Media power: why the full story of Murdoch, Stokes and the Liberal leadership spill needs to be told



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Media mogul Rupert Murdoch is notorious for meddling in politics.
AAP/Dan Himbrechts

Denis Muller, University of Melbourne

The first German chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, said there were two sights the public should not see: the making of laws and the making of sausages. To this list of enduringly nauseating spectacles we should add one more: the political machinations of media moguls.

ABC political editor Andrew Probyn has skilfully violated this standard of public taste by laying out what look like very plausible entrails of the evident involvement of Rupert Murdoch and Kerry Stokes in the recent Liberal Party leadership spill.




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It is impossible to independently verify Probyn’s account because he has been careful to mask his sources. But it is plausible partly because some elements are corroborated by separate reports in the Australian Financial Review and Sydney Morning Herald, partly because Probyn worked for both Murdoch and Stokes for lengthy periods and may be assumed to have good contacts in those places, and partly because there is circumstantial evidence to support some of what he says.

The Australian reports that Stokes has denied having communicated with Murdoch over Turnbull’s leadership. Interestingly, however, the newspaper does not quote its own proprietor on the matter, which is the obvious way to corroborate Stokes’s claim.

Murdoch, of course, is notorious for meddling in politics. In Australia, it can be traced back to his endorsement of Gough Whitlam at the 1972 election, his campaign against Whitlam in 1975, which was so virulent even his own journalists held a strike in protest, his support for John Howard in 1996, his somewhat ambivalent support for Kevin Rudd in 2007 and his full-frontal support for Tony Abbott in 2013.

Front page of the The Sun newspaper, April 11 1992.
Wikicommons

These campaigns were all in support of the winning side, and much the same has been true of his equivalent campaigns in the UK and the US. After John Major led the British Conservative Party to victory in 1992, Murdoch’s London Sun newspaper proclaimed in a front-page banner headline: “It’s the Sun wot won it”.

All this has created a perception of Murdoch as political kingmaker, a perception that frightens the life out of politicians and thus confers great power on Murdoch.

But as two Australian scholars, Rodney Tiffen and David McKnight, have persuasively argued in their separate studies of Murdoch, while his media outlets routinely shred and humiliate their political targets, the evidence is that Murdoch observes which way the wind is blowing and then finds a rationale for endorsing the likely winner.

The Economist’s Bagehot column was on to this 15 years ago, as Tiffen records. Referring to the London Sun’s boasting of its political power, the column observed:

[T]hat probably says more about Mr Murdoch’s readiness to jump ship at the right time than about the Sun’s ability to influence the votes of its readers.

Even so, perceptions can swiftly harden into political reality.

According to Probyn, when Murdoch was seen to turn against Turnbull over the past couple of months, the alarm went off in the prime minister’s office.

This is where Stokes, chairman of Seven West Media, is said to have entered the picture.

He is a friend of Turnbull’s and they are said to have discussed the apparent campaign by the Murdoch media to oust the prime minister.

Stokes and Murdoch have a chequered history, to put it mildly. They have fought long, bitter and costly legal battles, but as Margaret Simons says in her biography of Stokes:

In the cosy club of media, neither love nor hate lasts forever. The only constants are power, money and self-interest.

So, according to accounts by Probyn and the Financial Review, Stokes rang Murdoch to ask what was going on and Murdoch is said to have told him: “Malcolm has got to go.”

But on the question of who should replace him, the moguls were all over the shop.

Murdoch’s Daily Telegraph was touting Peter Dutton. Three days later, when Turnbull spilled the leadership positions, Dutton nominated, lost, but lit the fuse for the ultimate detonation of the Turnbull prime ministership.

Stokes was opposed to Dutton for complex reasons, but didn’t seem to know who to go for instead. On the day before the leadership spill, his newspaper, The West Australian, was promoting Scott Morrison. The next day it was promoting Julie Bishop, a West Australian.

This shambolic confusion among the moguls is comforting in a perverse kind of way, because in the end neither of them was able to dictate the outcome.

Murdoch achieved one objective – the ousting of Turnbull – but Dutton, his preferred pick to replace him, is now clinging to political life by a single vote in the House of Representatives thanks to the hovering spectre of the Constitution’s section 44 (v), not to mention trouble with au pairs.

Stokes? Well, he is new to this kingmaking caper. He clearly did not want his friend Turnbull out, but when that became inevitable, he didn’t know where to turn. As my old editor at The Age, Creighton Burns, was fond of saying, he was caught between a shit and a shiver.

The net effect of their efforts has been to bring the Liberal-National government to the brink of disintegration within months of a general election.

This time, Murdoch may have indeed created a winner – Labor leader Bill Shorten – not by the traditional means of showering support on him, but by destroying his opponents, even though they happen to be Murdoch’s own ideological allies.

It is the latest chapter in a long and discreditable history of media proprietors using their power to advance their political ends, usually for commercial rather than ideological purposes.

Sir Frank and Kerry Packer did it; so did successive generations of Fairfaxes. In 1961 the Fairfaxes went so far as to virtually run Arthur Calwell’s campaign out of the company’s executive offices on the 14th floor of its newspaper mausoleum in Sydney’s Broadway. The Sydney Morning Herald’s journalists renamed it the Labor ward in honour of the exercise.

In Britain, the mould for the politically meddling modern newspaper proprietor was set by Alfred Harmsworth (Lord Northcliffe) in the early 20th century.

He and the other mighty British press baron of the time, Max Aitken (Lord Beaverbrook), were the inspiration, if that is the word, for Rudyard Kipling’s celebrated condemnation:

[The press exercises] power without responsibility: the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages.

So Probyn has done Australian democracy a service by exposing the entrails of what looks like another abuse of media power, even if it makes for a nauseating public spectacle.

It also raises serious questions about media accountability.

Australia has never had a publicly trusted or effective system of media accountability. All attempts to create one have been howled down, the loudest and crudest voices belonging to Murdoch’s lieutenants.




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There is already a crisis in people’s faith in democratic institutions. A new report by the Australian Museum of Democracy and the University of Canberra shows only 41% of Australians are satisfied with the way democracy is working. That is a dramatic plunge from the 86% recorded in 2007.

In this climate of disenchantment, it is not surprising there are now calls for a public inquiry into the way Murdoch and Stokes have evidently played a manipulative role in changing the prime minister.The Conversation

Denis Muller, Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Australian politics and the psychology of revenge


Lloyd Cox, Macquarie University

It’s hard to read the recent felling of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull as anything other than an act of revenge by Tony Abbott and his closest supporters.

This is indeed the judgement of former foreign minister and opposition leader Alexander Downer and former Liberal Party treasurer Michael Yabsley, as revealed in ABC’s Four Corners.

This judgement fits with everything we know about the humiliation and embitterment Abbott and his conservative allies felt after Turnbull toppled Abbott in a leadership spill in 2015.




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It also accords with what modern psychology and social science would lead us to expect in circumstances where a person or group experiences what they perceive to be unjust treatment at the hands of an adversary. The feelings of grievance and damage to the ego can often only be ameliorated by revenge against those who inflicted the harm.

Such feelings, and the aggression they cause, apply no less to politicians such as Abbott and his conservative colleagues than they do to anyone else.

How then, can revenge become a force that controls us?

The emotional basis of revenge

The predisposition to harm those who are perceived to have harmed us – the essence of revenge – is a fundamental human desire.

Cultural and legal deterrents against “taking the law into your own hands” might mitigate the destructive potential of vengeful behaviour, but it can never fully remove it.

That’s why we observe revenge in all societies and walks of life, including politics. It’s what Francis Bacon, writing nearly 400 years ago, warned of as a kind of “wild justice” that can destroy both the avenger and their victim.

While revenge often involves planning and cool calculation (the proverbial “dish best served cold”), psychologists and social scientists have long recognised it’s always premised on particular emotions.

Shame and humiliation, typically caused by the perceived erosion of respect and esteem in the eyes of others, are particularly important instigators of vengeful thoughts and actions. When others undermine our feelings of self worth, this often triggers resentment and rage and the desire to strike back against one’s tormentors.

Doing so constitutes a form of emotionally gratifying communication. The avenger “teaches” the object of revenge a lesson. They make the victim of revenge feel what they once felt, communicating a psychologically satisfying message of righteous redress to the victim, third parties and, most importantly, themselves.

The substance of this message varies, but typically includes assertions about the resolve of the avenger to uphold rights that have been violated, to preserve respect that has been threatened, and to shore up social and personal honour that has been besmirched. The avenger demonstrates to themselves and the world they are somebody not to be crossed.

Psychologically, this helps the avenger restore an ego deflated by their previous humiliations. Revenge, to put it bluntly, helps the humiliated person feel better about themselves. It helps them cope. They take satisfaction in the knowledge the source of previous harms is now being punished, and that they deserve their punishment. This is why revenge has often been described as “sweet”.

Modern neuroscience and psychology affirms that revenge is indeed sweet. Inflicting harm on those who have previously harmed us arouses feelings of pleasure in those parts of the brain regulating emotion. Even thinking about or planning revenge – the so called “revenge fantasy” – releases feel-good chemicals in our brains.

This is why we can become so preoccupied and even obsessed with vengeful thoughts. The more we think about revenge, the more we reinforce neural pathways that trigger those thoughts and release those chemicals. We can become addicted to the feeling of revenge, which can lend a certain vindictive cast to a person’s character.

Such a character trait typically manifests itself when the person feels themselves, or persons and groups with whom they identify, to be the victim of an injustice. Revenge fulfils what justice demands. Revenge erases unjust humiliations. It turns the world right side up again. Vengeful acts are thus always redemptive acts – or at least, that is the hope. More often than not, they end up being hugely destructive acts.

The destructiveness of revenge – a common literary theme from the ancient Greeks, through Shakespeare to contemporary writers – can be understood in two senses.

On the one hand, the victim and perpetrator of revenge can both be damaged. The reasons are obvious in the case of the victim. For the perpetrator, the destructiveness arises from being consumed by vengeance. This can overtake all rational judgement about what is in the avenger’s interests, and what is a proportional response to a perceived harm. Sometimes, no price seems too high to pay to realise revenge.

On the other hand, revenge can be hugely destructive because it unleashes cycles of further revenge and counter revenge. Anthropologists confirm instances of tribal warfare in the New Guinea Highlands, and blood feuds in Mediterranean peasant societies, where cycles of revenge have lasted for generations, long after the source of the original conflict has been forgotten.

Today’s political parties are not immune to such human failings. In fact, where towering personal ambitions meet huge but often fragile egos, vengeful behaviour is inevitable.

While all of this “madness”, as Turnbull called it, was not just the product of vengeance – deep ideological fractures within the Liberal Party and Australia more generally were just as important – it was nonetheless a key ingredient.




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Grattan on Friday: The high costs of our destructive coup culture


Conservatives harnessed vengeful motives to their broader efforts to re-capture the Liberal Party. In so doing, they became slaves to their emotions, animosities and personal ambitions. They will now pay the electoral price.

When they do, we can expect further vengeful recriminations. Such is the logic of “wild justice.”The Conversation

Lloyd Cox, Lecturer, Department of Modern History, Politics and International Relations, Macquarie University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Grattan on Friday: The high costs of our destructive coup culture


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Australia’s “coup culture” has become so entrenched that it now holds serious dangers for our democracy. Not that the politicians seem to give a damn. For all the talk of “listening” and being “on your side” the voters have once again been treated as little more than a gullible audience for a low-grade reality show.

A decade or two ago, many commentators advocated four-year federal terms, to encourage better policymaking. Now we can’t even count on a prime minister lasting through the three-year parliamentary term after the election they win.

In less than a decade, we’ve had four prime ministerial coups: from Rudd to Gillard (2010); from Gillard to Rudd (2013); from Abbott to Turnbull (2015); and, last week, from Turnbull to Morrison.

A couple of these seemed politically savvy. I admit to thinking them so. In 2013, Kevin Rudd was reinstated to “save the furniture”, and he did. In 2015, Tony Abbott’s government appeared headed for certain oblivion. Malcolm Turnbull was installed as a better prospect; in the event, he won in 2016 by the skin of his teeth.

The Gillard coup, driven by a panic attack and colleagues’ frustration with Rudd’s style, was ill-conceived. The botched assault by Peter Dutton, that elevated Scott Morrison, was fuelled by a cocktail of revenge against Turnbull and a policy push to the right. We’ll see how it ends, but likely it won’t be well.

While a particular coup may have its justifications, when you look at a clutch of them, they’re bad for the country and for the political system.

Some will point to history for precedent – Paul Keating overthrew Bob Hawke in 1991. But we didn’t in those days have a “coup culture”.

We may chuckle on hearing Australia referred to abroad as the “coup capital” of the world. But it’s not a joke. Although this country will continue to be seen as a safe place to invest, a rolling prime ministership must eventually test the faith of outsiders.

The coup culture works against the sort of decision-making that requires serious policy bravery. Time frames shorten – ironically, just when governments fancifully cast programs as stretching over ten years.

Thinking for the future is difficult enough with continuous polling and the shrill media cycle. But if a prime minister can’t rely on their troops guaranteeing their leadership through tough patches, or standing up against guerrilla insurgencies, public policy is reduced to the lowest common denominator or falls victim to the worst of internal power struggles.

Ditching opposition leaders is different from tossing out prime ministers. It has its own problems, but doesn’t undermine the system the way assassinating a PM does. Voters feel (and are entitled to feel) they elect the prime minister; it’s not technically true but it is effectively so, as campaigns are so leader-focused.

Fundamental in this revolving door is the cost to trust. As in other democracies, Australians’ trust in their system and its players has been eroding over decades.

Research from the University of Canberra’s Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis found fewer than 41% of Australians are currently satisfied with the way our democracy works. This compared with 78% in 1996.

Generation X is least satisfied (31%); the baby boomers most satisfied (50%). Women are generally less satisfied with democracy and more distrustful of politicians and political institutions.

According to this data – which preceded the leadership crisis – only 21% trust politicians and 28% trust journalists.

The yet-to-be-released research concludes: “Politicians, government ministers and political parties are deeply distrusted and media of all kinds and how they report Canberra politics are viewed as a key part of the problem.”

The research also found strong public support for reforms to ensure greater political accountability of MPs and to stimulate more public participation.

The coup culture further alienates an already disillusioned public, unable to comprehend the appalling behaviour they often witness from their politicians.

Recently I spoke to members of a community leadership program who’d come to Canberra for a couple of days of briefings from politicians and others. They’d been to Question Time a few hours before I met them.

To journalists, it was a pretty standard QT. For these people, what they witnessed was shocking. They had trouble getting their heads around how the goings on – the shouting, the insults – could be so dreadful. They’d looked over at the schoolchildren in another part of the public gallery and wondered what those youngsters were thinking.

They asked: why do our politicians act like this and what can be done? All 72 decided to write to their MPs to say this wasn’t the type of conduct they wanted to see from them.

My hunch is that this group of ordinary, well-educated, interested citizens would probably be even more put off by subsequent events.

One thing I suspect would have particularly disturbed them is the way the players in last week’s coup expect the public to just move right on. Everyone was back to work, they said.

Gillard in 2010 tried to explain and justify her deposing of Rudd by saying “I believed that a good government was losing its way”. It didn’t wash.

We know for ourselves the reasons for the latest coup – hatred of Turnbull and a desire to force a sharp turn to the right. But have the main coup-makers and their allies (as distinct from their noisy backers in the media), and the windfall beneficiaries, felt the need to properly account for their actions?

This hit-and-run attitude is contemptuous of the public.

The coup culture, especially in this instance, is also accompanied by an “anything goes” view of tactics. Again, it is a matter of degree – the extent to which the hardball, which we always see at such times, crosses a line.

For some of the Liberal women, it undoubtedly did last week.

Julia Banks, announcing on Wednesday that she’ll resign her Melbourne seat of Chisholm at the election, has cited bullying. Western Australian senator Linda Reynolds went to the lengths of telling the Senate: “I just hope that … the behaviours we have seen and the bullying and intimidation, which I do not recognise as Liberal in any way, shape or form, are brought to account.”

But Victorian Liberal president Michael Kroger saw it as par for the course, saying, in response to Banks: “This is politics. People do speak strongly to each other. You just need to look at Question Time. If you think Question Time is not full of bullying and intimidation then you’ve got another thing coming.”

Well, anyone who bullied or was fine with such conduct should do this: go to your local high school and explain to the kids why bullying shouldn’t be in their tool kit but is needed in yours.

Some Liberals flirt with the idea of rules to curb the coup culture, a path Labor has gone down.

It depends on the model: as with so much in politics, what looks good at first sight may hold dangers. Giving a party’s rank and file a say in electing the leader, as the ALP does, might eventually advantage those harder to sell to voters, because party memberships are small and unrepresentative.

A higher-than-50% threshold for a spill, which Labor also has embraced and Reynolds suggests, holds some merit. But when Anthony Albanese was stalking Bill Shorten before the Super Saturday byelections, Albanese’s supporters insisted the rule could be circumvented.

What’s really critical is the culture – in a party and in the political system generally. Once that’s been corroded, it’s a devil of a job to scrape the rust off.

There are no easy ways to rid ourselves of the coup culture, or to force tin-eared politicians to lift their game. But it wouldn’t hurt for more people to follow the example of those in the community leadership program and remind their MPs of their KPIs.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Poll wrap: Worst reaction to midterm PM change in Newspoll history; contrary polls in Dutton’s Dickson



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Most Australians did not want Malcolm Turnbull to be deposed as prime minister.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

This week’s Newspoll, conducted August 24-26 – the days following the leadership spill – from a sample of 1,780, gave Labor a massive 56-44 lead, a five point gain for Labor since last fortnight. Primary votes were 41% Labor (up six), 33% Coalition (down four), 10% Greens (steady) and 7% One Nation (down two).

This is Labor’s biggest lead and highest primary vote in Newspoll since Tony Abbott knighted Prince Philip in January 2015. It is also the Coalition’s 39th successive Newspoll loss, and their lowest primary vote since 2008, when Kevin Rudd was dominant. Since July 2015, Newspoll has been a very stable poll, so a five-point swing is remarkable.




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There have been four previous midterm changes of PM in Newspoll’s history. In December 1991, Paul Keating ousted Bob Hawke. In June 2010, Julia Gillard deposed Rudd. In June 2013, Rudd returned Gillard’s favour. In September 2015, Malcolm Turnbull replaced Abbott.

According to analyst Kevin Bonham, in the poll following the change of PM, the governing party gained two points after preferences in 1991, one point in 2010, six points in 2013 and five points in 2015. The five-point drop in 2018 is by far the worst reaction to a midterm change of PM.

Turnbull and Rudd were both far more popular than the incumbents when they won leadership spills; the public wanted them to be PM. Keating and Gillard were both very well-known, and the incumbent PM had lost his popularity when toppled.

Just four weeks ago, in the Newspoll taken over the weekend of the July 28 byelections, Turnbull’s net approval was -6, his equal best this term. Polls taken in the week of the spill showed Turnbull leading as best Liberal leader with all voters and Liberal voters. The public did not want to replace Turnbull.

The public’s choice for a replacement would have been Julie Bishop, but she won just 11 votes in the spill. Bishop’s resignation as foreign affairs minister on Sunday damages the Coalition by depriving it of a popular figure.

Turnbull was forced out by the hard right’s hatred of him, not due to public opprobrium. Peter Dutton, who led the challenge, did not become PM, and Scott Morrison, who barely registered in Liberal leadership polls, is now PM owing to his ability to win the numbers in the party room.




Read more:
How the hard right terminated Turnbull, only to see Scott Morrison become PM


I believe the public see Turnbull’s downfall as being the result of a right-wing coup, and this has greatly damaged the Coalition’s standing. On Sunday, Dutton was reappointed as home affairs minister. I think this was a mistake by Morrison, as the public would like to see Dutton punished.

This Newspoll was taken in the immediate aftermath of a week of vicious internal politics. But memories of that week will fade, helping the Coalition. Morrison starts with low expectations. If he exceeds those expectations, the Coalition is likely to benefit. A big question is whether Morrison can appeal to moderates without angering the hard right MPs and media commentators who destroyed Turnbull.

In other results from Newspoll, Bill Shorten had a 39-33 better PM lead over Morrison (44-32 to Turnbull last fortnight). This broke Shorten’s run of losses under Turnbull; the last time he won a better PM poll was under Abbott. Morrison has had no time to establish himself. The usual approval ratings questions were not asked this week.

Morrison led Shorten by 44-34 as best economic manager (48-31 under Turnbull in May). The economy is regarded as a Coalition strength, and Morrison was the former treasurer.

On best Liberal leader, Bishop had 29%, Morrison 25%, Turnbull 14%, Abbott 11% and Dutton just 6%. Morrison has benefited from a victory bounce, while the opposite has happened to Turnbull.

Essential: 55-45 to Labor; huge increase in Liberals’ divided perception

This week’s Essential poll, conducted August 24-26 from a sample of 1,035, gave Labor a 55-45 lead, a three point gain for Labor since last fortnight. Primary votes were 39% Labor (up two), 35% Coalition (down four), 10% Greens (steady) and 7% One Nation (up one). Essential continues to use 2016 election preference flows, and this poll would probably be 54-46 by Newspoll’s methods.

Since late July, there has been a 23-point increase in perception that the Liberals are divided, a 14-point decrease in “has a good team of leaders”, a 12-point decrease in “clear about what they stand for”, and an eight-point decrease in moderate. The only large change for Labor is a ten-point decrease in divided.

The Liberals now lead Labor by 33 points on divided (tied in late July), by 31 points on “too close to big corporate interests” and by 18 points on “out of touch”. Labor leads by 23 points on working people’s interests and by 14 points on “clear about what they stand for”.

By 40-35, voters disapproved of Morrison replacing Turnbull as PM. By 57-27, voters agreed that the Liberals are divided and no longer fit to govern. Voters thought Morrison the better PM against Shorten by a 39-29 margin (41-27 to Turnbull last fortnight).

23% (up seven since July) thought Bishop the best Liberal leader, 15% Turnbull (down 13), 10% Morrison (up eight), 9% Abbott (down one) and just 4% Dutton (down one). Bishop had 25% with Coalition voters, Morrison 22% and Turnbull 18%.

By 46-32, voters opposed withdrawing from the Paris agreement on carbon emissions, and there was a 41-41 tie on funding more coal-fired power stations. Cutting tax rates for big businesses and people earning over $200,000 per year had over 62% opposed. Cutting immigration numbers was supported 62-27. Over 60% supported seven proposed measures to reduce gambling.

Contrary polls in Dickson; 9% swing to Labor in Deakin

Dutton holds the Queensland seat of Dickson by a 2.0% margin. A Newspoll, conducted August 22-23 – Turnbull’s last two days as PM – from a sample of 1,850, gave Labor a 52-48 lead. Primary votes were 37% LNP, 37% Labor, 10% One Nation and 9% Greens. If Dutton were PM, there would be a 50-50 tie in Dickson, owing to a five-point gain for the LNP at One Nation’s expense.

ReachTEL has conducted polls for Fairfax media in Dickson, Reid in NSW and Deakin in Victoria, on August 25-26, each with samples of 1,050. In Dickson, Dutton had a 54-46 lead. In Reid, the Liberals led by 52-48, a 3% swing to Labor since the 2016 election. In Deakin, Labor led by 53-47, a 9% swing to Labor.

These seat polls indicate that the Coalition’s problems with the transition are particularly severe in Victoria, as One Nation does not do well there and there are many moderates. Queensland is One Nation’s strongest state, and a switch to a more right-wing PM may help the Coalition gain One Nation votes.

Seat polls are unreliable, and it is better to use the latest national and state polling as a guide to seats. Given the national swing in Newspoll of over 6% to Labor, I think the Newspoll Dickson poll is more likely to be accurate.

Morrison led Shorten as better PM by 52-48 in Deakin, 55-45 in Reid and 59-41 in Dickson. ReachTEL’s forced choice better PM question is assisting Morrison; most people do not know enough about him for an opinion, and are giving him the benefit of the doubt over the still-unpopular Shorten.

In the three seats polled by ReachTEL, over 53% disagreed with the removal of Turnbull and less than 38% agreed. Over 61% thought Abbott should remain on the backbench, while under 33% thought he should return to Cabinet. Over 51% thought Australia should not withdraw from the Paris agreement on reducing emissions, and under 40% thought Australia should withdraw.

Wentworth byelection in October

Malcolm Turnbull will resign as the Member for Wentworth on Friday, and a byelection is likely to be held in October. While Turnbull holds Wentworth by a 17.7% margin, the tweet below from the ABC’s Antony Green shows he massively increased his vote from 2007 to 2013. Without Turnbull’s personal vote, Wentworth may be vulnerable, but it is still a big ask for a non-Liberal to win.The Conversation

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Turnbull resigning seat on Friday, giving Morrison a real-time voting test


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Malcolm Turnbull is set to resign from Parliament this week, as the Liberal federal executive prepares to call nominations for his Sydney seat of Wentworth.

The former prime minister on Monday night told his federal electorate conference, at a meeting scheduled a month or more ago, that he would resign on Friday. He has written to his community and will send that letter on Tuesday.

Turnbull repeated the point he has made about a “week of madness”, that had disgraced the parliament and appalled the nation.

He had always said that the best place for former prime ministers was out of the parliament and “recent events amply demonstrate why”, he said.

With the Liberals bracing for a real-time test of their popularity at a byelection expected early October, Turnbull’s son Alex fingered those backing the coal industry for their role in his father’s fall.

In a hard-hitting interview with Fairfax Media, the younger Turnbull warned the Liberal party could be hijacked by financial interests that would make windfall profits if the government assisted coal projects. He said these interests “have their hooks into the Liberal Party … which has no money”.

Wentworth has a 17.7% margin but Turnbull’s personal vote is large and the campaign there could be difficult and certainly will be expensive.

Tony Abbott’s sister Christine Forster confirmed she will contest Liberal preselection. Dave Sharma, former ambassador to Israel, is regarded as a strong contender. Andrew Bragg, a former acting federal director of the Liberal party, is among those being mentioned as possible preselection candidates.

Peter King, the former member for the seat who Turnbull knocked out at a 2004 preselection after a bout of mutual branch stacking, has expressed some interest.

Turnbull’s son-in-law James Brown has ruled himself out, saying on twitter he had “a young family to look after and mission to complete”.

Former minister Craig Laundy, who has been shattered by the leadership events and said he did not want to be considered for the frontbench, has flagged that he may not recontest his marginal Western Sydney seat of Reid.

“The significant challenges we faced last week took a massive toll, both emotionally and physically, hence my
decision to take a step back [to the backbench], and consider what my future holds,” he said in a statement.

On Monday Tony Abbott was still considering Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s offer for him to become “envoy” on Indigenous affairs.

Shock jock Ray Hadley on 2GB revealed Morrison was using him to try to influence Abbott to take the position. This is despite Hadley recently bitterly denouncing Morrison.

A week ago, in vituperative remarks, Hadley declared Morrison as “a piece of work”. “If he told me it was raining outside, based on his recent performance, I’d go outside and check.”

But there has apparently been a rapprochement’s since Morrison’s victory on Friday. “Can I sincerely say to you I think he’s fair dinkum,” Hadley told Abbott of Morrison’s offer, on the basis of his conversation (through text messages) with the new prime minister.

But Abbott was concerned about the substance of the position and how it would fit into the scheme of things. “I don’t just want a title without a role” he said; he’d want to know what he could be adding to the work of others.

Morrison did not want Abbott in cabinet, but he does want to be seen to be making a gesture of conciliation to the former leader, who has been a critic of policy on energy and immigration in particular.

Barnaby Joyce has enthusiastically taken up Morrison’s offer to be “special envoy” on drought. It gets him back travelling around regional Australia with a clear purpose.

Meanwhile, around bureaucratic circles there will be interest in whether Morrison will keep Martin Parkinson, Turnbull’s right hand bureaucrat, as secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

When Abbott won office, he immediately sacked Parkinson from his then position of secretary of treasury – though embarrassingly, he had to retain him for more than a year for reasons of convenience.

Parkinson is an accomplished and long-experienced public servant. One of the main marks against him in the eyes of Abbott and his then chief-of-staff Peta Credlin was that under Labor he’d headed the climate change department, and had obviously personally believed in addressing the policy challenges associated with that issue.

Turnbull brought Parkinson back as head of the Prime Minister’s department.

The climate wars were one among several of the driving forces behind the coup. So the climate ideologues may gun for Parkinson.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: Furious voters deliver their verdict, with government’s huge Newspoll plunge


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The voters have screamed their anger about the Liberals’ self-indulgent bloodletting in the first Newspoll after the coup. Labor’s two-party lead over the Coalition has jumped to 56-44%, a massive change from the 51-49% margin only a fortnight ago.

While Bill Shorten could never get his nose in front of Malcolm Turnbull as “better prime minister”, the opposition leader holds a 39-33% lead over the new prime minister, Scott Morrison. Two weeks ago Turnbull had a 12-point advantage as better PM. This is the first time since February 2015 that Shorten has led on this measure.

The Coalition’s primary vote has plunged four points to 33%; Labor’s vote has increased from 35% to 41%, in The Australian’s poll, which comes as Morrison moved quickly to announce his ministerial team.

The new line-up sees the man who swung the wrecking ball to destroy a prime minister restored to cabinet, while on the backbench, by her own choice (and within cooee of Tony Abbott, who didn’t get the call to a ministry), will sit the Liberal woman who is highly popular with the public.

Many would believe Peter Dutton’s inclusion defies decent political standards after the damage he inflicted. Julie Bishop’s absence squanders political advantage. We are indeed living in strange times.

Normally an unsuccessful challenger would put himself, or be put, onto the backbench. But the strength of the hardline conservative forces would have made it impossible to exclude Dutton from the cabinet, even if Morrison – who denied him the prime ministerial prize – had wanted to.

So Dutton returns to Home Affairs. But the immigration section of the portfolio has been hived off to another minister. The “mega” department that Turnbull constructed to keep his ambitious minister happy won’t be quite so “mega” now.

By the change, Morrison has partially clipped Dutton’s wings while also signalling his own belief in the economic benefits of immigration.

But he has also put “population” explicitly into a ministry, with cities, urban infrastructure and population, to be held by Alan Tudge, and declared that Tudge will be dealing with “congestion”.

So we’ll see where the immigration debate goes from here. The conservatives are not likely to give up their battle to lower the intake as much as they can.

It was Bishop’s decision to leave the frontbench, and maybe it was always going to be this way once she lost her bid to lead. But she might have also been influenced by being humiliated – she polled very badly because of the push by the anti-Dutton forces to make sure Scott Morrison finished second, not third, in the first round.

In the end, Bishop’s argument that her popularity, demonstrated in the polls, could hold seats counted for nothing in the ballot.

The new cabinet has one more woman than the old one, bringing the number to six. But of course there is no woman in the Liberal leadership team now. Once again, the Liberals find themselves short on the gender front.

The absence of Bishop leaves a gaping hole, both in Australia’s foreign profile and in the Liberals’ domestic firepower.

Her energy, style and years in the job maximised Bishop’s role internationally. Just as importantly, she did a great deal of the heavy lifting domestically – in the media, in party fundraising and in campaigning in marginal seats.

However adequately Marise Payne performs abroad, she is not going to fill Bishop’s shoes at home. Since she has been in cabinet, Payne has been rarely heard publicly outside her portfolio (and seldom on that), carrying none of the government’s general campaign in the media.

Morrison’s ministry and his comments when announcing it tell us his orientation in the energy area. He has split energy and environment, and put the conservative Angus Taylor – who recently said “the obsession with emissions at the expense of reliability and affordability has been a massive mistake” – in charge of energy.

Morrison said the priorities are reliability and despatchable power, and that Taylor is to be minister for bringing down prices. But this surely is only the beginning of the story. Morrison will need to have a position sooner rather than later on emissions, and he will have to respond to the conservatives’ push for Australia to withdraw from the Paris agreement.

If anyone had any doubt that the wrangling will continue, Nationals backbencher George Christensen quickly tweeted: “Looking forward to @ScottMorrisonMP & @AngusTaylorMP getting baseload underwriting scheme underway ASAP to develop new coal-fired power stations, inc one in Nth Qld. More is needed: major equity fund for new coal-fired power & abandon costly green treaties, mandates & subsidies.”

Meanwhile, Morrison is beginning to broaden his image and fashion his leadership persona in a rather unexpected way – via the drought.

On the day he was elected he said the drought was his top priority. On the following day he was pictured meeting the co-ordinator of the drought effort. On Sunday he was on the Australia All Over program (when was the last time a PM did that?). He also named former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce “special envoy for drought”. On Monday he visits Queensland areas in drought.

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Struggling farmers may be impressed by this attention, or they may be cynical about it.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: A shocker performance, even by coup standards



File 20180824 149490 1blk4xp.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Scott Morrison is sworn in as the 30th prime minister of Australia by Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

When they turn nasty, politicians can be an extraordinarily ugly lot. This week, the Liberals looked hideous – feral, self-indulgent, thuggish and contemptuous of an electorate that would like to be able to have MPs respect its choice of the country’s prime minister.

No wonder ordinary people caught by the cameras in the vox pops were disgusted. This was a shocker performance, even by coup standards.

As Malcolm Turnbull said, an “insurgency” by the conservatives brought him down. But, in a sort of perverse justice, the insurgents were punished. Their reprehensible behaviour blasted out the leader they hated but failed to deliver them the prize they desired – installing their own man in the Lodge.




Read more:
How the hard right terminated Turnbull, only to see Scott Morrison become PM


Turnbull, by delaying the ballot, and getting the Solicitor-General to give an opinion on a question mark over Dutton’s eligibility to sit in parliament, helped to thwart them.

Dutton thought his prospects better than they were; Turnbull judged his own prospects to be worse than the reality.

The spill motion was carried 45-40, a tiny margin. In other words, 40 people wanted to keep Turnbull. Yet three cabinet ministers – Mathias Cormann, Mitch Fifield and Michaelia Cash – had previously insisted to Turnbull that he had lost the party room’s support and then resigned, ensuring his political death.

No wonder that after the spill numbers were given to the party room, Turnbull said “what a farce”.

In choosing Scott Morrison, the Liberals went for the safest option among the three candidates on offer. Dutton was seen as too risky and hardline; Julie Bishop started too far behind.

But while Morrison was the best of the trio, his elevation just further emphasised the bizarre nature of it all.

There is no compelling evidence to suggest Morrison will be much more competitive than his predecessor at the election. With some voters – Liberals on the progressive side – he might be less attractive.

And what about the gnashing of teeth over Queensland? After Longman, the Dutton people insisted he was needed to hold up the vote, because Turnbull was so unpopular.

In the new order, Queensland remains unrepresented in the leader/deputy team. And if Morrison has an advantage over Turnbull there, it would be a matter of degree, hardly worth ripping apart the party.

One vulnerable Queensland seat is Dickson, held by Dutton on a 2% margin. His actions may – and should – cost him votes, although they won’t cost him a position on the frontbench. Morrison has flagged Dutton will be in his cabinet.

Josh Frydenberg is a good choice as deputy leader, a unifying rather than a divisive figure, who’s done some heroic work on the National Energy Guarantee, the fate of which is up in the air.

Frydenberg becomes the new treasurer. He’s diligent and competent, but it will be a steep learning curve, facing a savvy and experienced opponent in Chris Bowen.

As he crafts his ministry, Morrison has to balance the factions and wrangle with the Nationals, out to get the most they can after the turbulence. Nationals leader Michael McCormack has every incentive to fight hard – he’s seen by his critics as not standing up strongly enough to the Liberals.

On the policy front, Morrison has an immense vacuum on energy, a major issue for the public, at the cutting edge of the ideological divide, and the catalyst for this week’s calamity.

Is he going to keep or reshape the NEG? He wouldn’t be drawn at his news conference. He said he’d talk to his cabinet.

Will he be able to get any sort of sensible energy policy through the party room? And will he want to?

Will he pursue an energy policy that is relatively bipartisan, as business desperately wants, to get investment certainty, or will he decide to go down the route of maximising the differences with Labor, in the hope of an electoral advantage and under pressure from the ideologues?

The energy wars will continue, one way or another.

A changing of the guard, especially in circumstances like these, is always disruptive – the ripples are felt through the administrative structure of government. New ministers have to learn new jobs. Initiatives in the pipeline must be paused and reviewed. All that alone is advantageous to an opposition that is already well organised.

Not surprisingly, Morrison flagged he doesn’t want an early election. But given Turnbull says he will leave Parliament “before too long”, he seems likely to face a byelection in Wentworth. It’s on a whopping 17.7% margin, but Turnbull had a strong personal vote, and a big swing would be a setback for the new leader.

Tony Abbott’s sister Christine Forster is being encouraged to seek Liberal preselection. Just another twist in this saga replete with dark irony.




Read more:
Memo Scott Morrison: don’t chase the ‘base’


How the disappointed conservatives behave will determine what internal trouble Morrison faces. One thing seems clear: they won’t be satisfied unless the change of personnel produces changes in policy, notable on climate and immigration.

Abbott seems unlikely to go silent. He harbours a deep resentment towards Morrison, accusing him of disloyalty in the 2015 coup.

It will be fascinating to watch Morrison construct his post-Treasury, pre-election persona. There are multiple Morrisons. The aggressive, shouty, attack dog tearing at Labor. The lower-key, more compromising negotiator. The knock-about bloke, always talking about “the (Sutherland) Shire” and the Sharks.

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Then there is the Morrison who is ambitious to leave his mark as a reformer – who’d hoped to reshape the GST until Turnbull pulled the pin on him. Now he has his chance to set his own direction. But he will be buffeted by cross winds and has little time to plot his course.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

With a new prime minister nominated, the Nationals have a rare chance to assert themselves



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It is often forgotten that the Liberals cannot govern without the support of the Nationals, and this has been the case for almost 100 years.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

Gregory Melleuish, University of Wollongong

So, Scott Morrison, MP for The Shire, has won the leadership of the Liberal Party. One must wonder what role external factors played in his victory, including the vague threat by some National Party members that they would sit on the crossbenches had Dutton been victorious.

With all the focus on the various ructions in the Liberal Party, it is too often forgotten that the current government is a coalition of the Liberal Party and the National Party. The Liberals cannot govern without the support of the Nationals. This has been the case for almost 100 years, with the first coalition government being that of the Nationalists led by Stanley Bruce and the Country Party led by Earle Page.

The Liberals have rarely had enough seats in the House of Representatives to rule in their own right when in government and so have always governed together with their Country/National Party colleagues. This has always given the National Party considerable leverage with regard to the Coalition. This has included the capacity to veto possible Liberal Prime Ministers, as happened in 1968, when then leader John McEwen said he would not countenance Bill McMahon as Prime Minister.




Read more:
How the hard right terminated Turnbull, only to see Scott Morrison become PM


It has also enabled the National Party to influence which ministerial portfolios will be allocated to them. In earlier times, the National Party leader was Treasurer in a Coalition government. McEwen changed this when he held the important portfolio of Trade and Industry from 1956 to 1971.

The National Party has declined in importance over the past 50 years, as the proportion of the population living in rural areas has declined, not least because of the mechanisation of Australian agriculture. Over the past 20 years, their representation in the House of Representatives has been in the range of ten to 16 seats. Over that same period, the Liberal Party has had a minimum of 50 seats and a maximum of 74.

Nevertheless, it’s worth noting that after the 2016 election, the National Party has been in its strongest position in terms of the Liberals for some time. Whereas after the 2013 election, it held 15 seats to the Liberals’ 74, after 2016 it held 16 seats to the Liberals’ 60.

As the government holds office by the barest of majorities, this places the Nationals in a position of strength regarding the formation of a new Coalition government. While there has been no indication the leadership of the Nationals wishes to act as a King (or Queen) maker, there have been rumblings from other members of the party.

Prior to the leadership vote, it was reported that National MPs Darren Chester, Kevin Hogan and Damian Drum could go to the crossbench if Peter Dutton were elected leader. Both Drum and Chester are from Victoria, while Hogan holds the marginal seat of Page in northern New South Wales, which includes the hippy capital of Australia, Nimbin.

We will never know know how serious these reports were. They may have been no more than an updated attempt by the Nationals, unofficially, to get the Liberal leader of their choice. It may also reflect the fact rural Victoria is more “liberal” than outback New South Wales and Queensland.

Certainly, their defection would have created a minority government, but one wonders how it would affect their preselection. Maybe they think they could win their seats as independents.

The key point is the current situation places the National Party in a position of strength with regard to their Liberal colleagues. Having undergone “trial by Barnaby” they can now move on and make the most of the situation.

Assuming the government runs for another eight months, they have an opportunity to pursue policies that will benefit their rural constituencies, thereby aiding their chances of re-election in 2019. With the progressive Turnbull, whose interests more or less aligned with those of urban Australia, out of the way, they could well have a window of opportunity to place more focus on rural Australia.




Read more:
The Turnbull government is all but finished, and the Liberals will now need to work out who they are


One thing which will be of particular interest will be the portfolios which the Nationals will seek. Could they possibly want energy, given the importance of the cost of power?

It’s certainly the case that the events of the past few days have weakened the authority of the Liberal Party in terms of its capacity to provide good government for the country. They’re now seen as behaving like a group of fractious and difficult school children.

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Under these circumstances, it seems to me, the National Party is presented with an opportunity to use its role within the Coalition to exercise its influence on behalf of rural Australia. It remains to be seen the extent to which it will make the most of this opportunity.

Gregory Melleuish, Professor, School of Humanities and Social Inquiry, University of Wollongong

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How the hard right terminated Turnbull, only to see Scott Morrison become PM



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Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

After a week of vicious internal party politics, Malcolm Turnbull has been deposed as prime minister and replaced not by Peter Dutton, but Scott Morrison. In today’s party room vote, Morrison, who was supported by Turnbull, defeated Peter Dutton by 45 votes to 40 in the final count. In the first round vote, Dutton had 38 votes, Morrison 36, and Julie Bishop was eliminated with just 11 votes. Turnbull had lost a motion to spill the leadership, 45 votes to 40.

Hard right media commentators have detested Turnbull since he offered bipartisan support to the then Rudd Labor government’s carbon emissions reductions policy. Partly as a result, Turnbull lost the opposition leader’s position to Tony Abbott in December 2009, 42 votes to 41.

In September 2015, Turnbull defeated Abbott, 54 votes to 44, to become PM. This spill occurred due to 30 successive Newspoll losses for the Coalition under Abbott, during which he had often trailed Bill Shorten as better PM. Turnbull was far more popular than Abbott in the polls, and the Coalition initially surged to clear leads over Labor.




Read more:
Turnbull’s increased popularity gives Coalition a clear lead


While most Australians were happy with Turnbull in late 2015, hard-right media commentators were incensed that a moderate had deposed one of their own (Abbott). The front cover of The Spectator Australia edition following Abbott’s ousting tells the story.

The Spectator Australia edition on the ascension of Malcolm Turnbull to prime minister.

Since Turnbull became PM, hard-right commentators have campaigned against him. There were two catalysts for his fall. First, at the July 28 Longman byelection, the LNP won less than 30% of the primary vote on a swing of over 9% against, a much worse result than expected by the media.

Second, Turnbull’s support for the National Energy Guarantee infuriated both right-wing MPs and media commentators who saw it as similar to his support for Rudd’s emissions reductions.




Read more:
Poll wrap: Turnbull’s Newspoll ratings slump; Labor leads in Victoria; Longman preferences helped LNP


Turnbull’s downfall did not make electoral sense. The polls below show he was still easily the preferred Liberal leader among all voters and Liberal voters. Unlike Abbott, he always won the better PM measure against Shorten in every poll I can recall. In the few months before the Super Saturday byelections, the Coalition had closed in on Labor, and may have just missed a 50-50 Newspoll.

The incentive for dumping Turnbull was to recover the One Nation vote. As I said in Monday’s article, the Coalition would have been likely to lose its moderate voters had Dutton won.




Read more:
Poll wrap: Coalition slumps to 55-45 deficit in Ipsos, and large swing to federal Labor in Queensland


I believe the main reason for Turnbull’s downfall was the right-wing media’s hatred of him, and its influence on Liberal MPs. Although Turnbull buckled to the right on issues such as climate change, they demanded a real conservative, not someone they thought of as a “leftie”.

Morrison had not been thought of as a leadership contender, with the polling below focused on Turnbull and Dutton. A ReachTEL poll gave Morrison just 9% support for best Liberal leader, and a Morgan SMS poll had him trailing Shorten by 50.5-49.5 as better PM.

Morrison’s first Cabinet position was as Abbott’s hardline immigration minister after the 2013 election. But he broadened his appeal, first as Abbott’s social services minister and then as Turnbull’s treasurer. He is likely to have some appeal to both conservatives and moderates, and he will not be blamed for the internal warfare in the way Dutton was.

Morrison is unlikely to be as bad for the Coalition’s vote as Dutton, but many moderate Liberals liked Turnbull, and it will be difficult for Morrison to attract their votes.

Turnbull has confirmed he will quit parliament soon, forcing a byelection in his seat of Wentworth. Turnbull won Wentworth by 68-32 against Labor in 2016, but he has a large personal vote, and it is an inner metropolitan seat that is unlikely to respond well to a more right-wing Liberal party.

ReachTEL and Morgan polls

A ReachTEL poll for GetUp!, conducted August 20 – the day before the first spill which Turnbull won 48-35 – from a sample of 2,260, gave Labor just a 51-49 lead, in contrast to last week’s Ipsos that had Labor ahead by 55-45. No primary votes for this ReachTEL poll have been provided; it is possible the relatively good result for the Coalition is due to a strong flow of respondent allocated preferences.

As best Liberal leader among all voters, Turnbull had 36%, Abbott and Julie Bishop both had 14% and Dutton 12%. Turnbull had 59% among Liberal voters. Turnbull led Dutton by 62-38 in a forced choice head to head question.

More likely/less likely to support given a hypothetical are not useful questions. For what it is worth, 50% said they would be less likely to vote for the Coalition under Dutton, and 28% more likely. 50% of Liberal voters said they were less likely to vote for the Coalition, while 65% of One Nation voters said they were more likely.

A ReachTEL poll for the CFMEU, conducted August 22 from a sample of 2,430, gave Labor a 53-47 lead by respondent preferences. Primary votes, after a forced choice question for undecided voters, were 36.1% Coalition, 35.0% Labor, 10.8% Greens and 9.0% One Nation.

55.5% said they were less likely to vote Coalition with Dutton and 23% were more likely. 50% of current Liberal voters were less likely to vote Coalition.

Turnbull had 38% as best leader among all voters, Bishop 29%, Abbott 14%, Dutton 10% and Morrison 9%. Turnbull had 55% with Liberal voters, with Abbott second at just 14%.

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A Morgan SMS poll, conducted August 23 from a sample of 2,000, had no voting intentions. Bishop led Shorten 64-36 as better PM, Turnbull led Shorten 54-46, Shorten led Morrison 50.5-49.5 and Shorten led Dutton 62-38. I do not trust Morgan’s SMS polls as they may be prone to opt-in bias.

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Turnbull’s problem was that he was a politician for another era


Geoffrey Robinson, Deakin University

Malcolm Turnbull has endured a humiliating end to a prime ministership that seemed to promise much. Like all political deaths, there are multiple causes, but one thing is certain: his leadership represents the crisis of liberal-conservatism in Australia at the moment.

The old liberal-conservative politics exemplified by Robert Menzies has been undercut by the failures of a liberal economy, the challenges to identity posed by mass migration and the rise of China, and the dissolution of the old middle-class base of moderate-right politics. Turnbull may be the last of his people.

The significance of this ideology has been downplayed by left-liberal intellectuals, but it has shaped Australian politics for more than a century. Now, however, this political belief system looks rather like European communism in 1989: an unhappy ghost begging to be laid to rest.




Read more:
The Turnbull government is all but finished, and the Liberals will now need to work out who they are


The Liberal Party is often described in terms of a coalition of liberals and conservatives. The durability of the party suggests, however, that it is more than a coalition of adherents of two competing ideologies, rather conservatism and liberalism have been fused together into a single ideology, even if it retains internal tensions.

The dominant strand in Australian liberal-conservatism has been a liberalism of the right, driven by strong utilitarian focus, in which many traditionally conservative concepts, such as inequality and tradition, are defended to guarantee security, prosperity and happiness.

This is an old tradition of centre-right politics. Edmund Burke, the founding figure of Anglo-Saxon conservatism, was a Whig. He justified his turn towards the right at the time of the French Revolution not on grounds of religion or revelation, but on pragmatic arguments.

Happier days: Turnbull after announcing his challenge to Tony Abbott for the party leadership in 2015.
AAP/Sam Mooy

Menzies admired Burke. The philosophy of liberal-conservatism has been that of a conservative means towards liberal ends: ordered individual liberty and security.

In Australia, these ends reflected the experience of a clearly defined social strata. This is what Judith Brett referred to in her analysis of Menzies as the moral middle class of small businessmen, office workers and professionals.

Menzies was a member of the elite, but he shared their aspirations and style. For him, society was a meritocracy in which those who had demonstrated ability were entitled to lead and be rewarded, but retained responsibilities to those less successful.

The post-Menzies political world

One of Turnbull’s problems is that this middle class has largely dissolved. Much of the old middle class has merged into an anxious middling mass, along with much of the old working class, whilst a portion has joined the super-rich and is disengaged from politics.

A more downcast Turnbull during this week’s leadership spill.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

Liberal membership has collapsed. Liberal MPs no longer talk of members, it’s now the obscure Americanism of “the base”. Media celebrities and non-party members like Andrew Bolt have as much power as MPs.

Turnbull’s policies were compatible with a traditional liberal-conservatism, but the challenge he faced was that the world has changed since Menzies.

Turnbull brought a Menzian style to his leadership – both men had a faith in expertise. They relied on public servants such as Nugget Coombs and Martin Parkinson, whom hard-core conservatives disparaged as “Labor friendly”.




Read more:
Fractured Liberals need a new brand – ‘broad church’ is no longer working


Turnbull sent climate policy off to the public service (just like Kevin Rudd before him). The result was a typically bureaucratic compromise like the National Energy Guarantee, which enthused nobody.

Turnbull, like Menzies, was also perfectly willing to placate conservatives in the party, as evidenced by his refusal to allow a parliamentary vote on same-sex marriage. Eventually, the same-sex marriage plebiscite produced the result he wanted. Same-sex marriage was a classically liberal-conservative vision.

Turnbull championed conservative policies in other areas, too, such as border protection and income management. However, these were justified on pragmatic, utilitarian grounds. Border protection, in particular, was described as necessary to prevent deaths at sea and maintain public confidence in an economically beneficial immigration program. Here, Turnbull shared common ground with Labor.

Robert Menzies (left) with US Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara in 1964.
Wikicommons

But immigration posed a challenge for Turnbull. Menzies had presided over a mass immigration program at a time of Anglo-Saxon complacency. Turnbull faced an age of Anglo-Saxon anxiety: cultural change at home and the rise of China inspired fear among nostalgic voters.

There was a strong demand from the right for a leader who would articulate these identity fears. But Turnbull’s default setting was to defend liberal multiculturalism: beneath the surface difference of dress and ritual, he believed all Australians shared similar aspirations. But for many on the right, Australia was under threat from within.




Read more:
Turnbull is right to link the Liberals with the centre – but is the centre where it used to be?


Indigenous affairs provided another example of Turnbull’s disinterest in identity politics. Tony Abbott had an identity policy agenda in Indigenous constitutional recognition. Turnbull’s dismissal of the Uluru Statement appalled many on the liberal left. It revealed a belief that he found Indigenous affairs frustrating and ill-suited to his managerialist style of politics.

A party will frequently tolerate leaders out of sympathy with much of their base, so long as they win elections. Tony Blair in the UK is an example. Turnbull’s greatest problem was that social change undercut the basis for his economic liberalism.

The policy item that evoked the most enthusiasm for him among voters was the agenda of individual and corporate tax cuts. Turnbull’s ability to navigate income tax cuts through the Senate revealed him to be good transactional politician, again like Gillard.

Yet, although voters credited Turnbull’s economic management in the abstract, they were unhappy with income stagnation. The liberal economy forged by Bob Hawke, Paul Keating and John Howard now disappointed the electorate. At the 2016 election, voter anxiety on this issue led to a disappointing outcome for Turnbull. The sequence of opinion polls soon revealed that Labor’s surprise performance in the election was not an aberration. Turnbull’s days have been numbered ever since.

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For all of Turnbull’s rhetoric of disruption and innovation, he was a politician out of his time. His style recalled an older era of elite consensus and orderly democracy.

Geoffrey Robinson, Senior Lecturer, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Deakin University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.