Television remote-controls worked overtime last night as viewers flicked between two equally absorbing reality TV programs. X-Factor may have been more entertaining, but the Liberal Party’s performance within Parliament House was no doubt the most fascinating.
In announcing his intention to contest the Liberal Party leadership, Malcolm Turnbull appeared to be taking direction from the prison warden in the classic 1967 Paul Newman movie “Cool Hand Luke”:
“What we’ve got here is… failure to communicate. Some men you just can’t reach.… I don’t like it any more than you men.”
Very apt. It has been a lack of effective communication that has resulted in Tony Abbott’s downfall. No one will discredit his intelligence, sense of being, and tenacity and doggedness when pushed into a corner. In fact, we saw plenty of that last night. What we, and Abbott’s parliamentary colleagues, didn’t see however, was a Prime Minister who evoked a collegiate approach. Regardless of the wins he delivered under his tenure, it will be the Captain’s Picks, the poor political and policy choices, and his predilection for foot–in-mouth that the electorate will remember.
Six months ago the Liberal Party put Abbott on notice. The last thing the Liberal Party ever wanted was to emulate the Labor Party; but last night it seems enough was enough.
What does this mean?
With this change, the Government will look to “press the reset button” – to refocus and refresh. Gone will combativeness, negativity and a focus on the past; replaced with positivity and forward thinking.
The past 30 polls have shown the Government is behind the eight-ball, but this change will certainly instigate a turnaround. Labor will attempt to discredit the incoming Prime Minister by claiming that this spill is about his personal ego and aspirations, not about leadership and the good of the nation. Nonetheless, there will be a honeymoon and the popularity of the Government will rise.
One of Turnbull’s first jobs will be to secure the relationship with the Coalition. During the Nationals’ Federal conference this weekend Abbott was a regular visitor, espousing the strength and might of the Liberal/Nationals’ partnership. Alas, this partnership was not mentioned in Turnbull’s speeches – an oversight not unnoticed by his National colleagues. The Nationals are likely to play hard ball, with commitment to policy and ministerial positions on their wish list.
Those expecting Turnbull to lurch to the left on issues such as gay marriage and climate change will be hugely disappointed given the likely promises he had to make to his parliamentary colleagues in order to secure their support.
The likely winners and losers
While it’s early days for ministerial machinations, it’s inevitable that a reshuffle will occur towards the week’s end. Joe Hockey will surely stand aside as Treasurer, as will a number of ministers from the Howard years and staunch Abbott allies, including Kevin Andrews and Eric Abetz, who are likely to retire to the backbench.
Not all Abbott-backers however will find themselves on the outer. Turnbull will need to maintain or promote a number of them – not simply for party solidarity but because they are some of the most capable members of the Government. Scott Morrison, Bruce Billson and Josh Frydenberg are all likely to be rewarded for their intellect and strong performances.