19 February 2009

The right whinge

Malcolm Turnbull has apparently realised two things this week. First, whether or not he becomes Prime Minister is largely out of his control, in terms of what economic policy may or may not work in the face of the "unknown unknowns" of the Global Financial Crisis. Second, he now understands that he must, like all successful leaders, put his stamp upon the Liberal Party: because left to its own devices the party organisation will help no-one.

I've said before that I think Turnbull has blown it with his niggardly neither-one-thing-nor-t'other response to the GFC. However, Andrew Norton points out that the Liberals stood firm against the opposite policy merely twelve months ago, and as things are so uncertain who knows? Turnbull's efforts depend entirely upon the success or otherwise of the Federal Treasury (there is no evidence that Wayne Swan is doing anything other than following the Treasury line; his statements do not come from any sort of Labor tradition, nor do the draw upon The Thoughts Of Chairman Kevin in any real way. When Keating or Costello departed from the line the absence of Treasury gruntlement was immediately obvious). The actions of the US and EU regulators, not to mention the so-far silent creditor nations, are yet to be felt.

The one thing Turnbull can do is clear out the Augean stables that is the Liberal Party apparatus:

  • Recent stories that Turnbull is determined to get rid of Federal Director Brian Loughnane, who defers to nobody in the ALP for his determination to lose elections for the Liberal Party.

  • Sir Alan Stockdale, Federal President, has done nothing to get the Liberal Party positioned for victory: no identification of promising candidates, no money raised, no structural reform, not even any policy ideas. A burnt-out shell of a man, utterly redundant.

  • Job-snob Tony Abbott, the inert object over which Julia Gillard, Nicola Roxon and now Jenny Macklin have climbed and who wanted back the job he was working toward as Manager of Government Business - namely, Manager of Opposition Business.

Actually, doing over Abbott was a masterstroke. It confirms the result of the vote on RU486: you can, for all that strut and bluster, screw Tony Abbott with total impunity. Once more people start to realise that his career will truly be over. It would be another indictment of the NSW Liberals if there were no other candidates than him for their preselection for Warringah.

So too, the Victorian Liberals should no longer be treated with kid gloves. Whatever advantages may accrue from making the Liberal Party in that state a Costello monoculture is dwarfed by the prospect of Brumby getting re-elected (with the real prospect of a Liberal government in NSW!) and having that state become a Conroy-Carr redoubt federally. Costello should be challenged in Higgins by someone with something definite to offer the future of that party in that community. In Kooyong, Costello is only supporting Frydenberg because he would have targetted Higgins as the next softest option - not that Frydenberg promises the Liberal Party anything more than his own mediocrity as a new standard to limbo under, but the only good he might do is to encourage others who may otherwise be daunted. Michelle Grattan is wrong to truckle to the readership of The Age with crap like this:
Coonan, like Turnbull and Hockey, comes from Sydney. The reshuffled team continues to marginalise Victoria, which doesn't have any representation in either the Liberal leadership group or the key economic trio.

So? It's to the credit of Andrew Robb that he's more of a national figure who could just as easily have found himself a seat pretty much anywhere, but Robb's quiet and reasonable persona wouldn't have cut it and Grattan knows it. Like Ralph Willis, Robb would make a better Treasurer than a shadow, and at least we can be spared the crocodile tears from people like Michelle Grattan saying things like "personally I like Andrew Robb, but he doesn't come across well on telly, does he?". Get some talent in there Victorian Liberals, not just Costello mini-mes like Smith and Fifield.

Cory Bernardi was a self-indulgent prat who did nothing for those in his shadow portfolio - disabled people and their carers, people who could sorely use some effective representation and championing within government - let us hope this is the last we hear of him. Insofar as he'll do anything at all, Fifield will patronise and smirk at these people who work harder and are better than him.

While it's true that Pyne can be a bit of a ponce, he hasn't yet blown his chance (mind you, in his role as assistant dramaturg of Australia's best subsidised and most boring theatre, he is unlikely to make for smart tactics on the floor of parliament), and much can be said for a man whose enemies are all fools, clowns and shits. The rightwingers had it all their own way under Howard, and they should be big enough to cop the (ever so slight) readjustment taking place now rather than just bleating. Buck up, people! Anyone who whinges more than Christopher Pyne or Marise Payne did under Howard ought to be regarded as too weak to be a conservative.

Hockey showed the right amount of steel in taking on Ian Burgess at AMP when he was company regulation minister, compared to the truckling to mendicant industries you get from Nick Minchin, Tom Switzer and other rightw(h)ingers. Hockey is smart and works hard, and will almost certainly grow into the role of shadow Treasurer.

If Rudd really is going to mire Australia in a swamp of debt for no net gain, and if Australians really do pay too much tax, then perhaps the tax system needs an overhaul - yes, tax, the very issue that Malcolm Turnbull used to draw attention to himself as more than just another backbencher, and which so irritated Peter Costello. Turnbull can outmanoever Swan on tax, because Swan is only doing what Treasury tell him to - if Treasury get it wrong Swan will be exposed, and if there's a semblance of a sense of direction among the Libs then people will turn to them. As John Quiggin points out, Costello is a nostalgia act only rather than someone capable of forward thinking and reform, so he's hardly the threat to Turnbull that some of the sillier commentators would have you believe. Tax should be the battleground for 2010, something that should rally moderates and tories alike - on any other area of policy the Liberals (under any leader) have no chance.

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