In the late 1990s, the Coalition faced a challenge on its right flank from Pauline Hanson. Hanson threatened to build a permanent presence in Australian politics on the backs of Aborigines and newly-arrived non-white migrants, and maybe she would have if she'd been a more effective politician with some solid financial backing.
Since then, the threat to the Coalition from its right has been all but eliminated. Consider the parties that can get elected to the Senate on 2% or less of the vote, and wonder why the rabid anti-immigration parties can't manage the feat despite decades of experience. Even Labor has learnt to stop worrying and love indefinite, inhumane and inaccessible detention of non-white asylum-seekers, buying into the whole idea that such people take our jobs and clog our social infrastructure.
The Coalition had faced no significant threat from its left for more than two decades. This is why it is so comprehensively ambushed today.
Moderates drifted away, or learnt to accommodate issues that once disgusted them; those who remained had come so far in their careers that dropping out of politics altogether was harder than sucking it up and getting on with it.
The Labor Party has become less leftist, even though the Spectre Of Communism has shrunk to a historical artifact. There was the apology to the Stolen Generation and the chimera of action on climate change, but basically a party that supports mandatory detention and cuts benefits for single parents has pretty much accepted conservative assumptions - which includes a disinclination toward root-and-branch re-examination of one's position on things.
Australia's major corporations have a greater scope of influence over this government than any since the Lyons of the 1930s. Nobody (with the exception of leftist ratbags; but the generalisation stands) minds if the big companies make big money, so long as there is some left over to fend off grinding poverty and help smart kids from average backgrounds earn rewards for playing by the rules of meritocracy.
We need a government that brings the budget into balance in such a way that shows big corporations dependent on this country are doing their bit, and which provides positive incentives (e.g. smart kids from average backgrounds earning tangible rewards for playing by the rules of meritocracy).
I thought the previous government was doing that in its own unique way, but most people didn't. Never mind them - where will we get such a government, the government we need?
Will the incumbents change their minds? No. This is a brittle government, which will shatter rather than bend too far. See how it rewards time-servers. Those who jeer at the duds on the frontbench cannot deny that every one of those people has paid their dues, served their time and taken one for the team many, many times over several years.
Many have pet causes (e.g. Turnbull on the republic and climate, Andrews on abortion and divorce) which they have parked for the wider cause of power. The reason why they so hated Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott, and why they despise Palmer now, is because they were less abstemious - pushing their causes and getting them through. The Abbott government is a victory for those who held the line and ignored the mockers and doubters.
The discipline (and attendant brittleness) necessary to turn what is essentially a rabble into a government is personified in Peta Credlin. When Palmer attacked Credlin, he was striking at the cold, calculating heart of this government, saying what Coalition MPs mutter under their breath but dare not voice. Palmer was stupid to use sexism, particularly going into Credlin's reproductive issues; he should've known better and should apologise for that.
That said, self-righteous press gallery dickheads like this should reconsider their own roles in simply quoting countless similar attacks on Gillard without the same sanction (but then, that wasn't 2014, was it) and overlooking Peter Dutton's own-goal of "nagger nagger" this very day on Jenny Macklin. But hey, it adds to Credlin's tough image, which in turn can be used to keep members of this government in line, no harm done and no lessons learnt.
The fight against sexism in our public discourse is vitally important - but the press gallery is no good at that either.
Will there be a Third Party led by Turnbull? No. Look how he peddles silly policy on telecommunications with aplomb, dismissing sound critiques and alternatives; this is not the way of a hand-wringing man of principle. As Gray Connolly correctly observes, Turnbull is a conservative. Even his (largely dormant) positions on climate change may be compared (unfavourably) with Churchill's stand against 1930s conservative appeasement of Nazi Germany.
The only hand-wringing going on is on the part of Liberals who want Turnbull's popularity, but who can't/won't countenance the far-reaching change necessary to remake the Liberal Party in his image: by the time you did away with climate denialism and bigotry-rightism, jacked up taxes and allowed same-sex marriage, there would hardly be a party to lead. Political parties can only do that sort of far-reaching change from opposition, and even then only once they've grown tired of being there.
Andrew Bolt wanted to harness Turnbull's popularity to Abbott's cause without conceding anything to him, so he gave him the sort of blast (no I won't link to it) that would wither any other member of this government. Turnbull, having weathered Beaufort-scale assaults from Kerry Packer and Margaret Thatcher, treated Bolt like the pissant that he is.
Bolt assumes that the government is strong enough to withstand any campaign that he might wage, and that it wouldn't play into the hands of Palmer, Labor, and others who would replace this government. His judgment and his standing isn't what it was. Bolt has already overreached with his foray into Melbourne radio and his push for vindication through amending the Racial Discrimination Act is losing ground. If Bolt pushes too hard and causes lasting damage to this government, his lack of power will be exposed and his fans in high office will start looking/feeling silly, as has happened with Alan Jones. Bolt's duff judgment and public weakness reflects that of the Liberal right more generally.
As for Scott Morrison, pfft. Remember that talk about how Peter Reith was positioning himself as an alternative successor to Howard? Rightwingers in his own seat will devour Morrison and he will, like Bob McNamara, recant on his life's work.
What about Clive Palmer? He is referred to on social media as Cliev, pre-empting the kind of disappointment that saw UK Labour refer to their most electorally successful leader as Bliar. He appears to have no political ballast that would keep him hewing to policies such as humane treatment of asylum-seekers or greater education funding. All his more appealing positions could evaporate overnight if Campbell Newman reached out to him. Still, so long as he keeps to the positions he has outlined so far, he is more the anti-Abbott than Shorten is.
This government came to office with a degree of distrust, like Malcolm Fraser's did in the 1970s. Don Chipp, an experienced Liberal, was a founding member of the Democrats that won the balance of power in the Senate. Chipp was initially less successful than Palmer is today because back then there was more:
- residual loyalty to major parties;
- distrust of populism; and
- substantial moderate elements in the Liberal Party than there is now.
Abbott has not steered his government toward the centre, slashing education and welfare policies under the assumption that they go against the national interest.
Palmer has attracted the working-class conservatives whom Liberal conservatives have steadily courted for a generation, at the expense of moderates. He has shown these voters to be every bit as unreliable for the Liberals as moderates were accused of being. Another one in the neck for conservatives building the rightist redoubt for the Liberal Party (and the Nationals, given that many of their seats are more vulnerable to Palmer/Windsor-type populists than to the ALP). People shrieking about Palmer's sexism were much less critical of Abbott's not-dissimilar remarks, and even defended "that man" after Gillard's misogyny speech, making you wonder what their real problem with Palmer is.
When Singapore was a British colony the British assumed it would be most likely to be attacked from the sea, and so they installed some of the world's biggest artillery pointing toward the sea. Singapore was invaded in 1942 - but from the north, which had also been a British colony, meaning that the sea-directed guns were useless when most needed. I named this post after those guns. See, it's an allegory. Allegory. Oh, never mind.
The case cannot yet be made that Abbott is wavering in his resolve to conservative causes, so the wreckers from the far right who tend to bring down Coalition governments (the pool-fence knuckleheads in mid-90s NSW, or Geoff Shaw in Victoria today) are silent and the moderates have lost their ability to fight and win. Shoring up the political ground to the right of the Coalition, a lifetime's work for those now running this government, is beside the point in the current political environment. For what doth it profit a man if he gaineth the whole world and retains his soul, but everything goes to pot anyway?
The fundamental failure of conservative political judgment is partly, but not entirely, Abbott's fault. Internally, he is safe. Externally, now that the threat to this government has manifested itself in ways the smarties failed to predict, nobody in this government knows quite what to do other than unite and keep making the same mistakes.