Andrew Bolt, Alan Jones and their armies of orcs have won.
For months, years even, they inveighed against Malcolm Turnbull, vowing to destroy him, swearing mighty oaths that he must never become prime minister.
They formed barricades around their hero, Tony Abbott, assuring their devotees that his reign would endure forever – the hordes of the moderates and their reviled leader were vanquished, destroyed, razed from the surface of the earth.
And even when he was treacherously, sacrilegiously, overthrown by his own fallen angels and the Antichrist was installed, Tony Abbott remained, in the eyes of his followers, immortal: not only would his works and memory endure forever, but he would eventually be resurrected. He was their rex quondam futurus – their once and future king.
And so it has come to pass. Malcolm Turnbull as we knew him has all but vanished; in a political sense, it could be said that he has been destroyed. Instead, we have a sort of Abbott avatar – smoother, more articulate, even more plausible, but still undeniably the essence of the previous prime minister. Not only have just about all the old Abbott policies been retained, but new ones – the sort that might have sprung, fully formed, from the head of the precursor – have emerged.
The chairmanship of the ultra-sensitive Intelligence and Security Committee has been gifted to the right-wing warrior Andrew Nicolic. Nicolic is an ex-military man, and nothing wrong with that, but he is hardly the leader needed to head what is supposed to be a bi-partisan group balancing national security with domestic concerns.
Nicolic is on record as saying that in the age of terrorism (now, and presumably for a long time to come) human rights are simply not relevant. He lambasted the ASIO head, Duncan Lewis, for daring to advise Nicolic’s predecessor, Dan Tehan (now promoted to the ministry) over policy matters. Unsurprisingly, Labor regards Nicolic as something of a loose cannon and yet another sop by Turnbull to his ultra-conservative rump – the Abbottistas.
Then there was the Safe Schools kerfuffle, an opt-in program run successfully by many schools for many years. Suddenly its anti-bullying agenda drew the belated attention of some tabloid media demagogues and the extremists of the Liberal party room – Cory Bernardi, George Christensen and their coteries. So Turnbull, rather than ignoring them, instituted a review.
The clear signal was that the LGBT children it was assisting could, reluctantly, be tolerated but that they must never be regarded as being equal, or encouraged or helped to be confident in their sexual identity: a totally Abbott approach to matters of so-called morality.
But these were the sideshows – mere harbingers of what was to come. When it came to Bill Shorten’s policy on negative gearing, Turnbull morphed into the full Abbott – implacably belligerent, relentlessly negative, wildly hyperbolic and barely coherent. Malcolm Turnbull’s negative gearing became Tony Abbott’s carbon tax: the most destructive policy ever devised by an opposition, a wrecking ball through the entire economy. We waited agog for news of the Whyalla wipe-out and the $100 lamb roast.
If there actually was a message it appeared to be that limiting negative gearing to the purchase of new homes after July 1 2017 would depress existing house prices – or, perhaps, raise them in the case of new houses; it was not quite clear. Every home-owner would be at risk of insolvency, if not outright poverty: the new old slogan was ‘vote Labor and be poorer’. And not only that; the entire property market would collapse as every investor withdrew. Teachers, nurses, policemen, ordinary mums and dads would have their precious savings ripped from their piggy banks because of Shorten’s reckless rampage.
But hang on a moment. The logic of that is that property prices must never, under any circumstances, fall, and it is the responsibility of government – well, the Turnbull/Abbott government, anyway, to keep them rising forever. And moreover, the profits of investors have to be guaranteed: any losses are simply unacceptable. The purpose of negative gearing is not to regulate a competitive housing market and expand home ownership and rentals, it is, primarily, to feather the nests of property speculators.
And why stop there? If property speculators are to be given iron-clad financial security and unlimited capital gains, what about those who invest in the share market? And for that matter, why should the punters on the nation’s racetracks be left out? I’m sure Bolt and Jones would approve – their listeners certainly would.
Turnbull, if not always Abbott, is supposed to be a serious free marketeer. The whole point of negative gearing is that it distorts and interferes with the market.
This is why most genuine economists, especially the economic rationalists, regard it as a rort, a boondoggle. Of course, within sections of the party room, it is popular; partly because many Liberals indulge in the practice (one is reported to have no less than 32 properties in his investment package) but others want Turnbull to abandon any attempt to reform it purely on the basis that the already confused voters would see any change as an admission that Shorten just might be just a little bit right.
So Turnbull easily may toss yet another idea off the table. That, after all, is what Abbott would do: naked opportunism, politics above policy. Bolt and Jones would crack open yet another bottle of champagne: it wasn’t quite the win they had planned, but hey, it will do until the real thing comes along.
Of course there is a downside: the more Malcolm Turnbull impersonates Tony Abbott, the further his lead in the opinion polls declines. And the more Abbott (the original one) continues to shower advice from the sidelines, the more the voters will remember how glad they were to get rid of him. Even if, it increasingly appears, that they haven’t. The ultimate irony of the Bolt-Jones magical transformation is that it might, just might, not only turn demon king Malcolm back into emperor Tony but also turn Bill the toad into Shorten the prime minister.