16/12/2015 - 13:35

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16/12/2015 - 13:35


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Led by the competent and effective Warren Truss, the Nationals emerged from the political machinations of 2015 with reputations intact.

CONNECTION: Both Julie Bishop and Malcolm Turnbull are from the moderate side of the Liberal Party. Photo: David Foote

Led by the competent and effective Warren Truss, the Nationals emerged from the political machinations of 2015 with reputations intact.

The year has ended on a dismal note for three of the leaders of Australia’s political parties, but quite well for a fourth.

In order of gravity, Palmer United Party financier and head, Clive Palmer, tops the list, since two of his senators left party ranks and his troubled nickel refinery and golfing businesses are floundering.

He’ll therefore be hard pressed to find the needed millions to bankroll television and other advertising for PUP candidates at the next federal poll, due by January 2017.

Then comes Labor’s Bill Shorten, whose popularity had fallen to 14 per cent, equalling the record low for a Labor leader, according to Newspoll.

Will Labor retain him or opt for, say, Chris Bowen or Jason Clare, who’d undoubtedly boost party ratings, as Malcolm Turnbull did after Tony Abbott’s removal on September 14.

The third loser, of course, was Mr Turnbull, who for nearly three months was on the upward trajectory after the leadership coup, only to begin slipping before his 100th day as leader (due on December 23).

“Satisfaction with Mr Turnbull’s performance as prime minister tumbled eight points to 52 per cent in the past fortnight, while his disapproval climbed by eight points to 30 per cent,” The Australian, Newspoll’s owners, reported on December 8.

Mr Turnbull’s net satisfaction rating – the difference between those who are satisfied and those who are dissatisfied with his performance – deteriorated by 16 points from 38 points to 22 points.”

Who then, if not the direct beneficiary of these leaders falling fortunes, held firm?

It was the invariably overlooked, ever-reliable Nationals leader Warren Truss, who played his political cards brilliantly throughout 2015.

Let’s have a closer look at the long-ignored Mr Truss, who it’s becoming increasingly evident Mr Turnbull has underestimated.

That, of course, is unforgivable, since Mr Truss hails from Queensland’s most famous political town, Kingaroy, home of that state’s legendary and record-serving Nationals premier, Joh Bjelke-Petersen.

Never underestimate a ‘Kingaroyer’, someone should have stressed to Mr Turnbull, a long-time resident of Sydney’s swish Point Piper.

Who could forget Sir Joh’s ultimately failed 1987 campaign to enter federal politics under the fighting banner, Joh for PM?

Although that much-hailed campaign petered-out when prime minister Bob Hawke called a double-dissolution poll in May of that year, the speculation nevertheless destabilised then Liberal leader John Howard’s bid to oust Labor from power.

Mr Turnbull and his backers should closely study the conservative turmoil of 1987 and that Liberal defeat.

They’d be wise to think carefully about the qualified support Mr Truss’s Nationals have given an increasingly disunited Liberal Party, which remains embroiled in a bitter tussle involving the Turnbull and Abbott wings.

The Nationals are past masters at monitoring Liberal difficulties and imbroglios, and were doing so well before Mr Turnbull had finalised his long-planned anti-Abbott coup of September 14.

They were aware a challenge was in the offing even if they weren’t fully abreast of the wheeling and dealing, in which Liberal deputy Julie Bishop was involved.

This column reported soon after Mr Turnbull took power that Mr Truss and his leadership group were quick to present him with two documents, which they wanted signed to guarantee the Nationals remained coalition partners.

The first was a letter reaffirming the long-standing practice of the Nationals leader being deputy prime minister, and the awarding of portfolios.

The second, and this hadn’t been previously done, required Mr Turnbull to agree to abide by certain policies. These included a commitment to stick with current government policy on climate change (and not to introduce an emissions trading scheme), and to hold a national plebiscite on the issue of same-sex marriage issue.

However, what wasn’t known outside Nationals ranks was that the decision to set about contractually limiting Mr Turnbull was taken more than six months before the anti-Abbott coup of September 14, and even a month before the failed February leadership spill.

“The principles of this agreement had been drawn up at a Nationals meeting in Wodonga in February this year [2015] in the event of a new coalition government,” according to an October 10 report in Melbourne’s News Weekly magazine.

Clearly Mr Truss was a step ahead of the Liberal leadership tussles.

He was also (briefly, in this case) in front after the anti-Abbott coup, seemingly having recruited former Liberal minister Ian Macfarlane (another Kingaroy identity), who had backed that plot but wasn’t included in the Turnbull cabinet.

Unfortunately for the Nationals, the Queensland Liberal National Party failed to endorse the move.

The Nationals remain deeply suspicious of Mr Turnbull’s fixations, so often crafted to appeal to inner-city Greens-Labor voters, while their own priorities are to focus on wealth generating and bread-and-butter considerations.

They view Mr Turnbull and his backers as inclined to lift spending on pet programs, which means lifting taxes on producers rather that living within the nation’s financial means.

In other words, nothing has changed with Mr Turnbull, who had so ardently backed Rudd-style governance during 2008-09.


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