Things just went from bad to horror movie for Malcolm
Peter Costello has decided to leave his seat of Higgins in Melbourne before the next election meaning that the Liberals will face two by-elections in close succession or even on the same day.
The former Treasurer is yet to give a reason as to why he has left early but he has managed to turn Malcolm Turnbull’s current position from scary to downright horrific. This is like that scene from the latest Saw movie even the actors apparently had to walk out on.
One upside to the departure is that the distraction of Peter Costello will be over with once and for all for Malcolm Turnbull. The downside is this: two men who were the most senior remaining members of the Howard Government, Brendan Nelson and now Peter Costello, have decided to leave Parliament early causing by-elections in the middle of what is already a crisis for Malcolm Turnbull and his party over the ETS.
While the on-going presence of these two men, especially Costello, in Parliament could have been destabilising to Turnbull, their greater role was to Turnbull’s benefit as they kept less disciplined members of the party from going after him.
If it wasn’t already, it’s open season on Turnbull over the ETS and anything else disgruntled MPs want to throw in for good measure.
There was a great press release put out earlier in the week that summed up the current position of the Liberal Party.
It wasn’t put out by a Liberal, a National or even the Government. No it was issued by our very own Tripitaka of the Senate Family First’s Steve Fielding.
“The Coalition is like a sinking ship without any lifeboats at the moment,” Senator Fielding said.
“The Liberal party is in danger of losing their financial credibility if it caves in and votes for an ETS before Copenhagen, so if I was a Liberal senator I’d be looking to jump ship with some dignity.”
When Steve Fielding starts lecturing your political dignity you know you are in trouble.
Even worse for the Coalition, he’s right.
Say what you will about Fielding but at least he can say that he won’t go near the ETS at that moment.
The Coalition is currently split into three groups: those who don’t want an ETS full stop (read the Nationals and climate skeptics like Tuckey) those who don’t want to sign off on anything before Copenhagen (a significant number of powerful Liberals, soon to depart Peter Costello devoted an entire column to it yesterday) and those who want to agree on amendments and pass Rudd’s ETS before November (Turnbull and a few others trying to hold things together).
It should be noted that, as Lenore Taylor pointed out this morning, there’s a fair bit of cross-over between categories A and B.
Joe Hockey has confirmed this afternoon that he has been sounded out for the Liberal leadership.
This is hardly surprising given he’s the only real alternative at the moment. I’ve argued he’s the only choice before, but some, like Punch editor David Penberthy, have argued that Tony Abbott could be worth a shot.
Hockey has admitted the talks on the leadership took place, and unlike Colgo today, I don’t think that this is disloyalty.
With the current crisis in the party he’d be unable to deny it with a straight face.
Perhaps even more naively, I believe Hockey when he says he doesn’t want to lead the Liberal Party. Who the hell would?
Hockey could find himself as leader if Turnbull actually makes good on his promise to stake his leadership on being able to bring the party into line on the issue.
But all the same problems currently ravaging the Liberals would still be present for a Hockey led opposition as a Turnbull one.
Even if Hockey decided to change policy and decide to delay an ETS before Copenhagen, as would be pretty likely in the event of a leadership change over the issue, what then?
Hockey would still face the prospect of a double dissolution if the ETS was rejected in November (a bit of a Rudd bluff but nonetheless a nightmare scenario for the Libs) and periodic highland raids from Nationals who want to threaten the future of the Coalition itself.
Have a look at the recent cut-off-nose-to-spite-face scenario in Queensland. One of the few performing and younger senior Liberals Peter Dutton lost preselection for a safer seat because the Nats among the Queensland Liberal-National Party wanted to make a point about, “those folks from down south not telling us what to do.”
So now Costello’s leaving too. Aside from the message it sends and the disruption it will cause, who knows what he might say or do before the next election now free of even the illusion of loyalty to Turnbull.
Those with weak stomachs might want to leave now.
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