Leading article Australia

Gunshot wounds

27 October 2016

2:00 PM

27 October 2016

2:00 PM

Regardless of who said or emailed what to whom, libertarian Senator David Leyonhjelm’s Adler shotgun blasted a big hole through Coalition ranks last week. ‘Adlergate’ highlighted the Coalition will lose the next election to Bill Shorten and Labor if nothing changes in Malcolm Turnbull’s and his government’s performance. Indeed, a Liberal MP said afterwards that one of the Coalition’s tasks this term is to prepare to hold a Shorten government to account if the next election is lost: an extraordinary thing to say given we voted less than four months ago.

Adlergate’s biggest casualty is Mr Turnbull. While the ‘love media’ honchos – particularly the wearisome Niki Savva of the Australian and Fairfax’s Latika Bourke and Mark Kenny – ripped into Tony Abbott over his guns-for-votes intervention, it was Mr Turnbull who caused the government’s godawful jam, then compounded it through poor judgment and execrable political management.

Yet it was so unnecessary. When asked on ABC radio whether he was easing import restrictions on the Adler for Senator Leyonjhelm’s vote on the Australian Building and Construction Commission bills, Mr Turnbull should simply have said no. Instead, his waffle and his businessman’s instinct not to rule out a possible deal gave Labor a line of attack obliterating the government’s well-crafted campaign to highlight Shorten’s links to thuggish unions. He and his ministers’ shambolically defending themselves merely dug deeper holes.

Mr Turnbull’s lawyerly mind also failed to see citing ‘collaborative processes’ of the Council of Australian Governments on gun control cuts no ice with the Australian public, who just want deadly guns kept out of evil hands. All he had to say was ‘these matters are for COAG, but I don’t want the Adler import ban lifted, nor John Howard’s life-saving gun control regime watered down.’ That’s how PM Howard with his finely-honed political instincts would have reacted and, had Mr Turnbull done likewise, a self-destructive week would have been avoided.

The sorry episode is the biggest of a litany of missteps and misjudgments dogging the barely-reelected Team Turnbull. The episode reinforced the perception that Mr Turnbull’s leadership is poor, his political judgment lacking, and the quality of the political advice he receives sub-par. What’s unsettling, however, is the visible bitterness between the prime mininster and his predecessor.

The other unnecessary casualty is also, of course, Mr Abbott. Until this incident, Mr Abbott had been having a good run. His relentless pursuit of factional warlords in the Liberal party’s NSW division is paying reform dividends. Visiting Singapore PM Lee Hsien Loong reminded everyone Mr Abbott wasn’t the international pariah his detractors pretend. He may have rung conservative alarm bells when he wrote in his Speccie Diary: ‘Maybe it’s time for the sensible right to abandon the Reaganite doctrine that government-is-the-problem-not-the-solution and to start really believing in the good that government can do’, but at least he was talking ideas. And this magazine is not alone in being thrilled by his reversion to his original opposition to the vile 18C; now ensnaring yet another innocent Australian, Bill Leak.

It’s a pity that Mr Turnbull felt driven to demean Mr Abbott in parliament, because, of course, Mr Shorten was the cat that snaffled the cream. Leaving Mr Turnbull and Mr Abbott licking their respective gunshot wounds.

Now is the time for Mr Turnbull to instead swallow his pride and offer Mr Abbott a place in his cabinet. As the polls continue to show, Mr Turnbull needs all the help he can get.

In praise of Dean Smith

As this magazine has repeatedly pointed out, it is a matter of urgency for our Liberal Coalition government to amend or repeal section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act in line with its 2013 electoral commitment.

The fact that Tony Abbott as Prime Minister blinked in the face of a concerted campaign by the multicultural lobby at a time of heightened terror threats is no longer an excuse for the government to shirk its responsibility. Back then, the Bolt case was the only example of how this law can be insidiously construed to ensnare honest opinion and free speech. We now have two new cases, the QUT students and Bill Leak.

Full marks to Senator Dean Smith for recognising that ‘the facts have changed’ and for calling for a parliamentary inquiry into freedom of speech. Every effort to rid Australians of this ghastly law is to be welcomed.

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