One of the great political fantasies of the inner-city chattering classes these past few years has been that federal member for Wentworth and one-time Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull might somehow switch teams and emerge as leader of the Australian Labor Party.
This was not to question the conservative stripes on Turnbull’s political suit, or to suggest that he turned up at the wrong party meeting when seeking preselection for Wentworth, it was more of a plea for someone at the head of the ALP who had Rudd’s vision, but who had the ability to do something.
So it was intriguing to hear that the newly important country independent Rob Oakeshott had a similar thought, when he put up the “cheeky” suggestion of a unity ticket to solve the current political deadlock in Canberra — either trade Rudd to the conservatives in exchange for a portfolio, or swing Turnbull over to ALP in a similar deal.
That might sound to many like an exchange of hostages, but the independents see Turnbull as one of their own. And Turnbull, judging by the independence of his spirit and thought on Monday night’s Q&A on ABC TV, might fancy himself as one of them, too.
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The desire to create some sort of “national unity government” runs much deeper than the musings of Oakeshott, as impossible as it may seem. So there might be a way to pull together two of the central themes of last weekend’s election result — the trust in intelligent independents more interested in policy and politics, and the call for action on the environment — and create a new “third force”. Let’s call it the Liberal Environmental Party (LEP).
Turnbull would be the natural leader of a LEP, with these country independents and other like-minded MPs in tow, and it would have the effect of shifting Australian politics significantly towards the centre and providing a vision that Australia desperately needs.
Supporters of the idea say it would provide an opportunity to establish a Liberal Party that represented traditional liberal views, and members who joined him would do so knowing that they were serving national interest by delivering a stable government that would address key issues facing the nation. And, of course, it would conclude the current political stalemate.
One close observer said this to me yesterday: “Malcolm Turnbull is unlikely to be under any illusion about the issues faced within the Liberal Party. Its current composition of 60% hard right and 40% with traditional liberal values leaves him in a position where he is unlikely to ever be leader. He would be more likely to be classified as a traitor. But as a politician of principle, he should have a clear conscience in knowing that, while you are a party member, your obligation to your party is second to the obligation you hold to the nation.
“The fact that Malcolm Turnbull achieved a 10% swing towards Liberal in his electorate is testament to the fact that he shares significant mainstream support. The fact that he ran a campaign without Liberal colours, and instead used green, signifies the importance he places on an appropriate environmental outcome.
“It is easy to criticise the emission trading system that (he) cobbled together trying to deal with the various factions and interests within the Liberal Party. Once free of these limitations it is highly likely that he will be able to deliver an outcome which is more clearly in the national interest and less designed to provide subsidies to significant industry groups who support the Liberal party.”
So let’s say Turnbull forms this LEP and breaks the stalemate in Australian politics, and forms an alliance with either the Coalition, or even the ALP. In addition to achieving significant stability for the country, he would undoubtedly be rewarded with a significant portfolio, such as Treasurer, within a national unity government. If there’s one thing Malcolm Turnbull knows more than anything else, it’s how to operate a business. And he could conceivably become deputy PM, ready to step into the breach …
More from the close observer: “This is Malcolm’s greatest opportunity to achieve the outcomes which he set out to achieve when he first entered politics. It is in the nation’s interest that he stands up. It is in the environment’s interest that he stands up. And finally it is in the interest of the real Liberal party that he stands up. It is high time liberals re-embraced traditional liberal principles and left the right wing game-players out in the cold.”
This article was originally published on Climate Spectator.