The Murdoch press and the right wing shock jocks might be salivating about decapitating Malcolm Turnbull but the man trying to govern from the sensible centre has a number of key cards at his disposal which should see him survive until May next year.
A veteran of many media and corporate takeover battles, the PM is already tactically war gaming to good effect. The first sensible move was to not criticise Peter Dutton yesterday and to not demand the resignations of those Ministers who voted for Dutton.
Then he very cleverly leveraged up what might be called the “payroll” effect — which involves many millions of dollars in Coalition ministerial salaries that would be lost with an early election, as opposed to going full term until May.
As Julie Bishop explained to Fran Kelly on Radio National this morning, several of the Dutton supporters have opted to keep their ministerial salaries and pledge support for the PM.
All of these men — including Greg Hunt, Michael Sukkar, Alan Tudge, Steve Ciobo, Zed Seselja, Angus Taylor and Michael Keenan — will now have to face their electors and explain what the hell they were doing trying to trigger an early election which would wipe out the Coalition and potentially deliver Labor and the Greens control of both houses.
Do former Victorian moderates like Hunt and Tudge really want to potentially own the destruction of the modern Liberal Party as we know it? Hunt appears to be positioning for leadership advantage in opposition, as he knows that Dutton will probably lose his seat in the upcoming Labor landslide.
By pitching himself to be Dutton’s deputy, Hunt would leapfrog the likes of Josh Frydenberg and Christian Porter in future leadership deliberations.
However, Hunt will look greedy and unprincipled if he retains the ministerial salary but refuses to publicly pledge to support the PM in an environment where the voters are sick to death of endless coups and dysfunction.
Dutton’s credibility has already been damaged by his broken promise from Saturday when he pledged support for the PM and then tried to destroy him on Tuesday morning. Everyone remembers all those Tony Abbott lines about respecting the office of Prime Minister and not launching coups.
Dutton also lacks key corporate support. The business community wants energy policy certainty but instead Dutton is going to wreck that and probably also trigger a recession by slashing immigration. When the AFR is editorialising that Dutton is tainted by his “monotone terseness”, he will struggle to win support.
Indeed, a Dutton prime ministership would almost certainly deliver an electoral wipe-out in Melbourne and parts of Sydney. Eddie McGuire said as much after his Dutton interview this morning, pointing out that Dutton boycotted Kevin Rudd’s apology to the Stolen Generation.
Victorian Dutton supporters like Hunt, Kevin Andrews and Michael Sukkar will be in danger of losing their Melbourne seats, as will Tony Abbott in New South Wales.
The two other key points of leverage that Turnbull holds are the ability to determine the election date and his own financial capacity to bankroll the next Liberal campaign or start his own party. If he gave himself a two month campaign, the Malcolm Turnbull Sensible Centre party could easily win a large number of seats off the Coalition in Victoria and NSW and potentially a couple off Labor and the Greens.
Can you image the revenge enjoyed if Turnbull candidates defeated Kevin Andrews, Tony Abbott and Peter Dutton, off the back of Labor and Greens preferences?
Assuming Turnbull survives today and tomorrow, the other contest to be resolved before parliament resumes on September 10 will be on policy.
The banking royal commission is hugely popular with the public so Turnbull does have the option of flagging his personal preference for the next royal commission to be commenced after the next election.
How about Australia’s world record $25 billion a year in gambling losses, which is continuing to sky rocket with multinational foreign bookmakers deluging ads on TV and kids getting addicted to the screen, not to mention the $15 billion a year lost on Australia’s 200,000 poker machines?
With the CFMMEU, Catholic Church and Labor Party all active participants in Australia’s pokies industry, such a move would line up a number of the Coalition’s current enemies, plus appeal to many traditional conservative Coalition MPs concerned about what gambling addiction is doing to families.
Does Turnbull still have a few tricks up his sleeve? Write to [email protected] and let us know what you think.