Here’s a wildcard solution for the Liberals if another six months go by and they decide that they can’t stick with Malcolm Turnbull.
Most of them, at least those whose surnames don’t begin with A, will be hoping he turns it around, and soon, but if not, or if Turnbull leads them to defeat at the next election: Cormann for leader.
Yes, he’s in the Senate — as was John Gorton — and true, safe WA Liberal seats are now much rarer than they used to, back when the west was solid blue. But think of the upsides if he could be manoeuvred into the House of Reps:
- He’s disciplined. Boy, is he disciplined. He could stay on message underwater. Cormann sticks to the plan, no matter what — something very few of his colleagues seem capable of doing.
- He’s hard-working and competent. He’s been the human Scrabble blank of the Coalition, repeatedly filling in for other ministers and especially the role of Special Minister of State while doing his day job of Finance Minister — even now, while Scott Ryan is laid up, Cormann is filling in for him as SMOS.
- He’s run a central portfolio for four years without incident. Sure, Finance is not a frontline portfolio in terms of public consciousness, but it’s crucial to the effective functioning of any government and requires the Minister for Finance to be across and involved in numerous other portfolios, especially given the now common practice of the Minister for Finance being joint or sole shareholder minister in government businesses. He’s also the budget guru of the government — he’s done four of them.
- He’s already part of the leadership team — as deputy leader of the Senate, Cormann is the heir-apparent when George Brandis finally gets punted, and in fact is better regarded by other parties in the Senate than the Attorney-General.
- He’s conservative but has a good political antenna. Cormann is the one who two weeks ago declared “I don’t believe that Bill Shorten is a dual citizen. I’m not going to give public advice to members of other parties as to how they should handle this.” The government would have been wise to stick with Cormann’s approach, but has now created a mess for itself with Bill Shorten producing his documents at the demand of the Prime Minister. Cormann has good political judgement — albeit not perfect, but then who does?
- He’s masterminded the most successful privatisation of recent decades, that of Medibank Private, at a time when privatisation was deeply unpopular.
- He’s a symbol of the success of Australian multiculturalism: a migrant from the German-speaking part of Belgium who survived a year at the University of East Anglia (go there and you’ll see what a feat that is), who moved to Australia as an adult to start a new life. What better prime minister for a country where more than half the population are from overseas or have a parent born overseas?
Cormann would at least be the classic “safe pair of hands” for a party that would be in deep trouble — especially post-election defeat, when the moderates and conservatives would likely go to open war (OK, to the extent they’re not already in open war). Conservative enough to satisfy even the reactionaries, but with the judgment to hew to the sensible centre, Cormann would be able to lead the party without the right constantly trying to pull it out of Earth’s orbit.
And who knows, with that Cormannator brand, he might even capture the imagination of the public.