Politics

The view from Billinudgel

Turnbull fires back
Unlike Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull never promised ‘no wrecking’

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Unlike Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull did not hang around in parliament, which must be a major relief for Scott Morrison – one baleful ex-prime minister glowering from the backbench is more than enough.

But also unlike Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull did not promise “no wrecking, no undermining and no sniping”. And, particularly unlike Abbott, if he had, he almost certainly would have kept his word.

So, inevitably, it was on. Within a week, the tweeting began: Peter Dutton should be referred to the High Court in case – just in case – he is not eligible to sit in parliament.

Turnbull sent his message not only to Morrison, but more importantly to other Liberal Party colleagues. Last month when Labor moved to refer Dutton, the government troops held – just; Dutton’s own vote was needed to get his numbers across the line.

Turnbull obviously feels that, with a little persuasion, one or more could be cracked. Already his old friend and colleague Julie Bishop – who, to Morrison’s regret, remains in parliament – seems to be wavering.

It’s not over yet, and the pressure is finally getting to the previously adamantine home affairs minister. Dutton now has a big target on his back, and the shooters are taking aim from all directions. Turnbull supporters regard him as a traitor, pure and simple. Those in Morrison’s camp don’t trust him for a moment: once an insurgent, always an insurgent.

And we have even seen him find a feud with his old comrade in persecution, Roman Quaedvlieg. The spectacle of these relentless ex-coppers gouging at each other would be mildly amusing if it were not taking place in what used to be the sacred precincts of parliament.

And however Morrison might seek to deny it (and almost everything else to do with the coup), Dutton is in trouble. He can probably bluff his way out of the charges of looking after his mates over the various visa issues; his double standards about “humanitarianism” are par for the course for his brutal regime.

But the section 44 problem is real and dangerous. Turnbull and the Commonwealth solicitor-general, Stephen Donaghue, were all but certain that Barnaby Joyce would be waved through the High Court, and were clearly wrong. This time, Donaghue thinks Dutton is alright, but admits he’s not sure.

Turnbull says that when in doubt, Morrison must refer. So far the only response from the attorney-general, Christian Porter, is that Labor should have raised the matter earlier; Morrison’s position is that he doesn’t want to pursue it, and he fervently hopes the voters don’t either. Whether this will wash with Bishop and the many others bruised and battered by Morrison’s Muppet Show is, to put it mildly, unlikely, especially if Turnbull perseveres, whether from Manhattan or Point Piper.

Morrison was at the ringside when the Abbott recalcitrants were at their most virulent. The last thing he needs is a similar campaign of sabotage and disruption from Turnbull’s troops. But that does not mean he won’t get one. Such is the state of the modern Liberal Party.

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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