Editor’s note: This article by BJ appears even more precient, given reports that Cory Bernardi is preparing to make his move.
Any doubt that Malcolm Turnbull is grossly and dangerously inept, and politically and ideologically unsuited to be the Prime Minister of Australia in a conservative coalition government, was finally, and for all purposes, put to rest in the fallout from his recent phone call to President Trump that floundered over the refugee resettlement deal. The events themselves, and the ramifications of Turnbull’s ham-fisted approach to President Trump, demonstrate the essence of Turnbull’s unsuitability, showcasing a startling lack of political acumen, a tin-ear for domestic politics and foreign relations, a frightening inability to read and respond to changed circumstances in a way that serves Australia’s interests and, most importantly that Turnbull is not and never has been a true conservative.
As bad as all of that is, one admittedly less-than-benign interpretation of Turnbull’s conduct is that he was party to arrangements left in place by the departing Obama, to politically wedge and embarrass President Trump as he entered the White House, by foisting upon him a deal that is contrary to his clearly stated commitments to the electorate on refugees and immigration. We will never know whether Turnbull saw the potential for that arrangement to sour relations with the new President, or would have held back if he did; and frankly, it hardly matters now. If you think that is an absurd interpretation, then consider this one solitary fact: the deal for the US to resettle 1250 detainees on Manus Island was struck between Turnbull and Obama and announced on 16 November 2016, AFTER the presidential election on 8 November 2016 and Trump was therefore the president-elect, and in the full knowledge of everything that Trump had said during the campaign about his approach to refugees and immigration from certain countries.
There is no interpretation of these events that is favourable for Turnbull; he is either a fool used by Obama, or worse, a knowing participant, in a deal that he must have understood would place the incoming President Trump in an impossible situation, where to honour the deal he would among his first acts have to break his commitment to the electorate on refugees and immigration. How did Turnbull think the new President Trump would react to be placed in that position? And irrespective of whether Trump ultimately decided to honour the arrangement, he was clearly going to be angry and resentful about the situation, and Turnbull’s role in bringing it about. Nobody who has observed Trump during the election could sensibly conclude that President Trump wouldn’t hit back, or fail to understand that there might well be consequences for the future relationship between Australia and the Trump administration. In those circumstances a more rational decision might have been to abandon the deal in recognition of the potential for disruption; but Turnbull is on the ropes politically, and once again he seems to have placed his personal need for any kind of political outcome before Australia’s national interest in developing a strong relationship with the new President.
The MSM has gleefully leapt on the debacle, screeching that Trump doesn’t care about Australia and dragging out the usual anti-American suspects who forcefully opine that Australia should forget the historical, political, defence and cultural ties with the US and instead move closer to the bastion of freedom that is modern-day China. And there is scant recognition in the MSM reports that Trump has rightfully said the deal is a bad one for the US, because on any view that is exactly what it is, or that Trump might have just cause to feel that Turnbull and therefore Australia have been party to a calculated attempt to damage him politically.
As tempers cooled, and the more soothing language of international diplomacy returned, Trump has now apparently agreed to honour the arrangement, but the real issue is at what cost? Turnbull is now desperate to claim that he stood up to the bullying President Trump, and promised nothing in return, but the reality is that Trump the businessman did not operate that way, and there is no reason to believe Trump as President would act any differently. Turnbull may not have immediately agreed to anything, but Trump knows he has Turnbull swinging by a thread, and he will not hesitate to use the leverage over Turnbull when it suits his agenda. Whether now, or in the future, Australia will pay a quid pro quo to Trump for accepting the political cost of honouring the deal, and it might well include a premium for trouble that Turnbull, and unfortunately Australia, caused him so early in his Presidency.
The simple fact is that Malcolm Turnbull has been and will continue to be an electoral disaster for the Liberal Party, and nothing in the latest events suggests he can or will improve. The latest Newspoll shows the Coalition trailing Labor by 46 – 54, with a primary vote of 35%, which is well below the 39% at the time Turnbull assassinated Abbott. Although the most startling finding is that the drift of voters away from the major parties is turning into a surge, rising from 15% to 19%. Turnbull tore down Tony Abbott to become Prime Minister after an insidious campaign of leaking and destabilization, and egged on by the siren songs emanating from the ABC and Fairfax, that fooled him, and the 54 Liberal bed-wetters who voted for him, into believing that moving the government and the Liberal party to the left would improve their prospects of re-election. It was all fools’ gold and, as obvious and predictable as it was, the minute Abbott was gone they promptly jettisoned Turnbull, and returned to the task of getting Labor back onto the Treasury benches at the next election.
Turnbull brought the government to the absolute brink of defeat at the last election, as swathes of conservative voters abandoned a party that not only abandoned them, but also insulted and abused them for presaging the now demonstrated failure of Turnbull as Prime Minister. And worse, is that the electoral damage wrought by Turnbull will in all probability deliver the next government to Labor at a time when much of the Western world is turning sharply to conservative movements to counter the wrecking ball of progressive politics and policies, placing Australia well out of step with political direction of the other Western democracies, and therefore badly-situated to deal with and benefit from them.
The Liberal party should heed the lesson of Turnbull’s latest appalling mess, and immediately move against him. If Turnbull remains, then two things seem inescapable: the next election will be lost, and the conservative voters who abandoned the party at the last election will have to finally accept that the Liberal party is Labor-lite without the union puppet masters, and find a new permanent home in the emerging conservative alternatives.
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