Events have conspired against Malcolm Turnbull in his first week in power in a way that may be irredeemable, writes Bob Ellis.
TURNBULL'S LUCK was never enormous (he lost the leadership by one vote while two of his votes were circling, in bad weather, over Canberra) and events have conspired against his Government’s first week in a way that may be irreparable.
Morrison has proved to be a rabid innumerate, declaring you attack a debt and deficit disaster by reducing revenue. Abbott has not gone quietly, calling Malcolm "the commentariat’s choice" and himself "the people’s choice". Credlin has proved herself arrogant and stupid. Brough a sworn foe of democracy whom the cross-bench is now at war with. China has brought on an emissions trading scheme a week after Turnbull uneasily joined Abbott in repudiating that always sensible idea.
And Morrison and Dutton seem to have been protecting eleven of the murderers of Reza Barati and refusing to agree to the extradition to Papua New Guinea of one white one – an Australian – who is on the run from the police in Queensland. And, oh yes, far from shirt-fronting Putin, his Government is now assisting him in the protection of the mass murderer Assad — an actual WMD-wielding monster worse than Saddam Hussein. Can Turnbull’s undoubted charm reduce the danger these shoals and rapids of ill fortune, and bad policy have plunged him into — this resurrected odour of criminality from his front and back bench? The ICAC-tainted Sinodinos, friend of Obeid? The mafia-soiled Bruce Billson? The infamous, ludicrous cheat of entitlements Bronwyn Bishop? The dodgy North Sydney yum cha host Joe Hockey?
To this might be added the odour adhering to the Abbott-Abe handshake over submarines. If the Japanese get the contract, will it then be thought a kickback of some sort was promised, to Abbott or the Liberal Party, or a big donor to that party? Was that handshake attached to a bribe of some kind? It could be so.
Will it be seen pretty soon that this was a Government of criminal tendency? It could be so.
It may well prove that, although Turnbull himself is clean, Julie Bishop, past defender of the asbestos companies and facilitator of mesothelioma, and Barnaby Joyce, likely thief of the Murray’s water from South Australia, and Damien Mantach, embezzler of 1.5 million of the party’s dollars, will darken the waters around him, and taint him, as Christina Keneally was tainted, by the stench of adjacent factional shysters and con-men, and expedite his descent from the altitude he now enjoys, and speed his defeat?
For he isn’t actually ahead yet. The Murdoch polls that suggest his Government is only on 51 did not ring any mobile phones, or anyone out of the house on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, and redistributed not the actual preferences, but how their preferences were two years ago when Abbott was thought to be telling the truth. He is on 50-50 at best and the bad news keeps coming.
The swing in Canning was 9 per cent to Labor on the raw figures, 6.4 on preferences; or, if you eliminate the usual by-election swing against the government of the day, 3.9 per cent, which, duplicated nationwide, would put Labor on 50.2 per cent, and narrowly in government with Green and Independent help. And this was at the height of the Turnbull honeymoon, before he chose his disastrous treasurer and kept on the simian dumb-bum Dutton, sponsor of the corrupt dictatorship of Nauru and protector of its criminal police.
He could do well on his own. But his associates are dragging him down already.
It will be interesting to see what Abbott says next — and Credlin, and Hockey, and Gillian Triggs. And Peter Greste if he tries to go to Nauru and is forbidden. And the United Nations inspectors, if they ever get there.
Has Turnbull done a party-room deal with a bunch of criminals? Is this the next chapter of his narrative, the next evidence of his bad luck? Or can he, like Baird, walk away from all that, saying that is the past and I am the future?
It’s possible. But it seems at the moment he might fall foul, as he has before, in business and politics and his alliance with Godwin Grech, of associates ill-chosen and crackpot, outdated policies too early embraced.
And we will see what we shall see.
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