Liberal Party tears itself to shreds over a policy voters support

Wiser heads in the Coalition were sitting around late on Monday wondering how it came to this.

Just over a week ago the government was just behind in the polls, trailing Labor by 49 per cent to 51 per cent and looking forward to riding all the way to the election on the back of a strong economy.

This parliamentary fortnight was meant to be about clearing barnacles. Placate the Catholic schools, draw a line under the company tax cuts and set up an energy election battle with Labor.

Mathias Cormann, who has battled his guts out dealing with the Senate, offered to exempt banks. Hanson refused. A rare defeat.

People say Peter Dutton is being used by Tony Abbott. Abbott has pushed him to run, knowing he will lose and the party ...
People say Peter Dutton is being used by Tony Abbott. Abbott has pushed him to run, knowing he will lose and the party will come back to Abbott to lead them afterwards.

Alex Ellinghausen

His lower house colleague, Josh Frydenberg, the other hardest worker in government, stood alongside Turnbull and Scott Morrison as they waved the white flag on months of hard slog and consigned the National Energy Guarantee to the never never.

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Tony Abbott had won and in the process the party had torn itself to shreds over a policy two thirds of its voters support and even its harshest critic, Craig Kelly, conceded contains an emissions reduction target so piddling that it would be reached quickly without sacrifice or effort by the energy sector.

But that’s not the end of it. Appeasement never works. This fight over control of the party began after the Longman byelection when the Coalition suffered a byelection average 3.8 percentage point swing against.

Fuelled by dodgy polls in the tabloids, the Coalition failed to adequately manage expectations for what became a shock result.

That sparked panic among the Queenslanders, including Peter Dutton. The NEG became the catalyst for simmering fear and discontent and some days ago this became about more than energy.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull during question time at Parliament House  on Monday.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull during question time at Parliament House on Monday.

Alex Ellinghausen

Turnbull’s capitulation pleased some but not many. Dutton, along with Cormann, for so long a source of security for the Prime Minister in terms of keeping the conservatives under control, has separated from the mother ship for good.

People are counting numbers. Not overtly, but they are doing it.

Dutton’s people claim the momentum is shifting. Their first test will come at Tuesday’s party room meeting where MPs will be asked to sign off on the energy backdown which also involved a level of regulation for the sector that would make Hugo Chavez turn in his grave.

Labor is now the undisputed free market party in Australian politics.

Tony Abbott had won and in the process the party had torn itself to shreds over a policy two-thirds of its voters support.
Tony Abbott had won and in the process the party had torn itself to shreds over a policy two-thirds of its voters support.

Alex Ellinghausen

The party room will approve the policy shift. But there is a possibility someone may try something on. If not, it could be later in the week.

Even if this lingers, the party is fractured, and badly. The leader has lost authority and the fissures the past week has opened will not be repaired before the election.

Enemies of Dutton noted on Monday his tenure as health minister resulted in the failed $7 Medicare co-payment and the $57 billion in cuts to hospitals.

These highlights of the notorious 2014 budget dogged the Coalition for years and cost it the 2016 Mediscare election. Others note it was Scott Morrison who stopped the boats.

Peter Dutton, along with Mathias Cormann, has separated from the mother ship for good.
Peter Dutton, along with Mathias Cormann, has separated from the mother ship for good.

Alex Ellinghausen

People say Dutton is being used by Abbott. Abbott has pushed him to run, knowing he will lose and the party will come back to Abbott to lead them afterwards.

Maybe true, maybe not, but it illustrates the depths of ill-feeling and instability that has taken hold.

How has it come to this?

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