Malcolm Turnbull may have won the vote in the party room, but he’s finished. He has lost all authority among his colleagues. It is now only a matter of time before a fresh party room meeting votes to remove him.
Peter Dutton is in the box seat to become prime minister.
This prospect is justifiably filling the hearts of many Australians with a mixture of hatred, anger and fear.
Dutton is a monster, only one or two steps away from an outright fascist. He shares the worst instincts of US president Donald Trump. He has risen to the top of the Liberal party only by outdoing his peers in his commitment to racism and bigotry.
Dutton has taken the appalling treatment of refugees by successive immigration ministers to a still higher level of depravity. He relishes his role as commandant in chief of Australia’s offshore detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island. He clearly regards the horrible mental and physical abuse of refugees in these camps as justifiable punishment for the crime of seeking asylum in Australia.
Dutton accused detainees on Manus of sexually molesting local children. Yet he is responsible for the abuse of the 120 children still trapped on Nauru, their lives and very will to live ebbing away. He has done his utmost to prevent sick refugees from accessing medical treatment in Australia. Twisting the knife, he refuses to allow the New Zealand government to resettle those who have been incarcerated in these hellholes for years.
Few ministers have done as much to normalise racist rhetoric as Dutton. In February 2008, he walked out of parliament rather than witness Kevin Rudd’s apology to the stolen generations.
In 2016, he said of refugees that many “won’t be numerate or literate in their own language, let alone English” and that “these people would be taking Australian jobs”. Later that year, he said the Fraser government had made a mistake admitting Lebanese Muslim immigrants in the 1970s.
Last year, Dutton supported the push to change section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act to give racist bigots a green light to be even more strident in their vile abuse. And in January he claimed that people in Melbourne were “scared to go out for dinner” because of the “African gang crisis”.
And it’s not just those targeted by racism. All our rights are under threat if Dutton becomes prime minister.
His Department of Home Affairs, created in December and modelled on the US Department of Homeland Security, rolls together the most repressive arms of the federal government – ASIO, the federal police, Border Force, criminal justice, transport security, counter terrorism and cyber security.
Dutton has used his position to further strip our civil rights, in particular the right to privacy in personal communications and internet use, and our right to associate with others. The national security laws Dutton presides over are even more draconian than those brought in by governments in the two world wars.
Dutton’s department detains and deports on “character grounds” hundreds of New Zealand citizens every year, many of whom have lived in Australia virtually their entire lives.
But while Dutton can carry out intensive surveillance of Australian citizens, he keeps under wraps the appalling mistreatment of those his department is responsible for.
He has continued the practice of refusing to allow journalists to report about the conditions on Nauru and Manus Island. He refuses to answer questions about boat turn backs (and Australia’s role in any subsequent drownings that may take place).
But if you’re white and well off, Dutton will roll out the welcome mat. Earlier this year, he called for white South African farmers to be treated as refugees, claiming that “they need help from a civilised country”. Post-apartheid South Africa is obviously not such a country in his view.
All it took was a phone call and Dutton granted a visa to an au pair barred entry at Brisbane airport in 2015. It was “in the interests of Australia as a humane and generous society”, he said.
Contrast that with his refusal last month to allow Iranian refugee, Fazileh Mansour Beigi, to attend the funeral of her son, Fariborz Karami, who had committed suicide on Nauru, where they were both detained.
Dutton is also a misogynist and a homophobe. He called News Corp journalist Samantha Maiden a “mad fucking witch” in 2016 and opposed marriage equality until the last moment.
Dutton has only contempt for the poor and oppressed. As health minister in the Abbott government, he tried to introduce a $7 GP co-payment and tried to privatise the payment services for Medicare and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. More recently, he has voted repeatedly to cut penalty rates, to protect the banks from investigation and to hand big business tens of billions of dollars in tax cuts.
Who can be surprised by any of this? It’s not just that he was a Queensland cop for nearly a decade, starting in the state’s notorious drug squad. A lifelong Liberal who tries to portray himself as a man of the people, Dutton is a wealthy investor. He and his wife own six properties, including a strip of shops in Townsville, and his wife operates two childcare centres that receive government funds.
Turnbull is dead meat, having failed to win the loyalty either of the broader public or the Liberal party room. The Liberals turned to Turnbull in 2015 to save their skins in the next federal election. The capitalist class backed him as leader in the belief that this “sophisticated” former investment banker could win the public over to its favoured economic agenda. The cloddish Abbott and his “age of entitlement” treasurer Joe Hockey had failed dismally in that task.
But except for a brief honeymoon, Turnbull never won support for the Coalition government. It only scraped through the 2016 election, 14 Coalition members losing their seats. And throughout the conservatives’ second term in office, they have trailed the ALP in 38 Newspolls and counting.
Things have come to a head because Labor’s success at the recent by-elections, combined with calamitous Ipsos-Fairfax polling, has alerted the Coalition party room that disaster looms at the next federal election. Coalition representation in Queensland, one of its federal strongholds, is at risk of collapse.
Turnbull’s failure is primarily down to little public support existing for the economic agenda he favours, one with its origins in the Business Council and Institute of Public Affairs. Abbott and Hockey were driven out because of public disgust at their horrendous 2014 budget. Turnbull is identified with the same bitter medicine – tax cuts for the rich, hand-outs to private schools, but public spending cuts, welfare cuts, and user pays for workers, students and the poor.
Labor has positioned itself as the party for workers and the downtrodden. That’s why the Coalition can’t get ahead of the ALP, whether under Abbott or Turnbull.
The base of the Liberal Party, meanwhile, has lurched further to the right.
Driven by the culture wars, enthused by Trump and the far right around the world, and increasingly drawn to One Nation, the Liberal base has little patience for a leader not wedded to their Trumpian view of the world. This is a sentiment shared by their favoured leaders – including Abbott, Abetz and Dutton.
When the Queensland LNP leadership say that Turnbull can’t cut through in Queensland, they’re saying they want a leader who will more clearly appropriate One Nation’s policies. Turnbull has proved himself unsuited to carrying this out, no matter how eagerly he tries to drum up fear about African gangs or parrot One Nation’s other talking points. His gutting of the National Energy Guarantee and the Paris climate accord targets is just one more capitulation to Abbott’s “climate change is crap” perspective.
The right of the party, so keen to make Dutton leader, wants a Liberal Party proud to identify openly with its values – bigotry, racism, contempt for science and contempt for equality. There is no evidence this will do the party any good at the next federal election – but that is probably not important.
If it allows the right to grab votes off One Nation in Queensland and LNP MPs hang on to their seats there, they can consolidate their forces in opposition and purge their opponents to transform the entire party in their image.