25 Aug 2018

David Marr - Political shenanigans in Australia

From Saturday Morning, 11:42 am on 25 August 2018

The Australian Liberal Party has torn itself apart yet again and veteran Australian journalist David Marr says the public won’t forget.

Marr is a highly regarded Australia journalist, the recipient of four Walkley Awards, and has been reporting on politics and the media in Australia since 1973.

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The spill has gone: Malcolm Turnbull, Peter Dutton and Scott Morrison. Photo: AFP / FILE

He says the Liberal Party is at war with itself over coal and immigration and “small L liberals” are losing the fight with the party’s ultra-conservative wing on both fronts.

Malcolm Turnbull was rolled as prime minister on Friday and replaced by his treasurer Scott Morrison after a bruising week. He had made major concessions to the right wing of his party over his National Energy Guarantee [NEG] policy, yet still his internal opponents came after him. 

David Marr

David Marr Photo: Supplied

“The conservative side of politics has been tearing itself apart for years and years. Malcolm Turnbull capitulated to the climate nasties in his own party room, abjectly capitulated to them, because they threatened to cross the floor and bring down his government.”

Despite Turnbull’s attempt to placate the right by abandoning the carbon emissions component of the NEG, a spill was triggered by his cabinet colleague Queenslander Peter Dutton, who nonetheless failed to grab the leadership because, Marr says, he “can’t count”.

“They didn’t have the numbers. So they tore the party apart, brought down the party’s most popular electoral asset in Malcolm Turnbull and installed a third-rate - as far as the public is concerned - leader to take the party to an election in eight months time, which because of what happened this week they must inevitably lose dramatically.”

Marr says Morrison prevailed because Dutton is, “a most uncongenial figure, and he’s not very bright".

Australia's former home affairs minister, Peter Dutton, faces the media at a press conference in Canberra on August 21, 2018.

 Peter Dutton. Photo: AFP PHOTO / SEAN DAVEY

Not that Morrison is a Turnbull-like replacement.

“He made his name in politics as the minister for immigration imprisoning women and children and men out in the islands - that’s his reputation.

“He stopped the boats, he still boasts that he stopped the boats, there are children [on Nauru] who won’t get out of bed for month after month, children who won’t eat or drink - the situation is completely appalling there at the moment.”

Marr doesn’t rate Morrison’s chances of pulling off a victory for the coalition at the next election.

Australia's incoming Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks at a press conference in Canberra on August 24, 2018 after a stunning Liberal party revolt instigated by hardline conservatives unseated moderate Malcolm Turnbull.

Australia's newest Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Photo: AFP

“I think the Liberal Party is done for, because Morrison is a bore. He comes out of the world of PR, he’s a bore, he talks on and on, and on and on and on - a wall of sound comes out.

“His record on Manus and Nauru is horrible and Australians - I’m glad to report - are starting to tire of the regime they run in the islands. They still want the boats stopped, but they are starting to see the regime up there as chaotic, expensive and nasty. Those are words coming out of focus groups - even in Queensland.”

Labor under the leadership of Bill Shorten is at least disciplined, Marr says.

“Labor has for years now presented this absolutely disciplined front. Labor’s never been more disciplined, more coherent; it has interesting policies - it has a rather dull leader - but it’s a perfectly professional outfit.”

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Morrison also faces a disgruntled segment of the media - certain shock jocks, Sky News After Dark presenters, and columnists in the Murdoch press - who had been barracking for Dutton.

“There is this bunch of very, very disappointed media commentators who thought their man was about to come home - their man who couldn’t count.

Australia's former home affairs minister Peter Dutton sits on the back bench above former prime minister Tony Abbott in the House of Representatives in Canberra.

 Peter Dutton sits on the back bench above former prime minister Tony Abbott in the House of Representatives in Canberra. Photo: AFP PHOTO / SEAN DAVEY

“I was listening to them last night, they’re furious and they’re already threatening Morrison if he doesn’t come their way.”

And always in the background was Tony Abbott, the man that Turnbull overthrew.

“You should have seen his face yesterday [Friday] when they emerged from the party room and his man Dutton had not got up. There was Abbott suddenly looking ancient and skeletal and out of his mouth came these big resonant statements about now we need to save the party – the party which he has been actively taking an axe to for years.” 

Marr says the moderate wing of the Liberal party is losing to a more muscular right.

“The small-L libs don’t know how to fight, they don’t know how to deal with a Tony Abbott, they seem incapable of organising to make sure he loses his pre-selection, they can’t muscle up, they are up against conservatives in their own party who are absolutely superb cage fighters.”

Marr believes that the murky process through which both parties choose their candidates is creating a curiously disconnected political class.

“In Australia at the moment we’re living in a strange situation where the politicians in so many ways barely represent their own country, and forces within the Liberal party that moved this week represent a boutique conservative position which is shared by maybe 15 to 20 percent of the population maximum.”

He says Australia is, at its heart, a “decent and intelligent, orderly and mildly progressive country".

Marr says the events are on a par with the dismissal of the Whitlam government in 1975 in terms of importance.

“They [the Liberals] would rather like to win the next election. Their chances, I think, are somewhere south of zero, so they will at least pretend to be as united as possible for the next eight months but the Australian people aren’t going to forget what they watched this week.”