Malcolm Turnbull is in deep political trouble, it’s not just the bad polls where the Coalition has been consistently behind, but it is also the perception that his government is Labor-lite, influenced by Turnbull’s leftist leanings. Although Turnbull has adopted some conservative policies, his own words have been disparaging of conservativism, and he has also previously dismissed the importance of ideology on politics. It is not surprising then that former Prime Minister Tony Abbott has been trying to fill the conservative vacuum with a series of public appearances offering an alternative policy vision for the Liberal Party.
Abbott has also championed reform of the New South Wales Liberal Party to give members a greater voice in preselections instead of them being decided by a delegate system which currently empowers left wing factional bosses, getting the well-connected into safe Liberal seats. The climax of this internal Liberal showdown is being played out today at the New South Wales State Liberal Council. Turnbull’s advocacy for reform has come late, probably because his biggest supporters in the Parliament benefited from the New South Wales factional system.
Although another leadership change in the Liberal Party would be politically dangerous, no leader should have the power to insulate themselves from removal if they are not up to the job. Turnbull though has taken steps to ensure his leadership of the Liberal Party does not come under threat.
He gave the Liberal Party $1.75 million of his own money during the last federal election, perhaps as an insurance policy against a future leadership challenge. He has also made a thinly vailed threat to resign from the Parliament and trigger a by-election in Wentworth if he is rolled, which would threaten the Coalition’s one seat majority. His promotion of Peter Dutton to the new super-porfolio of Home Affairs was interpreted by many as keeping Dutton, the Liberal Party’s highest ranking conservative onside.
But he now may have useful ally who has already done their best to smack down any threats to Turnbull’s leadership, the most powerful person in the Liberal Party organisational wing, new Federal President Nick Greiner. Greiner, a former Premier of New South Waves is firmly in the left faction of the Liberal Party, no sign is more apparent than his public advocacy of same sex marriage.
Presidents of political parties are normally a uniting figure and don’t interfere in the parliamentary arm of the party. You didn’t hear the two most recent Federal Presidents of Liberal Party Richard Alston and Alan Stockdale make headlines with their commentary on the political developments of the day.
But Nick Greiner has already undertaken a series of public interventions specifically aimed at discrediting Tony Abbott’s criticism of the direction of the federal government. It started with an appearance on ABC Radio on July 11th when he immediately dismissed Tony Abbott’s five-point policy proposal, bluntly stating “most of that is never going to happen” and also blamed Abbott alone for the government’s poor performance in the polls “Tony plus a range of the media have certainly contributed”.
He went further on July 16th appearing on Sky News’ Sunday Agenda program telling the panel that he planned to reign in Tony Abbott and would take him aside in the next month. He used the patronising term “I think we have got to be adults about it” along with the usual line about in politics disunity in death. It was quite ironic that Greiner planned to take this unprecedent step but then concerned he had no real power over the Liberal leadership ‘This is for the parliamentary party”.
Greiner should be reminded that the bad polls came before Tony Abbott’s public statements, although disunity is not helpful it is not the sole factor. Greiner did not address the concerns that Turnbull Government lacks a policy and ideological direction and appears to be implicitly implying there is no problem here. It is clear that Greiner is approaching the Liberal Party’s current situation from a preconceived viewpoint. He certainly opens himself up to accusations of being Turnbull’s puppet, using the position of Federal President to make sure the party’s organisation wing is free of conservatives. Even if you are a Turnbull supporter, the position of Federal President should not be used in this way.
Greiner was at it again yesterday with his address to the New South Wales Liberal State Conference decrying the alleged aggressiveness of advocates for democratic reform of the state party ‘I do notice … some lack of that civility, some lack of that mutual respect,’ adding ‘My plea to you … is advocate with passion, but to not do it in a tradition of civility and respect is very unfortunate.’
If Liberal Party members and supporters are worried about the leftward drift of the part, Greiner’s recent statements should be especially alarming. The Liberals now have a left-wing person as the head parliamentary wing of the party and now its organisation wing of the party. This is a big part of why the Liberal Party is behind in the polls and risk handing the Prime Ministership to Bill Shorten.
This combination makes the task of conservatives having their voices heard all the more difficult. Even if the plebiscite reform is successful, conservatives will still have a tough fight on their hands. This is not just an issue for the Liberal Party’s internal operations, but the future direction of Australia could possibly depend on this.