At the time of writing, the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of Australia is unknown Malcolm Turnbull.
According to a common myth, sticking a potato into a car’s exhaust will cause it to stall, causing irreparable damage to the car’s engine.
According to recent events in the Liberal Party of Australia, even attempting to stick a potato into the top job will cause it to self-destruct, tearing itself apart as self-interests and ugly ideologies clamber towards a worthless victory. The battle for the leadership of the party is going to be so fierce, that the victor will be lucky to last the month.
The spill for the leadership, and Prime Ministership, brought on by Malcolm Turnbull on Tuesday is going to become the final nail in his coffin. His victory, scraping through on 48 votes in support, to Dutton’s 35, means that Peter Dutton only has to shift 7 people and he will be the next Prime Minister of Australia.
Since the spill, resignations from the government (the government is the front bench, not all members elected in the ruling party) have come thick and fast. Peter Dutton has moved to the backbench, leaving him free to lobby for the leadership of the party. And a number of journalists, insiders, and observers have speculated that there may be another spill, this time brought on by Dutton, before the end of the week.
Peter Dutton is insanely unpopular across the country. His toxic brand of realpolitik would be a death knell for the Coalition, as voters would turn savagely against the Coalition. His management of Health, Immigration, and now in Home Affairs have been a string of embarrassments for the government, no one will soon forget Border Farce – his gestapo-lite attempt to have his private police force stop people in the streets and demand papers.
A victory for Dutton in a leadership spill would usher in a new Labor dynasty, not seen since Hawke/Keating.
Malcolm Turnbull is shrewd, highly intelligent, and exceedingly cautious when it comes to looking at polling. He has refused to back another tilt at an Australian Republic, saying the country should wait until after Queen Elizabeth dies, because he knows that she remains popular, while Charles is not; he has been a fairly successful businessman over the years, largely due to his ability to read the markets and see where investment is likely to surge; and he waited to challenge Tony Abbot until he knew he had the numbers to win. So, he called the spill today because he knew he would win, but going forward, nothing is really clear.
The fact is, Malcolm Turnbull only has three options:
- Resign. Allow Peter Dutton to be elected to the leadership unopposed as a sign of party unity.
This is the least likely option, as Dutton is despised by some elements of the Coalition party room, with many reports that Coalition MPs have indicated their intent to move to the crossbench, rather than serve under Prime Minister Dutton. Turnbull would also be forced to reckon with the fact that, by stepping aside, he has nothing left to offer the country, and he doesn’t seem like the sort of man to take that step… yet.
- Remain as leader, allow Peter Dutton to bring another spill for the leadership, and let the chips fall where they may. Following the loss, Turnbull could quietly resign from Parliament, and let Dutton drive the government’s support in the polls to single digits, such that Labor could win the next election with a supermajority in both houses.
This also seems somewhat unlikely, as Malcolm Turnbull, despite his lacklustre tenure as Prime Minister, does not want Bill Shorten to be the next Prime Minister, and he REALLY doesn’t want to give Labor an absolute majority in the House and Senate. He is a blue-blooded liberal, and the way Labor has been signalling on tax reform could actually hurt Turnbull’s wallet.
- Call an election. Odds are, Dutton will have the numbers he needs by Friday, if not sooner. If Malcolm Turnbull’s first move Wednesday morning is to pop in to Yarralumla and have the Governor General dissolve Parliament and issue election writs, he could potentially save the Coalition a very ugly loss in the next election.
If, like Kevin Rudd in 2013, Turnbull uses his broad popularity to shore up support, he could save the Coalition from being wiped out for a generation. The only thing that has kept the Coalition afloat over the last 3 years has been the fact that Malcolm Turnbull remains more popular than Bill Shorten; and next to Peter Dutton, Bill Shorten will look like Gough Whitlam.
Some, such as former Howard media advisor Paula Matthewson, have floated the idea of a hand-picked successor to hold off the far-right conservatives until after the next election. The problem with this, despite it being a responsible, mature response, it assumes that such a move would sate the bloodlust of Tony Abbott and his puppets.
Abbott is a scrapper, a man who has been fighting everyone and everything since he first entered Parliament. He leads by going for the jugular, wrecking his opponents by any means; for Abbott there is no fighting dirty, there is just fighting.
He was nicknamed John Howard’s “head kicker” and “attack dog” for a reason.
The Liberal Party, despite claims of being a “broad church”, is veering drastically to the right, as the conservatives overpower the moderates. The short leash handed to Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister has been the greatest evidence of this.
The potential replacements for Malcolm Turnbull often floated in preferred Prime Minister polls, such as Scott Morrison and Julie Bishop, have fatal flaws, as ScoMo helped Turnbull knife Abbott, and Julie Bishop is a woman in the Liberal Party.
Their only hope for the Coalition is to rebuild from opposition. Find a new, central message that they can hope to take to power at some point in the next decade. It can’t be power and climate change, the boat has sailed on that and the polls reflect the fact that Australians are demanding action be taken.
Their greatest threat is the simple fact that a united Labor Party will be a formidable force. Tony Abbott found some success when Labor was weak, an ALP that literally can’t replace a leader overnight will be incredibly difficult to derail.
And make no mistake, Bill Shorten and Labor are in election mode, reshuffling the Shadow Cabinet today to firm up positions in preparation for a change in government.
The last five years of Coalition infighting and entropy, have led to a stagnant government, with no hope of recovery, one that has given Labor the ultimate edge in the next election. Their only hope is to limp on for the next few weeks to a general election and hope that voters take pity on them.
Strap in. It’s only Tuesday.