The view from Billinudgel

On the bright side
It’s nice that Nick Greiner thinks a chat might end the Abbott–Turnbull war

The new Liberal Party federal president, Nick Greiner, is aiming for the Nobel Peace Prize, and he’s doing it the hard way.

Eschewing simple conflicts such as solving the Syrian dilemma, brokering a deal between Israel and the Palestinians and persuading North Korea’s Kim Jong-un to loosen up a bit, Greiner has gone straight for the big one: reconciling Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott.

Well, perhaps not actually reconciling them, but at least trying to get the two together to have what he optimistically calls a civil conversation; Greiner says it would be a really nice idea and he will make a couple of phone calls.

Well, good luck with that. If he has in fact dialled the right numbers, apparently the lines have been busy, but no doubt his calls were important to them and if he waits long enough someone will get in touch. Or not.

Given that Turnbull’s epic announcement of a mega-ministry for Peter Dutton (now marvellously rechristened J Edgar Tuber by some genius) got an immediate response from Abbott that all the advice he had received as prime minister was against it, the early signs are not promising.

And in any case, in spite of his newly exalted position, Greiner is hardly the ideal intermediary. As NSW premier he described himself as “sensible, moderate but progressive”, putting him firmly in the Turnbull camp against the conservative Abbott.

Greiner’s call for the two to meet infuriated the right, while the left was outraged that Greiner appeared to be assigning a moral equivalence between the two antagonists: Turnbull was the prime minister and Abbott was the terrorist insurgent who was to be censured and made to sue for forgiveness and redemption.

And anyway, who was Greiner? No more than a pretty ordinary leader who was forced out of parliament after adverse comment from the Independent Commission Against Corruption that he himself had set up, obviously far too lightweight to take on the brawling behemoths he proposes to placate. Which suggests that negotiations, if they take place at all, will be both acrimonious and unproductive – perhaps even counterproductive.

Last weekend’s NSW conference produced a brief armed truce, but no hint of a real armistice, let alone a permanent ceasefire; Turnbull has made it clear he is just not interested in a heart-to-heart with Abbott on any level while Abbott remains in parliament, and Abbott has made it clear that he is not going anywhere.

And even if he did, it would not actually solve the problem: the neo-cons, both inside and outside the party room, will not give up until their treacherous turncoat prime minister is finished.

With breathtaking hypocrisy, one of the fiercest of the warriors, Eric Abetz, has now joined the chorus of those who have described the ongoing vendetta and Abbott’s latest intervention as unhelpful and hurting the party. Abetz, along with Kevin Andrews, is one of the few remaining Abbott loyalists, a senior minister sacked by Turnbull. But Voldemort is not listening to Andrews, nor to anyone else, so what chance for the well-meaning but ineffectual Greiner?

If reconciliation doesn’t work, there is always wishful thinking. Scott Morrison says he really hopes Tony Abbott is not trying to undermine the prime minister. As our treasurer has pointed out, optimism goes with the job. ScoMo also hopes that the budget will come into balance in 2021.

Both hopes are vain, of course, but so it goes. Always look on the bright side of life.

Mungo MacCallum

Mungo MacCallum is a political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy. Visit his blog, The View from Billinudgel.

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