The Coalition's boat to nowhere

Scott Morrison and Tony Abbott are in the business of moving as quickly as humanly – not humanely – possible from being in opposition to being in government. Asylum seekers won't be the only victims.

Scott Morrison has apparently 'clarified’ his statement that even if the government adopted every element of the Coalition’s boat people policies, the Coalition would find that unacceptable.

The government, Morrison said in effect, was illegitimate. It was therefore unable to implement any policies, even the Coalition’s policies. The only thing that would be acceptable would be a change of government.

Morrison is the Shadow Immigration Minister. It must be presumed that he spoke with the support of Tony Abbott.

He spoke hours after Gillard and Abbott had said that this was not a time for politics. Both Gillard and Abbott had spoken of their grief at the death of perhaps 100 people who had drowned after the boat taking them to Australia sank late last week.

There was some rather desperate hand-wringing from several Coalition MPs about the need for a policy compromise in order to avoid more people drowning on the way to Australia, but Morrison is not in the hand-wringing business.

He is in the business of moving as quickly as humanly – not humanely – possible from being a shadow to being a government minister. Abbott is in the same business.

Presumably even some of Morrison’s greatest supporters in the Coalition were a little put out by the heartlessness of Morrison’s position, or at least the timing of his statement.

So Morrison clarified his position; if the government implemented every part of the Coalition’s boat people policies – Nauru, temporary protection visas, the Australian Navy turning boats back to Indonesia – then perhaps there might be room for a compromise.

Of course he didn’t mean a word of this. Neither is Tony Abbott even remotely interested in the government’s offer of a significant compromise that would involve re-opening Nauru and an inquiry into the efficacy of temporary protection visas.

Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison are men in a furious hurry. They can’t wait another 12 months for this government to be inevitably defeated at the next election.

They were robbed in 2010 by Gillard’s lies and then betrayed by a couple of independents who ignored the wishes of the people who had elected them, and for self-serving reasons, decided to support a dysfunctional and discredited Labor government.

There are people in the Coalition, including on the front bench, who are concerned about Abbott’s determination to destroy the government now whatever the cost – and that cost according to Morrison may include more lives lost at sea – but few are prepared to be political martyrs. Government so clearly beckons.

Meanwhile, Gillard, who announced that fixing the boat people problem would be a priority when she assassinated Rudd two years ago, seems to be increasingly a prime minister in name only.

She formed a political compact with the Greens that has been a disaster for Labor – all the benefits of the compact going to the Greens and all the liabilities going to Labor.

The Greens have managed to exercise power – without their insistence there would have been no carbon tax and probably no mining super profits tax – and yet they have managed to remain politically pure.

So powerful have the Greens become – while remaining the party of idealism and ethical purity – that Gillard, in the face of Green opposition, failed even to test the Greens’ resolve by introducing legislation into parliament that would have overcome the High Court’s rejection of the Malaysian asylum deal.

Same with the small reduction in company tax that was meant to be part of the mining tax package. The Greens didn’t like it and so the tax was abandoned. Gillard and her ministers were reduced in both instances to haranguing Abbott about his negativity.

The political compact with the Greens has been a disaster for Gillard in particular and the government in general.

There are commentators who reckon Gillard is prime minister because she is a good negotiator. After the 2010 election, she managed to get the independents on board and form a compact with the Greens. But it seems that what she negotiated for herself was political impotence.

It is a sign of that impotence that no Labor minister, let alone Gillard herself, has been able to bring themselves to call out the Greens, their political partners after all, on the Greens’ unwillingness to entertain any compromise on the asylum seeker fiasco.

Hundreds of people have died at sea making the voyage to Australia. Even the Greens, surely, can’t be allowed to remain above the politics of what’s possible even if what’s possible is not wholly pure.

There have been some people who reckon there are similarities between the Gillard government and the Whitlam government.

I don’t think that is true. But it is not that hard to see similarities between Malcolm Fraser when he was opposition leader during the Whitlam era and Tony Abbott.

Fraser was prepared to defeat the Whitlam government by the unprecedented step of blocking supply. The Whitlam government, he argued, was not legitimate – despite the fact that it had clearly won the 1974 election. Fraser was a man in a hurry. There were Liberals who were deeply disturbed by Fraser’s ruthlessness, but they remained silent. Government beckoned.

Abbott is prepared to do what it takes to get rid of the Gillard government. Abbott believes this is an illegitimate government. Does anyone doubt that if the possibility of blocking supply in the Senate was available to him – and someone like John Kerr was governor general – Abbott wouldn’t seriously consider it?

Fraser won two landslide elections but in some ways, he was diminished by the way he came to power. In a sense, Fraser has spent the last 30 years, after his defeat in 1983, rehabilitating himself politically.

Abbott is almost certain to be Australia’s next prime minister. It is understandable to a certain extent that he feels he was robbed in 2010 by the independents whose electorates were overwhelmingly conservative.

But Abbott should be careful: after he becomes prime minister and after his time as prime minister is up as it inevitably will be, does he also want to spend 30 years in political rehab?

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