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It is time to clear the mists concerning the coup against Malcolm Turnbull as Australian prime minister in August 2018.  This leadership change was always intended to make Scott Morrison prime minister with Josh Frydenberg as his deputy.  It was never the intention of Peter Dutton to be prime minister but rather to be a stalking horse for the Morrison/Frydenberg ticket. The real question which now needs to be asked is: will the transaction cost of this leadership change will be too high for the coalition? 

Prime Minister Turnbull fell into a trap by announcing the National Energy Guarantee (NEG) which precipitated this pre-meditated parliamentary leadership coup.  This series of events was redolent of the time when Malcolm Turnbull had announced his support in late 2009 for the Rudd government’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).  Even though Malcolm Turnbull had in 2009 previously gained majority partyroom support for an ETS, this policy endorsement became the trigger for the so-called conservatives to depose the then opposition leader in one of the best executed leadership coups in Australian political history.  The real motivation for Turnbull’s 2009 deposition was his support for states’ rights. 

The more recent August 2018 leadership coup was however even more audacious.  Even though the then prime minister had again (as in 2009) obtained majority partyroom in August 2018 support for the NEG this policy announcement precipitated a full-scale rebellion by anti-Turnbull MPs who ostensibly announced their support for Peter Dutton. 

However the prospect of Peter Dutton becoming prime minister sent shivers down the spines of most Australians.   Dutton was smart enough to know that had he become prime minister that the Liberal Party faced an electoral wipe-out which threatened his party’s continued viability.  Even though Dutton had no real prospect (or intention) of becoming prime minster his destabilisation tactics still succeeded in a spill motion been passed in the Liberal Party partyroom which ended Malcolm Turnbull’s prime ministership. 

Elements of the ABC and the Murdoch media have since attempted to divert the public’s attention away from the fact that the August 2018 coup was always really about making Morrison prime minister with Frydenberg as Liberal Party deputy leader.  Commentary that Malcolm Turnbull displayed tactical shrewdness for Scott Morrison and Julie Bishop to stand in as the anti-Dutton alternatives is nothing more than sophistry. 

With Malcolm Turnbull out of the way it was almost inevitable that the moderates would swing their support behind Morrison even though he previously had a reputation as a hardliner based on memories of his time as Immigration Minister.  Nevertheless, anyone can come across as a relative moderate when compared to Dutton! 

Even more intriguing (and illuminating) was the contest for Liberal deputy leader.  Then Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop was dudded into standing for prime minister thereby vacating the deputy leadership-consequently giving Josh Frydenberg a clear run at that position.  It should not be forgotten that it was Frydenberg as Energy Minister helped who had place Malcolm Turnbull in the position of announcing the NEG which became the catalyst for the August 2018 coup. 

The fact that the intention of this coup was always to place Morrison and Frydenberg in the Liberal Party’s leadership positions was reflected by Senator Mathias Cormann canvassing for Scott Morrison instead of for his friend Peter Dutton.  Similarly, Senator Mitch Fifield’s ostensible shift in support for Dutton to Morrison reflected the pre-meditated nature of this coup in favour of the Morrison/Frydenberg ticket.

The Cause of the Prime Ministerial Churn

Now that Malcolm Turnbull is gone as prime minister we Australians are left wondering as to why this latest coup had to happen?  The answer to this question, beside the motivation of ambition, was to pursue the agenda of fatally undermining Australia’s states.  The pursuit of this objective by centralist elements within the two major parties has led to this bewildering churn in Australian prime ministers which commenced in 2010. 

Concerning this prime ministerial churn it has been pointed out by the media that John Howard was the last prime minister to serve a full term.  However, it should be noted that Prime Minister Howard could have been deposed by Treasurer Peter Costello on the eve of the 2007 election. Peter Costello was however too shrewd to fall for the trap of deposing Howard because he knew that the 2007 coalition campaign was going to be sabotaged from within so that that the Rudd-led ALP would win the November election held that year. 

The reason for this internal sabotage was derived from centralist anti-states elements within the coalition intending that a Rudd government would Balkanize Australia via the process of ‘regionalization’ whereby a new tier of local government will be created by recognising local government in the Australian Constitution. It is intended by these rent-seeking centralists that regional councils will eventually usurp the role and functions of states so that power is concentrated with a Canberra based bureaucracy.  Standing in the way of implementing this agenda was Malcolm Turnbull, who as prime minister supported states’ rights.

Indeed it was because of Malcolm Turnbull’s support for states’ rights that he was first deposed as Liberal leader in a dramatic partyroom coup in early December 2009 so that the process of regionalization would be supported by the federal coalition. Prime Minister Rudd’s May 2010 Hospitals Agreement with the ALP premiers whereby they agreed to hand over their public hospitals and GST health revenue to the Commonwealth was integral to this process of fatally undermining states’ rights. 

At this time the ALP at the instigation of Bill Shorten overwhelmingly drafted Julia Gillard to become prime minister in June 2010.  This dramatic move was precipitated by the fear that exposure of the possible wastage of funds spent in Building the Education Revolution would politically destroy Julia Gillard thereby paving the way for the then Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner to prime minister even though he was then struggling to hold his inner Melbourne seat which the Greens (i.e. the Reds) actually won at the 2010 election. 

The deposition of Rudd caught the nation by surprise but with Tony Abbott as opposition leader there was still scope to keep Prime Minister Gillard to an anti-states agenda. This was demonstrated by Prime Minister Gillard publicly announcing on the eve of the August 2010 poll that a government which she led after the election would never introduce a carbon tax.  The then prime minister knew that had she not made this misleading public promise it could be arranged by anti-state elements within the two major parties for her to lose the 2010 election.

By making this public announcement Prime Minister Gillard was able to cling to office heading a minority government.  During her 2010 to 2013 tenure as prime minister, Julia Gillard was subsequently remorselessly attacked by Tony Abbott who declared that the carbon tax ‘was a bad tax based on a lie’.  This Abbott mantra was so effective that had Julia Gillard not made way for Kevin Rudd in June 2013 then the ALP would have been close to being wiped out at the election which was held later that year. 




John Howard and Tony Abbott: Traitors to the Menzies Tradition

That Tony Abbott won the September 2013 election was testament to the covert help he received from anti-state elements within the ALP who had coerced Prime Minister Gillard into making and then breaking in 2011 her no carbon tax announcement.  As prime minister, Tony Abbott was the political heir to John Howard who had wanted to abolish states.  Howard was someone, who despite his professed admiration for Sir Robert Menzies was outside of the Liberal Party tradition because of his anti-states’ rights agenda and his opposition to industrial arbitration. 

Indeed, Howard’s neo-liberal ideology was outside of Australia’s socio-political traditions that he plunged the coalition into a crisis in the 1980s.  The then Hawke government’s economic rationalist policies were harming living standards as well as undermining the nation’s economic capacity.  The Liberals were however unable to harness the widespread discontent due to Howard being a critic of the ALP’s economic rationalist policies not going far enough! 

Howard was also assisted in pursuing his economic rationalist stance because his then principal opponent within the partyroom was Andrew Peacock who also shared this neo-liberal outlook despite the support he received from the so-called ‘wets’ who were more anti-Howard than pro-Peacock. 

That John Howard eventually re-took the Liberal Party leadership in January 1995 and won the March 1996 federal election was due to the support he received from Peter Costello.  The ensuing policy successes (and by extension political successes) of the coalition federal government between 1996 and 2007 were mainly due to Peter Costello’s adeptness as treasurer.

As vital as Peter Costello’s support was to John Howard, this prime minister never had any intention of reciprocating the loyalty which his treasurer had given him.  Indeed, Howard as prime minister successfully assembled an anti-Costello faction during his time in office so as to deny his deputy the prime ministership. 

The Regionalisation Agenda

Alas, for Howard, this anti-Costello faction turned on him on the eve of the 2007 federal election to pave the way for regionalisation to be introduced under a Rudd ALP government.  Thankfully, the initiation of this regionalisation process has been stymied to date by the ascension to office of Julia Gillard and Malcolm Turnbull respectively in 2010 and in 2015.  The Morrison government will probably hold a referendum to recognise local government in the Australian Constitution*to coincide with the next federal election.

(*This referendum was authorised by legislation in one of the last acts of the Gillard government in 2013).

From a coalition perspective it ultimately makes no sense to introduce regionalisation because this will enable hard left industry unions and associated left-wing groups to gain control of massive resources by creating this new regional tier of government.  Under a regionalised regime the Liberal Party (and to a lesser extent the National Party) will not have the capacity to avoid eventually balkanizing into competing micro-parties as had occurred following the August 1943 federal election after which the United Australia Party (UAP) imploded. 

There may be factional leaders within the Liberal Party who under a regionalised regime may gain regional bailiwicks.  However, this will come at the expense of a virtually permanent national dominance by left wing groups, including hard left trade unions, which regionalisation will facilitate. 

Australian Trade Unionism: Past and Present

Much has been made that Australian trade unionism now has 15% of the workforce with this figure possibly dropping still further. While Australian trade unionism has steeply declined (down from 51% union membership of the workforce in 1976!) there is still the phenomenon of social movement unionism which is empowering the contemporary Australian union movement.

Social movement unionism is where unions link up with left-wing non-government organisations (NGOs) such as Get-Up to campaign on the ground to affect industrial and/or political change.  The most effective manifestation of social movement unionism to date was the anti-‘Work Choices’ (i.e.  No Choices) campaign utilized during the 2007 federal election campaign. 

Undoubtedly, the social unionism model will be deployed for the next federal election which will consequently place the Australian Council of Trade Unions Council (ACTU) in a powerful position should there be a future Shorten ALP federal government.  Such a government at the behest of the hard-left of the Australian union movement will probably ensure that legislation is passed so that employers can be ‘roped’ into bargaining with trade unions in a context of where non-union members will be charged a bargaining fee.

It should also be expected that a Shorten government at the behest of the hard-left of the Australian union movement will close down independent superannuation funds so that this sector will be exclusively controlled either by big business and/or by industry unions. 

The power that the hard left of the Australian union movement will exercise under a probable Shorten federal government is reflective of the fact that Australian unions have more often than not relied upon external institutional supports to be effective.  A tacit admission of this reality by the ACTU is its ‘Change the Rules’ campaign, which in reality is laying the groundwork to bring in the union equivalent of a No-Choices industrial relations legislative framework. 

The institutional supports which had historically supported Australian trade unionism were derived from the Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1904 (the 1904 Act).  The 1904 Act created an industrial tribunal which issued sectoral awards ensuring that the pay and conditions of Australian employees were safeguarded.

Relatively small craft based trade unions by utilizing the arbitration system, were able to effectively represent their members’ interests.  That is not to say that industrial action was not undertaken or was not important to Australian trade unionism.  However, the fact was that the utilization of arbitral supports by Australian trade unions created a favourable environment to advance employee interests.   

A flawed left-wing critique was formulated called the ‘Howard Dependency Syndrome’ (which is not to be confused with John Howard) which inaccurately maintained that utilization of external arbitral supports weakened union power by supposedly creating an over-reliance upon external institutions at the expence of developing internal union industrial strength.   

The fact of the matter was that the pursuit of an arbitral strategy enabled relatively small craft based trade unions to effectively represent their members’ interest without compromising their integrity.  This was due to the impartiality of the industrial tribunals, the independence of the unions which went before industrial tribunals and because smaller trade unions by their nature are more democratic because they are responsive to their members’ interests.  Furthermore, the inclination of employees to join unions was also precipitated by them feeling a sense of belonging to their craft.

The onset of union amalgamation in the 1990s was given impetus by the loss of the Federated Clerks Union, FCU to the Socialist-Left, (SL).  The FCU under the leadership of John Maynes had vitally supported a range of craft based trade unions.  Without the FCU anchor to support craft based unionism, the scene was set for millions of Australian workers to refuse to shift their allegiance to these new industry super unions to which they felt no sense of connection.  Nevertheless, the newly amalgamated unions gained control of billions of dollars of superannuation funds while establishing powerful (and arguably unrepresentative) bureaucracies which constituted union oligarchy.  This vividly contrasted with union democracy associated with craft-based trade-unionism. 

It is now impossible to unscramble the trade union amalgamation egg.  However due to Julia Gillard’s Fair Work Australia Act 2009 (FWA) there is now ample scope for enterprise bargaining.  By applying the organising union model (the organising model) Australian unions can utilize workplace based rank and file delegates to potentially ensure favourable bargaining outcomes.  The application of the organising model can also possibly bolster informal union democracy.

Unfortunately, ACTU Secretary Sally Mc Manus has effectively forsaken enterprise bargaining as the means by which union renewal can be achieved.  Instead the hard left of the Australian union movement has opted for a top-down industrial relations system to be brought in by a probable regionalist Shorten government which will be economically detrimental. 

Why are the Liberals Actually Lemmings? 

That regionalisation will usher in dominance by the left-wing of the Australian trade union movement begs the question as to why neo-liberals within the coalition support this process as demonstrated by the Turnbull deposition?  As previously mentioned, the reason is probably because there are party-power brokers who really believe that they can gain control of regional bailiwicks but the price for reasons which have already been articulated will be too high!

Consequently, the August 2018 deposition of Malcolm Turnbull is an historical development of epic proportions.  Indeed, it could be said that with Malcolm Turnbull out of the way by resigning from parliament, there is apparently no substantial barrier toward the implementation of regionalization.

However, Malcolm Turnbull is still a substantial figure who should, when the Morrison government holds a referendum to recognise local government in the Australian Constitution (a ‘Yes’ vote would be a vital pre-requisite for regionalization to be implemented) he can still lead a genuine ‘No’ campaign to save the federal system of government. 

Malcolm’s Merits

Because Malcolm Turnbull is still a very important political figure a review of his time as prime minister is warranted.  Under Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership there was a return to a collegiate cabinet system of government, the implementation of fiscal discipline (even if the public foreign debt continued to grow) and an impressive record of negotiating with a fractious senate cross-bench. 

Indeed, when the Liberals replaced Abbott with Turnbull in September 2015 it seemed as though the coalition parties had returned to their pre-Howard traditions which are associated with Alfred Deakin and Sir Robert Menzies.  Therefore, Malcolm Turnbull’s support for states’ rights put lie to the assertion that he was ‘labor lite’.    

While more could have been achieved had the Turnbull government had more than a one seat majority in the House of Representatives, the standout policy success was legislating for same-sex marriage.  This achievement was all the more impressive due to the extensive opposition to Malcolm Turnbull’s consultative approach on this issue from the ALP, the Greens and the left-wing of the LGBTI community.  These groups opposed holding a de facto plebiscite on same sex marriage via a postal survey (an initiative, which to his credit, Peter Dutton formulated).

As prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull correctly predicted that this measure would be approved by popular vote (62%) so that following the plebiscite, parliament subsequently overwhelmingly approved this reform.  Amid the euphoria from the parliamentary gallery there was no public acknowledgment by either Bill Shorten or from the Greens MP Adam Bandt of the role which Prime Minister Turnbull had fulfilled in securing the passage of same-sex marriage. 

It is true to say that no-one should do what is ethically correct so as to be praised.  Nevertheless, when someone does what is correct, and displays courage in doing so, then there is nothing wrong with publicly acknowledging it.  So three cheers for Malcolm Turnbull for bringing in marriage equality!

It is therefore unfair to say that Malcolm Turnbull as prime minister was unduly compromised by the hard right of the coalition.  For the truth is, Malcolm Turnbull not only had to stand up to the neo-liberals in his ranks but confront non-cooperation from left-wing critics who hypocritically withheld their support.  This was illustrated in early 2010 when the Greens voted down an ETS.  Furthermore, the Greens voted for a carbon tax in 2012 knowing full well that this would pave the way for a professed climate sceptic such as Tony Abbott to become prime minister!


The question emerges as to why did the Greens move successively against Julia Gillard and Malcolm Turnbull and in doing so supporting the hard right of the Liberal Party and the rent-seeking elements of the ALP?  The answer to this question is that the Greens support the effective de-establishment of states via regionalization so that they can entrench their power within a new tier of local government.  Therefore when the Morrison government holds a referendum which recognises local government in the Constitution then the compromising of genuine environmental principles from a Red perspective will have been worth it in the long run.

However, the creation of a new regional tier of government will (to say the least) be detrimental.  Even if states are nominally retained, the locus of power via regionalization will have occurred with a shift of power to Canberra been effected where a national bureaucracy can interface with the new regional tier of government.  More frightening is that Leninist China will be able to exercise its patrimonial power over this new regional tier of government.

Why Australia Must be Beware Leninist China’s Dragon

The risks of Leninist *China subverting and ultimately politically and economically dominating Australia were first clearly apparent when the Rudd government introduced the Mineral Resources Rent Tax (the dud tax) which would have allowed the mega-mining companies to collude with Leninist China to squeeze out the smaller mining companies so that Beijing could gain effective control over Australia’s trade in its mineral resources. 

(*Wariness concerning mainland Leninist China’s designs on Australia is not a manifestation of racist anti-Chinese sentiment but rather a caution concerning Beijing’s repressive socio-political and economic system).

It would be naive to think that Leninist China’s president and dictator, Xi Jinping does not want to gain ultimate economic control over Australia.  For to be blunt, Canberra is such a soft touch due to elements of its political class being prepared to sell out their nation’s interests by recognising local government in the Constitution. 

For Leninist China can only survive as a dictatorship if high economic growth rates are sustained by gaining access and domination over the resources of the nations which Beijing has economic links with.  This is why President Xi it trying to gain economic control over the resources of as many countries as possible so as to sustain China’s hybrid state capitalist system as well as enhancing his personal power. 

Rupert Murdoch’s Duplicity

The main commentary as to the dangers of possible domination of Australia by Leninist China is alerted to by Rupert Murdoch’s The Australian newspaper.  However, Rupert Murdoch is a sophisticated political operative.  Having established his press as the main siren against possible Chinese Leninist domination of Australia, Murdoch can still facilitate a shift for such domination to occur on terms favourable to him by supporting regionalization occurring via constitutional recognition of local government.


It should not be forgotten that elements of the Murdoch press were instrumental in precipitating Malcolm Turnbull’s fall and perpetuating the contemporary line that the Morrison/Frydenberg ascension was not pre-meditated.  The question therefore emerges as to what will happen next for Australia? 

At the moment the political priority for the Morrison/Frydenberg leadership team is to divert attention away from how they actually undermined Malcolm Turnbull so as to minimize the transaction cost of the leadership change.  The formidable leadership combination of Morrison/Frydenberg will, for the moment, do their best to win the next federal election with the backing of the Murdoch press. 

Scott Morrison has a populist touch, which combined with Josh Frydenberg’s high powered competence, provides the coalition with their best prospect of winning the next federal election or at least saving the furniture.  Should the coalition win the next federal election, Morrison will probably some-time in the future honour a succession plan with Josh Frydenberg so that he can take over as prime minister.  Alternatively, should the coalition lose the next federal election there seems little doubt that Josh Frydenberg will be elected opposition leader with Peter Dutton (should he retain his seat) as his possible deputy. 

If the opinion polls go badly for the coalition between now and the next federal election then the ALP may ‘run dead’ in certain seats to ensure the re-election of anti-state coalition MPs.  This major concession would only be made if the coalition were to concede (as occurred in the 2007 election and in 2010 federal election) the 2019 federal poll to Labor. 


Why Malcolm Turnbull Must Continue the Fight

The Morrison government will probably hold a referendum on local government recognition at the time of the next federal election.  If this is to occur then bona fide pro-state rights components within the coalition and the ALP will have to begin now forming a genuine pro-federal umbrella organisation to counter a dud No campaign being run by the pro-Abbott Samuel Griffith Society.

(*Alternatively pro-state rights MPs within the coalition can now place pressure on Prime Minister Morrison to scrap the referendum proposal so as to protect Australia’s federal system of government.  Such a measure would also serve to protect serving coalition MPs from being sacrificed by their parties at the time at the next federal election).

To protect genuine pro-states’ rights coalition MPs at the time of the next federal election, Malcolm Turnbull can use his influence with the Australian Republican Movement (ARM) secretariat to form a genuine pro-state’ rights campaign organisation.  Such an organisation can send out a questionnaire to all federal MPs asking them if they will support a no vote in the constitutional referendum and offering them help with their re-election campaigns in the event that they answer affirmatively.  

Why It’s Time to End This Farce

While states’ rights is not the most exciting issue to campaign on the stakes for Australia’s future could not be higher.  Malcolm Turnbull lost his prime ministership due to his support for states’ rights but his still can secure his legacy by utilizing his talent so that a No vote prevails should a referendum question on local government recognition in the Constitution proceed. 

Indeed, the Morrison government will probably only announce the referendum on the eve of the federal election so as to maximize the opportunity for the ‘Yes’ vote to prevail.  It can be anticipated that the referendum on local government recognition will coincide with the next federal election.   With Prime Minister Morrison and Bill Shorten probably supporting a yes vote, combined with the Samuel Griffith Society running a dud ‘No’ campaign, it can be anticipated that the yes vote will prevail.  To avoid this scenario, a genuine pro-states’ rights campaign organisation needs to be organised between now and the next federal election. 

Australia has already suffered too much (as manifested by the prime ministerial churn) from this push to fatally undermine states.  It is time for there to be a genuine re-assertion of the Australia’s national interest by ensuring that the No vote prevails when a referendum on local government recognition is held.


The 2016 Australian federal election, (as well as the 2007 and 2010 federal elections) demonstrated that avowed political opponents can enter into covert alliances to advance their respective causes. The ensuing analysis in this article examines the need for political actors who engage in such collusive practices to maintain their integrity if they are to avoid disaster.


The current uncertainty concerning the continuity of Tony Abbott’s prime ministership has raised the distinct and welcome possibility of Malcolm Turnbull succeeding him to that high office. Should there be a Turnbull prime ministerial succession then hopefully the leadership uncertainty which has bedevilled Australia since the Howard government’s demise in 2007 will end.


The Australian newspaper’ editor-at-large, Paul Kelly has a deserved reputation as one of the nation’s pre-eminent journalists and authors. This has been confirmed by his latest work, Triumph and Demise The Broken Promise Of A Labor Generation (Melbourne University Press, 2014). This book carries on from other Australian political masterpieces of Kelly’s such as The Dismissal: Australia’s Most Sensational Power Struggle (1976), The End of Certainty, The Story of the 1980s (1992) and The March of Patriots, The Struggle for Modern Australia (2009).