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Feb 24, 2016

The rise and rise of Malcolm Abbott and the sex-obsessed right

While Malcolm Turnbull panders to the right, he looks more and more like the man he replaced.

The horrible suspicion that Malcolm Turnbull, far from being the saviour of sensible, moderate, reformist politics in Australia, is a kind of dud version of Tony Abbott, is beginning to become widespread. The inept handling of the tax debate, then Turnbull’s own stumbles on tax this week, and his savaging of Labor’s negative gearing plan as sending a “wrecking ball” through the property market, were straight from the Abbott playbook, a document heavy on poor process, gaffes, inconsistency and scare campaigns built on slogans. Turnbull even dropped a “we’ve stopped the boats” last week at a media conference.

When Fairfax’s Ross Gittins, who’s not merely non-partisan but has seen prime ministers and treasurers of both sides come and go for decades, called Turnbull out yesterday for resembling his predecessor, he summed up a feeling that’s no longer contained within the Canberra political class.

Yesterday’s “review” of the Safe Schools program, however, signals that the development of a hybrid Malcolm Abbott is happening in other areas. Much of the criticism about Turnbull’s failure to demonstrate his progressive beliefs is misplaced. Turnbull gave his all for the cause of an Australian republic nearly 20 years ago; calls for him to make it a priority when he’s a Prime Minister without an electoral mandate, and while voters themselves remain diffident about the issue, are unrealistic.

And while the government’s climate action policy is currently nonsensical, Turnbull faces a real challenge in establishing an effective policy that won’t risk real problems with the denialists on his backbench, one that he probably needs to be armed with an electoral mandate to deal with. On same-sex marriage, Turnbull is in an invidious position: as a peace offering to the Abbott dead-enders and far right, he is maintaining the plebiscite silliness, but the right — knowing they are going to lose — are throwing it back in his face by insisting they will ignore the results.

There’s no such contextual justification for the Safe Schools “review”. This is simple cultural warfare by the extreme right within the Liberals, and it’s no surprise to see the likes of Andrew Nikolic and Andrew Hastie involved. Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews nailed it when he said “I don’t think these extreme Liberals are actually offended by the structure of the program, or the teachers who lead it. I just think they’re offended by the kids who need it.”

These are politicians who are obsessed with sex — specifically, people who might be sexually different to their own white middle-aged heterosexual male selves. Obsessed enough that it’s all they want to talk about in their partyroom meeting, bandying about terms like “cultural Marxism” because they read it in the paper the other day. Not merely does the idea of alternative forms of sexuality offend them, it terrifies them, because it’s yet another symbol of a world that no longer grants automatic ascendancy to men like them. Safe Schools is one more reminder that the planet no longer revolves around them. That its purpose is to protect kids, to prevent them from being bullied, is of no moment; these men were never the ones bullied at school for being different. They’ve always enjoyed privilege, entitlement, status.

Turnbull might think that giving them an inquiry is the smart play — the inquiry will be controlled by the civil and sensible Education Minister Simon Birmingham. The inquiry will find no, or minor, concerns; further complaints can be addressed by noting the program has been reviewed and all’s well.

Except, the review also legitimises this kind of cultural war, a war in which LGBTI kids are collateral damage, just like domestic violence victims are collateral damage in the culture war waged by the likes of Mark Latham and Miranda Devine against their mythical “middle class feminist” enemy. And reviews are never enough for the far right — their concerns validated, they will push into more areas. For middle-aged white reactionary males, there’s always something about the 21st century to be outraged by. In fact, they’ve barely finished getting upset about the late 20th century.

Turnbull might merely be playing for time — hold out until the election, then once he has secured victory, move to positions that more closely match his own principles. But if there’s one truth we’ve learnt from recent years and especially from Tony Abbott, it’s that it’s awfully hard to change your style once you’re in power. Abbott could never shed his relentless negativity once he became prime minister. If Malcolm Turnbull thinks he can veer back to the middle after pandering to the right, it might be much harder than he thinks.

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42 comments

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42 thoughts on “The rise and rise of Malcolm Abbott and the sex-obsessed right

  1. shea mcduff

    Yet another article that apologises for Malcolm.
    Boring and repetitive – there must have been 100s such in the media in the last decade.
    All undeserved.

  2. Wayne Robinson

    And how can Turnbull claim a mandate for a moderate position if he’s reelected pandering to the Right? At least Republican Presidential candidates, after they’ve achieved nomination by appealing to the extreme right wing, seek a mandate in an election when they move towards the centre.

  3. paddy

    I guess it’s all in the eye of the beholder mcduff.
    I thought Bernard laid out a pretty good summary of Malcolm’s large and growing problems.

  4. klewso

    Malcolm and his “Crown of Thorns Chocolate Starfish Party” – he may well think he can “veer back” (after winning the next election) but he’ll still be stuck with these prickles.

  5. Derek Condle

    This is probably the worse possible outcome for a liberal party that has just hit parity in the polls, hardly what you would call a recovery , makes you wonder if the polls have given rise to this sudden re emergence of the jittery right wing backbench.Who can really blame Shorten for his open hostility towards Bernardis heckle this morning , its a loosing position, to pick on children then discriminate on sexual grounds , he cant win that argument so the more energy he puts into it the more damage he does to the already damaged Liberal brand. I don’t think their re electable to be honest , too many stuff ups this builds up associations it becomes toxic. Its got that Campbell Newman ring to it.

  6. shea mcduff

    Could also be on the record too paddy.

    Worst communications minister ever – deliberately destroying the NBN and lying about it.
    Worst environment minister, until Hunt arrived, his high point being fluro tubes for houses.
    Threw the republic under a bus more than a decade ago and made sure it was still there a few times since.
    Godwin Greched himself with the aid of a complicit media.
    Chickened out over SSM by agreeing with a $160 million proposal to waste money.
    Hides money in the Caymans from the tax man aka us.
    Goes into full Abbott mode to protect his rich mates from losing their negative gearing tax subsidy – and I note even Onselen has pointed out that 6 COALition MPS own 99 properties between them.

    Unlike the flatulent flattery of Gittens “Malcolm missed his chance to be a GREAT PM”. I expected pretty much we have and not being Tony is not good enough by itself.

    I’m sick of excuses being made for him when his recent performance thus far is exactly the same as he has performed in the past decades.

    Oh and just to put the rotten cherry on top of the rotten cake there is this:
    The ABS report shows Australia had the lowest wage and salary rise ever recorded in 2015.
    Unemployment is well above that of the previous govt [ALP]

    And Malcolm as a Senior Cabinet Minister and shadow for yonks has to take some responsibility for that.

    Too much apologising for him.

  7. John Newton

    It’s a cliche, but it certainly applies to Malcolm in a muddle: be careful of what you wish for.

  8. zut alors

    The crunch will come for Turnbull when he has to declare policies prior to an election, albeit the old Abbott policies. Long & mellifluous oratory will not cut the mustard with voters, he will need to state the LNP’s clear position…and convince us he means it.

    Currently, the media allows him to get away with prolonged responses which may have once been efficacious when addressing a jury or judge but which are bound to send the electorate to sleep.

  9. Aethelstan

    With comments and announcements and reannouncememts correcting and conflicting with each other the Turnbull/Morrison government is beginning to look like a ship of fools … …

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