A most unhappy Australian story that sounds quite familiar.
It is now a year since the leftist Malcolm Turnbull seized the leadership of the Australian Liberal (i.e. conservative) Party and the Prime Ministership of Australia from the genuine conservative Tony Abbott, in a coup as conscienceless as it was stupid, and proceeded to set both the party and Australian conservatism on the road to ruin.
Turnbull’s vaunted political skills, trumpeted by his admirers in the media, have been shown to be a myth. At the recent election a million fewer people voted for him than for Abbott. The healthy Parliamentary majority the party achieved under Abbott has been reduced to just one seat, and unless there is a change at the top the job looks certain to be completed by an outright Labor victory at the next election.
The situation is quite extraordinary — for, I think, the first time in Australian history, a Liberal leader is despised by large and important parts of his own party, and by Australian conservatives and conservative intellectuals and makers of political debate in general.
Turnbull has achieved very little in his first 12 months in office: China has been given a lease to administer Australia’s main northern port of Darwin (the Americans having to read about this in the newspaper); the Government is to spend $A50 billion (estimated, perhaps optimistically) on 12 untried but already obsolete conventional submarines of a French design, angering Japan, whose Soryu-class subs. the Abbott government was said to prefer (the deal is reputed to be welcomed by China which has a vested interest in Japan not building up defense industries).
Talking of China, Turnbull has extravagantly praised Mao Tse-tung, who he claimed made the Chinese “stand up” (apart, that is, from the tens of millions he had murdered who are still lying down), and he has spoken of Mao’s revolutionary transformism as if it were some kind of example for Australia.
On the other hand, he has described the British settlement of Australia in 1788 as an “invasion,” which, if taken seriously, undercuts the whole complex of conservative and patriotic values and gives credence to the left’s campaign to discredit and destroy them. The “invasion” of 1788 was in fact under the charge of Governor Arthur Philip, a humane man of the Enlightenment (Arthur Philip or Mao Tse-tung as national exemplar? Take your pick).
Previously Turnbull was head of an organization dedicated to changing the Australian flag, and then of an organization dedicated to getting rid of the Queen, neither of which cause Australia would have a bar of. When the question of dropping the Queen was put to a vote it was rejected in every State and the Northern Territory. Changing the flag — under which about 100,000 Australians died in wars in the last century — would, it is certain, be even more unpopular.
To celebrate the end of Ramadan this year, Turnbull invited for a halal dinner, at the Prime Minister’s official residence, a Muslim Imam who is on record as saying women should be hung up by the breasts in Hell and should not look at men while on Earth.
Taxpayers’ money has been cut off for Australia’s one major Liberal-Conservative intellectual and literary magazine, Quadrant, though grants totaling six figures continue to be made to left-wing magazines of minuscule circulation and sometimes barely readable content. The Literature Board, which administers these grants, is in theory independent but somehow I am sure this knifing of Quadrant would not have happened under Abbott. The poetry editor of one tax-payer supported leftist magazine, Overland, has announced a blacklisting there of any poets who have ever appeared in Quadrant.
The taxpayer-funded Australian Broadcasting Commission had become a billion-dollar leftist propaganda machine (the initials ABC are said to stand for “Anarchists, Bolsheviks, Communists” or perhaps “Anyone But Conservatives”).
There is a crying need to investigate this monstrous machine’s blatant abuse of power and of its own charter, under which it is committed to impartiality, possibly through a Royal Commission. Don’t look to Turnbull for it, though. He has loudly and publicly defended the ABC and, when Minister responsible for it, used its like-minded people to build up his support base.
Liberal Senators were ordered not to support a proposal to make payment by University students to lefty-dominated student unions voluntary instead of compulsory, though these student unions have an appalling record of using students’ money for left-wing causes and propaganda, and despite the fact that freedom of association is written into the universal declaration of human rights. Liberal and moderate Labor students who have opposed this in the past have been beaten up and had bones broken, apart from the little matter of being expelled. It has been a central cause for generations of the party’s best and brightest in —and after — student days.
The founder of the modern Liberal Party, Sir Robert Menzies, and its recent leader, John Howard, the country’s longest and second-longest-serving Prime Ministers respectively, and the two most successful, emphasized that the Liberal Party in Australia was the standard-bearer of both the country’s Liberal (in the classic sense) and Conservative traditions. It traces its ancestry back to both the economic liberal Adam Smith and political conservative Edmund Burke (who, be it remembered, were good friends and in agreement with one another, though their interests had different emphases).
Now, apparently, Turnbull expects the Liberal Party bird to fly with its conservative wing amputated.
When, many years ago, even before he entered politics, Turnbull was asked in a radio interview whether he would like to be a Liberal or Labor Prime Minister. He replied: “It doesn’t matter.” Before suddenly joining the Liberal Party, after, presumably, calculating the odds, he was closely associated with senior Labor figures, and some of them not the nicest ones, either.
The recent election campaign, where he came within a whisker of losing office, was feeble and lackluster.
It was called ostensibly over union corruption, but in the course of the campaign this was hardly mentioned. Nor was defense, despite the turbulent and threatening international scene. The only reason he squeaked back into office was that Labor, under Bill Shorten, was still seen by the electorate as being even worse.
Turnbull promised to back the previous Labor leader, Kevin Rudd, for Secretary-General of the United Nations, then went back on this, leading to a childishly undignified public spat between the two men.
Turnbull appears to believe in nothing in particular, apart from a vague mantra of “jobs and growth.” The lack of a verb says it all. Is he referring to the grotesquely uneconomic submarine project, which, it is strongly suspected, was undertaken to buy votes in South Australia, where they are to be built? He not-so-cleverly proposed to raid middle-class pension pots. His public statements have betrayed no deep knowledge of history or of political thought.
However, Turnbull’s appointments since the election strongly suggest he intends to marginalize conservatism in Australia. If conservatism is to survive there as a serious movement Turnbull must go.
Malcolm Turnbull during Pentagon visit, January 2016 (DoD/Flickr-Creative Commons)