Christopher Pyne’s apology won’t be enough. It won’t be enough because he never actually did anything wrong. All he did was provide a pretext — and a trivial one at that — for Malcolm Turnbull’s enemies within the Liberal Party and at News Corp (hilariously, the crowd who normally bleat about free speech) to go feral. If it wasn’t Pyne’s remarks, they would have manufactured another excuse. After all, there was an important legislative victory to taint.

We’ve seen all this before. Julia Gillard could rarely enjoy any win without a Kevin Rudd supporter, or Rudd himself, running up to the Press Gallery to stir things up. Any impression of achievement or outcomes cannot be allowed to settle, lest the incumbent generate some momentum — the sense of chaos and discord must be permanent.

Pyne abasing himself won’t placate them. Granting concessions of any kind — whether by promoting conservatives, or demoting Pyne, or even by asking Tony Abbott to return to Cabinet — won’t work, because the goal is the destruction of Turnbull. The right has done well by Turnbull — conservatives Peter Dutton and Mathias Cormann are highly influential; young reactionaries like Michael Sukkar have been given a chance. But it availed Turnbull naught. He needs to fight back, not treat with his enemies. They are fewer than they appear: Abbott and his old white male spear carriers Eric Abetz and Kevin Andrews — the-day-before-yesterday’s men — the shrill chorus of rightwingers at The Australian and the News Corp tabloids, and shock jocks like Ray Hadley screeching to the converted.

The key to fighting Abbott is policy. That’s his weak spot. He can’t count and he can’t reason; all he can do is attack. Of course he rejects the idea of shutting down the school funding wars. War is the only thing Abbott understands. As his prime ministership showed, he can only ever be a negative, destructive figure, incapable of building anything; when it came to positive policy, everything Abbott touched turned to shit (remember how he was going to be “the infrastructure Prime Minister” and infrastructure spending fell of a cliff under him?).

The contradictions of his policy ideas, and his DLP-derived belief that government intervention is the answer to everything (government handouts for climate action, governments building coal-fired power stations, governments telling people who they’re allowed to marry, governments being able to override the senate), need exposing. The performance of his government, which dramatically increased spending, taxation and the deficit — a rare feat — should be discussed. His glib ability to furiously demand things he either failed to do or actively opposed when in government should be brought to an end.

Nor should Turnbull have to do this himself. Treasurer Scott Morrison should be going after Abbott (if he wants some tips, he can give Wayne Swan a call). If the objection is that this will keep the focus on the government’s divisions, well, the focus is going to keep swinging back to them whether they like it or not. Continuing to pretend that all is well, that the Liberal Party is a broad church etc etc, simply wastes time that could be put to use highlighting Tony Abbott’s hypocrisy and policy vapidity. He won’t stop. Target his weak spot and keep hammering until he’s made to.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey