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Year of ambition and revenge may have cost the Coalition the election

Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull, and Scott Morrison on the floor of Parliament.
A year filled with revenge plots, in-fightoing, and plain old poor decision-making may well have cost the Coalition the next federal election. Photo: AAP
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If 2018 is to be remembered for anything, it will be as the year the Coalition threw away the federal election. Thanks to a potent mix of ambition, revenge and poor decision-making, the Liberal and Nationals parties have pretty much handed the keys to The Lodge to Labor leader Bill Shorten.

Sure, there are still a few months left until the election takes place, and there is always a chance that Labor will be hit by a self-imploding MP like David Feeney or Sam Dastyari, or a funding hole in one of their major policies.

But even so, after the year the Coalition has just had, even a slightly dishevelled Labor Government is preferable to the shambolic version proffered by the other side.

If you are one of the rapidly diminishing number of people who still calls themselves a Coalition supporter, you must be pretty angry right now.

In February this year, just before the Barnababy exposé hit our screens, the Coalition Government led by Malcolm Turnbull (remember him?) drew close enough to Labor to have a fighting chance at the upcoming election.

According to Newspoll, the two-party preferred vote at the time was 48 per cent for the Coalition and 52 per cent for Labor.

The contest got even tighter in May (49-51 per cent), when the Government announced the budget would return to surplus in 2019, which was a year earlier than expected.

This was the first time the major parties had been this close since the 2016 federal election which, it should be said, was a disaster due in most part to the poor political judgement of Mr Turnbull. 

The former PM compounded this mistake by continuing to give ground to right-wing forces within his government during 2018.

These were the reactionary supporters of former prime minister Tony Abbott, who pined for the days when society reflected, and government served, the interests of middle-aged white men like them.

After causing havoc on immigration (that is, more white South African farmers but less of everyone else) and energy (more coal and less renewables), the Abbott forces reached their end-game in August, just as they had planned.

Using threats to cross the floor of the parliament and nightly diatribes on Sky News ‘after dark’, the insurgents forced Mr Turnbull into a humiliating backdown on the National Energy Guarantee (NEG), that left him exposed to the ambitions of the younger Liberal conservatives who’d been protecting the PM until then.

Accordingly, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton let his ambitions get the better of him, failing to see that the reactionaries and other conservatives who flattered him into making a leadership putsch couldn’t actually deliver the votes.

The rest, as they say, is history. The anyone-but-Abbott camp (who feared Mr Dutton might simply be a proxy for Mr Abbott) teamed with the moderates to install Scott Morrison as the new prime minister.

And how’s that working out? Six of the eight Newspolls taken prior to Mr Turnbull’s removal had the two party-preferred vote at 49-51 per cent, with Labor still in the lead. In contrast, the three most recent Newspolls, with Mr Morrison at the helm, have the 2PP vote at 45-55 in Labor’s favour.

That’s despite Mr Morrison doing everything the reactionaries and conservatives claimed would ‘bring back the base’, namely the voters who apparently abandoned the Coalition because of Mr Turnbull’s frightfully moderate views on matters such as marriage equality and clean energy.

PM Morrison killed the already-dead NEG, proposed taxpayer subsidies for coal-fired power, announced cuts to immigration, gave buckets of cash to Catholic schools and may even keep the right for religious schools to discriminate against gay teachers.

And the base? Well they stayed away, along with a growing number of other former Liberal voters. In Mr Turnbull’s old seat of Wentworth, blue ribbon Liberal voters flocked to the centrist independent Kerryn Phelps in the by-election. 

Much further south, in the equally leafy suburbs of Melbourne, voters took the even more drastic step of abandoning the Liberals for Labor in the state election. That trend shows no sign of abating before the Only Poll That Matters in May 2019.

Now it’s the Turnbull camp, or at least the former PM, that’s leaking and sniping, while the Abbott camp is barely keeping its ambitions in check until after the expected election loss.

The Nationals have at least proved to be consistent, delivering another sex scandal before the year is out. And the PM won’t – or can’t – see that his lurch to the right, along with various policy thought bubbles, is political poison.

When the time comes for political historians to pore over the desiccated remains of what was once the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Government, 2018 will not only be noted as the year the Coalition let power slip from its fingers. It will also be known as the year revenge, ambition and poor decisions caused the Coalition to lose hold of voters’ hopes and trust. 

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