April 10, 2017

The view from Billinudgel

Nutt bolts

By Mungo MacCallum
Nutt bolts
Tony Nutt takes the fall for the Liberal Party’s election campaign but could still be its biggest winner

There is an old and wise maxim that a politician should never institute an inquiry unless they know precisely what the result is going to be.

But there are always exceptions to the rule, and the most intransigent one is when you have suffered an electoral disaster and you need to find a scapegoat.

Normally, the patsy can be identified relatively easily, and disposed of tactfully and, with any luck, quietly. But just occasionally it is no longer possible to heap all the obloquy on just one person: the blame has to be spread around, even among those who set up the inquiry in the first place.

When this happens, the imperative is to suppress the damning report. There is little prospect that anything more than the most bowdlerised version of the probe into what went wrong in the lead-up to the debacle of last July was ever supposed to become public.

But this is the faction-ridden, strife-torn government of Malcolm Turnbull we are talking about. The big leak came right on cue – before the dust had settled behind the retreating form of Tony Nutt, the hapless Liberal federal director who had suddenly found it necessary to move aside for a newer and less tainted regime.

The problem is that Nutt, while obviously one of the most anticipated victims, was not the only one – although we are assured that Andrew Robb and his fellow inquisitors have not actually named names, it is abundantly clear that they were far from happy with Turnbull himself, his predecessor Tony Abbott, or just about anyone else who had a hand in the cesspit that gave up 14 seats and very nearly lost the government.

And the bad timing wended its way from the past to the future: the report criticised all aspects of the flawed campaign, but made much of the failure of the “jobs and growth” strategy, underpinned by the promise of corporate tax cuts, just as Turnbull was trying to reboot them.

With Turnbull having negotiated the reductions for small to medium firms through the Senate, it was thought that he would take his winnings and retire – that the cuts for the big end of town would be quietly removed from the table. But not a bit of it: Turnbull will plough ahead, pushing the doors marked pull and ignoring the lessons – not just from the last election, but from all the polling since.

This is not an idea that has enthused masses. If anything, it has turned them away in droves and confirmed the belief, well nourished by Bill Shorten, that Turnbull is a rich and powerful man only interested in looking after other rich and powerful men. And as Nutt moves on to become a rich and powerful director of the various companies he has no doubt prepared for his arrival, he might well be the nearest thing to a winner.

He may have been attacked by many of his parliamentary colleagues and implicitly admonished by the Robb report, but so has everyone else. The difference is that Nutt will be crying all the way to the bank. Malcolm Turnbull will have to get back on the horse – even if, it appears, the one he chooses is an increasingly moribund beast.

Mungo MacCallum

Mungo MacCallum was a political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy. Much of his work can be found here: The View from Billinudgel.

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