Had it not been for last week’s Keystone coup, Julie Bishop would have spent last night in Michael Sukkar’s Melbourne electorate of Deakin, as the star attraction for a gala dinner fundraiser.
Given Sukkar joined last week’s failed push to install Peter Dutton, which cost him and Bishop their jobs, Bishop was at home in Perth instead. She was looking forward to a long lunch on Friday with girlfriends with whom she has not caught up for aeons. New deputy leader Josh Frydenberg stepped in for the fundraiser.
Malcolm Turnbull should have been flying to Jakarta on Thursday with Steve Ciobo to sign the free trade deal with Indonesia that Ciobo, as trade minister, oversaw.
Ciobo, who backed Dutton, didn’t go to Jakarta either. New trade minister Simon Birmingham gets to accompany Scott Morrison instead.
For his sins, Ciobo was kept in cabinet but demoted to a defence role that is subordinate to new defence minister Christopher Pyne.
Ciobo’s beat is Defence Industry, Pyne’s old stomping ground. Ciobo won’t get the same free rein as Pyne had. If he’s lucky, he’ll be attending the Dawn Service in OonaWoopWoop.
On Thursday, new energy minister Angus Taylor was announcing the same policy as old energy minister Frydenberg and Turnbull did on Monday last week – that emissions reduction was no longer a consideration of energy policy and it was all about “heavy-handed intervention” to drive down prices.
Same message, different spokesman. Sometimes that can be enough.
The ‘oh s— moment’
The government will not walk away from the Paris climate change targets, just adopt a passive approach.
Morrison said meeting the targets was now the purview of Environment Minister Melissa Price.
Given electricity accounts for 33 per cent of emissions but has been given a leave pass from making a contribution towards reduction, the transport and agriculture sectors – and Price – should be petrified.
Or at least they would be if the Coalition was really committed to Paris, which for now, it is not, other than in name only, so as not to risk an international backlash such as a collapse of EU free trade agreement negotiations.
And then there are those who lost their jobs and/or reputations, or were overlooked because they backed Dutton in the belief his numbers men could count.
One particularly angry individual says his “oh shit moment” came on Thursday night when he was being told Dutton’s numbers were “in the 50s” yet they couldn’t find 43 to sign the petition Turnbull was demanding before calling a meeting.
There is residual anger against Dutton and Mathias Cormann, who people believe was either conned or was duplicitous.
Standing amid the wreckage is Morrison who, maybe, just a teensy bit, is ruing his decision to come up the middle to take the top job.
The polls are rotten and the decision by Julia Banks to quit at the election, coupled with the net effect of recent electoral redistributions, means the Coalition begins the next election campaign with 74 seats out of 151. If Craig Laundy vacates Reid at the next election, as expected, that could be 73 from a standing start.
Morrison has months to turn this around and avoid contributing to the trend of Australian prime ministers having the same life expectancy as a tail gunner in a World War II bomber.
Morrison was not the choice of the conservatives. His victory was their defeat.
The hard-liners dislike him as much as Turnbull and Bishop for what they regard as his passive compliance with the 2015 coup that ousted Tony Abbott. But not all of them are hostile to the outcome of last week.
To many, Morrison’s natural centre-right disposition and his ability to banter to punters, attributes Turnbull never had, provides them with hope. Not to mention his ruthless pragmatism.
ScoMo proves to be a sharper operator
Already, Morrison has demonstrated he is a sharper political operator than Turnbull, skills he will need to take on the best in the business, Bill Shorten.
That was evident on Sunday night when he managed to outplay Abbott by fooling Ray Hadley and the Daily Telegraph into thinking the job offered to Abbott, an envoy on Indigenous affairs, was really important.
In reality it was, as one wag put it, the equivalent of giving the former prime minister a tin Sherriff’s badge and a pop gun.
It was a very unsubtle hint that there was no room for Abbott in the “new generation” line-up and, if the party was to have any chance of healing, he should shuffle off at the next election.
After all, Abbott was in line for a cabinet job under Dutton and if his expertise was really desired, as Morrison pretended, he would have received a ministry, not a made-up job that ranked lower than parliamentary secretary or a committee chair.
Abbott is no mug and saw through it immediately. Trouble for him is that Morrison got to Hadley and the Telegraph first. What was a one liner in most other reshuffle stories on Monday morning, given Abbott was effectively snubbed, was a blaring front page by the Sydney tabloid declaring, “Peace: Abbott out of Exile”.
Hadley was similarly duped and used his Monday morning interview with Abbott to impress upon him that it really was a fair dinkum job because Morrison had told him so and that Abbott should take it.
Abbott leader by default
Abbott was most unenthusiastic, noting that as prime minister, he brought Indigenous affairs into his department because it “requires authority to get things done”.
“It needs someone at the very top to cut through, it doesn’t need someone running around at the margins,” he said.
Two days later, he agreed to the role but only conditionally. He has been quietened for now. But as he also said Monday, he has no intention of retiring at the election.
As the leadership catastrophe unfolded, it was suspected by many Liberals that Abbott was pushing Dutton to run so he would lose the next election and Abbott, with his formidable skills for negativity, would become Opposition leader by default and take the party back to government.
Despite the coup going pear-shaped, that theory still persists. It’s even stronger.
Turnbull is gone, Bishop, despite what she said this week, has no intention of hanging around in Opposition, Dutton is blowing smoke and Morrison, if he loses big, will be cooked.
Which – apart from Frydenberg – leaves Abbott as the last man standing.
Phillip Coorey is The Australian Financial Review’s political editor.