Scott Morrison’s a dud as Treasurer, Tom Switzer writes in Fairfax today. “It is likely Morrison will go down in history as the most disappointing treasurer since John Kerin,” according to Switzer, especially given that in the recent budget “he ducked for cover, ran away from the sound of gunfire and aped the opposition’s rank populism”.

Harsh stuff from a conservative commentator.  Let’s check it for fingerprints:

Who benefits?  

In the wake of the government’s shift to the centre in the 2017 budget, there’s been little public reaction from Liberal Party hardliners who might have been expected to jack up. Despite previously warning that the government under Turnbull was in danger of becoming “Labor-lite”, Tony Abbott has kept his public commentary to a minimum. But if the budget fails to shift the government’s terrible polling position, expect the jockeying to replace Malcolm Turnbull to begin in earnest.

Scott Morrison is passionately hated by Tony Abbott and his supporters for his perceived treachery — he could have returned the budget to surplus and instituted a $10 billion school chaplain program and they’d still hate him (there’s still some lingering resentment about Morrison’s ousting of a conservative rival in his seat in 2007). While it’s widely agreed Morrison has dropped out of the post-Turnbull leadership calculations, you can never make sure a rival is dead enough in politics.

Who loses? 

Not merely Morrison but Turnbull as well. If the right comes at Turnbull again, it will be on the basis, just like in 2009, that Turnbull has betrayed the party base. That’s why, even when Turnbull was slavishly truckling to the Liberal right, Abbott kept pushing the line that the government was becoming Labor-lite. But now, to give themselves a chance to retain power, Turnbull and Morrison have given substance to the Labor-lite tag. Notice that Switzer keeps it topical by suggesting Morrison needs to reread Menzies’ “Forgotten People” speech, the day after the Liberals celebrated the 75th anniversary of that first recorded instance in Australian politics of old white male elites trying to claim victimhood status. Switzer has flagged exactly how the right will launch its attack.

Connections

Switzer is perhaps the smartest and most articulate conservative in the country, and is his own man ideologically, as he showed when he was at The Australian. But he’s an Abbott backer through-and-through. He has already used his Fairfax column to savage Turnbull and suggest Abbott was the only decent alternative PM — just a few weeks ago. Switzer has also been involved in a no-holds-barred academic stoush with a Turnbull relative.

Conclusion

The political dimension to the 2017 budget is in the balance. If it restores Turnbull’s fortunes, he’ll be safe from attack. If not, he’s almost certainly doomed. It’s not yet clear which way the scales will tilt — Newspoll was bad news for the government, Ipsos-Fairfax good news, Essential has shown no change. But Switzer is laying the groundwork for the Abbott forces to exploit any pack of political benefit.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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