A few days ago I was approached with a business opportunity: sportsbet.com was offering great odds ($3.20!) on the possibility of Abbott facing a leadership challenge before Christmas.
I’m not a betting man. I placed one bet on the 2010 Melbourne Cup and I lost – my first and last major bet. However, I saw this as a golden opportunity – an absolute steal. I saw no major rush to place bets on those odds – it might happen, I thought, but surely not any time soon! As it was, I dragged my feet and didn’t place the bet. The friend who alerted me to the sportsbet situation is now sitting pretty. Boy, am I kicking myself.
I stayed up all night on the eve of the spill-that-was-not in February this year in a festive sort of daze, fantasizing that the Liberals would make the (in my opinion wise) decision of ditching their fearless leader. I went to bed around 8am, feeling quite despondent indeed. Abbott was able to defeat the spill motion by a stable, yet unnerving margin of 61 – 39.
This result was eerily similar to Gillard’s defeat of Rudd’s challenge to her leadership three years earlier, when she won 71 – 31. This defeat of her political rival was stronger than Abbott’s defeat of his, yet many political pundits still saw a Rudd victory as inevitable. Alas, this has also been the view of political analysts around the country in terms of the Liberal leadership since February. The media loves a good leadership debate. Despite how utterly unproductive it can be, it makes for a damn good story.
Since Abbott’s election victory, Turnbull has smartly kept a low profile. He has been playing his role as Communications Minister, a role from which he of course today resigned, and he has been playing it well. But to anybody who has sought to look past simply what Turnbull chooses to display, it is very easy to see what he really believes.
Turnbull was cast aside from the Liberal Party leadership in 2009, after party room rupture over his support for an Emissions Trading Scheme. Since then, levelheaded discussion of meaningful climate change action has been taboo in the party room.
As Communications Minister, Turnbull has been stuck with a dud alternative to Labor’s FTTP NBN, instead having to work with a FTTN plan. Even as a member of cabinet, Turnbull has consistently refused to show support for his Prime Minister. Every time he has refused to publicly back Abbott and declare that he would never challenge for the leadership, another nail has been driven into the coffin that is the Liberal Party’s credibility.
A staunch republican in favor of marriage equality, climate change action, and free market liberalism, Turnbull places himself firmly in the left wing of the Liberal Party. As such, many on the political left seem to romanticize Turnbull as a long-lost fighter, a Labor baby left on the doorstep of the Liberal Party’s estate.
This is an utterly false, and perhaps dangerous, idea. It might be easy to compare Turnbull to the ‘young, hip, (but still old white man) politician’ persona of early ‘07 Kevin Rudd, but it will be interesting to see what actually changes in a hypothetical Turnbull cabinet. Abbott’s policies are entrenched, as are his three word slogans about climate change and asylum seekers. Turnbull has given no indication yet that he is a savior – more like a more media-friendly caretaker of his party’s elitist policy and privileged discourse.
The ability for a party to topple a sitting Prime Minister without having to consult the public is troubling. Though polling seems to suggest that the public does indeed support this decision, it does not mean that this process is correct or just. Very striking in the speech that Turnbull made on the steps of Parliament today was the concession that “we have lost thirty Newspolls in a row”. This statement all but confirms what we already knew: despite how much politicians in out and out of government declare that they are not swayed by political polls, everybody knows the truth.
Turnbull has thrown down the gauntlet, and it is up to Abbott to take up the challenge, and take it on the chin. Personally, I’m expecting a Turnbull victory, but either way, this move is a loss for Australian democracy.
Words by Brad Griffin