Flat White

Liberal-Turnbull tryst ends in tears

25 May 2022

1:15 PM

25 May 2022

1:15 PM

As scribes and commentators across the country sit down to write their thoughts on the political events of Saturday past, headlines such as: 

Coalition risks becoming a relic

The end of certainty

If you betray your base you lose

The rich vote left

Lessons and consequences

These, and many like them, will foretell the journalist’s thoughts and analysis. However, to this old Bushy, I believe that the headline Liberal-Turnbull tryst ends in tears is much more precise. The reason for this requires a quick review of Australian political history.


Most Australians with an interest in politics know that the Liberal Party was the brainchild of Robert Menzies when he launched the party in 1944 on behalf of what he termed ‘the little people’ and ‘the forgotten people’.

Menzies, as leader of the new Liberal Party, went on to win the 1949 federal election and held that position for 23 years. Since the Liberal Party first controlled the federal Parliament in 1949, it has been in power a total of 51 years of those 72 years since. By any reasonable assessment, this has been a remarkable achievement.

So, what if anything, did Malcolm Turnbull have to do with defeat of the Liberals on Saturday?

The ever-ambitious and resourceful Turnbull decided somewhere in 2004 that he both should and could be the federal member for Wentworth, his home electorate. What stood in his way was a capable and well-respected local member Peter King, who at that stage had the backing of the people and the party. Under somewhat of a cloud, Turnbull gained pre-selection and from there became the member for Wentworth at the 2004 election and successfully defended that position in four more elections.

Once in Parliament, he quickly curried favor with then Prime Minister John Howard who was dealing with the consequences of the Millennium Drought. Howard did what many politicians who have a difficult problem do; he committed ten billion dollars to a non-problem and then went to an election claiming to have saved the Murray River. To implement this (that is, spend the money regardless of need), Howard appointed Turnbull as Minister for the Environment and Water.

Shortly thereafter, Turnbull came to Coffs Harbour and had a meeting with me regarding the Murray-Darling Basin. During this meeting, Turnbull regaled me with his knowledge of just how flat the Murray-Darling Basin was. In so doing, he displayed a lack of detailed knowledge or understanding regarding our biggest water catchment; but was going to proceed with legislation to take over state rights and transfer management of this vast resource to a hastily assembled new bureaucracy of water-unaware public servants.

The Federal Water Act drawn up by Turnbull was eventually passed under the guidance of Labor Water Minister Tony Burke with the support of both sides of Parliament. The unnecessary and disastrous consequences have been wreaking havoc on regional communities, the environment, and aquatic fauna ever since.

Now on the backbench, Turnbull supported the Labor Rudd government Emissions Trading Scheme. This caused a split in the Party Room and the intellectually gifted Tony Abbott was elected Liberal Party leader during the skirmish, a position he held until he guided the Coalition to a resounding win in the 2013 election which made Abbott Prime Minister.

Pushed to the sidelines, Turnbull was immediately accused of undermining Abbott through frequent appearances on the ABC. The strategy worked, with pressure on the Party Room leading to a change of leadership on September 14, 2015, that saw Abbott replaced with Turnbull.

The man who believed he was destined for greatness was now able to implement policy on Climate Change, the environment, and emission reductions schemes. Turnbull’s pushing of the Liberal Party severely to the left of centre eventually saw him replaced, but his replacement, Scott Morrison, never managed to undo the ideological damage Turnbull had done to the previously conservative (and successful) party of Menzies, Howard, and Abbott. The Liberals had lost their base and those that remained were a disorganised rabble, led by someone who lacked the political spine to correct the glaringly obvious problems.

Once the Liberals embraced the same policy platform as the Labor Party as set down by Turnbull and embraced by Morrison, they were always going to lose the election.

So, like many trysts before, two entities not really suited to each other ended their dalliance in tears.

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