22 May 2016
by David Tyler

Goodbye fearless leader. A desperate Turnbull plays the Tony Abbott card of hate.

Man overboard or not, the government’s election campaign is all going to plan. Perhaps that’s the problem.

Every top conservative political campaign, these days, embraces expensive, designer-consultants. Accordingly, the Coalition reaches for top shelf Crosby-Textor ready-made, off-the-peg, four-point election campaign template with dead cat on table. It’s world’s best practice with a dinkum Aussie link: Abbott’s victory in 2013 hugely increased demand for their consultancy services. They made their name with a boat-stopper.

Yet his campaign plan may prove Turnbull’s undoing – and the nation’s – unless of course, the electorate welcomes another term of Tony Abbott whose grandiose delusions saw him invite all national TV networks to his local campaign launch last Sunday just to let us all know that he is clearly preparing for a comeback. Mr Abbott is assisted in this endeavour, as in many others by recently appointed Sky Pilot, his former Chief of Staff Peta Credlin.

Unless the PM’s leadership gear-change gets results, he knows he’ll be back in opposition under leader Tony Abbott. The sober truth dawns on Turnbull and his minders this week. Suddenly the suave, urbane Q&A leader takes off his leather jacketand puts on the twisted snarl, the feral hysteria of the xenophobe.

The caretaker PM reverts to an Abbott-style appeal to primal fear. Anything to cling to power. This week, Malcolm Turn-back-the-boats’ joins his Immigration Minister to play the fear and hate card of “stop the boats and repel all sponging money-sucking terrorist and in bed with unions refugees. But he is yet to win a trick.

Crosby-Textor offer a simple, four point plan. Five if you count the cat. But it’s not working – so far. Hammering economic competence, national security, immigrant-bashing and hounding Labor, may have worked for David Cameron, Boris Johnson or even Kiwi John Key but the formula is yet to lift the fortunes of a maladroit Malcolm Turnbull.

Labor has successfully painted his Economic Plan as a tax cut for rich people. Morrison’s budget, only yesterday, it seems being touted as a key to election victory, is an abject failure. On current trends the government appears set to hand Labor a victory on a plate if the party’s nose-dive in popularity as suggested by Essential and by Gary Morgan’s latest poll continues.

Support for the Coalition in the latest Fairfax poll remains at 51-49, yet when the 1497 respondents were asked who will receive their second preference at the ballot box in July, the difference between the Coalition and Labor drops to 50-50.

Yet, as Thursday’s AFP raid on Senator Stephen Conroy’s Melbourne office and the shabby chic home of a Labor staffer reveals, there is always the trusty Crosby-Textor dead cat on the table strategy to distract the punters from all your other stuff-ups. Look over here!

Yet even the trusty deceased feline routine appears to have backfired on Turnbull. It risks raising the ghost of Godwin Grech when events conspired to compromise Malcolm Turnbull’s judgment. Then, too Turnbull acted precipitately in rushing to proceed with the damaging nonsense of utegate.

The timing of the AFP-NBN plumbing expedition, a last desperate turn of the wrench to stop endless NBN leaks, in particular, is just too convenient. It fits the Turnbull camp’s cunning plan to paint Labor as being soft on national security, in bed with CFMEU and high taxing high spending (if you overlook the existing government’s record blowout.) But it does raise some tricky questions.

Why did a complaint which NBN laid last December take until week two of a train-wreck of a Liberal campaign to manifest itself into a raid? And how could it not know about it? As Bill Shorten put it, how could the NBN, a government firm, not notify its boss that the raid was imminent?

Suddenly it was back to a Coalition of sealed lips and secrecy. Finance Minister Mathias Cormann evaded the question three times when asked if the government pressured the NBN into referring matters to the AFP for investigation.

Yet mud sticks. Mainstream media have had a field day with the presumption of guilt, while the IPA’s comment in Crikey sees the raid as a body blow for Labor.

Police raids to smear our opponents. Secrecy. Denial. Is this the nation we have become?

Leigh Sales took the biscuit for dead cat impartiality and death stare when she challenged Tony Burke to repeat his outrageous suggestion that the AFP had been tipped off by the Liberals.

Offstage slightly a Melbourne Cup field of Liberal politicians rushed all available open microphones to clap hand to heart and swear denial of all knowledge of any AFP raid, thereby confirming that someone said something to someone but now, hey, the cat was in the bag.

AFP Commissioner, the boyish Andrew Colvin, an Abbott appointee who battles to get by on $700, 000 a year and who even looks a bit like a real policeman if you don’t listen to what he says, admitted that the AFP would have got their hands on some confidential Labor campaign stuff, too, but not to worry, his boys were born professionals and besides, like Turnbull’s fate, the seized documents were sealed until after the election.

With the drop of the dead moggy, however, comes the risk that the stench of Turnbull’s dud NBN is now dead centre of the campaign, thanks to the AFP’s spectacular – but alarmingly short on specifics on the warrant – intervention.

Whilst Commissioner Colvin mouths reassurances, the AFP can hardly be seen as a safe pair of hands. In 2013 AFP operatives left plastic explosives were left in a bag at Sydney Airport at the end of a rigorous dog training session. Last year, AFP lost thirty controlled items as they term them including munitions, body armour, bullet-proof vests, Tasers, batons, handcuffs and night-vision goggles. A similarly deficient audit in 2009 points to an ongoing problem.

Above all, the NBN raid or fishing expedition smacks of desperation. Gone is the sophisticated PM who would reason and explain. Back is the Abbott style leader who operates in secret who will do anything it takes to gain political advantage.

Busted by an unsaleable dud budget predicated on the economic witchcraft of trickle-down economics and the willful over-estimation of iron ore futures and lumbered with a mob of mad right wingers who can demand failed former employment minister, Erich Abetz gets a post in the next cabinet, or which allows a Peter Dutton to spill his guts, Malcolm Bligh Turnbull has resorted to the dead cat stunt so early, it is clear that he even he knows he’s in trouble.

Turnbull can bleat “jobs and growth”, “keeping Australia safe” and other mutually demeaning, slogans to an ever more sceptical public until the Murray-Goulburn cows come home but no-one is fooled. Let him publicly delude himself that cutting taxes for the Liberal Party’s rich backers will magically grow the economy or that Australians feel that their government is keeping them safe – especially now that some Border Force officers are now under investigation for allegedly working with crime gangs and drug and tobacco smugglers. Throughout looms that issue of his judgment.

Who persuaded Turnbull that negative gearing is a good stick to beat Labor? Or that Peter Dutton needed to be publicly commended on his record as Border Supremo MKII? Dutton was recycled from a poor performance in the Health portfolio after his predecessor, Scott Morrison went barking mad up river like Colonel Kurz in Apocalypse Now and had to be made treasurer.

Our innovative PM has dropped his bundle. He’s ditched his pious piffle about jobs and growth and opportunity, a pitch which as they say is “failing to resonate” with the electorate in favour of a primitive hysteria, a back to the future fear of invasion by refugees, a Tampa MKII or 2013 (stop-the-boats).

Evading comment on his Immigration Minister’s recent performance on Sky where clearly a pumped Dutton threw away the dog-whistle and barked himself, Turnbull would have us believe that “Nutso” Dutton is an outstanding minister. Outstanding. Why, we have not had a successful people smuggling operation for 600 days. (Surely a success would have evaded detection?)

Naturally, a world beset by refugees is now beating a path to our door in envy of our regime of offshore detention where asylum seekers are assessed promptly and dealt with humanely.

Of course, our off-shore detention policy has had its moments. PNG has recently told us to leave Manus Island and take our asylum seekers with us. True, we have nowhere to take them because no other nation will take them off our hands and we have promised not to bring them to the mainland. But that’s a mere operational detail. Dutton will nut something out.

Is Turnbull being pushed around by the rabid right wing of the party? It would explain his accommodation of his Immigration Minister. Head of the monkey pod faction, or self-styled Abbott government in exile, the Delcons, Peter Dutton is indulged, even praised for his illiterate, incoherent and utterly baseless assertions that most migrants can’t read or write in their own languages or are innumerate but somehow steal Aussie jobs. Or sponge off Medicare.

Or did Turnbull put Dutton up to it? Is this a classic dog-whistle to those in marginal seats who share similar prejudices? Or is it simply, as Mick Young put it when faced with choice between a conspiracy and a stuff up we should go with the stuff up?

The timing suggests the latter. One moment Turnbull was in Darwin being photographed attractively against the deep blue of background of a freshly painted Border Patrol boat posing as our sovereign nation’s macho protector and the next day butch Dutton was all over the airwaves after a Sky interview with Paul Murray 18 May that took issue with the Green’s proposal to take in 50,000 refugees and also managed to work in Labor and the CFMEU.

“There would be a huge cost and there’s no sense in sugar-coating that …”

Turnbull has a piece in The Age the next day in which he tries to sanitise junkyard Dutton’s latest offering, defending an utterly indefeasible rabble rousing performance with a piece of pure sophistry and wilful denial of the facts which contends that we have such great multi-culturalism because we have strong borders.

Putting the political chimera of multi-culturalism aside, the PM is asking us to pretend we don’t have very porous borders where most of our asylum-seekers arrive by plane. He repeats the same false imagery that Australia is somehow under threat of being swamped by an invasion of refugees, saved only by the brave boys and girls in Border Patrol.

It’s all part of the Crosby-Textor approved narrative of external threat. Not spelled out is the elephant in the room – the supposed deterrence effect of an offshore regime of punishment and the barbaric cruelty of indefinite detention. The PM preserves Dutton’s subtext of irrational fear and intolerance with a specious “just stating the facts” slant on the Immigration Minister’s remarks. Perhaps he hopes to get a tick of approval from his party’s Delcons.

Fat chance. Abbott-faction cheer-leader, Peta Credlin mocks Turnbull nightly on Sky, critiquing his performance. Her ritual humiliation of the PM has so far reminded us that a proper politician, a proper campaign leader would never have cancelled the Westfield walkabout with Fiona Scott no matter how insulting her public lack of loyalty.

A leader with bottle would never have campaigned on his own in WA just because he got the huff over the local candidate’s faking his CV or his repeating Erich Abetz’ line that gay marriage leads to polygamy.

Less than two weeks into his marathon selfie of an extended election campaign, Turnbull’s campaign is a train-wreck. The Delcons are laughing at him. The voters are bored with him, impatient with his grandstanding ineffectuality, resentful of his allegiances to the top one per cent, critical of his capture by the right.
No wonder he’s dropped his bundle. Desperate to impress voters on some score, he resorts to the Tony Abbott card of hate and fear.