If Scott Morrison is starting to feel left out in the cold, that’s because he is. The unofficial war between the Abbott and Turnbull factions is damaging the Treasurer and pushing him to the sidelines – where Labor is circling after having caught the scent of blood.
There are three reasons why Abbott’s conservatives want Mr Morrison discredited and out of the way.
Firstly, the Treasurer is a handy proxy for Malcolm Turnbull. If Mr Morrison can be discredited, damaged or sidelined, this will reflect badly on the man who made him Treasurer and strengthen the case for Mr Turnbull to be removed.
Secondly, the ‘delcons’ haven’t forgiven the Treasurer for abandoning Tony Abbott during his greatest hour of need.
When Malcolm Turnbull challenged Mr Abbott for the Liberal leadership, ScoMo voted for the PM but did nothing to rally his supporters to do the same.
Tabloid radio host Ray Hadley is among the Abbott cheerleaders who won’t forgive the Judas Treasurer. Things have been testy between the two men since the shock jock demanded Mr Morrison literally swear on a Bible that he hadn’t betrayed the former PM.
This week, Mr Hadley used a perceived slight by Mr Morrison to “sack” him from their Monday morning chats; then promptly enlisted Tony Abbott to fill the slot. We can expect Mr Abbott to use this platform to build momentum for a leadership push later in the year.
The third reason Mr Morrison is being sidelined by the hard right is to destroy him as a contender before the inevitable leadership challenge.
Along with Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, the Treasurer can claim to be the most experienced of the “younger” conservatives who – at this point – still support Malcolm Turnbull. Tony Abbott’s supporters are determined to trash the Treasurer’s reputation so that when the time comes for their younger colleagues to consider shifting allegiance, ScoMo is no longer a candidate.
They are doing this by forcing the Treasurer to back down on a succession of budgetary reforms, including proposed changes to negative gearing and putting an end to Work for the Dole, which has made Mr Morrison look weak. So does a convenient leak to the conservatives’ favourite tabloid this week, claiming the PM had directed the Treasurer to get the approval of senior conservatives like Mr Dutton for his housing affordability reforms.
Even when the Treasurer takes the same side as the conservatives, as he appears to have done on the proposal to let first-home buyers access their super for a deposit, he is being white-anted by the Abbott forces.
While ScoMo is looking for ways to get more new home buyers into the market, the conservatives have a different reason for supporting the idea. They oppose compulsory superannuation altogether, particularly the involvement of unions in industry super funds, and see the super-for-deposit proposal as a way of getting taxpayers’ hard-earned cash back from those unions.
It also won’t have been forgotten by Mr Abbott and his supporters that Malcolm Turnbull used this same issue in early 2015 to make life difficult for the then Prime Minister.
Only weeks after the non-leadership spill, when no-one stepped forward to challenge Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull gave a high-profile speech that was well outside his portfolio, criticising every member of the government – including himself – for failing to effectively explain the reforms in the unpopular 2014 budget.
Mr Turnbull also contradicted his prime minister, who had said Treasurer Joe Hockey’s proposal to allow first home buyers to tap into their super for a deposit was “a perfectly good and respectable idea”.
Mr Turnbull claimed the opposite, saying it was a “thoroughly bad idea”.
This explains the succession of Abbott-aligned conservatives, as well as the man himself, who have gone public this week to support the superannuation suggestion.
They would argue they’re showing PM Turnbull no less loyalty on the issue than he showed PM Abbott back in March 2015.
Unless Scott Morrison takes control of his destiny and pulls a miracle budget from a magician’s hat, he will likely become little more than a highly-prized scalp in the Abbot-Turnbull wars.