MUNGO MACCALLUM. Turnbull lets fly.

Sep 17, 2018

Unlike Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull did not hang around in parliament, which must be a major relief for Scott Morrison – one baleful ex-prime minister glowering from the backbench is more than enough.

But also unlike Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull did not promise no wrecking, no sniping, no undermining. And particularly unlike Abbott, if he had, he almost certainly would have kept his word.

So, inevitably, it was on. Within a week, the tweeting began: Peter Dutton should be referred to the High Court in case – just in case – he is not eligible to sit in parliament, still less administer a portfolio.

Turnbull sent his message not only to Morrison, but more importantly to some of the 40 who supported him in his last stand in the party room. Last week, when Labor moved to refer Dutton, the government troops held – just; Dutton’s own vote was needed to get his numbers across the line.

Turnbull obviously feels that, with a little persuasion, one or more could be cracked, and already his old friend and colleague Julie Bishop – who, to Morrison’s regret, remains in parliament — seems to be wavering.

It’s not over yet, and the pressure is finally getting to the previously adamantine Home Affairs Minister. Dutton now has a big target on his back, and the shooters are taking aim from all directions. The Turnbullites regard him as a traitor, pure and simple. The Morrisonites don’t trust him for a moment: once an insurgent, always an insurgent. Within his paranoid department, he is now known as Voldemort.

And we have even seen him find a feud with his old comrade in persecution, Roman Quadvlieg. The spectacle of these relentless Queensland ex-coppers gouging at each other’s privates would be mildly amusing if it were not taking place in what used to be the sacred precincts of parliament.

And however Morrison might seek to deny it (and almost everything else to do with the coup) Dutton is in trouble. He can probably bluff his way out of the charges of looking after his mates over the various visa issues; his double standards about “humanitarianism” are not more than par for the course for his brutal regime.

But the section 44 problem is real and dangerous. Turnbull and the commonwealth solicitor-general, Stephen Donaghue, were all but certain that Barnaby Joyce would be waved through the High Court and were clearly wrong. This time Donaghue thinks Dutton is alright, but admits he’s not sure.

Turnbull says that when in doubt, Morrison must refer. So far the only response from the Attorney General, Christian Porter, is that Labor should have brought the matter on earlier, and from Morrison is that he doesn’t want to pursue it and he fervently hopes the voters don’t either. Whether this will wash with Bishop and the many others bruised and battered by Morrison’s Muppet Show is, to put it mildly, unlikely, especially if Turnbull perseveres, whether from Manhattan or Point Piper.

Morrison was at the ringside when the Abbott recalcitrant were at their most virulent. The last thing he needs is a similar campaign of sabotage and disruption from Turnbull’s troops. But that does not mean he won’t get one. Such is the state of the modern Liberal Party.


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