In the last 48 hours, two staunch Tony Abbott loyalists — failed whip Andrew Nikolic and dumped defence minister Kevin Andrews — have sought to implicitly criticise the Prime Minister and exploit the victims of the Paris attacks by demanding that Immigration Minister Peter Dutton be elevated to the National Security Committee of cabinet, with Nikolic invoking the discredited claim that one of the perpetrators of the massacres had a Syrian passport.

Why Dutton? Scott Morrison, once proposed by the right as PM material and a potential counterweight to Turnbull, has dramatically blotted his copybook with the perception that he was somehow less than fully behind Tony Abbott. Julie Bishop, too, is now being cast, rather poorly, as a disloyal deputy, and in any event is too moderate for reactionaries like Andrews and Nikolic. There aren’t too many spear carriers of the right left in cabinet after that — just Peter Dutton, the man who was dumped from Health by Abbott and who has made a mess of Immigration since then.

Of course, Tony Abbott himself still seems to think he has another turn as PM left in him — and after enjoying a front-row seat to the spectacle of Kevin Rudd tearing down Julia Gillard between 2010 and 2013, who could blame him? But in the event the right isn’t quite up for an extended period of Ruddesque destabilisation and the inevitable electoral consequences that would follow, they seem to have fastened on Dutton as their go-to man. Which says a great deal about their political judgement.

Peter Fray

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