For leadership nature has been unkind to Malcolm Turnbull.
By Gary Scarrabelotti
The Judas-half of the Liberal Party that backed the Turnbull coup and destroyed the Abbott prime ministership now needs to repent and to make reparation.
Don’t bother, as a last resort, clutching at that New England straw in the wind. Barnaby Joyce’s win there last Saturday wasn’t a vote for Malcolm Turnbull. It was, instead, a massive popular rejection of the High Court’s breathtaking judgement that found Barnaby Joyce to have been a Kiwi and a foreigner!
Confession is tough. I know. But, fallen creatures, take heart. A perfect contrition is not called for. You don’t have to do this for love of Abbott alone. It is sufficient that you should hope to avoid just punishment: i.e. damnation in the Hell of Opposition.
A purgatorial time of unspecified length in the outer reaches of the back bench, understandably, will be called for. So much better there, in meek and silent refinement of the spirit, than the fiery pain-of-loss that otherwise awaits you.
Spare us, then, these justifications about how Abbott failed as Prime Minister. We know about these things. He also knows. You, however, delivered judgement before the time. So here is a question for you. Do you understand your folly – your monumental failure?
The astonishing backflip of November 30 on a Royal Commission into the banks shows that you gave us as Prime Minister a “hollow man.”
“Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion … “
This is where your worldly-wise calculations have delivered you. This is where a false political prudence has delivered our country. Australia led by a shadow.
And the alternative?
I think I know. Deep down you admire Bill Shorten. Whoring after Babylon springs to mind.
Read, I recommend, Dante’s Inferno. Understand what lies at the end of the road you’ve taken: Inferno 34.58-63. And, yet, fear not. There is time.
Failure is our school; it is what makes us great.
Here we come to the point.
True, Abbott failed. It’s absurd to deny it. He’d still be Prime Minister if he hadn’t made mistakes of a kind that fed your fear and trembling. This is precisely why he should be recalled to the leadership. Failure is our school; it is what makes us great. We need but to meditate on it and rise above it.
Those who have never failed find it hard to learn the greatest lessons of life and empty people never learn from failure. Abbott has known failure of judgement and defeat and, for all his defects – which are rather like yours and mine – he is no sounding brass.
One of Abbott’s great mistakes was in thinking that you could be befriended and trusted. How much effort he put into wooing you and seeking your counsel. Or at least that of those who represented you and whom he took close to himself – Pyne, Brandis, for example.
And where was the gratitude?
King Lear had something to say about that and Abbott knows his Shakespeare, now very personally.
No doubt you think that Abbott is finished because he came out on the losing side in the same-sex marriage plebiscite. Far from it. Rather, he displayed great qualities. This is what we want in a Prime Minister.
Someone or other once wrote – could it have been Chesterton? – something like this: No worse a thing could be said of man than that he was a child of his times. Well, Abbott isn’t and the man you preferred over him is defined by his times – as I have said before.
Abbott entered the plebiscite fray without illusion as to sentiment in his own electorate, knowing that within his own beloved family he could not count on full support, and facing the prospect that he would be denounced by those who were once eager to leverage off the loyalty and decency of his friendship.
I call that great.
In the meantime, Abbott has mapped out a clear national policy pathway. First, in a February 23 book-launch for Connor Court’s Making Australia Right and again on June 27 when he delivered his “Reform in the Age of Populism” address to the IPA.
On both occasions you cried wrecker. As you would. What else do they say who have practised the art? And, I understand, you had to cover for the emptiness of your man.
(To be fair, your concern for modesty in this regard is to your credit.)
Here is a further and weighty consideration. Abbott understands that – as part of the extended world of western culture – we share in a great crisis that challenges our future survival.
Let there be dispute about how we address this crisis, but there does come a point when it is difficult to bear the evidence-denying claim that there is none. Your chosen flip-flop leader, however, lacks the equipment to set a course through the certainty-shattering times that lie ahead.
In a world increasingly defined by masters in statecraft like Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin, Australia cannot afford the luxury of weathervane leaders like Turnbull or Shorten.
Not all are gifted for leadership.
Malcolm Turnbull is a man of intelligence and capable of great charm. He has proven, however, as late as last week’s great policy reversal, that he is not up to the job he ambitioned. Proven also is your failure of judgement about him. For sure, he’s a man well-proportioned for commerce and for social sparkle. For leadership, however, nature has been unkind to him.
Finally, Bill Shorten has been sailing fair to The Lodge with little fear of not making it in 2018.
I know, I know. Your delicate, Labor-lite souls tremble at the thought of a policy- harder, more centre-right, conviction-Abbott returning to the leadership. Bill Shorten, however, will fear it more than you. He knows already what you have yet to grasp: Abbott can fillet him and, at the same time, reach out to those disaffected conservatives who follow Pauline Hanson and Cory Bernardi, voters entirely lost to Malcolm Turnbull.
Make no mistake. Now is the propitious time. Repent.
This article was first published in the The Spectator Australia..