Who’s in charge of the Liberal Party? Who set its direction and gave it its drive. Certainly not the gaff prone Tony Abbott. He might sit comfortably in the driver’s seat but he has regularly demonstrated he cannot be trusted to take control of the steering wheel. There has to be a back seat driver; telling him when to drive forward, when to speed up, when to turn, when to overtake, when to slow down, when to stop, when to partake in a bit of road rage.
I suspect it might have been (the now retired) Nick Minchin. I think that became evident in the days before the leadership spill that saw the demise of Malcolm Turnbull. With Turnbull at the wheel the party was veering slightly to the left; a direction it would maintain with the likelihood of Joe Hockey replacing him, the chances of which looked decidedly strong. Too strong, especially given that Abbott at this stage wasn’t going to challenge.
The turning point that prompted Abbott to throw his hat in the ring only came after Hockey revealed that he would run on a compromise position on the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) by allowing the party room a conscience vote on the issue. Then:
Seconds after Mr Abbott beat Malcolm Turnbull by one vote, he then declared a secret ballot on the ETS.
The motion proposed that the legislation should be delayed for three months, and if this could not be secured, then the legislation should be defeated.
The motion was carried by 54 votes to 29, guaranteeing the death of the Rudd Government’s ETS.
The driving force behind the Abbott move wasn’t Abbott himself, but Nick Minchin; “the most skilled numbers-man or political organiser in conservative politics. He delivered Tony Abbott the federal party leadership”. It was Minchin in particular who wanted the ETS buried and was the central figure in the downfall of Turnbull, who was a supporter of the ETS.
Minchin’s attitude to climate change (the evidence of which drove the ETS) has been famously summed up: “I’d rather slam my cock in a door than debate [it]”. Enough said. His cock was now safe. So was his ideology.
Senator Minchin’s role in the destruction of Mr Turnbull has been seen in some quarters as a personal vendetta, by others as an exercise in ideology.
There is no doubt from anyone, however, that the rapid deterioration of Mr Turnbull’s leadership in recent weeks has been driven by Senator Minchin’s strident opposition to the emissions trading scheme and denial of man-made climate change in particular.
But it’s not only his views on climate change that have become the platform of Liberal policies. It appears that his full suite of ideologies are reflected in the words of the man he ‘handed’ the leadership to.
Think boats. Or more precisely, the rickety boats filled with refugees Australia bound. He stood firmer behind Howard than any other member of the party on this delicate issue and was not hesitant in condemning members of the party who showed the slightest hint of compassion towards them. When moderate Liberals stood up to Howard over refugees, nobody was more critical than Minchin. He didn’t respect their opinions. Even as far back as 2001, leading up to the 2001 election Minchin was the first to play the race card suggesting the the important thing was to grab the One Nation vote. He found a way to resonate with redneck anxieties about immigration and refugees; anxieties he clearly shared.
He was desperate to stop the boats. So is Abbott. Funny that.
Tony Abbott also wanted to stop plain packaging of cigarette packets. Personally, I find that a bit odd given he was the Minister of Health in the Howard Government. There wouldn’t be a health professional in the world who disputes the dangers of smoking and I have difficulty comprehending Abbott’s stand when considering his portfolio background and his ‘headlining’ commitment to his own good health.
Oh, wait a minute, the all important Nick Minchin snubs the medical evidence.
In 1995 Minchin submitted a dissenting Senate reporton the tobacco industry and the costs of tobacco-related illness that disputed the Committee’s statements that it believes cigarettes are addictive and that passive smoking is harmful. Minchin claimed the tobacco industry was over-regulated. He also disagreed with the conclusions about the addictiveness of nicotine and the harmfulness of passive smoking: Senator Minchin wishes to record his dissent from the committee’s statements that it believes cigarettes are addictive and that passive smoking causes a number of adverse health effects for non-smokers. Senator Minchin believes these claims (the harmful effects of passive smoking) are not yet conclusively proved . . . there is insufficient evidence to link passive smoking with a range of adverse health effects.
Over regulated? Not in agreement with the findings? He must have convinced Abbott of the same.
I again state that it is rather odd that given Abbott’s former health portfolio he fails to take a stand on this important social issue. It begs the question as to whether he took his portfolio seriously. I expect him to take up smoking, which I’m sure he would have done if Minchin thought it was in the best interests of
his personal ideals the party.
For a politician who had absolutely no idea about his own portfolio he magically becomes a self-proclaimed expert on such things as privitisation and labour market deregulation, both of which Minchin was a strong proponent. I only needed a few minutes in Google to confirm that Abbott is Minchin’s mouthpiece. The Minchin legacy lives on in Tony Abbott.
But unless the legacy dies we could be well again be the victim of more of the hard-line extremist’s ideologies. I’m referring to WorkChoices, of which Minchin was one of the architects. Despite its unpopularity he has maintained that the reforms did not go far enough and further deregulation is required. In a parting shot as he retired from politics he:
. . . appealed to his party not to drift into populism as an over-reaction to being burnt on its WorkChoices laws.
Was anybody in the party listening? Yes.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has given qualified support . . . for a Coalition government to roll back Labor’s IR reforms.
Minchin might yet see his dream again realised with the scrapping of unfair dismissal laws and the return to individual contracts for employers. Can he trust Abbott? Yep.
Can we trust him?