News National The spectre of Tony Abbott hangs over Scott Morrison

The spectre of Tony Abbott hangs over Scott Morrison

Tony Abbott loyalists are continuing to push their conservative agenda under the Morrison government.
Tony Abbott loyalists are continuing to push their conservative agenda under the Morrison government. Photo: AAP
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Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s desperate attempts to draw a line under the leadership coup that brought him to power are doomed to failure.

The divisions in the Liberal Party run too deep and the ambitions feeding them have only been reignited.

“We’re in for a terrible time” is the lament of one Liberal marginal seat holder. His despair is fed by the realisation that Malcolm Turnbull “was conned out of his prime ministership”.

The speed with which Morrison announced his ministerial line-up is taken as a sure-fire sign he had been doing deals with Dutton supporters.

“Dial a dope” is how a disgruntled Liberal puts it, hurting that Dutton supporters like health minister Greg Hunt went unpunished for their double crossing of Turnbull.

There is no doubt the headline culprits for the coup are Peter Dutton and his backers, Tony Abbott and Mathias Cormann. But the Dutton camp is not prepared to wear all the blame.

At the weekend one of the most outspoken conservatives, Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells went on ABC TV and gave credence to a report in The Saturday Paper that Scott Morrison and his closest allies had been planning “his assault on the leadership for months”.

Senator Fieravanti-Wells said “it was clear the people supporting Morrison were active for quite some time”.

Her intervention can mean only one thing. The Dutton/Abbott camp believe it is not in their interests to let the perception run that the new prime minister comes to the job with clean hands.

Any pretence of now uniting as one happy family is out the window. Labor’s Jason Clare picked up the vibe by saying the sight of Scott Morrison putting his arm around Turnbull as “his leader” at last Wednesday’s news conference makes you wonder “whether he had the prime minister’s back or was backstabbing him”.

The New South Wales right has been suspicious of Scott Morrison for a long time. His ruthless destruction of one of their own in the brutal 2007 preselection for the seat of Cook still rankles.

It was there that Morrison’s ability to outfox competitors and push his own ambitions came to the fore. He didn’t identify strongly as a “moderate” or exactly claim to be a “conservative”.

The former member and moderate leading light Bruce Baird said at the time the faction “Scott belongs to is the Morrison faction”.

Curiously then as now it was the votes of the moderates that eventually gave him the preselection and it was their votes in the party room that saw them desert Julie Bishop to block Peter Dutton.

An analysis of the spill numbers convinces Ms Fierravanti-Wells that five Morrison supporters joined in the Turnbull political knifing only to desert Dutton in the run off.

The Abbott game plan is to seize leadership of the party again after the voters have consigned it to the opposition benches. He’s shared this ambition with senior media people.

That is why he is hanging around with the added mission to ensure the Liberal Party becomes a “genuine centre-right party”.

In the meantime, his influential media backers will humour Morrison.

On Monday we saw Alan Jones hit the prime minister with Abbott’s climate denial agenda. The veteran broadcaster chose comments like this from his listeners: “Turnbull’s man, I’m afraid, committed to Paris. More of the same left-wing rubbish.”

Morrison, despite being badgered to do so, did not undertake to pull out of Paris but rather characterised the agreement as pretty well irrelevant. Bringing down electricity prices, his priority, he insists.

How that and the bloodletting impresses progressive Liberal voters in Malcolm Turnbull’s old seat is yet to play out.

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