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Readying Knives: The Mortality of Australian Prime Ministers

The opinion poll prime ministership is a modern Australian disease. Not only does it suggest an ailing in the Westminster system, but a profound contempt for the democratic sensibility on the part of party representatives, hacks and the industry that supports them. Prime Ministers are merely the icing, to be whipped off and replaced on going stale. Little wonder that the Australian politician can never be permitted to be an authentic representative, ever hostage to sentiment and the astrological deceptions of polling.

This conditioning is so total it has even bewitched the journalistic classes, who have also done their best to feed the complex of the short-term prime minister. Twenty-four-hour news tends to do that. A veteran ABC journalist let it slip on Monday morning that the elections were about the party strategists, the politicians and the polls. It was easy in such an assessment to avoid the Australian voter, whose relevance has declined as the influence of party brokers has risen.

A canon of politics is that support expressed with fervent enthusiasm in the public domain is bound to reverse behind closed doors. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has the firm support of numerous members of his front bench, expressed publicly. This is exactly why he should be worried. Such enthusiasm could be lethal.

Even potential challenger, the one-dimensional oafish Peter Dutton of the Home Affairs portfolio, has claimed Turnbull has his support, though he has left a tantalising morsel for political observers. “If my position changes – that is, it gets to a point where I can’t accept what the government is proposing or I don’t agree – then the Westminster system is very clear: you resign your commission, you don’t serve in the cabinet.”

Finance minister Matthias Cormann has attempted to adopt the “nothing to see here approach” while giving the Canberra press gallery every reason to presume that something is afoot. He claims to have heard no talk about conservatives pressing Dutton to mount a challenge to Turnbull. This, despite four 5.30 morning walks with Dutton, a fellow hardline conservative with whom he keeps on good terms with. To Sky News, he claimed that, “We are both very committed to the success of the Turnbull government and to wining the next election.”

Turnbull had done himself no favours. He remains weak but more to the point, has appeared to be weak. He took his party to the last federal election and received a thumping which imperilled his majority. He has been unsuccessful holding the sniping conservatives within his ranks at bay while embarking on an obsessive campaign to wound the opposition leader, Bill Shorten. The latter aspect of this strategy failed to materialise in the last round of by-elections which saw no Coalition gains, notably in the Queensland seat of Longman. As Queensland promises to be critical in any future election for the fate of the Coalition government, strategists are getting tetchy, eyeing Dutton as a form of insurance.

Turnbull also failed to hold on to the National Energy Guarantee plans that were hammered out last week, wanting to please worried backbenchers that energy prices would not fall while wedding the government to a carbon emissions reduction target of 26 percent set by legislation. The version cheered on with premature enthusiasm was the version that was subsequently torn up. (The term used here is “consultation”, a political version of euthanasia).

What will take its place remains to be seen, but the environment is bound to find a subordinate position in any such scheme. Climate sceptics remain irritations with purpose. The current form of the plan has been watered down: instead of legislation, the target will be set by an executive order of the relevant minister. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission would also tailor a report to parliament on the impact on prices as a result of the reduction.

Former prime minister, the deposed Tony Abbott, is excited. The great disrupter smells blood and revenge, and even though he is unlikely to take Turnbull’s place in the event of any leadership challenge, he is having a vicarious thrill. After the party meeting on August 14, Abbott landed a right royal blow, suggesting that “most explanations of how the NEG (as it stands without price targets) might theoretically get prices down sound like merchant bankers’ gobbledigook.” He is seeing the leader of his party being readied for execution. Fitting – Abbott was himself knifed by Turnbull in 2015 as being of questionable competence, notably on matters economic.

The media vultures have done little to stem the tide, parasites finding value in the speculation fanned by the Coalition dissidents. Newscorp has willingly supplied the soapbox, effectively arming them with weapons of sabotage. With each suggestion of a leadership spill come manuals – one supplied by The Sydney Morning Herald – on how to approach a prime ministership that awaits early termination.

As this week goes on, this may have simply been another spat in Turnbull’s unsteady term, wishful thinking on the part of the rabblerousers whose world view is markedly clipped. But a prime minister without authority can only ever be a prop for other forces who will, eventually, seek his removal. This state of affairs again shows the decrepitude of Australian politics, marred by a special form of impermanence mired in revenge, provincialism and ill-gotten gains.


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  1. helvityni

    Well said Dr Kampmark, your first paragraph states it clearly why we have these constant leadership challenges.

  2. Zathras

    The media seems to regard politics as some sort of blood sport and are always meddling in order to provide themselves with content.

    It wasn’t so long ago they were claiming there was an Albanese vs Shorton coup on the way. Perhaps they were hoping for a self-fulfilling prophesy.

    If there’s no news they conduct a Poll and that then becomes the news and a vehicle for further spin.

    Abbott knows all this but is happy to keep stoking the fire for his own benefit but I suspect the public are tiring of all the nonsense and would prefer a General Election to settle things once and for all (as if that would really work).

    Turnbull’s real problem is that nobody’s listening anymore and not many really care. They just want it to end.

  3. win jeavons

    Chamberlain was excoriated for appeasing Hitler. What must we do about a weak PM who appeases his lunatic fringe in capitulating on the urgent need to join the rest of the sensible world in hastening emission reduction, before the consequences are too horrendous ? They will go down in history as mass murderers , if we are lucky enough to have a history.

  4. New England Cocky

    “Turnbull had done himself no favours. He remains weak but more to the point, has appeared to be weak. He took his party to the last federal election and received a thumping which imperilled his majority”.

    Sadly Turdball lacks the Gorton style courage to dump the Liarbral Party in its own manure by resigning as PM and simultaneously Member for Wentworth, which would bring on a vote of no confidence on the House of Reps floor, resulting in an immediate General Election whereby the disgruntled Australian voters could dispatch this mob of self-serving LNP misgovernment politicians to the WPB of Australian political history.

    Fortunately the Benito Morriscum Turdball misgovernment looks very much like the Billy MacMahon LNP government of 1972, and we know how well that ended. Thank you Gough. It’s Time!

    Uhm … as I remember it, Toxic RAbbott voted against Turdball as Opposition Leader to be elected as Opposition Leader during the last competent ALP Australian government.

  5. lawrence winder

    Why is any of this surprising? Since 2013 on being elected after a vicious campaign of vilification, lies and innuendo by the Ugly American’s media, this policy free rabble have gone from not so much as badly inept to outright abysmal.
    Vainly posturing on how successful they’ve been in implementing their IPA master’s rancid “free-market” agenda we have watched this country fall further and further behind from being a progressive nation to an inward-looking, self obsessed and divided populace that in its inequality has fast become the white trash of Asia.
    Re-construction of sound values will take us a generation as is presently being witnessed in Victoria after it suffered the degradation of Kennett and his thugs…..poor fellah, my country.

  6. Stephengb

    Exactly Zathras

    “Turnbull’s real problem is that nobody’s listening anymore and not many really care. They just want it to end.”

  7. Andrew Smith

    I have notice recently how rusted on Liberal voting friends and relatives avoid discussion of politics, while a political analyst relative (my ageing mother) thinks LNP will not win the next election.

    Dutton maybe plausible for QLD, even then that’s definitely not a given, but the Libs would be asking for an electoral wipe out elsewhere.

    Former BBC correspondent Nick Bryant describes it well in his ‘The Rise and Fall of Australia’:

    ‘In The Rise and Fall of Australia, BBC correspondent and author Nick Bryant offers an outsider’s take on the great paradox of modern-day Australian life: of how the country has got richer at a time when its politics have become more impoverished.’

    Then again, we get the politicians and policies we deserve…..

  8. Matters Not

    So Dutton may have an office of profit under the Crown. No doubt he will step aside while the High Court decides. No doubt the Parliament under the guidance and tutelage of the PM will refer Dutton with all due haste.

    Given Dutton’s historical, demonstrated contempt for the Separation of Powers doctrine, I feel sure there’s the odd one or two members of the Judiciary who may choose to hand out a constitutional lesson. And maybe there’s something in it for Turnbull as well? But I can’t imagine what. Any ideas?

  9. Kronomex

    Nobody else is allowed to have jobs-for-life except, it appears in their fantasy reality, if you are one of the privileged, born to rule, and just plain greedy LNP federal pollies. We’re supposed to feel sorry for them? Bunch of bastards!

    “”A lot of our people are facing that fact that they are in the last six months of their political careers,” says one worried backbencher. “They’ve got houses, school bills, cars that they’ve set up for themselves on the basis that they’re earning $200,00 plus. What do they do if they’re suddenly out of work?””

  10. Kaye Lee

    The spill is on. Malcolm called it. Peter Dutton is running

  11. Kaye Lee

    Malcolm Turnbull wins the leadership – 48 to 35
    Sky News is reporting that Malcolm Turnbull survived the challenge.

    But those numbers suggest that close to half the party supports Peter Dutton.

    That is not good news for Turnbull moving forward.

    We would expect Dutton to step down from the Cabinet now.

  12. Matters Not

    Not just Dutton I suspect. Now Dutton can undermine – big time. Only needs 7 to have a change of heart (if that’s the right word.)

    Go Peter – you’re the chosen one. Make Tony your Deputy. Repeal the APOLOGY. Make a fresh start.

    Maybe Mal will retire to the Caymans where he is already a citizen, at least for tax purposes.

  13. Kaye Lee

    The ‘conservative rebels’ as they have coined themselves are:

    Tony Abbott

    Eric Abetz

    Kevin Andrews

    Andrew Hastie

    Will Dutton resign? Will other Ministers resign?

  14. Kaye Lee

    Sky News is reporting that Peter Dutton has resigned. Which was inevitable.

  15. Matters Not

    So Mal will have a new Cabinet and there will be a few new smiling faces – already preloaded to blame Labor for all things – but there will also be some disappointed members as well – they will be ripe for Dutton’s recruitment drive.

    Not if – but when re the next spill. Don’t think Mal will donate this time around.

  16. Andrew J. Smith

    Why do the LNP etc. ‘Conservative rebels’ look and sound like the Tory Brexiters in the UK and Trump’s Freedom Caucus in the GOP who all oppose regulation, renewables, immigrants, etc., coincidence of ideological influence or they see the decline in influence of WASP men as the greatest threat to their world?

  17. Matters Not

    Mal should move immediately (today) to refer Dutton to the High Court re his eligibility. I think he would win that vote. LOL.

    A by-election contest in Dixon would be most welcome.

    ABC reports that Dutton offered to stay on in Home Affairs but was rejected. Get rid of the CEO as well. Such is life.

  18. Kaye Lee

    “The Daily Telegraph reported Malcolm Turnbull offered Peter Dutton the opportunity to stay on the front bench as Home Affairs minister, but Dutt’s turned him down.”

  19. Kaye Lee

    “Peter Dutton is understood to be considering the offer from Malcolm Turnbull to stay as Home Affairs Minister and in Cabinet.” Sharri Markson. They are making it up as they go along.

    “I am being told (and I note that Sky is getting the same intel) that Peter Dutton, in an attempt to “reach across the table” to the moderates (and this has very much been a moderate vs conservative battle within that ‘broad church’) may keep Tony Abbott out of the cabinet – and keep Australia in Paris.

    It’s being billed as a ‘we can govern from the centre’ push, as a way to get some of those other supporters across the line.”

  20. Matters Not

    Conflicting news reports? Not surprised.

    Chaos typifies the political and media worlds today. Was hoping that Dutton would win.

  21. Kronomex

    If Brutus is singular does that make the plural Brutii? Let’s say it does. Trembles is building a great collection of Brutii on the backbench which means that, at some stage, the Brutii will burnii his bummii and leave dagger shaped holes in his backii.

  22. Kaye Lee

    Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar has offered his resignation to Malcolm Turnbull

  23. Kaye Lee

    These are the people who voted for Dutton. Quite a few surprises.

    Peter Dutton

    Michael Sukkar

    Greg Hunt

    Steve Ciobo

    Michael Keenan

    Angus Taylor

    Alan Tudge

    Concetta Fierravanti-Wells

    Ross Vasta

    Craig Kelly

    Bert van Manen

    Tony Abbott

    Kevin Andrews

    Andrew Hastie

    Jason Wood

    Luke Howarth

    Nicolle Flint

    Tony Pasin

    Ted O’Brien

    Ben Morton

    Andrew Wallace

    Karen Andrews

    Rick Wilson

    Andrew Laming

    Sussan Ley

    Eric Abetz

    Scott Buchholz

    David Bushby

    David Fawcett

    Jim Molan

    James McGrath

    James Paterson

    Zed Seselja

    Amanda Stoker

    Dean Smith

  24. Matters Not

    There’s a few on that list who will want a ministerial position as a reward. They include former Ministers such as: Abbott, Andrews, Ley, and Abetz. Presumably existing Ministers who jumped ship will be retained in some form. Then there’s those who want to be in Cabinet as well. How many more desperate rats are ready to desert?

    There’s a mountain of disappointment (and regret) to be shared around in the near future. Which current Ministers are for the chop? Can’t see how Josh can survive, A victim of climate change? Interesting times ahead – and maybe a by-election or two as well.

  25. Kaye Lee

    What a mess…..(from the live feed)

    Darren Chester and at least three other Nationals are willing to sit on the crossbench if Peter Dutton becomes Liberal leader – because they don’t believe Dutton has a hope in hell of winning the southern states. So, if Darren Chester and his group are willing to pull the trigger on that threat, then Peter Dutton could win the Liberal party numbers, but not the government – he would not have the numbers in the House.

    Which would mean – immediate election, basically, except the Libs haven’t finished their preselections. Mal would no doubt resign if he lost.

    On the issue of whether Cathy McGowan and Rebekha Sharkie would continue to give confidence and supply to the government, if Peter Dutton becomes the leader, they are examining their options. It is not much of limb to go out on to suggest that Adam Bandt would probably rather stab himself in the hand with a fork rather than give supply to a Dutton-led government.

  26. Robin the Hood

    the updated number of ministers who have now tendered their resignation is 10. Doesn’t seem as though marvin trumball is long for his job, if he was ever suitable for the top job?? Turnbull destined to be the john Hewson of the 21st century, how GST on a cake is it? Dutton already on the hustings MMM radio and lining up various media ópportunities to sell his a***, as one more recent LNP PM once joked…or was he serious??

    interestingly the name of one Joshua Frydenburg hasn’t appeared in the Nay for Malcolm The insidious Gregory hunt, once Mr coal , now Mr health, (he has been fantastically indifferent and prone to frequent cases of expletive-it is) Gregory wanted to be number 2. Hunt has made an enemy of Julie Bishop, can he afford to do so. The frequently jogging, man-bag black lyrca clad one is known for her death scare look, can Greg Hunt stand up to her?? Alas we think not.

    Dutton for Pm, has a certain ring of ‘where did we hear that before?? Think “Joh for PM’ all those years ago and look how far the chook farming queenslander got.

    Dutton is not, now or ever prime ministerial quality. The oafish, bovver boy he may well be, he lacks any empathy decency and commo sense. Not sure he cn blow his nose without checking with Abbott first. Dutton = expendable

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