Political parties tend to have tensions around personalities and ideology. In the Liberal Party where the leader plays a stronger role in maintaining ideological direction, they tend to be mixed together. The rivalry of Howard and Peacock was also a clash of moderates and the Right within the Liberal Party, although the various lieutenants of each didn’t necessarily line up that way (recall that Wilson Tuckey was one of Peacock’s conspirators in 1989).
The mixture was well demonstrated yesterday when Joe Hockey’s implied rebuke of both Scott Morrison and his leader prompted a highly personal attack on his leadership credentials from what appeared to be the Andrew Robb camp. The Menzies House missile, which variously called Hockey “grandstanding”, “beyond the pale”, “gaffe-prone”, a “circus” and, worst of all, having a “teddy bear-like appearance”, lavished praise on Robb as a “far safer pair of hands”, with a “proven track record of competence, combined with a consistent history of supporting Liberal Party values.”
But no sooner had the piece, complaining about Hockey “undermining his Liberal colleague Scott Morrison, and contradict official party policy on the issue of taxpayer funds being used to ferry asylum seekers”, been yanked down by the think tank that put it up in the first place, than Morrison himself felt the need to back away from his comments, generously suggesting that his timing had been insensitive, not his remarks.
For this courageous admission, he was lauded by Tony Abbott, who had backed him only 24 hours earlier when he referred to “rellies flying around the country.” Morrison was “man enough” — presumably Abbott meant “brave enough” — to admit he had gone “a little bit too far.” So, Abbott praises Morrison for a non-apology for remarks Abbott had been only too happy to endorse a short time earlier. OK.
That was before Lenore Taylor this morning confirmed that the targeting of Muslims was a proposal Morrison had taken to shadow Cabinet, where even Phillip Ruddock had recoiled- – to the extent Ruddock is capable of any energetic movement — from it.
As Crikey outlined yesterday, Kevin Andrews (elevated to the frontbench by Tony Abbott) and Abbott’s Parliamentary Secretary Cory Bernardi have repeatedly tried to score points with attacks on Islam over an extended period.
Morrison’s apology, whether half-arsed or not, isn’t relevant. The point is to cultivate Islamophobic sentiment in the sort of electorates that both sides targeted during the election campaign with their anti-immigration rhetoric. Morrison achieved that quite effectively.
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The revelation about Morrison isn’t the first leak from shadow Cabinet, of course. You could run a bath from it this year. Then again, it wasn’t too shabby at leaking toward the end of 2010, when Joe Hockey found himself the target of leaks from those opposed to his banking regulatory reforms — or perhaps just envious of his profile.
The overall impact is to slowly undermine one of the most underappreciated factors contributing to Tony Abbott’s success as Opposition Leader, the Liberals’ capacity to shift the focus off their own internal divisions and onto Labor, which had coasted on two years of Liberal infighting.
Within Labor itself, personalities and ideology are also causing tensions, but they’re not mixed together in the same way. When Julia Gillard committed to retain her vanquished foe Kevin Rudd in Cabinet, the expectation was that Rudd would be a source of destabilisation and leaks. Rudd’s determination to run foreign policy his way — usually involving stating common sense on issues like Wikileaks, Julian Assange and Egypt — has upset the foreign policy commentariat and their DFAT sources, but the only significant leak has been at Rudd’s expense, in relation to his reaction to the Prime Minister’s revised health package.
As for the source of the leak itself, all eyes turn to Victoria, though quite what the benefit of it was is anyone’s guess, except to embarrass Rudd.
Martin Ferguson’s attempt to elevate the issue of uranium sales to India in defiance of party policy is less about personalities — the terms “Martin Ferguson” and “personality” don’t often run together — and more about ideology, and in particular what little Labor has left, in relation to nuclear power.
Uranium sales to India are strictly an issue about nuclear non-proliferation. But it will be conflated with the unrelated issue of an Australian nuclear power industry, in some cases through plain ignorance, but in most cases out of tactical calculation by both opponents and supporters of nuclear power.
Thing is — and one has to wonder whether Liberal supporters of nuclear power understand this — it’s not even worth having a debate about nuclear power in Australia without accepting the need for a substantial carbon price and a massive government re-entry, either as an owner or as an investor, into the power generation sector. Bear that in mind when anyone talks about the need for a nuclear debate.