Turnbull’s damaging divisions demand drastic deeds

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Turnbull's ragtag bunch of knuckle-dragging troglodytes and more moderate conservatives are united only by their total disrespect for him. Alan Austin reports.

THE TURNBULL Government is clearly the most divided administration in Australia’s recent history. Perhaps its entire history. These open splits now seriously restrict its ability to function.

The latest brawls bring to 80 the critical issues on which senior Coalition figures are pitted against each other.

The first 17 were documented within weeks of the Abbott Government gaining office.

The next 33 were listed here, bringing the total to fifty by early 2015.

In April this year, IA tallied another tawdry 12.

As recently as July, a further seven were analysed. Few, if any, have been resolved.

These are not the usual healthy differences of opinion that test and refine policies. They are evidence of fundamental disunity and profound dysfunction, as commentators outside the pro-Coalition mainstream media are increasingly lamenting.

Crikey’s senior political reporter Bernard Keane now believes

‘Economic policymaking is in crisis among conservatives at a moment in Australian politics when we need a coherent narrative about liberal economics in the face of resurgent populism ... You’d be forgiven for thinking the right is in total disarray on economic policy.’

The latest divisions splitting the Coalition include:

71. Gun control

MPs supporting the weakening of Australia’s strict gun laws by allowing imports of rapid fire shotguns include Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce, Parkes MP Mark Coulton, and several senior state Liberals and Nationals. Those opposed include Tony Abbott and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. PM Malcolm Turnbull appears undecided.

72. Deal with Leyonhjelm

Tony Abbott denied that he knew about a 2015 deal done by two of his ministers with Senate crossbencher David Leyonhjelm to lift the import ban on rapid fire shotguns in exchange for his vote on other laws. Turnbull told the parliament he believed Abbott did know about it, effectively calling the former PM a liar.

73. Liberal Party reform

The NSW and federal Liberal parties are split over whether preselections should be decided by factional deals or rank-and-file plebiscites. Tony Abbott is backing the latter aggressively. Opposed are Malcolm Turnbull, NSW Premier Mike Baird and the majority of the party.

74. Who should be PM

At the root of several recent punch-ups is the unresolved issue of the prime ministership. Unfortunately for Turnbull, who won a convincing party leadership ballot in September 2015, he did not convincingly win the July election and has tumbled disastrously in recent opinion polls.

These have reinvigorated supporters of Abbott’s return. Leader of the House Christopher Pyne admitted this openly, saying:

"... they have a difference of opinion about who the Prime Minister should be."

75. Tony Abbott should go

Abbott’s destabilising influence has provoked internal division over him staying in parliament.

One minister was quoted publicly this week asking:

"Now that question returns: what does he [Abbott] want? Is he going to stay or go? Is he going to become Kevin Rudd? I don't know if people are going to come down on the side of him staying if this is the way it's going to be.”

76. Taxing and spending

The PM, the treasurer and the finance minister insist they are reducing taxes and excessive spending.

Treasurer Scott Morrison said recently:

“This is why we have consistently rejected Labor’s tax-and-spend approach.”

The hard data shows ministers in other portfolios are doing the precise opposite. The latest monthly report from the Finance Department confirms taxes, government spending and debt are all higher now than during the Labor years — both in dollars and as a percentage of GDP.

77. Foreign investment

There are open divisions within the Coalition over sales of assets to China. The Federal Government has banned Chinese firms from bidding for electricity assets in NSW, thwarting plans by that state’s Liberal Government for new infrastructure investment.

78. Tax on WA mining companies

The Nationals are at each others’ throats over the Western Australian proposal to increase taxes paid by mining companies on their vast profits.

Federal Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce blocked the move after

“... discussions with both BHP and Rio in regards this issue."

79. Defence data leaks

According to PM Turnbull, embarrassing data leaks relating to submarines are serious and “very, very regrettable”.

Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne holds the opposite view:

“They were not top-secret documents, which would obviously be very serious” and the material was “old”. Pyne was satisfied that “the protections that we have in place ... are second to none”.

80. Wyatt Roy’s Iraq visit

High profile loser at the July election as member for Longman, Wyatt Roy, copped a serve from party colleague Julie Bishop for his recent trip to Iraq. Although supposedly there to “visit a friend”, it appeared more likely part of his re-election campaign.

According to foreign minister Bishop:

"It was irresponsible of Wyatt Roy to travel to the front line of the conflict between [IS] and Kurdish forces in Northern Iraq, in a region regarded as very high risk. He has placed himself at risk of physical harm and capture, and acted in defiance of Government advice.”


The urgent challenges now facing Australia demand courageous decisions from a strong and united administration. Tony Abbott significantly weakened the nation’s economy, trade and foreign relations in his disastrous two years as PM. Turnbull has now weakened it further.

To restrict further damage he must rid the Government of the obvious duds, both in the ministry and on the back bench. Then he can begin to rebuild.

You can follow Alan Austin on Twitter @AlanTheAmazing

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