Tuesday, December 1, 2009

One Vote Does Make A Difference

Caesar is dead, long live Caesar. Malcolm Turnbull’s reign as Liberal Party leader has come to an end in a stunning and dramatic spectacle in keeping with his meteoric rise. Elected to Parliament in 2004, Minister for the Environment in 2007, Shadow Treasurer that same year, and Leader of the Opposition in 2008. Now, after not quite fifteen months as Leader, the express train of Malcolm Turnbull’s political career has been derailed in unprecedented circumstances.

Never before has there been such deep division within the Liberal Party. There may have been extraordinary rivalries in the past, such as that between Andrew Peacock and John Howard, but this time the divisions have been driven as much by principle as by personality. Never before has a leadership contest played out in such a manner with a result just one vote the difference, one vote informal and one member absent for medical reasons. The tiniest of variations could have caused the greatest of differences in the outcome.

With just one vote the difference, not only has the leadership of the Liberal Party been decided, but so too has the fate of the government’s Emissions Trading Scheme legislation. With just one vote the difference, the entire future history of our country has been rewritten. With just one vote the difference, Australia will go to Copenhagen without a Climate Change policy in place, and Australian industry can no longer make investment decisions with any certainty of how their plans might be affected.

It would not be in character for Malcolm Turnbull to slink away with his tail between his legs. In fact, having staked his career on his convictions and his principles, rather than caving in to pressure from his critics, he can hold his head high. But it remains to be seen if he will have the interest or even the patience to wait in the wilderness of the backbench for another chance to become Leader. It may be that he has already achieved everything he set out to in the corporate world and is happy to remain in politics for the rest of his days, but that just doesn’t sound like him. My guess is that he will leave the Parliament at the next election, looking for a new dominion to conquer.

As for the Liberal Party, the page has been wiped blank. The reset button has been pushed. Everything is back to square one. Tony Abbott has already made clear his course of action on the Emissions Trading Scheme, but everything else is also up for grabs. Some have seen this result as a move back towards the so called hard right approach of the Howard era, and it is true that Tony Abbott was an instrumental part of that regime. Whether this means we should expect a return to a hard line on such things as industrial relations and immigration policies only time will tell. But one thing is certain: the direction of the Liberal Party has taken a sharp turn today and as a result the shape of any future Liberal Government has been altered.

Don’t ever let anybody tell you that one single vote can’t make a difference.

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