THE grenade lobbed into the Liberal Party by Malcolm Turnbull demonstrates the challenges for Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
If it were not for the divisions, it turns out that Malcolm Turnbull could have won the next election for the coalition. As could Julie Bishop. While internal Liberal Party woes dominate the media, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and Labor rub their hands with glee.
The divisions within the Federal Liberal Party are highlighted in the ACT by Senator Zed Seselja. A supporter of Peter Dutton for prime minister, he backed the coup. Turnbull represented the “wet” side of the Liberal Party while Dutton and Seselja the crispiest “dry” side of the Liberals.
Former PM Turnbull’s explosive comments on the BBC suggesting his colleagues worried he would win the election makes some sense. The polling never favoured Turnbull. However, he pointed out that general polling may provide an indication for the Senate. However, the former PM argued he had the numbers in the marginal seats and could win accordingly.
The difficulty for the ultra-conservatives such as Seselja, Dutton and Tasmania’s Eric Abetz, is that they were looking down the barrel of another six years of a “not-very-conservative” Liberal Party. Turnbull contends that those members believed they would be better off having some time in opposition in which to strengthen and consolidate the conservative side of the party rather than putting up with Turnbull.
Seselja summed this up in speaking to ABC’s “7.30” shortly before the coup was launched: “In order to win elections, you have to start by securing your base, and reaching out across the spectrum to a broad cross-section of the community, but it is very, very difficult to win elections without your traditional supporters behind you, and that is one of the reasons that a number of people have come to the conclusion that Peter Dutton is the best man to lead us”.
Ironically, Seselja seems to have secured his own small base in the ACT at the cost of being abandoned by that “broad cross-section of the community”. Polling conducted for UnionsACT by robo-poll on January 22 found the Liberal Party primary vote has slipped to around 22 per cent. And this is before UnionsACT really ramp up their “Reject Zed” campaign.
Shorten and Labor want to keep the divisions within the coalition at the forefront of voters’ minds. Why wouldn’t they? There’s not much work to do! Liberals are doing it for them.
In the meantime, the old divisions within the Labor Party, before Shorten’s ascendancy, seem to have faded into the pages of history. A solid period of unchanged leadership and front-bench stability will have a great deal of appeal to Australians who are sick of the back stabbing politicking of the Liberal Party.
For the first time it appears that there is a real opportunity for a prominent centrist independent in the ACT to beat the Liberals and have a chance at ousting Zed. A sensible preference arrangement with the Greens and other minor parties will put Zed on even shakier ground. The changed Senate ballot paper will now allow voters to determine party preferences without being dictated to by the parties or the tedious below-the-line option.
The advantage for a centrist candidate is that they will be able to pull votes from both the Labor and the Liberal parties. Furthermore, they will effectively have the support of the campaign of UnionsACT. Its secretary Alex White outlined the vulnerabilities of Senator Seselja in a press release: “Zed’s standing with Canberrans has collapsed since his high-profile opposition to marriage equality last year, his climate denialism and the central role he played in promoting Peter Dutton’s toxic leadership ambitions”.
Scott Morrison does not want internal party conflict at the fore. He really just wants to get on with telling Australians how “good financial management” has provided the coalition with the wherewithal to be generous. In the meantime, he goes about bestowing largess in key marginal electorates.