled greed.

Three days later, Parliament resumed after its long winter break. Last week, on Wednesday 15 August, the Senate voted down Turnbull’s tax cuts for very big businesses. Rupert Murdoch owns a very big business — News Corp, which produces 60 per cent of the newspapers in Australia by circulation and operates the only cable network. He would have also seen Turnbull emerge from the Party room last Tuesday, overjoyed his caucus had endorsed his centrepiece energy policy, the National Energy Guarantee (NEG). Much of the media declared this a triumph for the (current) Prime Minister. Murdoch probably wouldn’t have agreed, being not only a climate change denier, but also an oil-man.

Almost immediately, Murdoch’s vast media conglomerate, along with other conservative broadcasters, began reporting a coup in Turnbull’s ranks, spearheaded by Tony Abbott and his gnome-like understudy, Craig Kelly. Abbott called the NEG “merchant bankers’ gobbydegook” as he hit the airways, ramping up that constant “sniping and undermining” he swore he would never do. By the weekend, the papers published rumours about Peter Dutton preparing to challenge for the leadership.

By Monday this week, Turnbull meekly announced he was ripping out the centrepiece of his centrepiece policy − the emissions target – to appease the extreme Right of his Party. Then in Question Time Monday, Turnbull conceded that in a Parliament with a majority of one, every MP has an effective veto over all Government legislation. This came as something of a surprise to the Opposition and crossbenchers, who also had a vote and had expressed some support for the proposal. Perhaps Turnbull thought that if the cameras recorded him sitting next to Bill Shorten in Parliament to pass an energy policy, while Abbott and his henchmen sat defiantly on the other side, all the far Right’s dark suspicions about him being a member of the Green-Left alliance would be confirmed.

Yet, despite Turnbull surrendering to the extremists on energy policy ‒ just as he had done on every other policy before ‒ they were not to be appeased. With the papers reporting Dutton as counting his numbers, early on Tuesday morning at the Party meeting, Turnbull declared both leadership positions vacant. There was a spill. Turnbull survived — 48 votes to 35. The media declared this to be an unconvincing win and Turnbull’s leadership terminal.

Then, over the course of the day and night, we heard reports of cabinet ministers resigning their positions. First Dutton, in the meeting. Then another afterwards. And then another. And then it became four, and five, and six, and seven… The media kept a running tally, which seemed to rise by one every hour or two. By this morning, we heard ten ministers had handed in their resignations to Turnbull. The slow drip of senior support leaking away from Turnbull seemed expertly choreographed to heighten the drama, tension and sense of chaos surrounding the Government. Almost as if it was all scripted for the cameras by an experienced political and media producer...

The demolition happened very quickly.

As recently as the day of the Super-Saturday by-elections, on 28 July – less than a month ago – the mainstream media were confident it was Shorten’s leadership that was under threat. In fact, since Turnbull barely scraped home at the 2016 Federal election, the media have been regularly declaring Shorten’s leadership as being on the ropes. Meanwhile, they have repeatedly said Turnbull was bouncing back, despite every evidence to the contrary — ignoring Turnbull’s spiralling tally of the Newspoll losses and the cavernous rift between the two factions of the Liberal Party.

Some have attributed the Dutton challenge on the 55-45 Ipsos Fairfax result over the weekend — and certainly that wouldn’t have helped the PM’s chances. But there may have been some other factors more important than this dubious snapshot of public opinion — such as the prospect of climate change action and the Murdoch press.

In fact, these two factors, along with the destructive actions of Tony Abbott, have been constant themes in leadership spills in both parties for almost a decade. In September 2009, Turnbull lost his Oppposition leadership to Tony Abbott after a backbench revolt over Turnbull supporting Kevin Rudd’s emissions trading scheme. In June 2010, Kevin Rudd lost his job to as Prime Minister after attempting to bring in, then abandoning, this same ETS. In 2013, Julia Gillard was rolled by Kevin Rudd after a three-year campaign by Abbott and Murdoch’s minions over her so-called “carbon tax lie”. And now, in 2018, Malcolm Turnbull looks like losing his prime ministership after attempting to bring in the one of the weakest and most half-hearted of attempts ever seen to regulate emissions in the energy sector.

The only exception to this series was Turnbull rolling Abbott in 2015, although he did cite 30 lost News Corp-run Newspolls as the reason for his challenge.

It is almost as if there is an influential group operating in the background working to prevent any meaningful action on climate change. That through their lavish support of politicians − in cash or in kind, such as through positive media coverage, or offers of future returns – they twist and skew our democracy to their selfish ends. Such as by giving millions to “think tanks” every year to sow doubt about climate change, and provide nurseries and indoctrination centres for conservative politicians.

In his time as Prime Minister, Turnbull has relaxed media ownership laws and handed $30 million to Murdoch no strings attached. He donated $443.8 million of taxpayers’ money to a big business fossil fuel front group under the guise of saving the Great Barrier Reef. Yet still, just before Turnbull was about to bring in legislation to limit emissions, Murdoch flew back to Australia and, within days, Turnbull was destroyed.

Yet this could all be coincidental.

Although as FDR said:

“In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way.

This editorial was originally published as part of the Independent Australia weekly newsletter. These editorials are usually only available to subscribers. It takes less a minute to subscribe to IA and costs as little as $5 a month, or $50 a year — a very small sum for quality journalism and many great extras.

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