11 December 2009

Another weak Liberal

The Nationals own Tony Abbott, not that it will do either of them any good.

Barnaby Joyce's brain-farts about state debt, Chinese investments and the US economy was a gambit to show Nats voters just how much he had the Liberal leader in his pocket. Yes, what he said wasn't sensible - but after Joh and Tim Fischer we should be grateful that it was in grammatical English at all. The focus of the journosphere on our great and powerful allies or on the states is beside the point, and shows that political reporters don't really understand what they're reporting on.

There have been three times in Federal Coalition history when the Liberals stood up to the National/Country Party. Each time the country was better off for calling their bluff sheer bloody effrontery. This week wasn't one of them; the Nats have got themselves another patsy in the Liberal leadership, which is how they like it. On a regular basis the Nats will now get all huffy about threats (real and imagined) to their exalted position, and Abbott will cave. The problem is that some people are more important than the Nationals, and that sometimes you have to disagree with the Nats in order to produce positive policy and political outcomes.

The first Liberal to put the Country Party, as they were called then, back in their place was Menzies. After the 1955 election the Primary Industry portfolio was not allocated to a CP minister, as they considered their right; but to that slickest of city-slickers, Billy McMahon. McMahon applied himself to the role and impressed farmers groups and other stakeholders, to the dismay of the Country Party. In this, McMahon was ably assisted by a Liberal grazier in his first term in Parliament, Malcolm Fraser.

The second time this happened was during the 1980s, when John Howard attempted to both placate and distinguish himself from the Queensland Nationals, led by Joh Bjelke-Petersen and Bob Sparkes. The Joh for Canberra thing fell over in the late 1980s, as did the then Queensland government, with two unelected Premiers proving that you can't heal a party of perceived corruption while it is still in office. When John Howard eventually became Prime Minister the Nats did not say boo to him, they didn't dare.

The third Liberal leader not to put up with any crap from the Nats was Malcolm Turnbull. He even sacked the only member of that organisation currently in Parliament with any brains at all, Fiona Nash. The Nats even gibbered about leaving the Coalition until they realised they'd be voting themselves into oblivion.

The point about Joyce's remarks was the pissweak response from Abbott. If a moderate Liberal had made stupid remarks about the State Government of WA, Washington and Beijing, you can be sure Abbott and several other frontbenchers would have jumped all over them. Joyce got away with it. He'll get away with it again, and again and again, until a Liberal leader makes them realise that sort of carry-on makes largesse to rural communities less likely than more so.

The recent debates on the ETS, where Joyce was shown red-faced and spitting like some loser at chucking-out time, shows that he's a liability to everyone bar a few politically insignificant and self-marginalising yokels. Abbott has indulged Joyce, and you do start as you intend to go on. Bagging the Chinese does work against the notion of a prospective Liberal government as welcoming foreign investment or Australian prosperity generally. It goes right against the principle of seeking to build the kind of productive relationship that successive governments have built with Japanese interests since 1957 (while McMahon was Minister for Primary Industries - but by then the relationship with the Country Party had healed to the point where McEwen could take credit for it, but I digress), which is what Howard was trying to do, and what Mandarin-speaking Rudd was promising to do.

Christian Kerr's article on the removal of Turnbull in The Australian Spectator is one of the few sensible things written recently by anyone on that side of politics. That's what makes this so disappointing:

Abbott, Hulk-like, is rampaging around, talking about the government’s “emissions tax on everything”. Combet is responding with reason—and pages of figures.

Bruce Banner hates the creature he becomes.

But there can be no denying. The Hulk gets things done. And the angrier and baser he becomes, the stronger he gets and the more he accomplishes.

Abbott has accomplished nothing, in whatever guise (but all that Hulk/Superman crap does conjure up the image of Kerr as The Comic Book Guy from that other News Corp product, The Simpsons). If the Nationals think they can ride Abbott like the town bike, which they now do, he'll accomplish even less. Less than Greg Combet, who is more likely to be in Cabinet after the next election than Joyce. Slow and steady wins the race. Turnbull would have learned that after Godwin Grech turned out to be less a Clark Kent/Bruce Banner figure than the pathetic little man behind the curtains from The Wizard of Oz. Press gallery thrillseekers should be a little more critical of what gets served up to them.


  1. Slow and steady does win the race, and I suspect Turnbull will win it. He has more chance this week than he did a couple of weeks ago.

  2. I agree, he reminds me of Menzies 1941-44.

  3. And perhaps Howard, post Peacock?
    There must be a temptation for him to return to the sybaritic delights of Sydneys eastern suburbs and adding of more zeros to the bank account.
    Turnbull got into the position he did because of really bad polls.
    But, I would suppose, if, as seems likely, renewal for the Libs comes after the Abbott era - then with a Government getting stale, and an assiduously wooed back bench, it is quite possible. For a patient man.

  4. Howard had to trash everything he believed in to get there: embracing Medicare and increased immigration, hiding WorkChoices under a bushel.

    Turnbull has all the zeroes that anyone could want; he must be glad to have sat out the recent market downturn, and the current environment is hardly glowing. He must surely know that Abbott is a temporary phenomenon, but working that mentality out of the broader party will be a bigger ask.