It wasn’t what Malcolm Turnbull did, says Nick Minchin, it’s the way that he did it. He should’ve checked with his party colleagues before racing off and supporting an apology last year before the leadership ballot.

On the Liberal side, consultation is the new black, at least according to Minchin. That’s pretty rich coming from a member of the former Government’s leadership team that rode roughshod over backbenchers time and again in the last 11 years.

Admittedly, Minchin is aware of the irony. “There was a feeling after 12 years of government, where often out of necessity, the government made decisions without being able to or fully consulting the party room … The mood now that we are in opposition is one that says the leadership should properly consult the party room.”

So, when Nick’s running things, what he says goes. But when he’s in Opposition, desperately trying to keep moderates emboldened by the defeat of Howard at bay, consultation is critical. And, presumably, consultation with him, and the other Howardist dead-enders in Coalition ranks.

We know the election really thinned the Coalition ranks of what passes for talent on that side of politics. But you have to wonder who died and left Minchin in charge. The man’s record as Finance Minister was truly dreadful, given he exercised not one iota of restraint over the most profligate Government in Australian history. Yet somehow he has ascended to the rank of Liberal eminence grise.

His commentary on the Liberal leadership doesn’t do Nelson any favours. Brendan’s OK because he doesn’t do anything without checking with us, Minchin is saying.

At best, it’s leadership by committee – or, in the case of the apology, by rabble. Julie Bishop’s recalcitrance on AWAs seems to be heading in the same direction – but with greater potential for political damage.

More likely, it’s the primary mechanism by which the right of the party is keeping Nelson hostage to their support.

Heaven help the Leader of the Opposition if he starts to display a mind of his own.

David MacCormack is a failed public servant and lapsed blogger.

Peter Fray

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