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Marriage equality finally makes Malcolm Turnbull look like a winner

Malcolm Turnbull
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull speaks at Parliament House about same-sex marriage postal survey. Photo: AAP
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There’s no other way of putting it: the past week in politics has been a scrappy one for Malcolm Turnbull.

It has also been a week of messy but important victories that will at least get the Prime Minister through the next leadership danger zone.

Mr Turnbull’s first small win was on marriage equality.

Despite the dire predictions by constitutional experts that the same-sex marriage (SSM) postal survey would be declared unlawful, the High Court decided this week that it could proceed.

It should be said that this is anything but a win for members of the LGBTI community who wish to marry their partners. They and their families will likely be subjected to even more vile insinuations and accusations than the ones that have emerged during the early days of the SSM survey campaign.

But it is nevertheless an important win for Mr Turnbull because the survey will bring the issue to some sort of resolution by the year’s end.

In the event of a majority “voting” yes, legislation will be presented to parliament and either pass or be rejected before Christmas.

And that will be that, at least until after the election when Labor will bind its MPs to support SSM. If Labor also holds government, it will make marriage equality a reality.

Yes it’s an untidy path, strewn with weeds and potholes, but it will at least keep the issue out of the Liberal party room where supporters of Tony Abbott continue to agitate. This week the former PM tweeted a photo of himself and some of those supporters celebrating the four-year anniversary of his election victory.

However, the Abbott camp may well experience the opposite of those emotions next week, which will feature both the day Mr Turnbull overtakes his predecessor on the prime ministerial league table (12 September) and the second anniversary of Mr Abbott’s demise (14 September).

If all had gone to plan, Mr Abbott would have preferred that a demoralised and defeated Mr Turnbull had stood down before this point.

Sadly for him, PM Turnbull has clocked up “only” 19 negative Newspolls compared to Mr Abbott’s 30, and has managed – so far at least – to neutralise the flash points, like SSM, that could have brought on a leadership crisis.

That may change when Mr Turnbull tries to get agreement within the party room on a Clean Energy Target, the only recommendation made by Chief Scientist Alan Finkel that the government has not yet agreed to adopt.

The PM has been all over the place with energy announcements in recent weeks, striving to be seen to be doing something, anything, to address the number one gripe of voters – high electricity prices.

The Abbott camp has run interference by pushing the case for coal, saying the Clean Energy Target must include ultra-supercritical coal-fired power, and calling for taxpayer funds to be used to keep old power stations open beyond their intended operational life.

The government’s far-right has now aligned itself so closely with the fate of coal-fired power that it’s reportedly considering striking a bargain to support the Clean Energy Target in return for such support for coal.

If the media reports are correct, this is another untidy but important victory for Malcolm Turnbull.

Conditional support from the delcons for the Clean Energy Target may be enough to get the PM past the energy debate minefield without blowing up his leadership.

Of course, it’s another matter altogether whether Labor would agree to a bipartisan approach on clean energy that includes such concessions to coal.

And only a bipartisan policy will provide the certainty demanded by the energy industry before it will make investments that will bring down the price of electricity.

But at this fraught stage in the prime ministership of Malcolm Turnbull, any small success that fends off another leadership crisis is an important one.

These may be untidy times, but at least from the PM’s perspective, they are preferable to the alternative.