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Tony Abbott now has a dangerous duo of spurned colleagues in the Senate

December 23rd, 2014

Now there will be little argument about David Johnston not really having the gift of the political gab. As Defence Minister he suffered by actually saying what he thought and that will never do when the political contest is about avoiding unwanted controversy. Fancy a politician saying that he would not trust the Adelaide based submarine corporation to build a canoe? Leave aside the truth that the feather-bedding of ship building in South Australia has cost taxpayers unnecessary billions. Surely the man realised that honesty would put thousands of votes at risk? Breaking an election promise to hand the next submarine construction contract to such a wasteful contractor needs finesse not brutal honesty.

So off to the backbench with the one Liberal and National Party member of parliament who actually made a keen study of defence matters during those long years in opposition. The Tony Abbott government wants safe hands ijn charge of our armed forces not sensible ones.

So David Johnston will move to the red back benches to join another mature aged Liberal rejected for ministerial office because of a perceived inability to play the modern political game where perception is king.

Now Ian Macdonald is a Senator I would not claim to know well but when I was in my Eden fish-sausage making days, and doing the books for some of the battling south coast trawler owners, I found him a knowledgeable and understanding Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation. During my 50 years on the fringes of political life I’ve met far less competent and decent occupants of high office and I’m sure that’s the case today; a veteran Queensland stalwart of the Liberal Party just did not fit in to the ministerial mold prescribed by the modern Liberal party apparatchiks who Tony Abbott bows down to.

So Senator Macdonald has spent the year and a bit since being passed over after the election sitting on the backbench and making the occasional pointed criticism of how the Abbott government is performing without really rocking the boat.

But now that he is joined on the Senate backbench by another Liberal veteran in Senator Johnston, the potential for influencing the shape of government decisions increases considerably. Not that I expect the pair of them to indulge in a pubic game of threatening to cross the floor in a closely divided Senate. Rather they have the potential to play a game of bluff with the Prime Minister who spurned them before things get to the voting stage.

I am sure the lobbyists will be aware of the potential.

A Tuesday morning addition:

Perhaps I should have referred to three spurned colleagues rather than two. Peter van Onselen had this interesting insight this morning (behind The Australian’s paywall) after writing how Johnston was supported by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop:

The Bishop slight within Abbott’s reshuffle didn’t end there. The only other dumping from the frontbench was Queensland senator Brett Mason, Bishop’s parliamentary secretary. The two got on well, building a strong working relationship.


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