One promise Malcolm Turnbull surely regrets
After a horror week, an early election would be looking a lot more appealing.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull may well be regretting his assurance to journalists in recent times that there wouldn’t be an election until the second half of the year.
After having a horror week in the nation’s capital Mr Turnbull may now be wondering how much his opinion poll lead will last, and whether he should cut and run to an early election in May.
That would mean postponing the May budget, which has begun to look decidedly anaemic since the PM ruled out pursuing any change to existing GST arrangements.
Mr Turnbull likely thought he’d neutralised his biggest problem last Sunday by effectively ditching the proposal to increase the GST. But on Monday morning the PM was greeted with news of yet another Coalition minister behaving inappropriately while abroad.
In the case of the complaint made against Jamie Briggs, which was not made public until the former minister resigned, the PM was able to privately initiate and then consider an inquiry into the matter without the opposition snapping at his heels.
In contrast, this week Mr Turnbull had to endure countless questions, demands and denunciations from the government’s opponents, who clearly relished the opportunity to turn up the heat on His Nimbleness.
By week’s end, the PM chose the only sensible political option available to him, adding Stuart Robert’s name to the list of ministers who’ve stood aside (Mal Brough), been sacked (Jamie Briggs) or announced their retirement under his watch (Warren Truss and Andrew Robb).
Looking on the bright side, as Mr Turnbull inevitably does, the PM can now undertake an even more substantial refurbishment of the ministry than he ventured when he became Liberal leader.
There will be at least one new woman in the Cabinet, courtesy of Fiona Nash becoming Deputy Leader of the Nationals. And at least according to the new Nationals Leader, Barnaby Joyce, there will also be an increase in the overall number of Nationals in Cabinet, although the overall number of Nats in the ministry will not change with the junior Coalition partner losing one berth in the outer ministry.
Putting together a ministry is never easy, given the need to balance state and territory representation, the two parliamentary chambers, and the factions, while also promoting renewal and growth by bringing forward fresh talent.
There is also the gender element, of course, but at least being female does not appear to disqualify Coalition women from senior ranks of the ministry as it did during the Abbott years.
Speaking of former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, his supporters will likely have continued to pressure the current PM to return his predecessor to the frontbench.
Mr Turnbull has all but ruled out that possibility, citing the need for renewal through the injection of fresh talent.
There’s considerable speculation over the genesis of the Stuart Robert story, given the clash of loyalties within the Coalition taking place beyond the public’s view.
Aside from the very real need to stop ministers doing favours for close friends – even if they also happen to be hefty financial supporters of the party – it is interesting to consider who has been drawn into the imbroglio and why.
Mr Robert is reportedly a close friend of Treasurer Scott Morrison, who you might recall left the arch-conservatives at the altar when Malcolm Turnbull came a-calling.
It wasn’t until the third successive leak about Mr Robert, featuring a photo of him hosting a dinner for his party donor mate, a wealthy Chinese businessman, and a few senior MPs including Tony Abbott, that Mr Morrison entered the frame.
A spokesman for Mr Abbott helpfully told the media that Mr Morrison attended the dinner that night.
The Treasurer confirmed that he was there, but added he was not among those honoured with one of the flash watches that later turned out to be unsurprisingly authentic.
Lest we jump to any other conclusion, one of the former PM’s media cheerleaders spelt it out in a column at the end of the PM’s horror week.
The conservative commentator rhetorically asked whether Mr Turnbull was “trying to save Robert as a favour” to Scott Morrison, thereby putting his own interests above the country’s.