Almost ever since Malcolm Turnbull became Prime Minister three years ago, Conservative Media personalities have been relentlessly gunning for him.
Tony Abbott, their crack marksman, despite initial scruples, has been precise and effective in his attacks.
Respected journalist Peter Hartcher’s particularly vitriolic Easter diatribe in the Sydney Morning Herald on Malcolm Turnbull, accurately predicted his imminent downfall.
The government’s May Budget showing significant improvement in Australia’s economy, record growth in jobs, and tax cuts for middle-income earners, was well received, and appeared to lift their popularity.
However, the final assault came soon after, in August, just when it seemed that Josh Frydenberg was successfully negotiating acceptance of the National Energy Guarantee with the States. The Coal promoting so-called Monash Group of dissidents, again ramped up their attacks on the NEG, to the frustration of Malcolm Turnbull and to widespread public annoyance, who collectively sighed “Here we go again”.
This was the setting that prompted the endlessly conciliatory Malcolm Turnbull to lose patience and call a Liberal Party vote on his Leadership. Although he easily won the initial ballot against challenger Peter Dutton 48 to 35, it was the beginning of the end, as some members shifted their support and urged others to do the same. One of the main defectors, Steve Ciobo, has sought to justify his lack of loyalty by claiming that Malcolm Turnbull lacked the ability to sell the government’s successes to the electorate.
When Malcolm Turnbull declined to contest the ballot, and left politics, Tony Abbott cruelly charged him with falling on his own sword, and abandoning the party. He piously and presumptuously declared an end to the political assassin. Now that Turnbull has gone, it may be mission accomplished for him, so he may now wish to repair his tarnished image to become a great Liberal peace-maker, but will the electorate believe him? Will an ageing Tony Abbott still be useful to the Conservative Media?
The frequent turnover of Prime Ministers since John Howard is worrying. It is hugely expensive and diverts the attention of politicians from the needs of the population to their own interests.
What was the secret of Howard’s longevity? A significant factor may well be his somewhat controversial cordial relationship with influential 2GB opinion-maker Alan Jones. Of course John Howard was a shrewd leader who built his policies around family and mainly conservative values. He was a “can-do” leader who listened, and did his share of pork-barrelling the year round. But does this mean that to be successful, a leader must kowtow to media “arm-chair” critics, who themselves may be failed would-be politicians.
Initiated by Kevin Rudd, the Labor Party has modified its rules for changing its leadership, by giving branch members a 50% vote with the Labor Caucus. This may not prevent future leadership ructions, but it is a more democratic arrangement, and may perhaps prove less vulnerable to media manipulation. Labor is also open to the question of extending parliamentary terms to a fixed four years.
With the Coalition resisting any change, it will be interesting for onlookers to see if Labor can become the party of stability, and the Coalition the party of divided factions.