Liberals backed the wrong horse

10/09/2009 - 00:00


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The proposed ETS could be the defining policy decision – for Labor and the Liberals.

IN recent times, State Scene has encountered ever-fewer people who disagree that we've probably reached the point where the Liberal Party should be replaced by a new level-headed conservative-oriented entity.

The last time State Scene raised this in conversation the response was simply: "All good things come to an end".

Others, although not arguing against such a suggestion, say perhaps a less drastic option, like removing Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop, is what's needed.

One said: "It's probably drastic surgery that's required, not a funeral."

In other words, much more than just removing its uninspiring leadership.

He may well be correct.

Why rush to an undertaker when a competent surgeon can do what's required? The problem, of course, is finding such a surgeon.

The last time non-Labor underwent that type of surgery it had such an individual in the person of then leader, Robert Menzies.

Today, it's the leader and his deputy who are part of the problem, meaning things are worse.

Before canvassing the Liberals' malaise, it's worth recapping how Australian non-Labor has undergone such funerals and drastic surgery in the past.

Both ordeals, even though forgotten by most, have been integral to non-Labor's history.

Immediately after World War I non-Labor, called the Commonwealth Liberal Party, had an intake of ex-Labor MPs, including the irascible Billy Hughes, who briefly led as prime minister, to form what was known as the Nationalists.

They did well during the 1920s, but, like today, became moribund.

So, in 1931, they simply vanished. The undertaker came along and the United Australia Party (UAP) emerged.

Again, non-Labor received an infusion of Labor defectors, including Joseph Lyons, who led them until his death in 1939.

Little changed over the wartime years of John Curtin Labor.

Then, in 1944, Lyons' UAP successor, Robert Menzies, pulled out the surgeon's knife, killed the patient, buried the UAP, and created the Liberal Party.

Political surgery and funerals are, therefore, not unprecedented for non-Labor and there's no reason either should be overlooked now.

Indeed, there's a strong case for seriously considering both.

Here are some reasons why.

Labor MPs say Mr Turnbull sought to join them if a Canberra seat was found for him.

That revelation casts doubt upon Mr Turnbull's commitment to Menzies-style political tenets of small government, low taxation, and a federated, not centrally controlled, Australia.

Indeed, it's not difficult to imagine Mr Turnbull and Ms Bishop as lower-rank ministers in the Rudd government.

The strange thing about Mr Turnbull's denials that he'd approached Labor leaders, Bob Hawke and Kim Beazley, for a Labor seat is that he could have said non-Labor has a history of turning to Labor for leaders, as Hughes, a one-time Labor prime minister, and Lyons, a Labor premier and federal minister, show.

In other words, he could have claimed to be in honourable company.

But in his case, such a historically valid argumentation probably wouldn't have washed.

There are several other grave problems in Mr Turnbull's case over and above his ignominious handling of the 'Utegate' affair.

Firstly, he led the charge for unpopular Labor prime minister, Paul Keating, to republicanise Australia, something many active Liberals continue to vehemently oppose.

Mr Turnbull represents Sydney's swishest seat, Wentworth, and growing numbers of Liberals Australia-wide see him as devising policies based on what he hears in unrepresentative Wentworth to ensure he remains in parliament.

Something similar applies to Ms Bishop in her seat of Curtin.

Which brings us to what increasing numbers of Liberals - politicians and members - have started to focus on - the Rudd Government's Emissions Trading Scheme, which Mr Turnbull and Ms Bishop ardently back.

The ETS mega tax is the biggest and broadest tax ever on everything, as Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce has pointed out.

As one State Scene contact said: "The focus of these government schemes is control, not correction.

"If the public acquiesces under colour of crises-containment, the future will be bankrupt, both literally and figuratively."

But before further considering the ETS, what of Ms Bishop's dismal record? Last month she actually criticised Mr Rudd for standing up to Beijing's bullying of Australia over the issuing of a visa to Uighur leader, Rebiya Kadeer.

Here's how The Australian's foreign affairs writer, Greg Sheridan, assessed her extraordinary stance.

"More recently Bishop criticised Rudd for, among other things, raising human rights in Tibet publicly and for not 'working constructively' with the Chinese over the issuing of an Australian visa to Rebiya Kadeer," he wrote.

"Virtually every commentator took Bishop's comments to mean she thought the government should have denied a visa to Kadeer, which would have been a shocking sell-out of free speech and human rights.

"The idea the visa should not have been granted was explicitly backed by Philip Ruddock, who presumably thought he was backing Bishop.

"Julie Bishop may well be the worst opposition foreign affairs spokesperson in decades.

"At a very superficial level she presents well but you get no sense at all of any serious political culture operating when she makes her astoundingly opportunistic and inconsistent policy interventions.

"She began her tenure in foreign affairs shortly after it was revealed that she neither wrote, nor it seems even read properly, the chapter of a book about the Liberal Party that bore her name as author. What idealistic young person would be inspired by that example to join the Liberal Party?"

Can anyone imagine Robert Menzies doing this, or launching Utegate for that matter?

Thankfully, therefore we're headed for an election where a big taxing bright green coalition of Rudd-led Labor, Senator Bob Brown-led Greens, and the Turnbull-Bishop-led Liberals, will challenge Senator Joyce's Nationals plus Senator Steve Fielding's Family First anti-ETS alliance.

"I can tell you the mood is changing; I am now getting hundreds of emails a day from people," Senator Joyce said.

"They hate this policy. They just hate it. It was marvellous when it was a thought bubble but people are saying, 'We can hardly afford to live in our home.' People see this as madness.

"And they actually get the gist of it. They know it's a new tax and they are asking: 'How does putting another new tax on me change the temperature of the globe?'

"And the more they think about it, the madder they get. In the coal industry they know it's a new tax that will cost their jobs. In rural Australia they know it's a new tax that will send them broke.

"Everywhere there is a power point in your house; there is access to a new tax for the Labor government.

"A new tax on ironing, a new tax on watching television, a new tax on vacuuming.

"If you go to the super-market Kevin will be in the shopping trolley with you because there will be a new tax on food. Want to go overseas, want to go to Cairns for a holiday?

"Don't worry, Kevin is on the plane with you because there is a new tax on aviation fuel."

The upside is that, at long last, voters get a clear-cut choice - between ever-bigger government that taxes everything, and no-ETS mega taxing plus smaller government.

Mr Turnbull probably already knows of murmurs within Liberal Party ranks, with growing numbers of members and backers gearing up to vote for and/or join the Nationals.

As such murmurs become cheers for the Nationals and Family First, Mr Turnbull and Ms Bishop will wonder if it's an undertaker or surgeon they'd prefer.


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