There’s a new saying in Australia: “Another day, another Prime Minister.” The founders of the Westminster system of parliament, in which the Prime Minister is ‘elected’ by his/her political party, apparently overlooked the principle that a government be run by and for the people, attempting to ensure that power remains among those most ‘obviously’ fit to wield it. That aspect of the Australian political system reared its head again last week, with the brutal dispatch of now ex-prime minister Malcolm Turnbull by a fractious Liberal-National coalition government riven with resentment and out of touch with much of the Australian electorate. [Note to American readers: the Liberal party in Australia is ‘conservative’ – its Labor party is the ‘liberal’ equivalent.]
The leadership has now changed six times in the last eleven years, with four of those changes occurring outside of a general election, beginning with the summary removal of Kevin Rudd in 2010. Until that point, decades of de facto convention (though with no legal requirement) meant that whomever the political parties had represent them at elections would actually become Prime Minister, but once the floodgates were opened, the ‘elites’ began chopping and changing leaders as they saw fit.
Turnbull’s exit began last Tuesday with a ‘double-header’ leadership challenge as mainstream polls indicated for the fortieth consecutive time that Australians would elect a Labor government the next time Federal elections are called. The extraordinary incompetence and corruption of the Liberal-National coalition government led by Turnbull had recently been underscored by the #ReefGate scandal, in which a ‘grant’ of nearly half a billion dollars was given to a shill environmental group calling itself the Great Barrier Reef Foundation – an outfit that is not only massively undersized for administering such an amount of money (the ‘foundation’ employs just six people), but which did not even formally request the grant or bid for it.
The hubris and cronyism exposed by the #ReefGate scandal caused a media sensation. Within weeks, Department of Home Affairs (DHA) minister Peter Dutton initiated a leadership challenge in parliament, which he narrowly lost 48 votes to 35, before resigning from the cabinet. Exactly why Peter Dutton, a stupendously unpopular figure who holds the seat in his electorate by just 2%, was considered by 34 fellow MPs as the ideal replacement for Turnbull is a mystery.
Dutton seems to have had powerful backers egging him on – backers with enough clout to pressure Turnbull into appointing Dutton head of Australia’s Orwellian DHA ministry in the first place. Among the MPs who voted for Dutton is former prime minister Tony ‘shirt-front‘ Abbott (who had himself contested – successfully – the leadership of the Liberal party from Turnbull in 2009, then lost it back to Turnbull in 2015.)
With a Parliamentary recess approaching, the matter appeared settled. But the Australian branch of the Murdoch media empire maintained pressure on Turnbull, forecasting the inevitability of a second leadership contest (and underscoring the ridiculousness of the Westminster system: there are no restrictions on the frequency of ‘leadership spills’ (a declaration that the leadership of a parliamentary party is vacant and open for re-election) – a parliamentary majority could theoretically re-select a new Prime Minister every hour).
Indeed, the effort to incinerate Turnbull’s reputation and humanise the robotoid Dutton was so flagrant, Channel Nine’s political editor Chris Ulhmann – well-known for his strongly conservative views – accused Murdoch media mouthpieces of becoming “active participants” in the attempt to overthrow Turnbull, rather than just reporting on the unfolding story.
The Canberra Times published a timeline of some of the Murdoch media’s headlines from the weeks leading up to the spill. #ReefGate occurred approximately three weeks beforehand, but the Murdoch media didn’t cite that as the reason Turnbull had to go. Instead, it obsessively focused on Turnbull’s climate change legislation – the National Energy Guarantee (NEG) – his real ‘sin’. This is not the first time attacks on Australia’s parliamentary leader have correlated with legislation that could curb (even just mildly) key profit-making activities of the ‘resources’ industry.
When the scheme was eventually spiked by Turnbull himself, in yet another spineless cave-in to the right-wing radicals in his party, said radicals, rather than being satiated, sensed the blood in the water and launched the initial leadership spill. Despite its failure, Dutton quickly claimed the existence of a petition showing that some MPs had changed sides, and thus called for another leadership spill. Turnbull initially refused, but yielded on Friday 24th of August when a petition was formally presented.
Interestingly, that day marked Malcolm Turnbull’s 241st day as prime minister – the exact duration for which ‘Australia’s JFK’, Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, had held power before being removed by an intervention on the part of the British governor-general (at the behest of the British government) in 1975. While Malcolm Turnbull was certainly no Gough, the parallel was striking, perhaps even symbolic.
After a brief party-room meeting, Turnbull’s Treasurer, Scott Morrison, emerged as the victorious candidate, having placed his name in the hat at the last minute as a ‘moderate’ opponent to Dutton. Apparently, despite the special interests lobbying hard for Dutton’s installation, Liberal MPs retain sufficient collective self-preservation to choose a prime minister who stands a slightly better chance at preventing their total annihilation in the next general election. Which, by the way, might occur sooner than previously expected because Turnbull has not only been booted from the cabinet but resigned his seat, triggering a by-election that threatens the Liberal-National (LNP) coalition government’s majority of one seat. There is also the fact that Turnbull – an investment banker and former director of Goldman Sachs Australia – is a major donor to the Liberal party, previously contributing $1.75 million of his own money to its campaign coffers.
And so Tony Abbott – suspected of orchestrating this political coup – appears to have obtained some small measure of revenge against Turnbull, at the cost of effectively destroying the coalition government and rendering his party an object of political disgust throughout the country. His plans to seize control of the direction of the ‘ship of state’ from the backbenches have been thwarted, and he may well lose his own seat in the next election, along with his pawn Dutton.
Chief among his partners-in-crime in the LNP far-right faction are hardline authoritarians like former Minister for Defence, Kevin Andrews, and former Minister for Employment, Eric Abetz. Also, of those that voted against Turnbull, up to ten are or were members of his cabinet, or assistants to same – revealing just how little loyalty is valued in LNP circles.
When all is said and done though, Malcolm Turnbull’s chief weakness – repeatedly pointed out to him in the Australian media, both from the ‘left’ and the ‘right’ – was his failure to stand up to the pathological radicals within his own party, and now he has paid the price for it. As I wrote last year:
Malcom Turnbull’s placing of Peter Dutton in a position of such power is an egregious mistake that he will live to regret. […]
Turnbull has always been considered a ‘leftist among conservatives’ in the LNP, based on his Republican movement background, ‘scientific’ approach to climate change (according to the mainstream perspective), and superﬁcial grasp of technology issues. Although this gave him (and the government) a large popularity boost when he took over from Abbott, he has repeatedly been manipulated into making bad decisions that have possibly eroded his ability to truly assert himself as a leader strong enough to control the extremist elements in his ponerized party. […]
Unfortunately, his delusions and lack of knowledge are blinding him to the fact that only those with bona fide psychopathy are considered to be candidates for the ‘elite’ within a pathocracy, and so he will never be told the full story. He will be used as a puppet, and discarded once he is no longer of value to them. Perhaps he has been held hostage to the nu-tjobs within his party for so long now that he has developed some sort of political ‘Stockholm Syndrome’. In any case, his critical thinking abilities seem to have atrophied to the point where it is unlikely he will ever achieve what he had hoped to by becoming prime minister.
And so he did not.
For Dutton too this is a bad move. By allowing himself to be manipulated by Abbott and his gaggle of morons, Dutton has had his ministerial portfolio split (after temporarily resigning), and will likely lose his seat at the next election. His electoral office in the seat of Dickson, Queensland, was vandalised the day of the spill, with public anger at his shenanigans boiling over. He has also been publicly tarred as a two-faced backstabber who got what he rightfully deserved with his farcical leadership challenge.
So what now for new prime minister Scott Morrison? Given that Australia’s government is hostage to a small confluence of security, media and energy/mining interests controlling the country, there’s no reason to believe Morrison will rule much, or for long. Current reports about a ‘flood’ of refugees headed for Australia suggests that the Australian ‘Deep State’ is unhappy about their man Dutton losing the spill, and that we may soon see (especially from Murdoch-owned press) an escalation of media claims that Australia’s borders are ‘under siege’, requiring the firm commitment to defence that only a radically-conservative, authoritarian government can provide – yet more ‘reminders’ about ‘why we (supposedly) need them’.
At a deeper level, Australia’s political instability in recent years is in keeping with political instability across the West. This episode of political musical chairs signals a leadership class that – in vying for personal power – is protecting Australia’s ‘core national interests’ (read: the elites’ bank accounts) from the ‘threat’ – emergent across the world these days – of a genuinely popular national leader who means and does what he says.