Friday, November 27, 2009

Perhaps Malcolm Should Practice His Diplomacy

It has been described as a Liberal Party meltdown. A dozen senior party members have resigned their front bench positions. Tony Abbott has launched a leadership challenge with the support of senior colleagues such as Nick Minchin and Eric Abetz, and it now appears that all of them are prepared to swing their support around to Joe Hockey as a consensus candidate should he be prepared to put his hand up. Malcolm Turnbull has vowed to remain leader until such time as his party removes him, while his deputy has denied reports that she has tapped him on the proverbial shoulder and told him to step down. Could it possibly be any more dramatic?

Well, yes it could, because if a change of leadership takes place before the Senate gets to vote on the proposed emissions trading scheme then the deal brokered by Ian McFarlane with Climate Change Minister Penny Wong will be dead in the water and the legislation will be rejected. That’s when things could become really dramatic. It would be the second rejection of the bill and therefore a trigger for a double dissolution election. Of course it would be up to the Prime Minister to decide whether or not to pull that trigger, but under the circumstances that might well be seen as a very tempting option.

In that case, the government could be expected to win the election, and a joint sitting of both houses of the parliament could be expected to pass the legislation. The catch for Kevin Rudd though is that he will miss his self imposed deadline for passing the legislation before the Copenhagen climate summit in December. It is now four weeks to Christmas and there is no way to fit in an election before then, and absolutely no chance that any politician would ever call an election for Boxing Day. Even a January election date would be highly unusual, so the chances are that any double dissolution would be in February at the earliest.

But having missed the Copenhagen deadline, and with the scheduled date for a normal election rapidly approaching, the case for having a double dissolution election in February is debatable. Either way, it appears that the Rudd government Emissions Trading Scheme is not going to be passed on time, and that means that the whole question of Climate Change Policy will be a central election issue, whenever the election might be held. That is, unless Malcolm Turnbull somehow manages to hang on to his leadership, regain control of his party, and deliver the passage of the legislation in the Senate. Now that would be a miracle.

Unfortunately, Mr. Turnbull appears to be in a no win situation. Even if he survives the present leadership challenge, the substantial lack of support exhibited by such a large chunk of his party means that it is very difficult to see his leadership regaining legitimacy. There are 35 Liberals who wanted to dump him on Wednesday, and at least a dozen who should resign from the party if they fail to dump him now, because they can no longer coexist. Of course, they won’t do that. Instead they will lie in wait for their next opportunity to challenge again. In some respects it is kinder for Malcolm Turnbull to be put out of his misery now.

He shouldn’t worry too greatly however. With Kevin Rudd’s habit of finding jobs for former Liberal politicians, I’m sure Mr. Turnbull can look forward to a plum posting in the diplomatic service. If only he could learn to be a bit more, well… diplomatic.

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