As we all know, the Liberal Party is all about the individual. The idea is to maximise personal freedom at all times. Labor may mumble about the need for collectives, for trades unions and other namby-pamby institutions which inevitably lead to dependence and misery. Your true Liberal knows that these are no more than crutches for the feeble, that people are perfectly capable of standing up for themselves and it’s best for them to do so.

That’s what WorkChoices was all about: real workers can negotiate face to face with their bosses, decide for themselves what pay and conditions they will accept and then demand them, individual to individual.

That’s why we give huge tax cuts, rather than spend money on things like health and education. It’s a matter of free choice: if people choose to spend their money on health and education, that’s up to them. You want to invest your tax cut in building a new teaching hospital, we’re not stopping you. Indeed, we urge you to embrace a life of rugged independence. Now get out there and look after yourselves, and enjoy your day.

It’s all nonsense, of course: but it’s what the Libs claim to believe. So why are they so annoyed with Malcolm Turnbull when he simply follows the logic and tries to take care of number one?

Turnbull, it seems, has dared to put himself in front of the Liberal collective. The Environment Minister has been pursuing a policy which goes against the consensus of cabinet, as determined by the Dear Leader, the Primus inter Minimos, John Howard. Turnbull has been urging the government to ratify the Kyoto protocol, which has been anathema to our Man of Steel ever since George Bush told him it should be.

There is, Turnbull insists, no good reason to hold back. Unlike many other countries, Australia will actually come close to reaching its very generous Kyoto target, and negotiations about a post-Kyoto protocol are about to begin. Only by ratifying the old agreement can Australia become a full participant in negotiating the new one. Moreover, Australia’s ratification, however belated, would put pressure on the United States to do the same.

It would also remove a major stumbling block to getting the developing countries, particularly India and China, involved in setting new targets for emission control; China has specifically referred to Australia’s recalcitrance as a reason for refusing to sign up to any binding treaty. The argument is that developed countries like Australia are the ones responsible for the emissions already out there; it’s a bit rich of them to ask developing countries to agree to controls on their own future development without at least a token acknowledgement of their own past guilt in the area.

But forget, if you like all, this airy fairy stuff about being a responsible international citizen; after all, it’s hardly part of the great Liberal tradition. Concentrate on a more urgent matter: there are votes in it.

Turnbull has told various colleagues that he reckons ratifying Kyoto could be worth as much as 3% nationally, which is probably wrong; certainly it doesn’t allow for cynical punters dismissing a deathbed repentance as nothing more than yet another act of monumental cynicism. However, it surely wouldn’t do any harm.

But Howard won’t budge – or, as Turnbull rather more graphically puts it, the little c-nt is too f-cking stubborn. (And how good it is to hear that old nickname for our beloved Prime Minister back in use! What a reminder of his glorious younger days, when everything was so much simpler!)

And how very unsurprising that the story came out – or that Glenn Milne, the poison dwarf, celebrated it with a front page screamer in the Sydney Sunday Telegraph headlined: “TURNBULL BETRAYS CABINET”.

According Milne, members of the party believe that Turnbull himself leaked the story in order to save his own seat. The conspiracy theory runs that Turnbull has already made up his mind that the election is lost and Howard is finished. But if he can just hang on in Wentworth he could be starter for the leadership against Peter Costello – who is, of course, Milne’s own candidate for the job.

So Turnbull is not a team player; he is putting his own interests ahead of the party. How very Liberal of him. And what a surprise: having paid a fortune to organise the mother of all branch stacks to gain preselection and another motza to win the election and having devoted every waking moment since to scrabbling as far up the greasy totem pole as possible, Turnbull is determined to hold onto the bloody thing; who would have thought it.

Certainly not the pusillanimous Costello or his acolyte. But perhaps Turnbull’s most recent target might recognise the symptoms. For more than a decade Howard insisted that he would only be leader for as long as the party wanted him and it was in the party’s best interests that he did so. Then last month when the party, through its senior parliamentary representatives, announced to him that the time had come, he told them all to get stuffed and said he would fight to the death to stay on, and bugger the party.

It is Howard, of course, who has been Turnbull’s mentor and benefactor – until now. If the phrase “Liberal principles” is not an oxymoron, the master and his apprentice are applying them like never before.

And talking of wonderful phrases, Employment Relations Minister Joe Hockey got off a zinger last week:

“Our scare campaign is based on fact,” he solemnly explained to a boggling interviewer.

Just think about that for a minute; the more you repeat it, the crazier it sounds.

What will they be like after another three weeks?

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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