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Time for Peter Cosgrove to put on the kettle?

21 August 2018

Malcolm Turnbull has survived a spill, but the rebels won’t leave it there

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Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull (right), foreign affairs minister Julie Bishop and small business minister Craig Laundy arrive at this morning’s party-room meeting at Parliament House. Mick Tsikas/AAP Image

Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull (right), foreign affairs minister Julie Bishop and small business minister Craig Laundy arrive at this morning’s party-room meeting at Parliament House. Mick Tsikas/AAP Image


Malcolm Turnbull has survived a Liberal leadership vote and lives to see another day as prime minister. His challenger Peter Dutton can now hang with Tony Abbott on the backbench.

But unless Turnbull goes to an election quickly, he is toast. His party will take him out long before the year has ended. Julie Bishop said on Monday that she had seen this movie before, and we all have: today was just round one.

We will never know the extent to which Monday’s Ipsos poll in Fairfax newspapers, a 55–45 shocker, was rogue. An Essential poll in today’s Guardian (unpublished at time of writing), conducted over the weekend, like Ipsos, might give us some idea.

But the frenzy Ipsos fed into and perpetuated, culminating in today’s spill, made its dire contents self-fulfilling. It will be surprising if political surveys taken from here don’t register drops in Turnbull’s personal ratings and in support for the government (compared to earlier surveys, not necessarily to the Ipsos).

Cliché alert, but Turnbull is mortally wounded. He has a difficult decision to make. If he does rush to an election, the spectre of leadership instability during the next term will haunt his campaign. If he waits, he will get the chop, replaced by (most likely, in my opinion) Scott Morrison.

In 2013, Labor prime minister Kevin Rudd solved the first problem by forcing through a change in his party’s leadership election rules. The institutional stability that decision instilled has helped Bill Shorten become the longest-serving opposition leader since Kim Beazley. But Kevin back then was freshly returned and on a roll, and Turnbull today doesn’t possess the authority to do anything like that.

There are real reasons not to hold an election soon, including the Victorian poll on 24 November, a lack of preselected Liberal candidates in many seats, and the possibility of a serious outbreak of disunity. But Malcolm is a crash-through-or-crash man.

Which way will he jump?

I know what I’d do — and that’s the option that doesn’t involve the ignominy of twice being forced out of your party’s leadership.

Governor-general Peter Cosgrove might like to put the kettle on, just in case. ●

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