I’ve been on record for a long time (since the election last year, to be precise) in my belief that Malcolm Turnbull will be gone within 18 months, deposed as the Prime Minister probably before Christmas this year or very early next year, should things don’t improve electorally for the Coalition, which they haven’t so far in the past 8 months.
However, I was never really sure who could replace Malcolm, mostly because the field of potential contenders has been so limited and so underwhelming. To bring Tony Abbott back would be to repeat exactly Labor’s Rudd-Gillard-Rudd history, and with the same sorry results. Julie Bishop doesn’t have any deep support in the Party Room and I seriously doubt whether she would want the job, being so much less fun than Foreign Ministry. Scott Morrison might have been good in his previous two portfolios, but he has been disappointing as Treasurer (though in fairness, even the best Treasurer can only work with the Cabinet he’s got) and he has neither the personality nor the charisma (in other words, he’s neither interesting nor likeable enough) for the top job.
Hence, I guess, the dark horse Peter Dutton sneaking through the ranks. I’m actually fascinated to note that the Sportsbet ranking is bookended by two young Queenslanders, with Dutton well ahead of what I would expect, and Steven Ciobo much undervalued at 51:1.
I have to declare my interest here. I’ve known Peter since he was but the young Secretary of Brisbane Business branch of the Liberal Party some twenty years ago, and for two years in the “bunker” years of the Howard government I worked for him as an assistant adviser and then an adviser when he was the Minister for Employment Services and then the Assistant Treasurer. I’ve known Steven even longer, was one of the people who did numbers to get him up in a very bitter contest for the YL Policy Vice-Presidency in 1998, in turn I served as his Policy Vice-President and 1999, and then worked with him in politics before he was preselected to stand in his Gold Coast paradise seat of Moncrieff. I like and respect them both. The Liberal Party and Australia could do much worse than either of them – and, knowing our luck, most likely will.
When Bolt asked Peter on his show this week to explain his leadership appeal, Dutton replied he was loyal, plain-speaking and conservative. For sure, Peter is not showy or flashy – like Malcolm, for example – but he is very solid and very straight, a reliable performer and a conviction politician. I only wish that he would smile once in a while, as some may find his unperturbed seriousness a bit scary at times. Then again, in our world at the moment what is there for a small government, dry, social conservative to be cheerful about?
As Peter is on the right, Steven has traditionally been on the left of the party, but unlike most of today’s moderates he’s always been economically dry. He’s not a trendy who gets off on an occasional grudging good word from Fairfax or ABC; Queensland tends not to produce these sorts of politicians – thank God. Of Italian background, he’s a stylish, polished and well-presented; a solid media performer. Why he’s longer odds than Sussan Ley (FFS!) and neck-and-neck with other deflating members on the way down like his neighbour to the north in Fadden, Stuart Robert, is a mystery to me. Steve has been an overnight success story as a Trade Minister some 16 years in a making; he would be my choice well ahead of Christian Porters and Josh Frydenbergs of this world even if I didn’t know him personally.
Whether it’s 2.50:1 or 51:1, it’s time for a Queenslander in the Lodge. We’ve let New South Welshmen run the show for far too long, and with mixed results. There ain’t no Howard around anymore; new generation is waiting to step up – even if to show the rest of Australia that no, we’re not all as crazy as Sir Joh, Peter Slipper, Pauline Hanson, Bob Katter or Clive Palmer.