The view from Billinudgel

Protecting Craig Kelly
Saving the MP from a preselection battle was another fine display of muppetry


According to at least one member of the NSW Liberal executive, Sally Betts, the member for Hughes, Craig Kelly, is a bully, a thug and a disgrace.

A “real” Liberal, as his ally and mentor Tony Abbott enthuses – perhaps one of the kind that the minister for women (among other things), Kelly O’Dwyer, was talking about when she said the public regarded her party as homophobic, anti-women, climate-change deniers.

Even among his own colleagues, Kelly is generally regarded as a bumptious backbench buffoon – a fringe dweller on the maddest outreaches of the lunar right, without Peter Dutton’s easy empathy or the infectious charm of Eric Abetz, beloved of the mining industry but barely tolerated by more civilised society.

But, says our desperate prime minister, he is our own bumptious buffoon, and therefore to be protected at all costs, even if that means destroying democracy in the process. Thus, the entire state preselection process is to be junked so that Kelly can be preserved for another crack at the electorate whose own preselecters were determined to get rid of him.

This act of supreme political cowardice followed Kelly’s threat that if he were rolled, he might or might not move to the crossbenches, like another defector, Julia Banks. But quite apart from the obvious differences between the two (for starters, Banks appears to be rational), the treatment they each received from the Liberal Party was a stark contrast.

Although Banks had made abundantly clear her unhappiness about the bullying that took place over the leadership putsch and its outcome, there was little if no attempt to placate her, to secure her within the legendary (or rather mythical) broad church. She was derided as a wet and a wuss, so good riddance.

Yet on the crossbench she will be far more of a problem for Scott Morrison than Kelly would ever have been: although she has guaranteed confidence and supply, she will be her own woman when it comes to dealing with government legislation. Kelly may rant and bluster, but would never consider voting in favour of anything remotely left of the soup spoon.

He did not need salvation, but such is Morrison’s infectious panic, Kelly had to be given whatever he wanted. And our fearless leader made it a test of his authority as soon as the dreaded Malcolm Turnbull, the party’s antichrist, demanded that the preselection process hammered out by himself and, yes, Tony Abbott, should be adhered to.

Once again, Morrison made it personal: him or me. And so, reluctantly, the state executive – or at least a vital few of them – caved in. Another fine exhibition of muppetry. Turnbull called this weak – well, he should know, having spent most of three years surrendering to the mad right.

So for ScoMo it is business as usual. And perhaps Turnbull might recall his own ascendancy to the leadership with his mantra of continuity – but with change. Even more ironic now.

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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