Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott has re-launched his verbal war against his successor Malcolm Turnbull, with obvious relish.
In recent speeches, Abbott criticised leaked internal Liberal Party moves to bring forward a bill for marriage equality; called for an end to all new spending except for national security and infrastructure; and advocated freezing the country's — already inadequate — renewable energy target.
He even called for Australia to consider acquiring nuclear-powered submarines. “Not more robustly challenging the nuclear no-go mindset is probably the biggest regret I have from my time as PM,” he said.
On the July 2 anniversary of the Coalition's narrow win in last year’s federal election, he went further and issued a “call to arms” for members of his right-wing faction of the Liberals to “take our party back and then we can win the next election”.
“And then there’s a fight for the kind of policy that a Liberal-National government should be on about. Now, traditionally, what we've been on about is lower taxes, smaller government, greater freedom,” Abbott said.
Abbott’s ideological diatribes have stoked concerns of a possible repeat of the leadership coups which have plagued both Liberal and Labor parties in recent years. Rumours have abounded that even “Mr Potato Head” immigration minister Peter Dutton may be a contender.
Fairfax columnist Mark Kenny commented: “The Liberal Party stands on a precipice. It has already repeated the supposedly unthinkable Labor act of replacing an elected Prime Minister and now some would do it again. That its thinly stretched self-image would not survive such bastardry is obvious to all but the potential plotters.”
Senior Liberal minister Arthur Sinodinos described Tony Abbott as “out of control”. National Party leader Barnaby Joyce said he was fed up with what he called the Liberal Party “soap opera”, while Turnbull himself said on July 2 that he “intended to be Prime Minister for a very long time”.
This revived Liberal Party public factional warfare occurs as 14 Newspoll opinion polls in a row have put the Labor Party well in front of the Coalition at the federal level.
Federal Labor leader Bill Shorten is in a confident mood. Shorten’s pledge to overturn the cuts to penalty rates and to effectively reintroduce the now expired 2% tax levy on incomes above $180,000, which was actually imposed in Abbott’s much-reviled 2014 “horror” budget, show he is noticing the widespread anger about growing inequality in society and government policies favouring the well-off and the big corporations.
However, the public mudslinging between Abbott and Turnbull should not be allowed to camouflage the fact that the Turnbull government is continuing, with a different style, the same neoliberal onslaught against working people and the poor, Indigenous communities and refugees that the Abbott government launched when the Coalition came to power in 2013.
As Turnbull himself boasts, his government has achieved more in this regard than the “crash through or crash” approach pursued by Abbott.
By his willingness to make minor compromises with the various elements of a fractious, but essentially conservative, Senate cross-bench, Turnbull has managed to push through important parts of the reactionary agenda that Abbott failed to implement.
Some of the Turnbull government’s successful attacks include: reintroducing the hated Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), targeting the CFMEU and other building unions; blocking all measures to seriously tackle climate change; stepping up attacks on asylum seekers; implementing cuts to penalty rates for low wage-earners; and now manoeuvring Gonski 2.0 through the Senate.
Turnbull said on July 2 that “My government has achieved real results, strong outcomes, not just headlines and press statements.” These “strong outcomes” are a continuation of the class war against working people, democratic rights and the environment.
We should not be blindsided by the factional war inside the Liberal Party between Abbott’s ultra-conservative wing and the “moderate” Tories represented by Turnbull. Both aim to rule for the rich.
If we see through factional war within the Liberals, we can focus on exposing the truth about neoliberal policies, the governments that promote them and help mobilise to fight these attacks.
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