The score: Brendan Nelson, 1, Malcolm Turnbull, 0
One of the more infuriating moments in sport is when your opponent invites you to “look at the scoreboard’‘.
This smarmy gesture suggests a quick punch to the midriff might be called for but you know how that would end up. In politics, this “look at the scoreboard’’ taunt is delivered daily.
And it too produces some fairly self-destructive responses including infighting, silly public comments, and acts of straight-out treachery.
Of course, the real scoreboard is the one on polling day. But given the length of this particular game, interim scores, such as opinion polls, and perhaps the odd by-election, are keenly watched. So it has not escaped anyone’s attention on the Coalition side that, as Malcolm Turnbull clicked over a full year in the job, their score has not gone up at all.
That’s right. After going to all the trouble and trauma of replacing the under-performing Brendan Nelson one year ago, Malcolm Turnbull, the man Prime Minister Kevin Rudd regards as a “professionally diagnosed’’ sufferer of narcissistic personality disorder, has achieved, well, basically nothing.
Being ten points down in the two party preferred vote with a leader in negative territory is an uncomfortable if, a not uncommon opposition experience during the first year after an election. But it was sufficiently worrying to push desperate Liberals to move on their leader just nine months in.
The catalyst then, somewhat ironically, was the mess Dr Nelson had made of their position on emissions trading. Yet even here on this specific policy matter not much has changed. They are still in a big pickle over emissions trading and are now proposing to do pretty much the same thing - that is, nothing in isolation of global action and certainly nothing this year - unless forced that is.
Confusion still reigns. Little wonder then that Liberals are tearing their hair out. The frustration is showing up everywhere - not least in question time where the tactics have bordered on the bizarre.
Dr Nelson, of course left this week delivering the third and final act of his triple-treat gift to his successor. In so doing, he has once again proved that revenge is indeed, a dish best served cold. The first part of course, was the decision to bail out before the election thus causing a by-election - something he would not have welcomed as leader.
Yes, the Liberals will retain his Sydney seat of Bradfield-it is one of their very safest-but there is always a risk for Malcolm Turnbull that the Liberal vote could drop which would be damaging.
With his imminent departure came the second part of the gift: a license to speak his mind as he heads out the door. This has proved excruciating for Mr Turnbull. First there was an astoundingly frank newspaper interview in August wherein the good doctor described his successor as exhibiting a “narcissistic personality disorder” - to the PM’s obvious delight.
Then it got worse. This week, he sparked a mini-revolt in the Coalition party-room with an impassioned plea for them not to buckle to the threat of a double dissolution by negotiating on the emissions trading scheme. That saw more than a dozen MPs emboldened to speak frankly along the same lines.
Any progress Mr Turnbull may have thought he’d made towards nuancing their position to avoid handing Labor that trigger, went up in a puff of greenhouse gases.
For good measure, Dr Nelson (who by this stage remember, already knew he was taking the diplomatic posting) again reinforced that message on Wednesday evening in his final parliamentary speech observing forcefully that pushing ahead of the rest of the world on emission trading defied both common sense and the national interest.
It was the perfect set up for the final leg of the triple-treat just 18 hours later when he and Kevin Rudd announced he was now going to work for Labor. Talk about slick. The message to the anti-Turnbull forces had been hold your ground fellas even as he was packing his bags and preparing to jump ship to become an advocate for Rudd Government policy - including on emissions trading - in Europe.
Amid the upturned furniture and spilt drinks, bemused Liberals are left staring into the middle-distance: languishing in the polls with a severely weakened leadership, and a climate change policy that not only lacks majority support, but could yet lead to political ruin.
Those, including Mr Turnbull himself, who are hoping a path through this mess will somehow reveal itself, are deluding themselves. Despite the pretence, Kevin Rudd has no intention of bending on emission trading or in any way making this easy for the Opposition leader.
Indeed, his antipathy for Mr Turnbull has grown as his promotion of Dr Nelson and even potentially of Peter Costello has demonstrated. Both are in part motivated by the immediate contra-distinction they create with Mr Turnbull.
If anything, the threat of double-dissolution election re-emerged this week just as Mr Turnbull’s internal opponents became more entrenched.
A year after being rolled for not making enough progress, it might now be Dr Nelson who is suggesting a quick glance at the scoreboard.
You can only guess what Mr Turnbull would like to do in response. Word is, he’s not the only one.
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