Turnbull's dilemma

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Malcolm Turnbull's intelligence and political party work against him and, policy by policy, he will see more and more of his declarations contradicting his beliefs, writes Bob Ellis.

TURNBULL WILL be involved in a lot of foreign policy announcement this year — and none of it will be any good for him.

He will say we need "the right boots on the right grounds in Iraq" and it should be "all Iraqi boots", thus contradicting Abbott, Abetz, Andrews, Trump and the American right-wingers. He will say we should be taking in Syrian refugees, tens of thousands of them, regardless of what sort of Muslims they were, thus enraging the Christians at the heart of the Liberal Party.

He will have various disagreements with Trump, with Cruz, with Cameron, with Merkel, with Clinton, with McCain and will be obliged to say aggressive, authoritative things about foreign policy to them. He will be shown, in most foreign policy, to be a "smooth-talking wuss". He will be shown, as before, to be a man of decent opinion, with no party. Normally, Murdoch would keep him true to his purpose. But Murdoch will be so in bed with Trump (or Cruz) and Turnbull aligned with Clinton, he will be a thing of contempt to News Ltd.

Bit by bit, he seems in a fix this year. He’ll continue to curse Assad while not bombing him. He will continue to bomb the Kurds while praising them. He will continue spending hundreds of millions on the search for MH 370.

Why? It is not as though his foreign policy is not coherent. It is that he doesn’t believe a word of what he is doing, except where he agrees with the Labor Party.

The public will either agree it is by a "shirtfront" party, a party "less shirtfronting", or a party looking like "the Obamaist mandate" in foreign policy and vote for the middle one. The Labor Party has to win foreign policy headlines and this is not easy, but they have many things going for them already — ones they could build on.

One is the raped and starved and traumatised children of Nauru, and Turnbull’s agreement they should go back there. One is the raped pregnant 23 year-old, whom Dutton won’t let abort her child. 

One was the various Geelong residents who, on being told they were to be sent back to Sri Lanka, burned themselves to death. One was the various refugees the Turnbull people did not let join their relatives, already resident in Australia.

Turnbull is too intelligent a man to be entrapped within the lunacy his Party enmeshes him in, which he is obliged, nonetheless, to adopt. He is, like Obama, a negotiator. He is too intelligent a man to be enmeshed in the miseries and fallacies of some of his co-conspirators: Brough, and Roy and Pyne, the blackmailers; and Jamie Briggs, the office harasser; Brandis, the flamboyant protector of Man Monis; the terrorist; Dutton and Morrison, the kidnappers. His intelligence works against him. Policy by policy, he sees more and more of his declarations contradicting his beliefs. Why vote for him and not Shorten. There seems less and less reason, issue by issue, for doing this.

This is a battle not yet over. If it were fought issue by issue, Shorten would win. If it is fought by personality, Turnbull (thus far) wins. If Turnbull gets to the ballot box in February, he wins. If after May, it will be reasonably decided.

And we will see what we shall see.

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