MUNGO MacCALLUM. Strong leaders carry out their promises – Malcolm Turnbull.

It is impossible to imagine Gough Whitlam, Paul Keating or even John Gorton being so cowed by the vengeful has-beens and disgruntled bigots who are now calling the shots in what is laughingly described as the government. 

Yet another leak from the White House – but this time it actually gave our own beleaguered leader a bit of a boost.

Not just because it provided a welcome contrast to Malcolm Turnbull’s urbanity and coherence in the face of the Donald’s bluster and gibberish, but because, for once, Turnbull actually confronted the bullying.

He stood up for the people swap deal he had negotiated with Barack Obama and forced the POTUS hippopotamus to back away – not entirely, but sufficiently for the purpose at hand. It was not pretty; in the process he admitted that it was a deal, a trade between our refugees and their refugees, something which he had previously denied in public. And of course he was defending the indefensible; the trafficking of human for political advantage – which was what was determined – is both illegal and immoral.

But at least Turnbull stood up: could it be, as despairing focus groups were pleading, that he had finally started to grow balls? Well no, and he did not even have draw breath to prove it.

At the Garma festival Galarrwuy Yunipingu, the Yolgnu elder who has emerged as the spokesman for the Uluru statement and the push for reconciliation demanded on behalf of his people that Turnbull take his message to Canberra. But our Prime Minister, as was his wont, shrunk to the occasion.

While Bill Shorten vowed to press on, Turnbull temporised and procrastinated: well, it was a very interesting idea and the government would give it serious consideration whenever it got around to it, but, in the finest traditions of the Liberal Party, not yet. It is all too difficult – we mustn’t rush it.

After all, the debate has only just started – barely twenty years since the last time it was rebooted seriously and the flawed constitution has only endured for 116 years. Indigenous Australians have been around for at least 60,000 years, so surely they can wait a bit longer.

And in any case, they will bloody well have to. There are urgent matters to attend to, like duck shoving, yet again, the same sex marriage issue into the distant future in the vain hope that it will go away. The initial ingenious solution to the dilemma was to go back to the plebiscite, to reheat a shit sandwich already regurgitated by the senate.

When the senate knocked it back again as everyone, including Turnbull, knew it would, the answer was not, as Tony Abbott suggested, continuing to push the door marked pull until everyone died of exhaustion, but to offer the masses an even shittier and smellier sandwich – a non-compulsory, non-binding, postal plebiscite in the absurd belief that this will somehow resolve the matter.

In spite of the mean and tricky device of handballing the process the Bureau of Statistics rather than the Electoral Commission in what appears to be a hospital pass, it may not get through the High Court — a lot of good judges believe it won’t. But assuming it does, there will be a bitter and divisive campaign featuring wild and hypocritical claims that the children will suffer – under no circumstances may the children happily living in same sex families have their birthright legitimised through the endorsement of parliament. Keep the little bastards real bastards.

And then there will presumably be a result – probably a pretty small one lacking any semblance of credibility, as Turnbull, in those far off days when he retained some common sense and a vestige of principle once thundered, but a result nonetheless – a result, but not an outcome.

If the ballot is no, this, the conservatives assert triumphantly, will settle the matter for good – same sex marriage will be off the agenda forever – except, of course, that it won’t be. In fact it will only make things worse – the advocates for reform will never accept the authenticity of a negative postal plebiscite so we will be back to square one.

But if the ballot is yes, the legislation should provide plenty of opportunities for delay as the denialists quibble over whether cake decorators and flower arrangers should be exempt, after which they will vote against it in parliament anyway. But, having made the process as expensive, tortuous and ridiculous as possible, Malcolm Turnbull will vote in favour. Finally, for one fleeting moment, he will be permitted to be true to himself – before reverting to the subservience the conservative rump requires of him.

Last week Turnbull attempted to justify his pusillanimity by claiming, absurdly, that he was actually super tough: “Strong leaders carry out their promises, weak leaders break them. I am a strong leader.” Well, no: strong leaders do not kowtow to the lowest common denominators in the party room, surrendering long-held beliefs to political ambition.

Strong leaders face down the doubters and nay-sayers: they crash through or crash. It is impossible to imagine Gough Whitlam, Paul Keating or even John Gorton being so cowed by the vengeful has-beens and disgruntled bigots who are now calling the shots in what is laughingly described as the government.

This has now been going on for almost two years, when Abbott invented the plebiscite tactic as a way of holding back the tide – but even he admitted (at the time – he has since changed his mind) that it could only endure for one term of parliament. Emboldened by success, he has now decided that it can be refurbished indefinitely, knowing that Turnbull will never have the guts to break free while there is still breath in the bodies of the hard line reactionaries who will die in a ditch rather than give up their prejudices and privileges.

Eventually of course they will die, but they are still hoping to outlast the traitor Turnbull. And with another four months of humbuggery and skullduggery before the next showdown, it is hard to argue that they do not have a decent crack. Abbott has already set the tone, advocating a no vote on the grounds that it will protect freedom of speech and religion and obliterate political correctness. Self evidently it would do neither, but that’s not the point: turning what should be a simple question of equity into a wide ranging culture war will offer far more scope for the final battle against the Antichrist for which he lusts.

And unsurprisingly the vicious and misleading tosh about the poor little kiddies is already being delivered to parents and, probably, to playgrounds. But that’s alright, says Turnbull: extreme and offensive statements are just part of every debate. A week ago they said they wouldn’t happen; Australians could be trusted make it a respectful debate. And he will bravely support the reform – well, up to a point, if he has nothing better to do.

And that’s the extent of Malcolm Turnbull’s balls. A load of old balls, actually.

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Julian

Thanks Mungo for your perceptive analysis.
I particularly liked your reference to: “…the vengeful has-beens and disgruntled bigots who are now calling the shots in what is laughingly described as the government.”
Your charity to these coots is truly wonderful.

max bourke AM

Absolutely correct all 3 of Gorton, Whitlam and Keating demonstrably stared down, pushed back and rejected smaller minds in their own party even to their own detriment.