Nothing’s settled, nothing’s resolved.

Only minutes after the departure of Malcolm Turnbull, the IPA released a video welcoming Scott Morrison with all the sincerity of a mobster hugging a local shopkeeper. In the clip, the usual muppets reel off their list of demands for the new PM (essentially, the same ‘big business plus culture war’ program they tried to foist on Turnbull) as if to say, ‘Nice government you’ve got there – be a shame if something happened to it!’

Then there’s Andrew Bolt’s response.

Bolt on libspill

In other words, Bolt sees Morrison as a sheep in wolf’s clothes, a Johnny-come-lately to the hard right and thus not the man to pull the Liberals out of what Bronwyn Bishop memorably described as Turnbull’s ‘socialist gutter’.

Dutton – and, more importantly, the people behind Dutton – might let ScoMo go to the next election, allowing him to take responsibility for the shellacking that’s surely coming.

But the clock’s already ticking on their next attempt.

For anyone on the left, Liberal fratricide should be relished like a fine wine.

Ignore the pundits wailing about the lack of a functioning executive. If this crew weren’t at each others’ throats, they’d be at ours. The more furiously they stab each other, the less they’re able to destroy the welfare system, bleach what remains of the Great Barrier Reef or deliver tax cuts to the richest companies in Australia.

Yes, quite possibly, Morrison will eventually launch a fresh spate of race baiting, since that’s really the only weapon in his arsenal. But let’s not kid ourselves: had he survived, Turnbull would have done the same. Despite all the glowing profiles welcoming Turnbull to the job (remember them!), Mr Harbourside Mansion proved himself as willing to grub in the muck as anyone else.

Now, though, #libspill has opened up sufficient cracks on the right that a renewed pogrom against, say, ‘African gangs’ will lack the force it might otherwise have possessed.

To put it another way, a Morrison-led government might lash out – but more as a dying poodle than an apex predator.

The real question now turns on how Labor and the left responds.

With the Tories in disarray, Bill Shorten might well adopt the ‘small target’ malarkey that’s served the ALP so disastrously for decades. You can see how the calculation would go: the election’s ours to win so long as we don’t say anything controversial – or, indeed, anything at all. In that scenario, Labor would emphasise stability, moderation, economic orthodoxy and the rest of it, essentially presenting itself as the Liberal Party sans insanity.

But there are two obvious problems.

First, it won’t be easy for Morrison to unify the Liberals behind whatever dog whistle he sounds, not least because Turnbull’s now in a position to settle old scores by white-anting him from within. But if anything’s going to make the strategy feasible, it would be the kind of Labor Metooism so familiar around so-called ‘border protection’. Even the most transparent race baiting can get traction if it’s legitimated by the Opposition.

Second, and more importantly, the Turnbull implosion didn’t come from nowhere. We have, after all, seen this show before, with the poisonous factionalism that destroyed the Liberals replicating, almost exactly, the Revengers Tragedy acted out by the Labor administration. So let’s assume that – as seems likely – the ALP wins the next election. What’s to prevent a further installment the moment that Shorten’s already woeful polling nosedives still further?

You might say that they’ve learned their lesson, that they’ve been inoculated against future bloodletting by the scarifying experience of the Rudd-Gillard wars. But that was the argument made repeatedly by Abbott as soon as he took power. He explained, again and again and again, that the Liberals understood that disunity equaled death – and yet look where we are now.

Fairly obviously, the dysfunction in the Australian parliament stems from structural problems rather than personalities, with the political class entirely incapable of resolving even the most straightforward of issues. Think of equal marriage, a simple democratic reform that (in theory, at least) presented no disruption to either society or the economy. The Liberals struggled for nearly a decade to formulate a response – but so, too, did Labor. Is there any reason to think a government led by Shorten will be any more stable than a government led by Turnbull?

If nothing else, #libspill demonstrated the tenacity of the Liberal right – their ruthless determination to impose the program articulated most clearly by the IPA (and then popularised by the various  News Ltd bobbleheads).

Well, where’s the similar tenacity on the left? Who’s formulating an equivalent program for progressives – and organising a fight to get it implemented?

Many pundits will claim that the corpse-strewn battleground formerly known as the Turnbull government proves the necessity of compromise. Extremism brings disaster, they will say: only sensible centrism can restore #auspol to some semblance of normality.

But that’s to miss the point entirely.

The IPA’s putting forward a wishlist for the most ideological elements of big business. It’s not a platform ever likely to resonate with ordinary people, for the simple reason that it’s designed to fleece them.

By contrast, the climate’s never been more favourable to ideas from the left. The sheer brokenness of the status quo makes progressive solutions utterly necessary if we’re ever going to get out of this mess.

To give merely the most obvious example, the planet’s palpably broiling, and yet no mainstream politician even feigns to offer policies capable of preventing the catastrophic warning scientists say we now should expect.

It’s way past time for a new social movement, one radical enough to offer ordinary people a real democratic alternative to the dysfunctional shenanigans in Canberra.


Image: protest against visit by then immigration minister Scott Morrison, outside MITA Immigration Detention Centre, Broadmeadows (2014) / flickr.

Jeff Sparrow

Jeff Sparrow is a Walkley Award-winning writer, broadcaster and former editor of Overland.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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