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A stew of grudges and whinges

Date

Mike Carlton

As I was saying before I was so suddenly interrupted, if the Liberals are wondering who or what has plunged them into chaos they need look no further than John Winston Howard.

Consumed by hubris, clinging to his failing prime ministership with bloodied fingernails, egged on by his wife and his adoring media claque, the Toad (thank you, Alan Ramsey) wilfully destroyed any chance of a seamless leadership succession in the party he so humbly professed to serve. And the heir apparent, Peter Costello, alternately pouting for the cameras and sulking in his tent, never found the ticker to take him on the way Paul Keating rolled Bob Hawke.

It was a surefire recipe for the shambles we see before us. The federal parliamentary Liberal Party is consumed by fear and loathing. Barren of anything that might be tricked up as rational policy, its members are stuck together only by a seething stew of grudges and whinges and a gnawing sense of entitlement denied.

Malcolm Turnbull does his best to soldier on. "We're in very good shape," he blathered on Wednesday as he and the shadow cabinet paraded in public for what they evidently hoped might be taken as a show of unity. His sickly grin reminded me of that exquisite remark the old Country Party leader Artie Fadden offered up when Robert Menzies' leadership was crashing in ruins in 1941: "He seemed as happy as a sailor on a horse". In truth, poor Malcolm must be wondering at the madhouse he has entered, a dark and dismal hole with the likes of Wilson Tuckey gibbering in the corner.

The show of unity was hardly enhanced by Joe Hockey announcing that, yes, he had been approached by a person or persons unknown to have a crack at the leadership. When this unsurprising revelation hit the news cycle, Jolly Joe hastened to trumpet his loyalty to his leader, but the damage was done. With friends like that, etc.

Given that Turnbull is doomed, Hockey may well be next in line to grasp the poisoned chalice, unless the party completely loses its head and thrusts the thing into the eager hands of Tony "the Mad Monk" Abbott. This just might happen. The amiable Hockey would go down well enough with the electorate, in a Kim Beazley sort of way, but ideologically he is in the soft-left Turnbull camp and anathema to the fractious nutters of the party right.

Perhaps not all is lost. Recently I saw that John Alexander, the tennis star and Liberal aspirant, was saying that what the nation really needs is more tennis courts. He was seeking preselection for Brendan Nelson's north shore seat of Bradfield, an electorate that probably has more tennis courts per capita than anywhere in the country, but it is the germ of a bold initiative that could unite the party. First things first. It's all very well for the spendthrift Rudd Socialists to throw billions at Aboriginal housing, but that's hardly going to get us back into the winner's circle at Wimbledon. A tennis court in every backyard!

? ? ?

Speaking of the north shore, I stand four-square with the locals battling the "development" of those hideous clumps of home units that are spreading up the Pacific Highway like bone cancer.

The state Labor Government, with its swingeing planning laws, seems fixated on blighting these green and pleasant suburbs in what you can only assume is punitive class warfare of an almost Mark Lathamesque vindictiveness. Some of the blocks I saw the other day have all the homely elegance of Parklea prison. No wonder the local estate agents are finding them hard to flog off.

The trouble is that, as David Marr pointed out in the Herald a few weeks ago, the north shore has no friends in Macquarie Street. But the solution is obvious, I would have thought: hire Graham Richardson. As everyone knows, doors fly open at the mere hint of good ol' Richo's elegantly shod footfall in the corridors of power.

The thrusting property developer Ron Medich (there is no suggestion, etc) was reportedly paying $5000 a month for his lobbying services. You could easily top that sort of money in a brisk, half-hour doorknock along Stanhope Road, Killara or Ku-Ring-Gai Avenue, Turramurra and, bingo, you've got your hired gun, so to speak. (Again, there is no suggestion …) Richo, a former federal environment minister, would no doubt delight in finding himself on the side of the angels. And all perfectly "L-E-G-A-L legal," as the ever more queenly state Planning Minister, Kristina Keneally, proclaimed the other day.

It might just work, although if you discern any movement in this wretched government it can only be rigor mortis. A parliamentary party in which Eddie Obeid and Joe Tripodi are hailed as kingmakers is clearly off its collective rocker.

In the unlikely event of this lot of dopes ever glimpsing Ben Chifley's legendary Light on the Hill, their only impulse would be to rezone it commercial/industrial and subdivide it.

A hero all these years

LAST week I was among friends and family gathered at the Randwick Labor Club to celebrate the 90th birthday of a great Australian. And I mean great.

Francis Joseph McGovern was a lad of 20 when war broke out in 1939 and, as a navy reservist, was one of the first to the fight. After the fall of Singapore in 1942, his ship, the cruiser HMAS Perth, was torpedoed by the Japanese in the Battle of the Sunda Strait, north-west of modern-day Jakarta. Frank's brother, Vince, was lost in the sinking, but he made it to shore and was eventually consigned to the horrors of the Burma-Siam Railway.

He survived that, too, only to be torpedoed again, this time by the US Navy

as he was being shipped off to Japan. Recaptured by the Japanese, he worked as a slave labourer in a factory in Tokyo, where he was fire-bombed by the Americans in 1945 and his back was broken.

In hospital, he discovered that disabled Allied prisoners were being surgically murdered by Japanese doctors so their blood could be used for transfusions. Somehow he managed to stagger in agony from the ward and eventually he recovered to hear, in his prison camp, of the Japanese surrender.

These days any mug football player can be called a hero. Frank McGovern, a humble and gentle man, is the genuine article.

smhcarlton@hotmail.com

30 comments

  • Welcome back. The Herald opinion page looks normal again.

    I could never understand why Turnbull went into politics when he is as comfortable as a cow on a bike in the arena.

    Perhaps if he had stayed in law he might have salvaged some of James Packers $2 billion lost on dopey casinos and been more in his element.

    He doesn't stand for anything, drops any principles before you can say "turn around" and bleats inanities about nothing much.

    Like we will all be rooned because a few hundred refugees got here, while forgetting that the founder of the liberal party is the one who made it legal for them to do so.

    Commenter
    Marilyn
    Date and time
    October 10, 2009, 12:25PM
    • The Libs are gutless. They saw Howard as a saviour even though he had previously been considered a write-off. And once he got his claws in, he refused to let go. For over a decade he wreaked his increasingly extremist revenge on a nation that had previously spurned him. The rest, as Mike so clearly illustrates, is history. Libs, you've earned your banishment in the wilderness.

      Commenter
      Misha
      Location
      Selby
      Date and time
      October 10, 2009, 12:52PM
      • Clearly, Mike's right at home in the Fairfax stable. Seems odd to suggest Costello should have had the guts to do what Keating did when he knocked off Hawke. Isn't it universally accepted (minus one) that Keating PM was a disaster? A serious message was sent in 1996, despite the emergence of a recycled Howard. If Mike Carlton had any semblance of objectivity, he'd note that Costello had enormous courage to NOT cave in to his ambition as Keating did. At no time during the Howard reign did the party room believe they'd be better off if Howard was not there until, perhaps, the very end. Costello was loyal and selfless, and many worlds above the likes of a bitter Mike Carleton.

        Commenter
        Ella
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        October 10, 2009, 1:03PM
        • John Howard took the Coalition to its furthest conservative reach, where it was popular in a conservative time. Now an issue has come along - climate change - that fundamentally challenges the conservative tendency to cling to the status quo. Surprise surprise, with a new raison d'etre, the small 'l' Libs are reborn, and now they're a house so deeply divided they'll need a Hawke/Keating to redefine the party as they did the ALP in the 80s. Hockey/Turnbull? Coonan/Tuckey? Pyne/Dutton...Oh, that's right.

          Commenter
          hozzle
          Date and time
          October 10, 2009, 1:45PM
          • Good for you Ella. Stick up for Princess Pete, the boy with no wings and no spine.

            And Keating was a great PM.

            Commenter
            Marilyn
            Date and time
            October 10, 2009, 2:36PM
            • Costello as Achilles??

              Commenter
              Brett
              Location
              Sydney
              Date and time
              October 10, 2009, 2:46PM
              • Welcome back, and may we have many more columns.

                Commenter
                wrongway
                Date and time
                October 10, 2009, 4:01PM
                • Ella, you seem to forget that the point of the article was that due to the Liberal party not being able to renew itself, it now finds itself in trouble. Despite what you say about Keating, the Labor party stayed in power for 5 years after Hawke was ousted. There was no guarantee whatsoever that Labor would have won office without the change at the top. Despite this, you should think probably more than the other comments, that the Liberal party would have been in a completely different position if Costello had put his hand up. The last election would not have been such a landslide. I think it was gutlessness and egoism that landed the Libs where they are now. Good to see you back Mike.

                  Commenter
                  arne
                  Location
                  Sydney
                  Date and time
                  October 10, 2009, 4:40PM
                  • It's so good to have you back. I can now start reading the SMH again - I had given it up as a bad joke after they sacked you. Has the twit who fired you been counselled at least or shown the door? As for Howard, he has divided that party so completely that I'm looking for a bookie to give me odds on them fracturing completely. While I don't like the conservatives very much at all, they need to have a strong voice in society and right now they don't, much to the detriment of us all. Thanks Johnny! And for one of your respondents to say that Costello showed couragage by not challenging is really self delusional rubbish.

                    Commenter
                    Robin
                    Location
                    Canberra
                    Date and time
                    October 10, 2009, 4:43PM
                    • I agree with the comment that there was nothing wrong with Costello's loyalty to the party. The problems were (a) John Howard's refusal to see that he was increasingly out-of-touch with and decades behind the electorate; and (b) the parliamentary party did not have the guts to tell him the truth.

                      Mike failed to note that the Nationals are also working as hard as they can to make themselves unelectable for decades by promoting themselves as stalwarts of climate denialism. As the data becomes more convincing as each year passes, both the loony right of the Libs and the Nats will be remembered for decades as working so arduously against the needs of Australia and humanity in general.

                      The Coalition parties have not yet reached bottom, so re-focusing and re-building cannot yet begin. Some people just need to be KO'd twice before they realise there is something wrong in their approach!

                      Commenter
                      Graeme Harrison
                      Location
                      Sydney
                      Date and time
                      October 10, 2009, 5:17PM

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