Friday, February 20, 2009

Howard Era Vultures Are Circling

It would appear that Malcolm Turnbull is responding to the turmoil in his party exactly as he might be expected to react. He is asserting his authority. It has been reported that many within the rank and file of the Liberals have a problem with what is described as his “corporate” style of leadership. In the corporate world, subordinates are expected to follow instructions, work co-operatively with colleagues, and uphold the good name of the company. When they don’t, they are disciplined and if necessary dismissed. So it’s no surprise that Mr. Turnbull seems to have been wrong-footed by the more slippery behavior of his political colleagues.

The fact that Mr. Turnbull sacked Senator Cory Bernardi from his junior front bench position as Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities for speaking out of turn could be seen as an excessive response, but it shows Mr. Turnbull’s preference for taking decisive action. But if Senator Bernadi can be sacked for bad-mouthing Christopher Pyne, what about Tony Abbott for contradicting coalition policy? What about Andrew Robb for suggesting a Carbon Tax? What about Nick Minchin for making a point of backing Bernadi? What about Peter Costello for being, well, annoying? Hang on, Peter Costello can’t be sacked because he is already a backbencher. And that’s the problem. You can’t sack everybody. All you can do is rearrange the chairs for the existing members of Parliament. That’s why a corporate style of leadership doesn’t necessarily work in the world of politics. It’s a world where leaders are not always really the ones in charge, and where stepping on toes can see a sudden end to a career.

I have said all along that I believe that Malcolm Turnbull is the best thing that the Liberal Party has going for it in terms of leadership, and I still think so. In many ways, if he is stepping on some toes at the moment perhaps some of those toes deserve to be stepped on. After all, just what are Tony Abbott, Nick Minchin and Peter Costello playing at? All are John Howard men, all are relics of the previous government and all carry the baggage of the unpopular and unworkable “work choices” legislation, the children overboard lies, the immigration detention debacle that saw legitimate citizens locked up, the deceptions that led to war in Iraq, and so on. It is abundantly clear that Peter Costello is only interested in the best interests of Peter Costello, and not the best interests of the party or the nation. The same could well be said for the others who are presumably encouraging him to lurk in the background, a constant source of destabilization, hovering like a vulture ready to strike at the carcass of Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership, should it die as Brendan Nelson’s did. None of these characters have learned anything form defeat. Instead of tearing their own party apart, they should be tearing apart the policies of the government.

The thing is, Malcolm Turnbull is not Brendan Nelson. No disrespect to Dr. Nelson, but Mr. Turnbull is both confident and determined, while also being well armed intellectually to take up the challenge. He might find that his natural tendency to a “corporate” style is ruffling some feathers, but he is also bright enough to adapt and make use of some of his other talents for charm, persuasion, and strategic thinking. His position is being made more difficult by the Howard era dinosaurs who still think they run the show, but in reality all they are achieving is a reduction of their own chances of returning to government any time soon.

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