THE far-right forces might have had their way, and blasted Malcolm Turnbull out of The Lodge, but enough of their colleagues were uncomfortable enough with the prospect of Peter Dutton as prime minister to allow Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg to emerge from the Liberal Party room yesterday afternoon with the spoils of victory.
It was, as many commentators have said, an extraordinary week in Australian politics. Unprecedented even. But with the crisis over, the focus will inevitably turn to the future, and to what the Coalition must do if it is to convince the electorate that it has ended the disunity.
Rarely less than eloquent, Mr Turnbull was as graceful in defeat yesterday as his pursuers had been relentless in their attack. But as someone who blasted his way into politics by taking preselection from a sitting Liberal member in Peter King – and who then tore down an opposition leader in Brendan Nelson and a prime minister in Tony Abbott – Mr Turnbull has always known there is no room for sympathy in politics.
History will regard Mr Turnbull as a leader who, in the end, failed to fulfil his pre-parliamentary promise. With federal politics in disarray, the Liberal Party has turned to Mr Turnbull’s loyal treasurer to take up the mantle of leadership, and in his first press conference yesterday, Mr Morrison was quick to position himself and Mr Fydenberg as “a new generation of Liberal leadership”.
Stressing his belief in family values, Mr Morrison sounded as though he intends to continue the folksy “ScoMo” persona that has become his trademark in recent times. Unsurprisingly unwilling to talk about policy detail, he spoke only of “continuity” in some areas and change in others as he seeks to lift the Coalition out of a dark period of murderous self-absorption, and to put the pressure back on Bill Shorten and the Labor opposition.
The ALP has sat back very quietly this week knowing the longer the Libs had the knives out for each other, the better it was for Labor, especially given the electorate’s known disdain for governments that depose their popularly elected leaders. But as Mr Morrison said to one journalist’s question yesterday: “You’re looking at two people who did not do that today.” The next opinion poll will show whether people are starting to buy that line, or whether the bloodletting is likely to have been in vain.