If you think that the election of Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg as a ‘new generation’ of Liberal Party leaders ends the cataclysm that enveloped the government last week, think again.
Just consider – last Friday in the face of an uprising from voters around the country, no fewer than 40 of the 85 Liberal MPs and Senators voted for the Dodo from Dixon. It only needed three of the others to change their vote and Dutton would have been off to Government House to be sworn in as Prime Minister.
Next time, we might not be so lucky.
But no, I hear you cry, this time the Liberals have learned their lesson.
That’s a mighty big call. It took some desperate tactics from the outgoing Malcolm Turnbull to turn the tide for his man Morrison. That demand for a legal opinion on Dutton’s eligibility to under Section 44 might have peeled one or two votes from the insurgency. And the refusal to call the meeting till he had 43 signatures probably did the same. At least it stopped the all-important momentum of the coup.
But it was about as tight as these things get. And that means Morrison comes to the office not only as Turnbull’s man, but in the knowledge that half his party doesn’t want him there.
On the positive side, since the MPs have returned to their electorates they will have heard just how appalled their voters were at the prospect of Dutton in The Lodge. But he was never much of a flag bearer for the rock-ribbed
conservatives. On the few times he opened his mouth, nothing of any moment emerged.
But there are much more presentable personalities waiting in the wings – former SAS officer Andrew Hastie, for example, or Trade Minister Steve Ciobo.
Morrison is said to be a ‘right-centrist’, the fuselage holding together both wings of the party. But the grand vizier of the conservatives, Tony Abbott has never forgiven him for backing Turnbull in the 2015 coup against Abbott PM. And nothing will stop him from taking his revenge.
Dutton has pledged ‘total loyalty’ to the new leadership team. But as the pledges of support for his own prime ministership came rolling in the former Queensland copper stood on the mountaintop where (if I may use a biblical analogy) he looked out across the kingdom and, ‘the devil said to him, ‘I will give you all the authority and splendour…if you worship me it will all be yours.’
That moment is burned into his brain. He will never be the same man again. If the occasion arises, nothing will stop him making another lunge for the leadership.
Morrison now stands on that same mountaintop, and like Turnbull before him, he will do what it takes to remain there. In this he is somewhat better placed than his predecessor since he is quite unencumbered by principles such as action on climate change and rising inequality.
But that will suit the rebels. They will push him so far out to the right that before he realises it, he will have lost the mighty centre so necessary to electoral success in Australia. The polls will toll the passing of his days, and when the time is right, the Right will make their move, and poor old potato-head Dutton will join the coup, hoping against hope that the cards will fall his way.