This year’s federal poll could well determine the future of the Liberal Party.
IF Tony Abbott doesn’t oust Kevin Rudd at the coming election, he won’t be alone in starting the slide towards political demise – the Liberal Party will also be going along for the ride.
That’s the bottom line now that former Liberal leader, Malcolm Turnbull, intends to remain in parliament.
Whether his change-of-mind was due to voters in his swish Sydney seat of Wentworth urging him to stay on, or because his former Manhattan-based investment bank partner, Goldman Sachs, is being forensically investigated by the US Congress over its role in helping spark what State Scene terms ‘the North Atlantic financial crisis’, we’ll never know.
But what’s guaranteed is that Mr Turnbull and his parliamentary backers will promptly move to replace Mr Abbott if Mr Rudd is returned.
And they’ll undoubtedly have a good chance of reinstating Mr Turnbull to that stepping stone for the prime ministership, which he’ll be hoping to bag in 2013.
Unfortunately for Mr Turnbull, today’s Liberal Party is really two quite distinct entities – a wet or ‘Ruddbullite’ bloc, and a ‘Menziesite’ wing, with those in the latter, to varying degrees, still believing in lower taxes, preserving the remnants of federalist governance, and preferring markedly less bureaucratic impingement upon people’s lives but not knowing how to realise any of these.
What the Abbott-Turnbull clash of December 1 2009 revealed was that the party is evenly split, with only Mr Abbott’s vote for himself being the difference.
Not even his deputy, Julie Bishop, voted for him, putting her with the wets.
But she wasn’t the only Western Australian Liberal MP preferring Ruddbullism.
Only three WA lower house MPs backed Mr Abbott – Dennis Jensen, Wilson Tuckey, and Luke Simpkins.
The others – Mal Washer, Michael Keenan, Don Randall, Steve Irons, Judi Moylan, and Barry Haase – were Ruddbullites, meaning they gave the nod to the Rudd carbon or Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) tax that Mr Turnbull and Ms Bishop so adamantly backed.
But only one WA senator, David Johnston, threw his hat in with the Ruddbullites.
Liberal backing for the Rudd carbon tax preceded the clandestine undermining of Mr Turnbull’s predecessor, Brendan Nelson, as leader.
Or, as one Liberal insider, recently said: “History shows that Nelson was rolled on this issue by his own shadow cabinet in humiliating fashion, and subsequently lost the Liberal leadership.
“He was opposed inside the party in part by those who were genuinely committed to an ETS (of which a few remain today) and by those who thought the best course of action was for Liberal MPs to close their eyes, grit their teeth, kowtow to the Labor Party, and vote for a bill they knew was bad for Australia and fundamentally against core Liberal principles of small government and low regulation.”
The distinguishing feature of the Turnbull leadership was his dogged backing for a carbon tax, ‘my way or the highway’, by which he meant ‘Rudd’s way or the highway’ – a stance in direct contrast to that of Dr Nelson.
Let’s not forget that the Liberal MPs opposing carbon taxing of the entire economy were for a long time in the minority with Dr Nelson.
State Scene recalls when only three didn’t fear publicly contradicting the contention that carbon dioxide caused climatic variations and that it threatened to fry all humanity – WA’s dogged Wilson Tuckey and Dennis Jensen and South Australian senator, Cory Bernadi.
What must be stressed is that the carbon dioxide tax crusaders are a broad alliance that includes: MPs who simply believe there are votes in it; deep green activists; bankers; subsidised wind-farm owners; lots of taxpayer-funded and government employed scientists; and big accountancy and law firms, which will reap huge fees from what’s called ‘carbon auditing’.
But a far more crucial reason for the alliance’s power is that Mr Rudd knows the one third or so of his Labor MPs who believe a carbon tax threatens Australian living standards and our economic prospects fear following their consciences by voting against it because they’d be immediately dis-endorsed.
For them such a vote is political suicide.
That only leaves the Nationals and the half plus one – the one being, of course, Mr Abbott– Menziesite wing of the Liberal Party that stands between Australia and an economically destructive and unnecessary tax.
Mr Rudd’s announcement that he won’t press ahead with the carbon tax until after 2012 is thus a miniscule respite.
A carbon, or ETS, tax remains on Rudd-led Labor’s agenda; it’s just been delayed until after December 31 2012.
That means when 2013 arrives at the midnight hour, December 31-January 1, the Liberals, if led by Mr Turnbull, will be back to where they were on the morning of December 1 2009, just before he was ejected by one vote.
Mr Turnbull, whether Liberal leader immediately or soon after the coming election will still have, on New Year’s Day 2013 and beyond, an overriding yearning (that once cost him the leadership) to see the Rudd carbon tax become law.
Where will that leave the Liberal Party?
Although crunch time is still more than two years away, this is worth pondering.
State Scene would firstly expect all the WA politicians named above to vote, as they did on December 1 against Mr Abbott and thus for carbon taxing.
But that matters little, since the real action, if Mr Turnbull becomes leader, will be beyond the party’s parliamentary wing.
What’s crucial to note here is that the only reason most in the Ruddbullite wing so meekly fell in behind Mr Abbott was because so many Liberal rank-and-file members had emailed and telephoned all federal Liberal MPs in Parliament House, Canberra, and their electorate offices across Australia.
The most reliable estimate is that about 400,000 emails and telephone calls were sent and made.
It’s therefore Liberal rank and filers who’ll decide the party’s fate during 2013 if Mr Turnbull is again leader and again falls in behind Mr Rudd’s carbon taxing plan that many of his wealthy backers in Wentworth will demand.
Although the Liberal Party could linger on life support for a while, it would fairly quickly find its donor base vanishes.
Rank and filers, business, commercial and professional organisations with realistic and scientifically well-founded views on the phoniness of the carbon warming case would redirect their benevolence.
The most obvious recipient would be the regionally based Nationals, a party that remains firmly opposed to the coastal urban-dwelling carbon-taxing crusade.
Under such circumstances, a second Turnbull ascendancy may well give rise to another party, one that would not resemble Rudd-led Labor or the Turnbull-led Liberals since they’d be seen as indistinguishable.
The best place to begin appreciating such an outcome is to read-up on how the once successful United Australia Party – the Liberal Party’s immediate predecessor – that governed Australia from 1931 to 1941, simply vanished from the political stage.
Among other things what this means is that if victory eludes Mr Abbott, the next non-Labor prime minister, in all likelihood, isn’t yet in federal parliament.