HELL hath no fury like a prime minister spurned… unless, it seems, if you’re a woman.
Malcolm Turnbull’s lashing out at Peter Dutton – with a backhander to Scott Morrison – is a perfect case in point. It’s almost as though he was waiting for the slightest stumble before ripping in with the old one-two combination to the ribs and the jaw.
Dutton had left himself open with his agreement to lunch with slimy Santo Santoro and his client, the thoroughly disreputable Huang Xiangmo.
It didn’t matter a jot to Malcolm that Huang’s bid for Australian citizenship – the reason for the lunch – resulted in his being banned from the country via an ASIO intervention. For the spurned PM it was clearly “very troubling” and Morrison could not “wave it off as gossip in the bubble”.
Oh, how Malcolm relished it. The desperate need to unload on the men who snatched the grand prize from his grasp had been growing in intensity ever since that nightmarish day in August, 2018.
Now in a single outburst he had revived all the memories of the Liberal Party infighting that disabled Federal governance for half a decade. He’d almost certainly ensured that Dutton would lose his ultra-marginal seat of Dickson; Kerryn Phelps might just squeak back in Wentworth; and Morrison would be haunted by his version of Banquo’s ghost throughout the campaign.
In doing so, Turnbull had joined two of his predecessors in the helpless fury of rejection. It’s as though they have been unmanned by the shock. Their whole identity has been ripped untimely from their grasp. They have no recourse but rage and revenge to withstand the public humiliation and fill the sudden vacuum of self-regard.
As it happens, I had a seat in the dress circle when the first of them was suddenly bereft. I had spent many hours at close quarters with him in preparing my 2008 book, “Kevin Rudd: The Biography”. And I knew of the secret religious fervour that underpinned his self-belief in the rightness of his cause.
One day, perhaps, he’ll confess it, but since his late teens when he had a spiritual epiphany he had no doubt that greater forces than he were guiding his footsteps. So he pursued his political muggers with the burning power of righteousness.
Tony Abbott was similarly bereft. He was quite serious when in the shadow of his fall he promised “no wrecking, no undermining, no sniping”. But his rage had a mind of its own and it allowed him no resting place until his bushwhacker was himself brought low.
The exception in our quartet of the spurning is of course the one person that the maxim tells us is most vulnerable to the fury that follows in its wake: the womanly Julia Gillard. And it is germane perhaps that she carried no religious baggage into The Lodge. Her “bag” was education, and her conduct since she left it has been a lesson to us all.
The silence she has kept since Bill Shorten (among others) engineered her downfall speaks volumes. Just what it says about her, her gender and perhaps her party is more complex than we have space to pursue. But it does suggest that the progressive feminisation of our political system is certainly a notion worth exploring.
Men, it seems, are far more vulnerable to another more valid maxim: “The human mind is a precision instrument of self-delusion”.