When Tony Abbott ousted Malcolm Turnbull from the Liberal leadership in December 2009, it was clear that the hard religious right of the party was in the ascendancy. However, Abbott, despite winning the 2013 election, turned out to be a monumental disaster as Prime Minister. He was inarticulate, indulged in ‘captain’s picks’1 which were completely idiotic, had social attitudes which were more like those of the middle 20th century rather than the early 21st century, and had no vision for the future of the nation. Enough voters eventually realised that he was a ludicrous proposition as Prime Minister and his approval ratings plummeted, and stayed low, for many months.
Abbott’s low approval ratings precipitated a vote for a leadership spill in early February 2015. Nobody indicated they would run against him and as one wag said, he won the vote against an empty chair, 61 to 39, and remained as Liberal Leader and Prime Minister2. In his usual unthinking style he stated “good government starts today” at a press conference after the spill motion3. The corollary is that up until that time the government has been poor, with which very few commentators would disagree.
Abbott’s reprieve did not last very long. In September of 2015, Turnbull challenged Abbott, promising a new style of leadership that respected voters’ intelligence and restored traditional cabinet government. All Abbott could do, in the absence of a decent record, was to ask his party not to knife a Prime Minister as the previous Labor government had done twice in their six years in office. However, this was to no avail. Turnbull won the vote 54 to 444. The chair was not empty this time.
Many voters expected great things from Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister. He was urbane, articulate, seemingly knowledgeable, and apparently not a religious nutter. He had expressed support for same sex marriage, strong action on climate change (which had in part caused his demise in 2009) and he was a republican (who had been out-manoeuvred by Howard in 1999). However, Turnbull turned out to be a huge disappointment, and it seemed likely that he had struck a Faustian bargain with some of the religious right wing nut jobs in his party to obtain enough support to oust Abbott. In so doing, almost all of Abbott’s ludicrous policies continued, just with a more articulate spruiker. Turnbull is also reminded of his Faustian bargain by the constant sniping of some of the religious nutters such as Abbott (who promised he wouldn’t), Bernardi and Abetz. It is as if they have a halter on his genitalia and need to give it a tweak every now and again just to remind him who is in control.
Faced with increasing disappointment within the electorate, Turnbull called a double dissolution election before it was too late, using as the trigger, his inability to get the legislation for the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) through the senate. However, during the election, this was hardly ever mentioned, making it clear that the double dissolution was a just a tactic to avoid defeat as his popularity would likely have declined further.
In the election campaign, there was a relatively new player in the guise of GetUp!, a progressive community organisation which relies on donations to exist. It styles itself as wanting a fair, flourishing and just Australia and campaigns in the field of environmental justice, human rights, economic fairness and democracy.
Get-Up campaigned in Andrew Nikolic’s seat of Bass in Tasmania, where it had 10 paid staff members and 80 volunteers working to unseat Nikolic, because he “was one of the leaders in the hard right faction of the Coalition nationally, who have led the charge against the things like the proper funding of our schools and our hospitals and that attack on renewable energy” according to GetUp National Director Paul Oosting5. Also ousted from their Tasmanian seats of Lyons and Braddon, respectively, were Eric Hutchinson and Brett Whitely.
GetUp also targeted Liberal Jamie Briggs in his seat of Mayo, in South Australia, which was won by the Xenophon Team’s Rebekah Sharkie. Of course the Coalition claimed the GetUp campaigns were dishonest, because they supposedly used tactics that previously had been the domain of the major parties.
Turnbull’s government was returned, but with a vastly reduced majority of 1 seat in the House of Representatives, and a minority in the Senate. It eventually got the ABCC legislation through the senate, but failed to get the legislation for a plebiscite on same sex marriage through. If Turnbull was worth anything, he would have attempted to have a free vote in parliament, but a quick tweak of the halter clearly showed that was not possible.
Turnbull also got in a mess (tweak) by stating that the South Australian blackouts were caused indirectly by South Australia’s over-reliance on renewable energy, particularly wind and solar6. This was patent rubbish. One wag asked how fast did the wind generated by the wind turbines have to be to knock over a series of transmission towers, which everyone thought had been upended by a large storm.
Next cab off the rank, was Senator Cory Bernardi, who resigned from the Liberal Party, with the aim of setting up his Australian Conservatives party. There was a glimmer of hope among normal people that some of the other religious right wing nut jobs (RRWNJs) from the Liberal Party would do the same and join him, thereby increasing the average IQ of both parties. However, despite Bernardi trawling around hither and yon for members, including his disastrous foray into a meeting of the Q Society7, nobody of note seems to have been attracted. Still, Bernardi has plenty of time to drum up support, with another five years and a few months on his senate term to go.
I think this will be the beginning of the end for the RRWNJs in the Liberal Party. If they do not get swept up by Bernardi’s Australian Conservatives (the Party of God), they might be torpedoed by GetUp. One can only hope.