06 October, 2009

Turnbull: Back me or sack me

I have been critical of Malcolm Turnbull in the past but I must give credit where due. The recent attacks on him by anonymous members of his own party are a load of hogwash.

While the Liberal party opposes Rudd’s planned emissions trading scheme, there is a split in the party between those who oppose an ETS outright, and those who oppose Rudd’s version of an ETS. It amounts to a split between global warming deniers and those who accept the reality but are torn on what to do about it.

Turnbull’s own position is to back an ETS but not Rudd’s plan. Evidently, a significant number of his backbenchers disagree with this position but not enough to say anything attributable. So instead, they have been leaking suggestions that he is politically inept. Such charges are plausible after the Oz-Car affair blew up in their faces, but they miss the point that Turnbull is doing exactly what they put him there to do and leading the party. If they don’t like the way he is leading them, they should do as Turnbull suggests and remove him.

It’s a fine time for the Parliamentary Liberal party to start taking a stand on policy. They always fell in line behind John Howard, often against their better judgement. Everyone knew Howard was past his use-by date in their last term, but still no-one would challenge him. Howard himself put the responsibility back on the party saying he would lead them as long as they wanted him to, knowing that they would never say no to him. Then in mid 2007, Howard told Alexander Downer to put the feelers out and see if the party thought it was time for him to go. The answer came back, “Since you ask, yes it’s time to go.” Howard said, “No, it isn’t,” and the party just quietly waited to lose the 2007 election. Even when it had been made clear at Howard’s own instigation that the majority thought he should step aside, no-one – least of all Peter Costello, who had spent the last ten years expecting to inherit the prime ministership – challenged him.

For the most part, this is the same party that now grumbles to itself about Turnbull’s leadership but does nothing about it. They know that, for all his faults, Turnbull is a strong leader, and who else have they got – Joe Hockey? A few have acknowledged the reality of the situation. The “eccentric” (according to Alexander Downer) Wilson Tuckey said that it would be better to lose a leader than to gain an ETS. One might not agree with that position but at least Tuckey realises he can’t have it both ways. What the “anonymous smartarses” trying to undermine Turnbull have to realise that leadership is not a case of “I am their leader, I must follow them,” and that what they see in Turnbull as political naivety, is actually a bit of vision and courage. It says a lot about them that they can’t tell the difference. Turnbull is right to assert his leadership and challenge his colleagues to remove him if they don’t like it. He issued that challenge last Thursday. No-one has yet challenged him.

Update:
Well, I spoke too soon. It was reported today that some in the Liberal party have been sounding out Joe Hockey to replace Malcolm Turnbull as leader. I'm sure he's the candidate of choice for those who want the leader to follow the party.
Can it really be a coincidence that this latest leak came on the same day that Peter Costello announced his early resignation from Parliament? He was regarded as the leader in waiting since as far back 1994, but always waited for it to be given to him. Then when it was, he declined. Many had suggested he was biding his time waiting to launch a challenge but I believe that Costello quietly accepted that he isn't a leader long before his colleagues and commentators did.

I've been wrong before, but I just don't see Hockey as a leader. I see him more like Alexander Downer - a capable, if occasionally embarrassing, front-bencher but lacking the vision required of a party leader. I could be wrong, and we may see his vision if he becomes leader, but I kind of doubt it.

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