03 October 2009

Obvious talent

Peter Dutton has always appeared wooden and not particularly swift on his feet, before the media, in Parliament and in other public functions. He has managed no policy initiatives, nor managed competing interests to arrive at a workable arrangement over a complex issue. Why he is regarded as great political talent is unclear.

Dutton should have managed his political career better. If he was going to leave Dickson because it was too marginal, he should have managed the transition and supported a candidate who'd be likely to win the seat and make a positive contribution to Federal politics and the Liberal Party. If he was going to another seat, you'd think he'd have done the groundwork with local people and issues long before the preselection. Long-serving NSW Liberal party official John Carrick observed that you can't fatten the pig on market day (a quaint image in the age of "98% fat free", but the principle still holds), it is a basic lesson of politics and Dutton did not learn it.

Why he is regarded as great political talent is unclear.

Milney certainly thought so. However, in his plea for Dutton, Milney holed his own case below the waterline in the first two sentences here, and all that remains is to watch its trajectory to the briney deep.
GENUINE renewal in any political party has to come from the grassroots. Considered in that light, the weekend preselection of Paul Fletcher in Bradfield sends an important signal that the Liberal Party is looking to the future.

Fletcher didn't live in Bradfield, he lives in Paddington. He was a staffer and sucked his way upwards by networking with a small number of highly-placed Liberals rather than doing grass-roots politicking, which he considered beneath him (and probably still does, unless it benefits him directly. As I said earlier, it's a sign of nostalgia and stunted growth for the Liberal Party to shunt senior staffers into Parliamentary ranks in the hope that the glory days of the Howard government may soon be replicated and therefore re-elected.

What Milney means here is that when volunteer members of a political party do what they're told, by him or the sort of people with whom he lunches, that's renewal When they return someone to Federal Parliament who's already familiar with Federal Parliament, that's renewal. It is odd that his plea takes a hectoring tone worthy of Alan Jones:
[The Liberal preselection for McPherson, which was held earlier this evening] will resolve whether Peter Dutton's gamble in abandoning his seat of Dickson, outside Brisbane, to stand for McPherson, has paid off. For the sake of the Liberal Party, it had better. For a start he hasn't nominated for another seat. If he fails in McPherson, he will be lost to politics. Any other outcome than the endorsement of Dutton by the Gold Coast Liberals would render the party not worthy of a vote across the country.

"For the sake of the Liberal Party, it had better"? Oh, piss off! If he's put all his eggs into a basket not obliged to carry them, that's his bad luck and poor political judgment. The Liberal Party/LNP, in McPherson or wherever else, is not obliged to rubber-stamp a decision foisted on them by some chancer from a hundred kilometres away who won't take the time to understand their concerns and is still clearly suffering Relevance Deprivation Syndrome.
Because if the preselectors of McPherson can't see that Dutton is part of any future the party might have, then why should ordinary voters believe in that future either?

Is it really not possible that Karen Andrews has much to offer the future of the Liberal Party? If Peter Dutton can't cope with Kallangur, how will he go in the back streets of Currumbin or Mudgeeraba? He's supposed to be a former Queensland copper, isn't he? If he's gone soft in Canberra, Milney, that's hardly the problem of Gold Coast LNPers.
Dutton's chances of being saved by an anti-Rudd swing are negligible.

Right: better get off his backside and do some work then - unless that's not an option either.
As the years of government roll away from the Coalition it is going to need to conserve the corporate memory of office. Dutton, now in the shadow health portfolio, will be crucial to this process. He's aggressive and he's economically literate.

It's something of a pity that a) Nicola Roxon has been utterly untroubled by Dutton in anything she's done as Health Minister, and that b) his aggression and economic literacy was not obvious in the Howard Government. Dutton would appear to be no great loss to the Liberal Party, the Parliament, or to anything other than Peter Dutton's own sense of self (and that of a small number of others).
If Turnbull falls on his sword or is pushed on to it before the next election, Dutton will be a candidate for the deputy leadership, which will accompany that scenario. He'd probably win.

Not any more: show me the biggest joke in the Federal Parliamentary Liberal Party and I'll show you someone who's won preselection. Why would McPherson preselectors support someone who's waiting for a chance to profit from leadership instability? It doesn't make sense, Milney.
State Liberal Party president Bruce McIver and vice-president Gary Spence are strongly supportive. Under party rules the president has the power, with the state executive, to appoint a candidate. The idea was considered, but with the political camel that is the Liberal National Party in Queensland still in its infancy - whether it gets beyond that stage federally is debatable - it was decided intervention in McPherson would not set a good precedent.

However, the option remains live if things go badly for Dutton. He has the backing of John Howard, Peter Costello, Turnbull, Joe Hockey and even Barnaby Joyce.

Having gone through a preselection process and chosen Andrews, a person of considerable potential, only to be overriden by McIver and other members of the LNP heirarchy, there is no reason why Gold Coast Liberals should turn out for a candidate whom they did not choose. The supposedly hard men of LNP head office know this: they dare not risk a grass-roots revolt, which is why they've taken their chances with a preselection in the hope that Dutton's obvious talent will see him win over the locals. Otherwise, those guys (two retirees, a guy who hates the Liberal Party, and a New South Welshman) will have to do the heavy lifting for Dutton themselves.

If Dutton were to work his guts out in Dickson and squeak home, he'll be a legend. There is no Labor candidate and the Labor state government is on the nose. Dutton should not be jumping at Labor shadows and polling stats, and Milney has no excuse not to consider the possibility of Dutton winning, however narrowly - if you've been around politics as long as he has, you know that (to use the words of Lyndon Johnson) chicken shit can become chicken salad.

Alternatively, if Dutton had shirtfronted dead wood like Andrew Lame-ing and Michael Johnson, he'd reveal himself to have political toughness and strategic deftness of a front-rank politician. He lacks these qualities, and so Milney's puffery rings hollow.
Which brings us to Andrews. She's the McPherson divisional council chairwoman, has no name ID and was waiting for May to retire after another term.

Dutton has been beaten fair and square by a better candidate, he and his supporters should have the good grace to accept that and get behind the duly preselected candidate. Andrews has not sought to upstage the sitting member (is this what Milney could mean by "name ID"? That, and the fact she's not an ex-staffer?).
[Karen Andrews would] probably be better off looking at the next Senate vacancy.

Would you write a puff piece for her if she did, Milney? Probably not - in the next half-Senate election there are four incumbent Liberal Senators up for re-election, and if the pattern of re-appointing former MPs and staffers is anything to go by, Andrews has no chance. At least this is a tacit admission that she has the makings of a useful politician, which is probably why the Liberal preselectors of McPherson chose her. In his backhanded, even unconscious way, Milney has been more generous to Andrews than this peanut from her local rag:
Another Palm Springs female booked for backbench oblivion in Canberra at the expense of Peter Dutton is not the LNP answer, according to some key Liberals. Sorry, LNP members.

Booked by whom, Peter? Are only men capable of building real political clout in Canberra? If Dutton were to get an easy ride into McPherson by overriding the locals, why would he owe anything to the community at all? What would the Gold Coast do with such clout, anyway?

Dutton should put his shoulder to the wheel of a LNP government in Queensland - a term or two of actually running a health system, and he might have the makings of a Federal Health Minister (besides, by then the Federal Libs might be electable again, and he wouldn't be that old). Alternatively, he might just be a fair-weather sailor: all very well against the disgraced Cheryl Kernot with a incumbent Coalition government, and can gather support from top brass, but no good in the close-order fighting and low-resource scrapping of opposition.

Dutton hasn't impressed anyone outside the media-political complex so he's probably not the person to shake it up. It is true that some institutional memory of government is useful, but it is not sufficient - besides, there are already so many old dogs of government in the Federal Parliamentary Liberal Party that one could be forgiven for thinking they have no capacity for learning new tricks. Institutional memory of government in 1996 was pretty much limited to Howard himself.

A spell on the sidelines could be the making of Peter Dutton - or even Karen Andrews. The defeat of Dutton is not just a victory for localism over head office, and it's not necessarily one in the eye for Turnbull - it's a victory over the idea that the next Liberal government must be a continuation of the last one.


  1. I met Dutton on polling day in 2001. He was to be my local member for a couple of years before I moved. 'Twas back in the days when I thought wearing an anti-government shirt on election day was a cool gesture - oh my folly. This one was a man looking up at a blackboard with the letters of the alphabet starting with D, and the caption "The Liberal Alphabet", the 'joke' being that there's no ABC in the Liberal alphabet.. etc. I walked past the polling place in Arana Hills a few times while doing errands, and Peter shook my hand on two passes asking for my vote, and the second time asked me what the T-shirt meant.

    I explained it and he looked at me like I'd just gone into the more abstruse parts of quantum physics. He didn't understand the (very basic) joke.

    Everyone more senior than him is either hilarious or out of parliament, so I guess he looks good in opposition but he did squat in parliament beyond seeming like a bully.

    It's true that non-entities populate the Libs' safest seats but if he's such a gun local member who could add popularity to the Liberal brand, he should be trying to notionally gain the new Dickson to help his party back into government and then try to move, while grooming an electable successor much as you describe.

    And if he's so good, and potential Opposition Leader material, that he couldn't convince a bunch of branch members in blue-ribbon territory he was the one, the swingy regions would have been immune too.

    Your point about really only Howard knowing goverment prior to 1996 is a good one - cf the current Labor front bench! They did OK..

  2. Excellent read

    I know of many others who have read this and have reached the same conclusion on the quality of the analysis and writing.

    Top stuff

  3. derrida derider6/10/09 6:21 pm

    Yep, a good post.

    Peter Dutton didn't impress much when he was a junior Minister; in fact he was pretty much like my stereotype of an ex Qld copper - hard working but very narrow minded and lacking all social graces.

    If he can't hold a marginal seat and can't impress the preselectors in a safe seat, just where is this so-called political talent?

    As for the poisonsous dwarf, he's the only writer in the Australian with even less credibility than Shanahan. Don't waste your time on him.

  4. I think in general there's too much focus on personal performance of ministers etc - ie 'this ones got talent' 'this one doesnt' etc etc.

    Really what matters are the policies, not the personal style of the minister. The press gallery feed this attitude with their focus on personalities and trivia.