Scott Morrison assures us he is “not being distracted” by more senior ministers abandoning ship. In a week that began with Newspoll confirming a long-term trend of the government trailing Labor ended with another two resignations and Julie Bishop stirring up the embers of the Turnbull coup.
The former long-term deputy leader of the Liberals and foreign minister Julie Bishop lashed out at her colleagues for not supporting her bid for the top job. She spoke of the enormous cost to the government of the Peter Dutton inspired challenge to Turnbull.
Bishop told her local paper The Sunday Times that not only did she believe she could have beaten Bill Shorten but Labor itself feared she would defeat him. She blamed her onetime ally Christopher Pyne for organising the numbers against her and directing them to Morrison in a bid to block Peter Dutton. She said it happened at the eleventh hour and robbed her of her chance to save the government.
Bishop sees the whole contest in the context of the conservatives determined to bring down Turnbull no matter what. She said “he had compromised on a number of policies” but he was “concerned that whatever compromises he made he would never satisfy them”.
Her biggest broadside was for party power broker Mathias Cormann. Bishop says she can’t understand his motives in seeking the change to Dutton: “you still wish he would explain his motives in backing Peter Dutton over Malcolm Turnbull and causing enormous instability in the party”.
The Turnbull putsch has led to a stampede of leading moderates from the government; Bishop herself has now been followed by Christopher Pyne, Kelly O’Dwyer and with Craig Lundy expected to announce his departure soon.
Bishop’s comments have resonance here in Canberra with Liberal Senator Zed Seselja being one of the Dutton camp’s organisers. Seselja has had plenty of practice; his conservatives have taken control of the ACT Liberals with former senator and moderate Gary Humphries being their biggest scalp so far.
The Greens believe Seselja’s role in the dumping of Turnbull gives them a big chance of taking the second senate spot in Canberra. We’ve heard that before. But if brand Liberal is as tarnished as the persistent polls suggest, it may not be such a vain hope this time.
The bigger problem for the Liberals nationally is the loss of big hitters in the sensible centre – where a majority of voters are. The lurch to the right, blamed by Turnbull for his fate and lamented by Pyne in a recent interview, has opened the way for high profile independents to challenge in Liberal heartland seats. They have made climate change action a key plank in their bids.
It helps explain why Tony Abbott has not criticised Morrison’s adoption of Snowy Hydro 2.0 – a courtesy he and his allies did not extend to Julie Bishop’s best mate Malcolm Turnbull.