Pick A Winner From This Lot


Well! A momentous few days indeed for Australian politics, as one of the major parties has been riven by rebellion and upheaval of the kind literally only seen once or twice every year.

For a scary few hours there, it seemed as if Malcolm Turnbull, the angry marsupial of Australian politics, might indeed lose his grip on the party to which he has so fully committed himself for almost all of his early 50s. Fortunately commonsense won the day and the party room decided by an overwhelming, or at least whelming, 48-35 majority, that Turnbull was indeed the man the party needed to carry it forward to its next election loss.

However, although for now the terrible spectre of a Turnbull-free political landscape has passed, as has the rather tantalising spectre of Kevin Andrews leading a major political party, we are not out of the woods yet. At any moment the Liberals could suddenly go hog-wild again, and call for a leadership "spill" — so named because it involves liquifying the various candidates and pouring them into a mould of Sir Robert Menzies to determine their suitability.

You just can never tell with the Liberals. Today they might be voting FOR a carbon pollution reduction scheme, and the next day, by contrast, Wilson Tuckey might burst into the House of Representatives with a shotgun screaming "Fresh pig-feed, stat!"

That’s why, in order that readers of newmatilda.com might have as many of the facts at their fingertips as possible as they follow this intriguing, important and hilarious saga, I have prepared this Official Form Guide to the Liberal Leadership Race. Let’s go through the hopefuls one by one:

Malcolm Turnbull
In a loose sense, Malcolm Turnbull is currently the leader of the Liberal Party. Born to simple wealthy folk, he had a traditional wealthy upbringing, before embarking on a stellar career of wealthiness. Since entering politics, he has continued to be wealthy, but has struggled with the non-wealth sides of the business, such as popularity, control of the party room and failures to form close relationships with psychotic public servants. He is currently under pressure because of his desire to help the Government pass an emissions trading scheme, due to his strong belief — shared with Kevin Rudd — that anthropogenic global warming is a major challenge that must be met by strong and immediate subsidies to the coal industry.

Malcolm Turnbull’s greatest asset in the leadership tussle is his fervent and passionate desire to be Prime Minister, something the rest of the party finds very cute. They like to indulge his fantasy, because they hate to see sadness cross his kindly, koala-ish face — it rends their hearts — and so they will altruistically let Turnbull sail blissfully into the carnage of the next election, rather than destroy their own careers. Look at Brendan Nelson after all — oh sorry, you can’t, can you?

So in summary: Turnbull’s chances of remaining leader — short-term excellent, long-term hahahahahahahaha.

Kevin Andrews
Andrews is, of course, the brave man who kickstarted this whole brouhaha, by throwing his hat in the ring for the leadership, apparently having lost some sort of pub bet. Andrews realised that Turnbull, in promoting the myth of global warming, was ignoring News Ltd journalists and thus betraying classical Liberal values. He felt a strong compulsion to step in and declare his willingness to take the job on, thus bringing about a weird, Twilight Zone feeling in the Australian electorate as we contemplated the possibility of Kevin Andrews becoming Prime Minister. It was bizarre — it was much the same feeling you get when you sit down and ask, "what if a cow became the Pope?" Indeed, the whole country was in a dream state as the Liberal Party hurled the body politic headlong into a David Lynch film.

Andrews has many attractive qualities that should appeal to Liberal voters. A devoutly religious man, he can cannily position himself in the public consciousness as "not the maddest Catholic in the party". In addition he has a catalogue of political achievements, including the implementation of WorkChoices and the Mohamed Haneef affair, that mark him as a man who possesses the kind of ministerial savvy rarely seen outside a petri dish. His recent comments on African refugees, too, speak of a man who combines brutal honesty and fair-minded racism in just the proportions loved by Australians.

In short, Andrews would be a marvellous leader, but will probably not make it due to the Liberal Party’s ingrained and irrational hatred of being laughed at for lengthy periods of time.

Joe Hockey
Joe Hockey, otherwise known as "Shrek the Fourth", "Brother Bear", and "Jolly Old Saint Nick", is seen by many as the man most likely to giggle quietly to himself as Malcolm Turnbull descends into catastrophe and insanity. A clever political operator who has endeared himself to the Aussie public through his appearances on Sunrise, his walking of the Kokoda Track, and his eating of a two-kilo steak inside half an hour (thus getting it half-price), there is little doubt that Hockey is the most publicly palatable potential leader. The Australian voter can imagine having a beer and a laugh with him. They wouldn’t enjoy it — it would be absolutely horrible — but they can certainly imagine it, which is more than you can say about Julie Bishop, who is considered by 88 per cent of voters to be an urban myth.

The trouble is, Joe Hockey is a bit too much like Turnbull. I don’t mean he’s a plutocratic private school tosser who cries like a little girl when he loses an argument. Not at all. I mean he believes in climate change. Now, for the Liberals trying to oust Turnbull, replacing one green believer with another would rather defeat the point of the exercise. What they want is to suffer humiliating electoral defeats safe in the knowledge that they are being defeated on their genuine values. And Hockey doesn’t offer that; he only offers a slight chance of possibly winning an election sometime in the next 20 years. Will this be enough to win over the caucus? Only time will tell.

Overall, Hockey rates a 2-1 chance of someday becoming leader. He will certainly not challenge before the next election, however, because of his deep-rooted moral objection to being a has-been sitting on the backbenches cutting himself in Question Time.

Tony Abbott
I struggle to think of a more entertaining choice for Liberal leader than Tony Abbott, who was early on dubbed "the Mad Monk" for his devout Catholicism and invulnerability to conventional weapons. That religiosity has informed much of his political ideology, including his staunch opposition to abortion, dogged support of the monarchy, and disturbing, hungry facial expression. He has repeatedly stated he is not challenging for the leadership, but St Peter repeatedly stated he didn’t know Jesus, and if a proven liar can become a saint, why can’t a proven homophobic mental case become Prime Minister? No reason at all — on the contrary, it’s probably an advantage.

Abbott’s disadvantage, though, is that while the populace would no doubt lap up the frisson of unpredictability that would linger around an Opposition Leader who constantly looks like he’s going to try to eat your children, the party room may be reluctant to risk an outbreak of speaking in tongues during Senate estimates. Chances of Abbott becoming leader: 80–1; or 20–1 if he quietly kills and dismembers Joe Hockey. Chances of him killing and dismembering Joe Hockey: 10–1.

The Rest
Of course there are other contenders. Andrew Robb, for instance, the former climate change spokesman and present climate change hater who has been suffering a severe case of depression that, if it worsens, may just convince him that the only way out is to become leader of the Liberal Party. Tragic, but it is a terrible illness.

Then there is Barnaby Joyce, who is technically a National, but who has always been willing to defy convention in his quest to get a fair deal for a handful of slow-witted farmers living in a cowpat somewhere. He’d be a good strong leader but Abbott may already have the psychopath vote sewn up.

There is Julie Bishop herself, of course, who is Deputy Leader. She has a question mark over her head, partly due to her habit of doing odd animal impressions in Parliament, and partly because every interview she does comes across as the political equivalent of a fly attempting to get through a closed window.

And of course, there is Wilson Tuckey, who is unlikely to get much electoral support from women or immigrants or Aboriginals or fully functioning human beings, but could still find himself in the top position should he go off his medication and manage to lure his parliamentary opponents to his remote desert lair.

And finally, there is Christopher Pyne — but really, I’d like to keep this discussion serious, if possible.

Turnbull is safe for now — but who knows what tomorrow will bring? The twists and turns of party political intrigue are not for us to divine in advance. But whatever path the Liberals take on their thrilling journey into babbling incoherence, the ride sure will be worth watching. Let’s all enjoy it.

Apparently the Government of this country has also been doing some things. I’ll try to catch up with that later.

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