Friday, August 24, 2018

Today by Paddy Manning

Exit Turnbull, enter ScoMo
Dutton’s chaotic coup was a fail


Malcolm Turnbull lost the prime ministership today, but almost looked a winner this afternoon at a press conference confirming he would quit politics “before too long”, and that his ally Scott Morrison had won the leadership contest in a stunning defeat for the plotters behind Peter Dutton. Today’s chaotic spill was an epic fail for the right-wing extremists who never explained why a Dutton coup was in the national interest. The majority of the party were clearly unpersuaded of the need for a radical change: Morrison and his deputy Josh Frydenberg were responsible for the tax and energy reforms that were targeted by the plotters. The key question now for the stability of the country is whether those forces behind Dutton will accept today’s result, or continue to tear the Morrison government apart ahead of an election that should surely come sooner rather than later.

Prime agitator Tony Abbott tried to save face as he emerged shell-shocked from the party room today, telling reporters “we’ve lost a prime minister but we’ve still got a government to save”. Unless he gets a frontbench role in the looming reshuffle, it is very hard to see Abbott rallying behind Morrison, and even then it is possible that he would work to undermine Morrison after the next election. Abbott would be an uncomfortable presence in cabinet; he has never forgiven Morrison for switching to the Turnbull camp in 2015, which proved the final nail in the coffin for Abbott’s prime ministership.

It was former finance minister Mathias Cormann who played a similar role yesterday. He effectively terminated Turnbull’s leadership by announcing, flanked by ministers Mitch Fifield and Michaelia Cash, that he had swung in behind Dutton. In the end, the spill motion was only supported by 45 votes, with 40 MPs remaining loyal to Turnbull. There were only three votes in it, and some have speculated that Cormann may have been mistaken or misled about the momentum behind Dutton’s challenge. This afternoon, a shattered Cormann went on Sky News to defend his “awful decision”, and when asked if he believed the Liberals could unite behind Morrison he said “I believe so”.

Today Paul Murray, one of the Sky News after dark opinionators who pushed for Turnbull to be dumped, called for “those of us who have been deeply invested in this” to take “a deep breath” and fall in behind Morrison. Then he made a slip: “… we have elected, or they have elected, I should say, don’t misinterpret that …” Like Ray Hadley’s on-air slip this week, when he apparently read out a text message from Dutton himself, Murray’s slip-up underlines the point Nine political editor Chris Uhlmann made powerfully this week: certain media have crossed the line, becoming active players in a campaign against a sitting prime minister. In the fake news era, with trust in the media through the floor, it is one of the main lessons of this spill. 

If it really is the case that the party can unite behind Morrison and Frydenberg but could not rally around Turnbull and Bishop – even though the policy platform is the same – then the entire spill appears to be motivated by vengeance. The only satisfaction that Abbott and the other Turnbull-haters can draw from today is revenge, but the cost to the Liberal Party, and to the country, will be substantial.

since this morning

The solicitor-general has advised that Peter Dutton “is not incapable” of sitting in parliament, but also that it is “impossible to state the position with certainty”.

In non-spill news, AGL chief executive Andy Vesey has resigned after a controversial four years in the role, marked by a tense relationship with Canberra over energy policy.


The Australian reports [$] that the governor-general must be satisfied today that the prime minister he appoints can command a majority in parliament, as doubts emerge about the government’s numbers. George Williams, dean of law at the University of NSW, said that this was a political crisis, not a constitutional one, and that the governor-general’s role today is straightforward.

In The Guardian, David Marr writes that Peter Dutton is not a sure vote winner even on his own home turf. Overnight, vandals threw brick pavers through the front windows and doors of his electoral office at Strathpine, north of Brisbane. Meanwhile, Fairfax Media explores the heinous crime that defined Peter Dutton’s policing career.

In the AFR, Phillip Coorey writes [$] that “Australian politics is sick and broken. And it’s not just the politicians who need to lift their game, it’s the entire polity.”

In Fairfax Media, Catherine McGregor writes that “in its current state the Liberal Party cannot even organise an assassination, let alone run the country.”

by Stephanie Bishop
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Sheila Heti’s ‘Motherhood’ and Jacqueline Rose’s ‘Mothers’

by Anwen Crawford
Vale Aretha Franklin
The Queen is dead; long live the Queen

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Body Count: How Climate Change Is Killing Us, Inside the Greens and Born To Rule: The Unauthorised Biography of Malcolm Turnbull.


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