Loose lips on sunken ships expose cultural disharmony
When most of the 108 members of the federal Coalition gather tomorrow morning for a joint party meeting in Parliament House, they might ask themselves whether they want to be a collective of opportunists or a disciplined opposition ready to form government.
Based on last week's circus coming out of the federal Liberals, it was easy to forget that the Labor government is existing precariously. It has weak poll numbers, zero margin for error and is one byelection away from disaster. It is riven by internal warfare over the power of the unions within the party. It has disintegrating credibility over border security. Its former leader, Kevin Rudd, is indulging his taste for petulance. Prime Minister Julia Gillard is busy dismantling Rudd's grandiose visions. It has overseen a 720 per cent increase in the annual cost of processing and detaining asylum seekers (from $90 million in the last year of the Howard government to $740 million this financial year), who are being locked up in unprecedented numbers at unprecedented cost.
Last week should have been a golden week for Tony Abbott and today should be a springboard. Instead, his party has been leaking all over itself.
The most damaging leak came out of shadow cabinet about Scott Morrison wanting to focus attention on Muslim immigration. It is such an article of faith around Parliament House that Malcolm Turnbull engages in strategic leaks, which was alluded to as far back as 2008 by Peter Costello in The Costello Memoirs, that there was even public speculation that Turnbull was the source of the story.
Turnbull emphatically denied he was the source. I take him at his word, especially as there are about 10 people in shadow cabinet who would like to leak on Morrison. But he might want to consider how this reputation came about.
So, too, might a trio of restless backbenchers who sit together in the party room and are perceived as garrulous observers of the party. Jamie Briggs, Steve Ciobo and Alex Hawke might want to reflect on the reputations they are developing within Parliament House.
Briggs, only 33 and in Parliament for less than a full term, is already aligned with Joe Hockey, who has his own ambitions. Briggs arrived via a byelection in 2008 (replacing Alexander Downer) as a party insider, a former aide and member of the South Australian Liberal state council.
Ciobo, 36, was one of Turnbull's whips in his campaign for the party leadership. He was elevated to the shadow ministry after Turnbull became leader. He was dropped when Abbott replaced Turnbull.
Hawke, 33, a former federal president of the Young Liberals, made his career as the chief branch-stacker for David Clarke's Right faction in the NSW Liberal Party. They have since bitterly fallen out. Factional warfare within the NSW Liberals contributed to the Coalition's failure to win two winnable NSW seats it needed to form government after last August's federal election. For tactical reasons Hawke and his allies delayed several preselections in federal NSW seats - crucially Greenway and Lindsay - for six months. The seats were lost and with them the election. Hawke told me he is a conservative, not a self-described moderate, and rejects the view he helped delay preselections.
Briggs, Ciobo and Hawke describe themselves as ''moderates'', a term used by some journalists when quoting anonymous critics within the party. The term is toxic to Liberal cohesion. Use of ''moderate'' by internal critics or journalists implies that the trio's factional adversaries are immoderate (adjective: not moderate, excessive, extreme).
Thus they might want to consider that when media reports quote anonymous ''moderate'' critics within the party, many will assume it is one or all of them. This impression might be wrong, but it is an impression they will have to manage.
Because of the way people think in Canberra, it will be assumed this column is coming out of Abbott's office, but I have not spoken to him or any member of his Praetorian guard about this story and in the past we have had a sharp disagreement over his faith in Hockey, Morrison, Turnbull and Christopher Pyne.
The irony is that the Coalition is on a winner with the electorate in tracking the Gillard government's shockingly expensive and dysfunctional handling of asylum seekers. This failure led Immigration Minister Chris Bowen to make a pre-emptive strike last week on behalf of what he called the ''genius'' of Australia's multiculturalism.
Genius? Two days before, the leader of the Christian Democrats in Holland, Maxime Verhagen, reached the opposite conclusion. He said multiculturalism had failed Dutch society. His remarks closely followed those by British Prime Minister David Cameron who said multiculturalism was a failed orthodoxy. This, in turn, almost mirrored recent comments made by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
The common denominator in their experiences was that Muslims are over-represented in welfare dependency, unemployment, crime, sexual assaults and religious intolerance in all four countries. Islamic fundamentalists now dominate the concerns of the security services in Britain, Germany, France, Holland, Belgium, Denmark and Sweden.
Exactly the same pattern has repeated itself in Australia. Despite the success of many among the highly diverse 400,000 Muslims in Australia who are productive, integrated and high-achieving, there are also disproportionate negative indicators among Muslims in the welfare statistics, prisons and courts.
Bowen should heed what happened to Labor under Paul Keating when it embraced multicultural orthodoxy that made a fetish out of difference. Successful multiracial societies look straight through difference to the humanity and commonality of its people.
One language, one law, one culture. Everything else comes under the heading of individual freedom, which should be available in abundance, infinite in variety and not the business of the state.
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