It apparently has not yet occurred to Malcolm Turnbull, but it’s abundantly clear to anyone else observing federal politics that there is nothing the prime minister can do that will satisfy the arch conservatives in his government.
Even after a week such as this, when the PM took another hit to his withered credentials by “strengthening” race discrimination laws by weakening them, the conservatives simply pocketed the win and moved on to the next “pressing” issue.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, who most media describe as being one of the “young” conservatives but is really one of the old guard, unveiled a “postal plebiscite” proposal that was mistakenly interpreted as a concession of defeat on gay marriage.
However, Mr Dutton’s cunning plan aims to tap into older conservatives opposed to SSM and assumes younger supporters of the change will be less inclined to send a postal vote. Mr Dutton does aim to resolve the issue once and for all, but not according to most Australians’ wishes.
Not to be outdone by Minister Dutton, his self-styled heir apparent, former Prime Minister Tony Abbott also re-emerged at the end of this week to re-up conservative demands of the PM.
Until this latest foray, Mr Abbott appeared to be laying low after suffering several embarrassing rebuttals over recent weeks.
Almost a month ago, he was given a very public slap-down by the PM and conservative cabinet minister, Mathias Cormann, for describing his own team as Labor-lite and arguing the Government should move even further right with his five-point re-election plan.
Then the former PM’s preferred candidates in two NSW pre-selection battles were unsuccessful, beaten by the Liberal Party’s moderate forces in that state.
Particularly bruising was the defeat of Mr Abbott’s campaign manager, Walter Villatora, in the contest for former NSW Premier Mike Baird’s state seat of Manly, which covers much the same territory as Tony Abbott’s federal seat. Mr Villatora lost to Mr Baird’s preferred candidate James Griffin by 37 votes to 71.
The election result in Western Australia could even be interpreted as a rebuttal of the former PM, given his justification for urging the Liberals to move further to the right was to prevent a torrent of voters shifting to One Nation. It did not eventuate, with the torrent carrying the leftish WA Labor Party into office instead.
Mr Abbott consoled himself with yet another overseas trip, this time to central Europe to “discuss regional security issues”, all documented with happy snaps posted on social media to apparently prove the backbencher’s continuing cachet.
It must have been galling, though, for Mr Abbott to find on his return that his usurper had captured the public’s imagination with an ambitious plan to strengthen the electricity grid with clean energy, was looking at amending 18c in the name of free speech, and had a good chance of getting Abbott-era welfare savings through the Senate.
Clearly this unexpected run of good luck had to be arrested, which explains Mr Abbott’s column in a Victorian tabloid at the end of the week calling for the Government to throw money at a decrepit brown coal-fired power station in the name of “keeping the lights on”.
Like the other overly simplistic political and policy solutions proposed by Mr Abbott, keeping Hazelwood open will apparently fix Australia’s energy challenges, just as abolishing the Human Rights Commission will apparently stop bullying, and scrapping the carbon tax will apparently reduce our cost of living.
You can read my piece on why Hazelwood should stay open in today's Herald Sun here: https://t.co/aqX4t0PE29
— Tony Abbott (@TonyAbbottMHR) March 24, 2017
However Mr Abbott’s Hazelwood ploy is not only simplistic but pathetically transparent. It’s an attempt to use the advantage Malcolm Turnbull has gained on electricity issues and turn it against him. This is clear from the challenge Mr Abbott issued Mr Turnbull in his column.
Claiming the “French socialist government”, which has a stake in one of the companies that owns Hazelwood, wants to boast it had closed one of the world’s dirtiest power stations, Mr Abbott wrote “Keeping Hazelwood open would be a good way for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to show that energy policy in Australia won’t be hijacked by ideological fixations in France”.
It would seem however that Malcolm Turnbull should allow himself to be highjacked by Mr Abbott’s ideological fixations. And even then, as has been shown this week, we know Mr Abbott would still not be satisfied.