JERRY ROBERTS. The Cuckoo and the Nest.

Sep 21, 2018

Of all the abuse heaped on the head of Malcolm Turnbull the heaviest spray came from Noel Crichton-Browne, a past President of the West Australian Division of the Liberal Party, a Senator and political power-broker par excellence.

In a letter published in the West Australian newspaper on 29 August Noel called Malcolm “the cuckoo in the Liberal nest.” He tore strips off the former PM from the time of his first entry into politics and described the writing down and publication of the 43 names as “narcissistic political bastardry.” Outside the Liberal Party, identification of honourable members involved in the downfall of a Prime Minister might be seen as information the public is entitled to know.

Facts are facts and Noel’s history lesson is on the record. Nobody ever pretended that Malcolm Turnbull is Mr Nice Guy, least of all the man himself. I did think Noel was unreasonable criticising Malcolm for retiring and creating a by-election. The Liberals kicked him out. What did they expect him to do? Hang around the Parliament like a fart in a bottle? Having taken up exile in New York, the ex-PM would do well to stay out of the fray. With the Museum of Modern Art and Metropolitan Opera around the corner, New York surely holds more interest than the Liberal Party of Australia.

As State President of the Liberals Noel Crichton-Browne, born in outback Western Australia, was dynamite. The Liberals’ State Secretary at the time was Chilla Porter who won the silver medal at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics in a legendary dual with the American world record-holder, Charles Dumas, the first high jumper to clear seven feet. Noel and Chilla, both tall and lean, and the Liberal parliamentary leader, Sir Charles Court, always trim and fit and alert, roamed over the State like Wyatt Earp and his brothers. These clever and industrious operators dominated West Australian politics for decades.

Chilla Porter’s son, Christian Porter, is now Australia’s Attorney General. He is the member for the West Australian seat of Pearce, considered by political pundits to be vulnerable. I think he will hold the seat. The Royal Australian Air Force base of Pearce is located at the township of Bullsbrook on the Great Northern Highway. I drove through that way a couple of weeks ago on the way north. It was hard driving through heavy rain and heavy traffic and I was glad to stop for coffee at the historic Benedictine Monastery village of New Norcia which is in the Victoria Plains Shire, at the southern end of the vast Durack electorate created from the even larger old electorate of Kalgoorlie and not held by Labor since the Party kicked out Graham Campbell for opposing native title.

Christian Porter’s electorate of Pearce takes in the Shires of Gingin, Chittering, Toodyay, Northam and Beverley. This is established mixed farming country. In stark contrast to their eastern states’ counterparts, West Australian farmers are enjoying a magnificent season after widespread rain. The crops look sensational. Wool prices remain buoyant. The prices for fat lambs continue to defy gravity. There were lots of smiling faces in late August at the annual Dowerin farm machinery field days (near Toodyay).

At the 2016 general election Christian Porter for the Liberals won 45 per cent of the primary vote. Labor picked up 34 per cent, the Greens 11 per cent and the remaining 10 per cent was split evenly between the Nationals and the Rise-up Australia Party. The boost to local economies from a good season is likely to favour the incumbent Liberal. It remains to be seen whether there has been sufficient growth since 2016 in outer suburban areas such as Ellenbrook to dent the Liberal majority.

West Australian political correspondent Joe Spagnolo, picking up Liberal Party gossip around the town, reports a theory that Julie Bishop will vacate the safe WA seat of Cottesloe after the 2019 election and Christian Porter can move over there if he loses Pearce.

“Bishop’s decision to contest can be interpreted in a few ways,” writes Joe. “Already Liberals are speculating she is hanging around so that she can have another go at the top job, should Morrison not connect with the voters and the Federal Government is facing political Armageddon at the next poll.

“For mine, she has decided to buy herself time to decide her future, and her announcement that she is contesting the next election stops the vultures circling.”

Julie is looking good. She is physically fit, as demonstrated by her recent City-to-Surf 12-kilometre run. Always a stylish dresser, she has remembered how to smile after years of fearfully serious business as foreign minister and deputy leader. Nice smile too.

In the event of a Liberal wipe-out we may see Julie as the moderate candidate contesting the Opposition leadership against the immoderate candidate, Tony Abbot. Alternatively, she may decide to do something else. She can please herself. Nice to have options.

That brings us to Mathias Cormann. Joe Spagnolo sees him as the loser in this affair and, again, I agree with Joe. “Cormann will continue to be a big deal in the Coalition but his reputation is badly smeared and his political judgement now severely questioned.

“Did Cormann get too drunk on his own power? Did he get too confident? …. Did he believe the media hype? Or did Cormann forget that in politics one can go from chocolates to boiled lollies in a matter of minutes?”

In the meantime, Scott Morrison is playing for what he needs most but is least likely to get – time. Scott is a natural politician with an ear for public opinion. Given time, he might generate some momentum for the Liberals but the run of the green is going against him.

Jerry Roberts is a member of the Australian Labor Party.

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