Alex Mitchell’s Weekly Notebook – Turnbull’s mission to woo wets, dries and Murdoch

It is not unusual for political leaders to mould their parties in their own image. In the Australian context we need only mention Robert Menzies, Gough Whitlam, Bob Hawke and John Howard.
These politicians moulded the course of their respective parties, redirecting policies and priorities. As a result they changed the way Australians thought and lived and changed the country’s direction, for better or worse as the case may be.
Tony Abbott, the recently ousted prime minister, wanted the Liberals to become a hard-ass party of the pure free market model. It all ended in a coup against him by a clear majority of his own party room. Their overthrow of “The Mad Monk” was a triumph of old-fashioned Tory pragmatism over political dogmatism.
His successor, Prime Minister Malcolm Bligh Turnbull, is now recalibrating the position of the Liberal Party; his mission is to shift it from the party of anti-modernity, anti-science and anti-intellectualism to a party of the conservative centre.
A majority of federal Liberal MPs and every public opinion poll have signalled their approval of Turnbull’s approach but the change in direction is receiving hostile fire from three quarters – the hard right of the Liberal Party, sections of backward Nationals and Rupert Murdoch’s ink-slingers.
Murdoch, as always, has his keen eye on massaging newspaper circulations and TV ratings. He is working behind the scenes to persuade the Liberal maddies to form a Tea Party faction of the Liberal Party to harass Turnbull.
It worked for him in the UK when he encouraged crazed Thatcherites and gave them free publicity in his Fleet Street empire (he then dumped them in favour of New Labour’s Tony Blair). In recent years he has volunteered Fox News and the New York Post to the Tea Party in return for an endless stream of “exclusives” and rent-a-quotes.
Every move by Turnbull is combed over by the Grand Inquisitors at News Limited to decide whether he is erring from the party (i.e. News) line. They search for traces of stateism, republicanism, interventionism, support for public broadcasting – anything that amounts to deviationism.

Malcolm in a muddle

Turnbull’s leadership coup was carried out at a heavy price. Because he needed sections of the Abbott/Howard right wing as well as Joe Hockey’s “wets”, he is now caught in a balancing act, trying to appease both sides while building the centre.
As voters have already started to notice, this means conflicting and erratic signals are emanating from Turnbull’s office. The Press Gallery still can’t make up its mind about him or his strategy.
Turnbull press conferences have become agonising high-wire balancing acts: a nod to the right wing of the party followed by a nod to the left.
He began his prime ministership with the scripted narrative that he was a boy from a poor background who worked hard and made it to the top. It is a fairy tale of such egregious self-serving imagination that few people swallowed it.
The truth is otherwise. Turnbull has enjoyed preferment and patronage all his life – from his parents (his mother a successful academic and his father a wealthy hotel broker), from the likes of Kerry Packer, Neville Wran and his father-in-law Tom Hughes QC.
His story is impressive. He has achieved remarkable success in business, the law, journalism and now politics.
When he brought forward his leadership coup and outsmarted Abbott and his principal rival Scott Morrison, he was operating like a corporate raider. He was reading from the takeover manual written by Lloyd Blankfein, chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs when Turnbull was head of Australian operations and learning the merchant banking trade.
It is worth recalling American journalist Matt Taibbi’s colourful description of the notorious blood suckers at “Goldie Mac”: “The world’s most powerful investment bank is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells of money.”
His objectives are privatisation of the Post Office’s valuable parcels division – watch for Goldman Sachs gouging colossal fees as banking advisers to the sale – and remaining public assets such as the Royal Mint and choice blocks of Crown Land. He is wedded to the voodoo theories of “trickle down”, i.e. make the wealthy class wealthier so that when they spend their extra money everyone else becomes better off too. It is a total nonsense, and history proves it.
Turnbull is immersed in the cultural values of his patrons such as Blankfein but for me he is no more than an oligarch with a patrician face. However, Opposition leader Bill Shorten won’t be fighting the next federal election on this basis because he is afraid of being branded (by News Ltd, of course) as indulging in “class war” politics.

Israel on the warpath

Since the re-election of the extremist regime in Israel in May, Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has abandoned any pretence of wooing friends in the West.
He has openly insulted US President Barack Obama, French President François Hollande, Pope Francis, the EU and the UN. Domestically, he has renewed state violence against the Palestinians by stepping up street patrols, arrests and increased settler colonisation of the West Bank. An 18-month-old toddler Ali Saad Dawabsha was burned to death when settlers set fire to his parents’ West Bank home and then daubed the burnt ruins with Zionist slogans.
Now Netanyahu is targeting Al Aqsa Mosque in the heart of Jerusalem, the golden-domed religious symbol of Palestinian culture and resistance.
Taking advantage of the West’s fixation with defeating ISIS in Iraq and Syria, Netanyahu appears to believe this is an ideal time to drive more Palestinians out of their homeland by extending Zionist oppression in all the Arab territories occupied since the Six-Day War in 1967.
As a direct result, opinion polls conducted on the West Bank show that Palestinian anger is reaching breaking point. Support for a new war against the Tel Aviv regime is growing as Palestinians lose confidence in the so-called peace process and their own politicians.
A total of 42% supported “armed action” as the most effective way of establishing their own homeland. Three months ago only a third favoured armed struggle.
If Netanyahu does goad the Palestinians into another intifada (uprising), Tel Aviv will call up hundreds of army reservists in Australia. I wonder whether the Turnbull Government will cancel their passports and Australian citizenship for travelling overseas to fight in a foreign war? I think we should be told.

Quote of the week

“For people on 40,000 and 50,000 and 60,000 dollars a year, penalty rates are the difference as to whether they can afford to send their kids to a private school.”
– Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, aka “Showbag Bill”


  1. Alex, no doubt ‘Come the Revolution’ is instinctively against the politics of the centre, which seem to be the preference of most Australians. Since you are less than joyful about the man who has spared us the Mad Monk’s inadequacies (despite his moving the party towards science and technology, towards sensible decision making, and against the staged media gratification that was such a feature of our past three prime ministers, are you arguing for a Jeremy Corbyn? Or will you be satisfied with Bill Shorten, who actually seems to enjoy class war politics, and does not seem to be in the least bitintimidated by News Corp, whose influence, like that of the rest of the Australian media, is grossly exaggerated?

  2. I would welcome an Aussie Jeremy Corbyn as he appears to be promoting sane & sensible policies as opposed to the ghastly & debunked “market economy” rubbish of the Blairite New Labourites and Malcolm Turnbull’s wets. Tony Abbott was a complete aberration in Aussie politics and few writers have examined the way he was elected which was via an all out assault by the Murdoch media the likes of which we have rarely seen before. The fuming of the more rabid News Corp writers over the loss of Tony examples that perfectly.
    The public jury is still out on just what Malcolm Turnbull is really on about. Restoring the importance of science as a policy was a good idea but honestly, the lack of scrutiny when Abbott abandoned a science minster was frightening. I’m surprised Tony didn’t implement the study of the Flat Earth belief now gaining credence among the so-called ‘truther’ movement.
    Turnbull under John Howard produced a superb paper on housing which recommended the setting up of government & privately funded Housing Associations similar to most of Europe as a route to cheaper housing but it was ignored by Howard. It indicated a man who was prepared to adopt tried & true methods that have worked for most of the Western world including the USA (which has huge public housing projects). Tony Abbott’s admiration for all things Thatcher was frightening given that the UK now spends close to $40Billion a year propping up private landlords with none of that money going back into producing community housing stock. Hopefully Turnbull will lasoo the LNP and drag it back to the centre.

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