Friday, November 9, 2018

Today by Paddy Manning

Turnbull’s #QandA quandary
The downed PM ducked the hard questions last night


“This moderate Liberal will be voting Labor,” tweeted @humdrumsumdun during Malcolm Turnbull’s appearance on the ABC’s Q&A last night. Another, @artisan_tech, tweeted that “moderate liberals should create a separate party”. That is the central problem for the Morrison government: not that Turnbull will continue to intervene in federal politics or mount a running commentary, but that the damage from the August coup cannot be undone.

Forget what the Turnbull-haters think, what did the former prime minister tell us last night? That he cannot say why he was deposed as PM, and, by the way, he should still be PM. There are two major problems with the version of history Turnbull gave us. Firstly, his government can’t really take credit for Australia’s record on jobs and growth over the least three years – as Turnbull himself conceded at one point, the credit should go to the businesses that generate the jobs, and to a recovery in our terms of trade. Secondly, his government may have been competitive heading into the next election, but Labor was still on track to win it, and the internal polling Turnbull cites remains a bit of a mystery.

Senior Labor sources don’t believe there was polling of 40 marginal seats showing the Coalition ahead 52–48, as Turnbull said last night. Finance Minister Mathias Cormann – whose switch to the Dutton camp proved the end for Turnbull – today said [$] “I haven’t seen any such polling … before or after.” Labor believes the Liberals were crazy to dump Turnbull as leader, because he was their best chance, but Opposition leader Bill Shorten also believes he would have beaten Turnbull regardless.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison today attempted finally to answer the question that went unanswered last night, telling [$] a Lifeline charity lunch in Sydney that Turnbull was deposed because he was not connecting with grassroots party members: “Those who had advocated that [change in leadership] made points about the need to better connect with the values and beliefs of Liberal, National and LNP members across the country.” It’s probably as good as we’re going to get. As Defence Minister Christopher Pyne said this morning, the former PM is entitled to his say and the coup backers have to be responsible for their actions, but “It is all over. We have all moved on.”

Today’s commentary was mixed. In The Australian, which Turnbull inferred had campaigned against him personally, Simon Benson wrote [$] that the former PM had “made one thing clear … He will accept no responsibility for his own downfall. He will admit no blame and refutes suggestions of any political failure that could be laid at his feet.” In the AFR, under the headline “Malcolm Turnbull brings out his inner narcissist on Q&A”, Aaron Patrick wrote [$] that the “one-hour I-did-nothing-wrong-and-was-the-victim appearance … risked convincing millions of Australians what many of his colleagues had already concluded: the former prime minister is incapable of honest self-reflection”. In The Conversation, Michelle Grattan wrote that Turnbull “wants to be defined by what he did, rather than by how badly things ended. Essentially he presented himself simultaneously as the victim and the victor.”

Turnbull was informative on his conversations with media moguls Rupert Murdoch and Kerry Stokes, and the loss of his seat of Wentworth, and got his best laugh when he joked that Peter Dutton’s purported policy agenda – removing the GST from power bills – “might be a justification for bringing a submission to cabinet; it’s hardly a justification for overthrowing the government”. Yet Turnbull ducked the hard questions that properly were his to answer. When Tony Jones asked whether deals he did to become PM – with the Nationals and with the right wing of his party – prevented Australia from getting the real Malcolm Turnbull, he dissembled: “Well, no, I got so much done.” A disappointed supporter, Louise Dunbar, asked why as PM he was “ineffectual, not able to make hard decisions nor confront the media to argue your case”. It was a good question, which Turnbull dismissed, saying he did do a lot of media and “I’m sorry you missed it.”

But Dunbar was not alone in her disappointment, and the Twitter strap showed it. “Where the hell was this Turnbull when he held the office?” tweeted @bennyzeee, and he had a point.

since this morning

The Australian reports [$] that NSW Labor leadership frontrunner Michael Daley says he believes Ashleigh Raper’s allegations of sexual harassment against resigned Opposition leader Luke Foley, who should consider his future in politics and dump legal proceedings against her.

in case you missed it

The AFR reports [$] that in the first meeting between Australian and Chinese foreign ministers in almost three years, China’s Wang Yi told Australia’s Marise Payne the two countries should cooperate, rather than compete, for regional influence. Elsewhere in the paper, Swinburne University emeritus professor John Fitzgerald has an op-ed [$] on “How Bob Carr became China’s pawn”.

The Guardian reports that Scott Morrison has pledged more than $200 million for Queensland water projects to shore up Bob Katter’s support in the House of Representatives following the loss of the government’s lower house majority.

Health Minister Greg Hunt and the Australian Digital Health Agency yesterday refused to give an update on how many Australians have opted out of the My Health Record system.

by Luke Goodsell
A bigger, shinier cage: Julia Holter’s ‘Aviary’
A classically schooled composer seeks shelter from the cacophony of modern life

by Richard Cooke
A shooting in Annapolis
The well-practised response to the violence at the Capital Gazette

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including a recently updated unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?

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