It is pretty clear from the first two days of Malcolm Turnbull’s prime-ministership that the new man is full of good ideas and longer sentences, but finds himself completely constrained from putting these into policy changes.
The man who, for so long, has derided Tony Abbott’s Direct Action and called for substantial efforts in cutting emissions finds himself singing the praises of the current policy. He’s been forced to do the same on same-sex marriage.
The reason is simple. Turnbull only got voted in because he made certain promises to the right wing of the party who booted him out six years earlier because he supported an emissions trading scheme.
Turnbull could make some changes to the policy – maybe expressing support for renewables, longer-dating the renewable energy target, and fiddling with the “safeguard mechanism” to give Direct Action more bite – but until he is free of the right wing rump, there is little he can do.
Leading right wing commentator Andrew Bolt – who, like other leading lights in the ultra conservative commentariat such as Alan Jones, Steve Price, Miranda Devine and Tim Blair, are seething about the toppling of their Tony – has suggested there is talk of creating a new party for conservatives, as opposed to Liberals.
Bolt said on Network Ten’s The Project: “There is talk – really loose talk, I’m not beating it up into something bigger than it is – of where is there a party for conservatives?
“Will there be, in the future, a party for conservatives? I think that might turn out to be the problem. In the Senate you might get conservatives thinking, ‘I’ll vote for someone else’.”
The Project host Waleed Aly suggested Liberal MP Cory Bernardi, the ultra conservative South Australian Senator who has been the most openly hostile to Turnbull’s rise, as the potential leader of such a party.
“Well,” Bolt said. “Obviously that’s one person you might look to.”
As the SMH noted, Bernardi has been widely ridiculed for his views on climate change (it’s nothing to do with humans), women (it’s OK to treat them a bit rough sometimes), Islam (it is fundamentally bad) and same-sex relations (they are akin to bestiality).
Bernardi himself has refused to rule out leaving the Liberals, when asked on Wednesday by Fairfax Media.
But the creation of a Bernardi Party, or a right wing party of similar ilk, might just be a blessing for Turnbull. It would force so many Liberals to choose between the centre-right traditions of the party, or the reactionary views of an Australian Tea Party, or an Australian version of UKIP.
It would really have no hope of being elected, but would make a lot of noise, with the help of many Murdoch columnists and think tanks such as the IPA.
This would free Turnbull up to pursue the centrist policies he has spent so much time espousing: a carbon price for emissions reduction; investment in new technologies to ensure that Australia remains a smart economy able to compete in a changing world. If he can’t do that, then what’s the point of a Turnbull government?