Why Malcolm Turnbull Should Replace Tony Abbott as Prime Minister

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 underlying reason for the post-2007 political instability has been derived from the underlying attempts by factions within the two major political parties to eventually dismember Australian states so as to ensure that they (i.e. states) are replaced by a new regional tier of government. Considering that John Howard was himself an arch-centralist, it was a paradox that anti-state elements within the coalition covertly sabotaged his re-election in 2007. The reason that this was done was so that different factions within the Australian Labor Party (ALP), within the Liberals and within the Nationals would have the Rudd government act as a cipher while they negotiated amongst themselves the carve-up of Australia into balkanized political fiefdoms.

The Rudd government’s anti-states agenda was reflected by the so-called Hospitals Agreement of May 2010 between the Commonwealth and the premiers whereby the states effectively ceded control of their hospitals to Canberra. Furthermore, this agreement facilitated the clawing back (i.e. theft) of Goods and Services Tax (GST) - revenue intended for the states’ health budgets - to the Commonwealth. Overall the so-called Hospitals Agreement was setting the scene for the eventual dismemberment of Australian states by establishing a framework by which key state services and functions and the corresponding GST revenue were to be transferred to Canberra.

Because ALP federal parliamentarians forced Kevin Rudd’s resignation as prime minister in June 2010 in favour of Julia Gillard the Rudd cipher government did not survive. This was primarily done to prevent the then Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner from exploiting the massive financial excesses of the so-called Building the Education Revolution (BER) as a means of politically destroying then Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who was also serving as Education Minister.

To have politically destroyed Julia Gillard, Tanner would have had to have implicated sitting ALP federal parliamentarians in whose electorates much of the BER funds had been previously mis-allocated to education facilities. With Julia Gillard politically neutralized, there then would have been no barrier with regard to *Tanner proceeding to either swiftly or subtly remove Kevin Rudd from office so that he (Tanner) could have become the succeeding prime minister.

(*A Tanner succession to the prime ministership still would have been premised on his being able to secure Liberal preferences in his federal seat of Melbourne against the Greens).

The rallying of federal Labor parliamentarians to Julia Gillard prevented a Tanner succession and raised the prospect of the ALP breaking with the anti-states agenda which had been covertly advanced by centralist components within the coalition. Alas, Prime Minister Julia Gillard was not able to resist pressure by anti-states elements within the ALP for her to make a public statement just before the August 2010 polling day that a carbon tax would never be introduced under a future government which she led.

The inter-party collusion between anti-state elements within the ALP and the coalition parties was such that they were able to engineer the result for the August 2010 federal poll that there was a hung parliament with a resulting Gillard minority government. The Liberals under Tony Abbott’s leadership were prepared to endure a term (2010 to 2013) in opposition. This was because Julia Gillard’s action in 2011 of breaking of her coerced undertaking that a government she led would never introduce a carbon tax created the groundwork for a coalition landslide in 2013. To fatally discredit Julia Gillard with the electorate, Tony Abbott repeatedly invoked the mantra that the carbon tax ‘was a bad tax based on a lie’.

Tony Abbott’s succession to the federal Liberal leadership in late 2009 had been instigated by centralist elements within the coalition after the then Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull had courageously refused to endorse an agenda to dismember Australian states. The deposition of Malcolm Turnbull had been initiated and legitimised on the basis he had sought to negotiate a bi-partisan Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).

Centralist elements within the coalition utilized an anti-ETS campaign on the erroneous basis that Malcolm Turnbull had rode rough shod over his party base to negotiate a bi-partisan ETS. Actually, Malcolm Turnbull had been very careful to gain his partyroom’s consent to negotiate an ETS and therefore such a charge against him was not credible. The calculated nature of the early December 2009 deposition of Malcolm Turnbull was reflected by Joe Hockey strategically splitting the Turnbull vote by standing as an ostensible leadership aspirant so Abbott was able to subsequently win election as Opposition Leader by a one-vote margin.

The paradox of the Abbott ascendancy has been that his political actions have generated turmoil even though they have been so pre-calculated. The vital scope which has endowed Abbott with the capacity to influence the political environment to his advantage has been the covert support he has received from anti-states elements within the two major parties. The power of centralist forces within the ALP was such that Prime Minister Julia Gillard capitulated to their pressure to legislate that, on or after the 14th of September 2013, a constitutional referendum on local government recognition would be held. Recognition in the Australian Constitution of local government will establish a framework in which key services, funding and functions can be later transferred from the states to a new and powerful tier of regional government. Indeed, Prime Minister Abbott is planning to hold a retreat in June 2015 with the premiers and chief ministers designed to help create the momentum so that a referendum campaign can be successfully conducted recognising local government in the Australian Constitution.

Even if Malcolm Turnbull does not replace Tony Abbott as prime minister, the member for Wentworth could still bequeath a very positive impact on Australia by leading a genuine ‘No’ vote campaign should the current prime minister hold the referendum to recognise local government in the Australian Constitution. That this referendum has not yet been held is because *Julia Gillard was deposed by Kevin Rudd in June 2013.

(*Julia Gillard probably helped facilitate the June 2013 parliamentary vote and gave her discreet blessing to some of her supporters voting for Kevin Rudd so that she could avoid losing the ensuing federal election in a landslide due to her being so discredited for breaking her pledge to never introduce a carbon tax).

Although there is much to be negatively critical about concerning Kevin Rudd’s first prime ministership - such as needlessly and massively in-debting Australia via the unnecessary stimulus packages and the BER- his second brief prime ministership was relatively positive. This was because Prime Minister Rudd’s action of holding the federal election on the 7th of September 2013, as opposed to the 14th, prevented the holding of a referendum on local government recognition. Consequently, the establishment of a framework via which Australian states can eventually be dismembered has been put off to another day.

This positive action of Prime Minister Rudd’s of bringing the federal election forward will never be recognised as one of his key positive achievements and this action had no impact on the September 7th 2013 result poll which was easily won by Tony Abbott. Nevertheless, the brief recycling of Kevin Rudd in 2013 undoubtedly helped the ALP avoid an electoral wipe-out of proportions similar to what Labor experienced in the respective New South Wales 2011 and Queensland 2012 state elections.

Prime Minister Abbott: The Perpetual Opposition Leader?

For all the skill that Tony Abbott had applied in creating the groundwork to convincingly win the September 7th 2013 poll his subsequent strategic approach to politics as prime minister has been wanting. A major mistake that Tony Abbott has made as prime minister has been to misjudge the political dynamics concerning the political composition of the Senate with regard to the non-Green cross-benches. This has been reflected by Treasurer Joe Hockey inaccurately categorizing the Senate as being ‘Labor controlled’ when this has not been the case.

Indeed, the eight balance of power senators on the cross-benchers who do not belong to the Greens have enabled the Abbott government to gain passage of what have been its major positive legislative and policy achievements: the rescinding of the carbon tax and of the dud Resource Super Profit Tax. Had Prime Minister Abbott been politically shrewder, he could have worked in alliance with these balance of power senators to have successfully passed a budget which effectively dealt with the debt and deficit disaster which can be traced back to the first Rudd government.

Instead, the Abbott government gratuitously antagonised an inherently centre-right Senate cross-bench by proposing budget measures which cut off the dole for six months for unemployed people aged under thirty, deregulate university fees and introduce a Medicare co-payment. Prime Minister Abbott and Treasurer Hockey grossly miscalculated the political situation by believing that, by alerting the public to the dangerous fiscal legacy of deficit and debt which they inherited, the government would be able to browbeat the non-Green Senate crossbenchers into passing the coalition’s aforementioned draconian policy proposals.

That is not to say that Australia’s fiscal position is not now dangerous. However that should not provide the Abbott government with a pretext to attempt to move public policy to the hard-right. The short-term ramifications of this policy orientation have meant that substantial components of the federal government’s 2014-2015 Budget are unpassed. Furthermore, the Abbott government’s previous canvassing a WorkChoices type of attack on workplace entitlements (such as penalty rates) by instigating the Productivity Commission conducting an enquiry has only served to dangerously move the federal coalition away from the political centre , towards the hard right.

The longer term political ramifications of the Abbott government’s move to the hard right have meant that (provided that the Bill Shorten led federal opposition does not badly blunder) the coalition is bound to lose the next federal election in a landslide unless Tony Abbott is replaced by Malcolm Turnbull as prime minister. Unfortunately and dangerously there are elements within the coalition who would rather see Abbott take them to election defeat or have a Prime Minister Turnbull lose the next federal election. This is because there is an expectation by some hard-right Liberals and Nationals that a Shorten led government will introduce regionalisation so that they can gain concentrated power in new regional bailiwicks.

However, even with a re-elected Mike Baird coalition government in *New South Wales, the hard right within the coalition lacks (and will lack) a sufficient political base on which to establish a new regional tier in which their interests can be adequately represented when Labor re-takes power federally. Should there be a Shorten government, then the policy of regionalisation will essentially be dictated by the hard-left of the ALP led by Anthony Albanese. Although Bill Shorten hails from Labor’s moderate Right, his past performance as Australian Workers’ Union (AWU) chief indicates that he will not stand up to the hard left of the ALP introducing regionalisation under him as prime minister.

(*The New South Wales ALP in the March 28th 2015 state election under the leadership of Luke Foley won eleven seats. This was a credible performance considering the massive majority which the coalition had gained in the 2011 state election and the high popularity of Premier Mike Baird. The highlight of the New South Wales ALP campaign was their courageous canvassing the risk of the state’s electricity being either leased or sold to Chinese State Owned Enterprises (SOE).

Whatever the merits or otherwise of privatizing New South Wales’ electricity infrastructure, it is inherently dangerous to potentially cede control of such valuable resources to Chinese SOEs. This is because the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is a dictatorship where centralized controls are exercised to manipulate the economy in a non-transparent manner, including trading arrangements into which the PRC enters into with other nations.

A prime example of the PRC attempting to disadvantage another nation in its trading arrangements was the Rudd cipher government introducing a Resource Super Profit Tax (RSPT) in 2010. Had this dangerous dud tax not being rescinded by the Gillard government then specific mining companies with strategic ties to the PRC could have minimized their tax arrangements so that Beijing gained a virtual monopoly with regard to accessing Australia’s mineral resources. It is therefore not racist to be wary about substantial PRC investment in Australia.

By contrast, suspicion and concern should not be attached regarding potential and actual Japanese investment and involvement in the Australian economy because Japan is a democracy in which the rule of law is paramount).

Regionalisation: A New Concentration of Power

For reasons which are still a mystery, the hard right of the New South Wales Right of the Liberal Party has shared with its counterparts on the far-left of the ALP a desire to dismember Australian states. This policy approach was reflected by the centralist policies of the Howard government, which included federal takeovers of state hospitals. Why don’t centralist Liberals and Nationals understand that hard-left political operatives will gain a political ascendancy via regionalisation which will eventually become impossible to dislodge? With a new regional tier of government, the ALP Left and the Greens will have a competitive advantage in Australian politics because a new and highly committed extensive left-wing critical mass will be created.

It should be appreciated that a key determinant of political effectiveness is rank and file commitment to organisational goals. Post-war rank and file Liberals in the 1950s, the 1960s, the 1970s and into the 1980s had a sense of commitment which endowed their party with a competitive advantage. This was derived from the service ethos of there being war veterans, small business-people and housewives, who as branch members of the Liberal Party, were committed to their party which they perceived as having been responsible for their high standard of living.

There are still committed and politically effective rank and file Liberal Party branch members. Even though most Liberal Party *rank and file members undoubtedly prefer that Tony Abbott over Malcolm Turnbull, they should appreciate that their party’s long term prospects will be fatally undercut by the current prime minister eventually paving the way for a Shorten government to introduce regionalisation. It is almost inevitable that Julie Bishop will lead the Liberals in opposition should Abbott allow the ALP to win the next federal election. However as federal Opposition Leader, Julie Bishop will witness the ice melt beneath her as Australia is balkanized by a regionalisation process which will be undertaken to ultimately benefit the hard-left of the ALP and the Greens.

(*An ABC report on The Four Corners television programme on the 16th of March 2015 claimed that an email campaign orchestrated by the National Civic Council (NCC) resulted in thousands of emails being sent Liberal MPs leading up to the February leadership spill motion. Whatever support this NCC email campaign generated, it would not have matched the actual and massive volume of support which existed among the Liberal Party members and supporters who emailed government MPs that Abbott be retained as prime minister).

The massive resources of industry unions will provide the hard-left of the ALP with the capacity to establish a political dominance should regionalisation ever be eventually introduced. This was reflected in the Queensland state election of January 31st 2015 where the ALP went to that poll with a mere nine seats. Nevertheless, Labor still won that state election. Clear demarcation lines were established between the affiliated industry unions as to which Queensland Labor Party branches and candidates would be supported so that Labor was organisationally coherent and resource formidable. Therefore, instead of wasting a generation in opposition rebuilding, the Queensland ALP was able to win government after only one term in opposition despite almost been wiped out in the 2012 state election. Consequently the resources which would accrue to the ALP supporters should a new regional tier of government be created would place the coalition parties at a distinct perpetual political competitive disadvantage. There would undoubtedly be Liberals and Nationals who would be attracted to the business and patronage opportunities which regionalisation would offer but there would not necessarily be a corresponding advancement of the coalition in relation to broader national political effectiveness.

Recent political history indicates that the Liberals and Nationals parties tend to gain the dividends of increased party rank and file participation when there is public unease concerning the financial excesses of federal and state ALP governments. Alternatively and conversely it is therefore not beyond the realm of possibility that the coalition parties will recruit people to become involved in a new regional tier of government for the sake of their own gain as opposed to altruistic motivations. Under such a scenario, a context could emerge in which key powerbrokers on the non-ALP side of politics might be prepared to cede national political dominance to Labor in return for access to power and patronage on an enhanced local level.

Regionalisation: Will the Liberals Concede A Permanent Competitive Advantage to the Hard Left?

The future scenario should also not be discounted that the emergence of a new regional tier of government could also lead to a balkanization of the Liberal and National parties. The Liberal Party’s predecessor, the United Australia Party (UAP), underwent a bewildering process of internal splintering between 1941 and 1943 due to a leadership vacuum at its senior national level. A similar process of organisational disintegration could bedevil the coalition parties if new regionally based political parties and movements emerge due to their gaining the patronage benefits of there being a new enhanced tier of local government.

The ALP by contrast is better positioned to maintain its organisational coherence due to the discipline which is derived from being linked to affiliated unions who have demarcation arrangements which underpin there being a coherently organised political party. However, over a period of time factional struggles within the ALP might be undertaken at the local level regional tier of government. Due to the Left of the ALP having a more extensive social movement to draw upon, the creation of a new regional tier of government could eventually provide the ALP Left with a distinct advantage over Labor’s moderate elements.

The Socialist Left (SL) of the ALP, which was once influenced by the Communist Party of Australia (CPA), supported the union amalgamation policy which was undertaken in the 1990s to create a concentration of power for the left in Australian politics. This scenario did not come to pass because too many rank and file unionists refusing to join the new *amalgamated industry unions. Should a policy of regionalisation (which was also a CPA inspired idea) be applied, then the concentration of power which the hard left seeks might still be achieved.

(*One area where enhanced union power has been facilitated since the 1980s has been with regard to trade unions controlling hundreds of millions of dollars in compulsory superannuation. This outcome has had an overall positive benefit for millions of Australians by providing them with a retirement nest egg which they might otherwise not have had).

Overall, the best way for the forces of political moderation in Australia to maintain their viability, if not their ascendancy, is to fight to maintain the essential status quo with regard to federal-state relations. Australia has been well served by having state and federal Westminster parliamentary systems because this has been conducive to having a two-party system in which there is broadly a major party supportive of private enterprise and one which is aligned to the interests of labour. The danger of one of the two major parties dominating politics by having a parliamentary majority can be countered by there being a quality minor party in the *upper house holding the balance of power.

(*Due to the importance of there being a minor party holding the balance of power in parliamentary upper houses, Social Action Australia advocates that Queensland re-introduce such a parliamentary chamber).

The Need for a New Coherently Organised Centrist Political Party

The value of minor parties and/or individuals holding the balance of power in upper houses is currently being demonstrated with regard to the contemporary Senate. As previously discussed, one of the glaring political failings of Tony Abbott’s prime ministership has been that he forewent the opportunity to forge a working relationship with the non-Green cross-benchers who arguably have a centre-right orientation.

Although there has been much media commentary concerning the eclectic nature of the non-Green Senate cross-benchers this does not negate that they have generally acted in a responsible manner by blocking some of the extremist proposals of the Abbott government, such as cutting off social security benefits for six months for unemployed people aged under thirty. Consequently, there is scope for six of the eight non-Green Senate cross-benchers to form a new centre-right/centre parliamentary party which could exercise its power in a responsible manner.

Such a new party could be a centre-right version of the Australian Democrats. The Australian Democrats were formed in 1977 because the public then had a heightened awareness of the balance of power role of the Australian Senate in the wake of the 1975 Dismissal. Even before this dramatic event, the potential power and positive role of the Senate had been conveyed due to the impact of Democratic Labor Party (DLP) senators in the 1960s and the 1970s.

The DLP senators represented the crème de la crème of elements of the ALP who had departed the Labor Party during the Evatt Purge of 1955-1957. These principled* gentlemen endowed the Senate with an integrity which paradoxically laid the foundation for Don Chipp to found the Australian Democrats in 1977.

(*The DLP very unfortunately lost all its Senate seats in the 1974 federal election).

There were public meetings held across Australia in 1977 with Don Chipp (a former federal Liberal Party minister) being the main draw card. Due to the success of these public meetings, the Australian Democrats had a viable grass-roots organisation in place by the time of the December 1977 federal election in which they won two Senate seats. The Australian Democrats then consolidated as the third force in politics by winning the balance of power in the Senate at the 1980 federal election.

Due to the vital importance of Don Chipp in founding and sustaining the Australian Democrats, this party was dubbed by some of its critics as the ‘Chippocrats’. However, this party remained a parliamentary senate presence until 2008 when its senators departed the scene after they failed to win any senate seats in the 2007 federal election.

An important reason that the Australian Democrats defied predictions of their doom was because its parliamentary representatives were allowed to exercise their consciences when voting, even if this meant going against their party’s avowed policy position. This was more than just high idealism because this policy approach had the impact of buttressing the public perception that Australian Democrat senators could be trusted to exercise critical judgement.

The main and overriding factor why the Australian Democrats eventually lost parliamentary representation was because Cheryl Kernot (Australian Democrats leader between 1993 and 1997) and Natasha Stott Despoja (Australian Democrats leader between 2001 and 2002) had changed their party’s operational raison d’être. These two leaders fundamentally altered the Australian Democrats’ policy approach of allowing its parliamentarians a conscience vote to one in which the party’s extra parliamentary wing attempted to dictate how its senators should vote and *conduct themselves. Consequently, too many voters who had once endorsed the Australian Democrats because of the independence of its senators accordingly withdrew their support.

(*The Social Action Australia article ‘Discord in the Democrats’ analyses the pre-history and history of the Australian Democrats to ascertain the reasons for that party’s effective demise).

Therefore, if a new centre-right third force is to be drawn from the current non-Green senate cross-benchers, then such a party would have to allow a conscience vote on policy issues similar to how the Australian Democrats initially did. However, such a new party could not emulate the Australian Democrats’ policy of having the party rank and file elect its parliamentary leadership because its party membership base would be too ideologically diverse. Consequently the parliamentary wing of such a new party would have to elect its leadership. Furthermore, the former Australian Democrat membership requirement that abortion be supported could not be maintained if Senator John Madigan was to support the parliamentary relaunch of a new centrist party.

Indeed, the recent federal deregistration of the Australian Democrats by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) has paradoxically focused the issue of reviving a new coherent centrist Senate based political party. Should the Australian Democrats fail in their appeal against their deregistration then this party cannot be registered for the next federal election.

Another scenario therefore would be for the non-Green Senate cross-benchers to re-establish the Australia Party. This party was the precursor to the Australian Democrats. The Australia Party (which received financial support from the entrepreneur Gordon Barton) was initially founded in 1966 as the Liberal Reform Movement to unfortunately protest against Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War. This party’s influence peaked in the 1972 federal election when it misguidedly directed its crucial preferences in support of the Gough Whitlam led ALP.

Due to the political polarization of the Whitlam era the Australia Party’s vote steeply fell in the 1975 federal election. This party in effect coalesced with the Australian Democrats when they were formed in 1977 although a rump of the Australia Party still contested the 1979 Victorian state election. Former Australia Party supporters who had entered the Australian Democrats followed the lead of Victorian Senator John Siddons to break away in 1987 to form the Unite Australia Party (UAP). However the UAP did not survive that election as Senator Siddons failed to win re-election that year.

The prime candidate now to lead a new centrist party or a revived Australia Party would be South Australian Senator Nick Xenophon who was first elected to the Senate at the 2007 election. Senator Xenophon has supported states’ rights and probably has the strength of character to help initially hold such a centrist party together during its foundational phase.

This South Australian senator (Xenophon) could have the support of the Victorian Senator John Madigan in forming a new centrist party or in reviving the Australia Party. Senator Madigan was elected in 2010 as the candidate of the non-John Mulholland led wing of the DLP. Senator Madigan recently (April 2015) launched John Madigan’s Manufacturing and Farming Party and the formation of this operation has bolstered the trend of cross bench senators forming eponymous political parties. Senator Xenophon has formed the *Xenophon Team while the Tasmanian Senator Jacquie Lambie has founded the Jacqui Lambie Network.

(*Senator Xenophon could apply to the AEC to rename his party, the Xenophon Team, as ‘The Australian Party’).

While Senator Xenophon and Senator Madigan differ on particular social issues, there are sufficient areas of similarity between them that they both could belong to the same party. For such a centrist party to be viable it would require the support of former Palmer United Party (PUP) Senator Glen Lazarus (Queensland) who recently departed from this party to sit as an independent senator. PUP Senator Dio Wang (Western Australia) and Clive Palmer could join a new centrist political party or a re-launched Australia Party.

A new Xenophon led centrist party or a revived Australia Party would also be bolstered if Senator Jacqui Lambie, who formerly belonged to the PUP, also joined such a party. Victorian Senator Ricky Muir of the Australian Motoring Enthusiasts Party (AMEP) could also join this new party or a revived Australia Party as he has previously shown an inclination toward expanding his base by having previously entered into a parliamentary bloc with the PUP.

Two cross-bench senators who probably would not want to or need to join a new centrist party, or a revived Australia Party are David Leyonhjelm (New South Wales) of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and Bob Day (South Australia) of the Family First Party. These two senators, who were both elected in 2013, have adopted a hardline anti-collectivist approach to industrial relations which place them well outside the political centre. Furthermore, Senator Leyonhjelm and Senator Day are both viable prospects for winning re-election by running with their respective parties.

The independent member for the federal Tasmanian seat of Denison, Andrew Wilkie probably would not want to sacrifice his independence to join a new Xenophon led centrist party or a revived Australia Party. However Mr. Wilkie could endow a new centrist force with a substantial degree of prestige due to his unquestioned personal integrity. Similarly, Cathy Mc Gowan, the member for the federal seat of Indi in regional Victoria, probably would not want to join a new centrist party or a revived Australia Party for fear of losing her status of an independent. However, Ms. M Gowan still has the potential to contribute to building a new and credible centrist force in Australian politics if she so decided.

The political prospects for a third political force would be strengthened if Clive Palmer and Bob Katter (the federal member for Kennedy) of the Katter’s Australian Party (KAP) were to join a new Xenophon led party. This is because a centrist political party or a revived Australia Party would have the advantage of having House of Representatives’ members who already have a high public profile.

Bob Katter has a deserved reputation for integrity for having consistently opposed economic rationalism. However, Mr. Katter has not been able to establish a sufficiently strong political base outside of northern Queensland. Having ‘Australian’ in his party’s name potentially places Bob Katter in a position to either oppose or support the application to the AEC to register the name of the ‘Australia Party’.

For reasons to do with registration Clive Palmer was not able to name his party as the United Australia Party (UAP) so he instead called his party the Palmer United Party but still claimed antecedence from the party which Joe Lyons founded in 1931. If it were legally possible, the UAP would also be an effective name to be used by a new centrist party because its historical antecedence would place such a new political force on the centre-right while ensuring that it was distinct from the Liberal Party and the Nationals Party.

As former Nationals, Bob Katter and Clive Palmer should have previously teamed up to form an anti-economic rationalist political party. Instead these two gentlemen respectively launched eponymous political parties which conveyed that they were power vehicles and therefore too narrowly based to be viable in the long-term. There is still scope for these two politicians to join a new centrist party, or a revived Australia Party, in which they could have substantial power as respective founders of constituent parties which had merged into a third force and as lower house members of parliament.

Australian political history indicates that it is more difficult to launch centre/centre-right political parties due to the absence of a viable external social movement which by their nature tend to be *left-wing. The PUP and KAP parties established bases of support due to the initial impact of their respective founders but it is already evident that an expiation point has been reached with regard to these two parties expanding their support.

(*The extra-parliamentary base of the Australian Democrats in 1977 was arguably left-wing but the party which emerged was centrist inclined because its charismatic leader Don Chipp was a former coalition federal minister who was philosophically a liberal as opposed to either a socialist or a Marxist).

Save Australia by Advancing to the Political Centre

The Liberal Party itself was in effect an amalgam of pre-existing parties which were non-viable as individual entities. By coming together the constituent pre-cursors to the Liberal Party created an organisation which is and should for the foreseeable future remain one of Australia’s two major political parties. In this context, advocacy of a new centrist party or a revived Australia Party is not undertaken on the basis of it supplanting the Liberal Party but rather of supporting the coalition while there is the threat of the ALP under Shorten’s leadership acquiescing to the dismemberment of Australian states.

Social Action Australia as a social democratic operation is inherently orientated toward the election of ALP governments while pursuing the at times contradictory objectives of defending Australia’s system of constitutional monarchy. However the threat to the nation’s federal system is so acute that there is the distinct possibility that the Greens will work in alliance with the Albanese led hard left of the ALP to impose regionalisation of Australia that Social Action Australia does not welcome the prospect of there being a Shorten government.

While the above cited danger exists, there is a need for there to be a moderate Liberal Party federal government which will safeguard states’ rights. Furthermore, there needs to be an electoral counterweight to the Greens. An analysis of voting patterns clearly indicates that approximately twenty percent of the electorate will not support either the ALP or the coalition parties. The current electoral context is such that the Greens have half of that twenty percent support base which means that the other half is there for the taking by a viable centrist party or a revived Australia Party.

The scope for a new centrist party/third force (or a revived Australia Party) can also have an impact on the two major parties regarding their policy orientations. Unless and until Bill Shorten clearly supports Australia’s federal system, it can be assumed that he will not stand up to either the hard left of his party or to the Greens. Tony Abbott is ironically similar to Shorten in that as a Liberal within the Howard tradition he is ultimately hostile toward the continuance of states. If Prime Minister Abbott really wants to demonstrate his federalist bona fides then he should scrap the referendum proposal introduced by the Gillard government that local government be recognised in the Australian Constitution.

It is possible that without the Liberal Party parliamentary leadership spill on the 9th of February 2015, Prime Minister Abbott might well have pursued covert policies (such as facilitating the election of a constitutional convention) aimed at destroying Australia’s federal system of government. If federal Liberal Party back benchers really want to have a policy impact then they should put Tony Abbott’s recent pro-state rights rhetoric to the test by compelling him to rescind the referendum proposal regarding local government constitutional recognition. By contrast with Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull already has the runs on the board with regard to showing that he is a genuine federalist.

Will the Liberal Party Protect Australian Federalism?

The question as to whether Malcolm Turnbull should replace Tony Abbott is therefore one which warrants serious consideration. That is not to say that Tony Abbott is not a formidable politician who could still pull ‘a rabbit from the hat’ to win the next federal election. However the hard heads within the coalition, including the current prime minister, could be inclined toward engineering a scenario where the coalition loses the next federal election so long as regionalisation is introduced by a Shorten government to create new regional bailiwicks for Liberal Party powerbrokers. The precedents for throwing of an election are there, as this was undertaken by coalition powerbrokers in the New South Wales state election in March 2007 and the federal election which was held in November that year.

Deep within Abbott’s heart he probably and naturally wants to win the next federal election. However because Abbott cannot foist an anti-states agenda on the nations due to the prevailing federalist orientation within his partyroom, the prime minister could be open to allowing a succeeding Shorten government do what he cannot-introduce regionalisation.

One way for the Abbott government to set the scene for regionalisation is to prepare the groundwork for the eventual transfer of Goods and Services Taxation (GST) revenue from the states to local government authorities. This is currently a difficult undertaking due to local government not being recognised in the Australian Constitution. It is in this context that the current controversy concerning the less than 30% allocation that the Grants Commission is making to Western Australia of its GST revenue could be exploited to set the scenario whereby a ‘crisis’ within the federation is artificially created. This could later legitimize the transfer of GST revenue from the states to a new regional tier of government.

With regard to the current inequity regarding GST grant arrangements for Western Australia, the Abbott government is planning to increase the direct grants, particularly with regard to increased infrastructure spending. This could be financed by the Commonwealth diverting some of the *the estimated three billion dollars worth of expenditure which was earmarked for Victoria as part of the now redundant East-West Link Project. The vetoing of this project by the Victorian government of Daniel Andrews is inexcusable because this proposed infrastructure project would have substantially reduced traffic congestion in Melbourne thereby boosting economic productivity for that state.

(*Some of the funds which the Commonwealth was going to spend on the East-West Link will probably now have to be paid to the international consortium members for funds which they have already spent so that Australia does not gain a reputation as a sovereign investment risk).

Will Malcolm Turnbull Protect Australian Federalism?

The greatest sovereign risk to Australia’s future is that of states being dismembered because this will lead to a mis-concentration of power with a new self-seeking oligarchy. Due to the determination of too many power-brokers within the coalition parties to establish a future regionalised regime, it is consequently a political priority for Tony Abbott to deny Malcolm Turnbull the opportunity to win the next federal election as prime ministership so that the onset of regionalisation could be irretrievably blocked.

The speculation that Malcolm Turnbull may replace Tony Abbott as prime minister has led many within the hard-right of the Liberal Party to contemplate the fallback position of the current Foreign Minister Julie Bishop becoming the new prime minister as an ‘Anyone But Turnbull’ (ABT) alternative. However, the political dynamics in Australia are such that the ALP under Shorten’s leadership is clearly on track to winning the next federal election, particularly if the Labor leader provides assurances to anti-states elements within the coalition that he will introduce regionalisation.

Therefore the Liberal Party federal partyroom will have to ‘bite the bullet’ by installing Malcolm Turnbull as prime minister because he will take the Liberals into the next federal election with both a genuine intention of winning that poll, while having a requisite capacity to do so due to his popularity and respect amongst the Australian electorate. Consequently, no-nonsense changes would have to be made within the Liberal Party machine with someone such as Lynton Crosby being brought in to re-organise federal and state Liberal Party secretariats.

Because Julie Bishop’s support would be invaluable if a Turnbull led government was to win the next federal election then Malcolm Turnbull’s ally Scott Morrison would have to forgo becoming Treasurer in his friend’s future government. If Julie Bishop is to become Treasurer in a Turnbull government, then let the gauge of her being a ‘right-winger’ or a ‘conservative’ be defined by being fiscally disciplined instead of focusing on attacking employee/union rights, the entitlements of wage earners and dashing the hopes of would be asylum seekers.

There is an urgent need for fiscal discipline because Australia is still in acute economic danger due to the high levels of foreign debt that is being accumulated and the decline in commodity prices. Consequently, Australia now needs political leaders with the vision and determination to pay off the massive public foreign debt and to promote domestic economic diversity. Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Treasurer Joe Hockey may appreciate the acute economic danger that Australia is in, but these two leaders have irretrievably forfeited the opportunity to rescue the nation due their alienation of the non-Green Senate cross-benchers by trying to take the nation to the hard-right.

Alarmingly, the nation is now in a position which it was in during the Great Depression of the 1890s (which was more severe for Australia than the 1930s Depression) when the price of wool collapsed: an economy overly reliant on commodity prices with an insufficient domestic productive base to utilize as a fall back. To overcome these inter-related dangers, the founding fathers of federation such as Alfred Deakin and Andrew *Fisher had helped facilitate and consolidate arbitration in the 1900s. This public policy (arbitration) helped boost consumer spending and wage levels so that there was a viable domestic manufacturing base. Consequently Australia had a fall back when commodity prices fluctuated.

(*Julia Gillard demonstrated that she was a worthy heir of the great Andrew Fisher by repealing WorkChoices in 2009 and replacing this industrial relations statute with Fair Work Australia. By doing this, Julia Gillard revived Australia’s system of arbitration thereby bequeathing the major positive legacy of the ALP during its time in government between 2007 and 2013).

While it might be too much to expect that the hard right of the coalition will support either arbitration and/or industry assistance, there can at least be an appreciation of the need to pay off (or sufficiently pay down) Australia’s massive public foreign debt . Julie Bishop as Treasurer would have the determination and capacity to pursue such an objective in co-operation with the non-Green Senate cross-benchers. A successful stint as Treasurer by Julie Bishop could also enable her to do a succession deal with Malcolm Turnbull regarding the prime ministership which the member for Wentworth would undoubtedly honour.

Will A Positive Political Tradition Die with Malcolm Fraser?

Former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser’s death on 20th of March 2015 helped convey the vital importance of Australia paying off the public foreign debt and reviving a domestic economic base so that the nation becomes less dependent upon the export of primary resources which can fluctuate in price. It is to be hoped that Malcolm Fraser will not go down in history as the last prime minister who was faithful to the Deakin-Fisher-Menzies tradition. As previously discussed in this article, this political tradition was shaped by the Australian 1890s Great Depression where the collapse of wool prices had devastated the economy.

Australia is now in a slow motion version of the 1890s as the Abbott government (despite its realisation of the fiscal crisis which Australia is in) is incapable of either paying off the still growing foreign debt or reining in the budget deficit. Indeed, unless the Abbott government can turn the nation’s economic prospects around with a responsible and Senate endorsed budget proposal for 2015-2016 then the short and long term political prospects for the Liberal Party will be grim.

Time in the current context is a very valuable commodity. An expeditious and smooth leadership transition from Tony Abbott to Malcolm Turnbull is therefore needed if the coalition is to win the next federal election. Furthermore, more time will actually be needed for a Turnbull government, with Julie Bishop as Treasurer, to pay down Australia’s foreign debt. Although Social Action Australia is orientated toward ALP state and federal governments, having a Turnbull government win the 2016 election and then serve a full parliamentary term would be in Australia’s genuine national interest due to Australia’s current but veiled financial crisis.

There has been too much political instability since the fall of John Howard in 2007 as politicians in both the major political parties have grappled with the agenda that a would-be centralist elite has attempted to foist on the nation via regionalisation. Although Prime Minister Tony Abbott since the February 9th 2015 leadership spill probably does not have the sufficient capacity to fatally undermine Australian states, this does not mean that anti-state elements within the coalition will not resort to helping engineer the election of a Shorten government in 2016 so that such an agenda can be pursued.

For reasons which have already been argued in this article the transition to a regionalised Australia will entrench a hard left political ascendancy which may never be reversed. Furthermore, Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Treasurer Joe Hockey have shown themselves to be incapable of either paying off Australia’s public foreign debt or effectively tackling the budget deficit that this nation will eventually face the prospect down the track of a Greek type of financial crisis.

Surely avowed conservatives within the Liberal Party want to avoid the scenarios of either regionalisation and an eventual Greek type of financial crisis? In this context, Australia needs a national leader such as Malcolm Turnbull who is an authentic conservative in a positive *Burkean context. Such a leader is needed to both economically save Australia and protect its federal system of government which has advanced excellent public policy and social harmony for this nation.

(*‘Burkean’ in this context refers to the conservative philosophy of the great Anglo-Irish Whig politician, Edmund Burke, 1729 to 1797).

Malcolm Turnbull has previously demonstrated that he has the courage to support Australia’s federal system of government. Do federal Liberal MPs have a similar degree of courage to make a transition to a Turnbull-Bishop government which will rescue the nation by reviving the Deakin-Fisher-Menzies Tradition?