30/09/2015 - 12:59

Nationals wary of ‘Whitlamite’ Turnbull

30/09/2015 - 12:59


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A strong win at the next election will strengthen the new PM’s hand in relations with his coalition partners.

Nationals wary of ‘Whitlamite’ Turnbull
DEALS: The Nationals moved quickly to secure policy concessions from Malcolm Turnbull after he toppled Tony Abbott. Photo: David Foote

A strong win at the next election will strengthen the new PM’s hand in relations with his coalition partners.

There is no doubt that reinstating Malcolm Turnbull to lead the Liberal-National coalition unsettled a sizeable number of non-Turnbull Liberal MPs and the Nationals parliamentary contingent.

There are two reasons for this.

The first is that they had experienced a Turnbull leadership during 2008-09, which proved to be far from pleasant.

But despite the discomfort of Mr Turnbull’s 14-month leadership, he was able to attract 54 backers to oust prime minister Tony Abbott with just 44.

However, when Canberra’s 21-strong Nationals are added to that 44, they together outnumber, Mr Turnbull’s 54 by 11.

This should make joint party room meetings interesting if irreconcilable differences ever arise.

We, of course, don’t know how the two Liberals MPs, Dean Smith and Michael Ronaldson, who couldn’t reach their party room for the leadership vote, would have aligned

Clearly, we have what could become a precariously led coalition should Mr Turnbull re-embrace his proclivity for captain’s calling.

The Nationals’ concern over such an eventuality meant they moved fast to require him to back a written agreement.

Had he not agreed, a Turnbull-led coalition may not have emerged.

If that had eventuated would Mr Abbott have been reinstated as leader, or would the Liberals have turned to Scott Morrison?

Mr Turnbull quite understandably stresses in all his interviews that he intends leading an orthodox non-Labor government, one where cabinet collectively makes decisions for debate and ratification at joint party meetings.

So clearly, there’ll be no captain’s calls, at least for the time being.

He’s clearly learned from his earlier leadership stint that ended with Mr Abbott replacing him.

But it was more than this that prompted the Nationals to seek a written agreement.

They view Mr Turnbull as a Whitlamite, something neither they nor their rank and file branch members throughout Australia are ever likely to regard favourably.

Why hark back now to those three Gough Whitlam years that ended 40 years ago?

The answer is interesting and is extensively canvassed on a recently posted blog site, titled, StopTurnbull.com.

It begins as follows: “The Liberal Party is supposed to be the custodian of classical liberalism and conservatism.

“Malcolm Turnbull is neither. 

“He is a leftist-progressive and secular humanist, who wants to take Australia in the same general philosophical direction as the Labor Party and the Greens.”

I’m not sure he’s a “secular humanist”, but the rest certainly seems in order.

But the site carries other interesting information.

For example, it highlights Mr Turnbull’s late mother, Coral (nee Lansbury), a successful literary academic at New Jersey’s Rutgers University.

She’s quoted from the December 28 1991 issue of the Sydney Morning Herald saying: “Acting and politics are very close, and we Lansburys always seem to run to the stage or Labor politics.”

Coral was born in Melbourne in 1929, to two British stage actors touring Australia with the musical Show Boat who decided to stay.

Her great uncle, George Lansbury (1859-1940), was the radical leftist British Labour Party leader, the article reports.

Mr Turnbull, as well as a long-time admirer of Mr Whitlam, became a business partner of his son, Nicholas.

He did likewise with former NSW Labor Premier, Neville Wran.

The Turnbull-Wran team was called on by troubled WA Labor premier Peter Dowding to evaluate the WA Inc Kwinana-based petrochemical project called PICL that was wound up.

Mr Turnbull, who represents the swish seat of Wentworth, hails from Sydney’s wealthy eastern suburbs, where many Labor luminaries and Whitlam admirers live.

He, Mr Wran and Labor-aligned author Thomas Keneally established the Australian Republican Movement, and when Labor leader Paul Keating – also an eastern suburbanite – established the Republican Advisory Council, Mr Turnbull was appointed its chairman.

Little wonder one-time Sydney Labor powerbroker, Graham Richardson, has claimed Mr Turnbull sought his help to gain a safe Labor Senate seat.

Australia’s many leftist-oriented cultural and other fraternities – writers, artists, feminists, academics, global heating alarmists, pro-republicans – view the Whitlam years as those from whence their thinking originates and can invariably be relied on to publicly back causes Labor chooses to promote.

Voters living in National-held regional seats or Liberal-held outer suburban ones generally return members with rather different outlooks.

Mr Turnbull’s winning 54 votes fails to fully convey that his hold on power is deliberately circumscribed.

And both he and the Nationals know it.

Their agreement helps ensure he doesn’t overzealously embrace any fads – like, say, the so-called carbon tax – to which the current generation of Whitlamites dearly subscribe, and attempt to foist them on Australia.

But if he resoundingly defeats Mr Shorten, as early polling suggests may occur, Mr Turnbull could be tempted to strike harder bargains with the Nationals.

All that can be said now is that the Turnbull leadership is likely to run smoothly with Mr Abbott’s many policy successes firmly embraced until the election.

After that, especially if he wins easily, things could differ since old habits and family traditions die hard, especially when it comes to politics.


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