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Consolations from the Liberal Party mess

  • 25 August 2018


What a mess! Poor Fellow My Country. Today is not a day for reckoning about any big policy issues, because none of them was in play when members of the Liberal Party cast their votes in the party room.

And the reckoning on issues like climate change, energy policy, tax reform, school funding, the NDIS, migration and population policy, Indigenous constitutional recognition, multiculturalism and freedom of religion requires a functioning parliament and party rooms where deliberation and compromise within the contours of the various party philosophies are possible. To start the policy reckoning for the good of the country, the rules of political engagement need to be clear. And perfidy needs to be punished.

There are three consolations and a couple of abiding concerns about the vote in the Liberal Party's party room meeting. The first and major consolation is that Peter Dutton was not elected leader and thus is not our new prime minister. I say this, not because of any aversion I have to his policies or because of his political philosophy, but because of his reckless, wrecking behaviour in working assiduously to terminate the prime ministership of Malcolm Turnbull.

Dutton's behaviour this past week is not to be rewarded with the ultimate political prize. In these leadership battles, there is next to no political morality at play. It's about winning the individual prize (and presumably trying along the way to maximise the prospects that the party will win the next election). It's about raw power and getting the numbers.

It would be even more consoling if there had been at least three self-described 'conservative' members of the Liberal Party who voted for anyone but Dutton and who would have otherwise voted for Dutton but for his wrecking behaviour this week. But that's probably too much to hope for. If it were true, it would mean that Dutton would have had the numbers were an assessment made only on the basis of political philosophy and capacity for leadership, and that he was deprived the top job by 40 votes to 45 as punishment for his engaging in self-promoting wrecking behaviour.

Had Dutton become prime minister, he would never have enjoyed any legitimacy given the tactics he employed to get there, and such behaviour would have been repeated and rewarded yet again in the future. The consolation is that even in the derelict state of Australia's contemporary politics, Dutton's perfidy augmented by Tony Abbott's