RIFFING years ago on the rancor between the sexes, Dave Chappelle mocked the tips offered in a quintessential women’s magazine feature he caricatured as ‘A Hundred Ways To Please Your Man’. “Get outta here. There ain’t no hundred ways,” he said. “That list is four things long.” Alas, I can’t essay Chappelle’s abridged requisites at a family blog, so let’s segue directly to our analogy’s better, but equally absurd, half. Namely, the post-election review conducted for the Liberal Party by Brian Loughnane and Senator Jane Hume. Completed in December, it recommended 49 reforms to start rebuilding the old Toyo that Scott Morrison wrapped around a tree last May. Forty-nine? Get outta here. That list is one thing long: principle. Presupposing courage, conviction and constancy, that’s the only thing the Liberals need to rejuvenate their fortunes but it’s the one Peter Dutton is doing everything possible to dodge. His unwillingness to unqualifiedly oppose the sinister Voice – using the middle-way expedient of requiring more “details” from the Prime Minister – is nothing less than a refusal to defend the Constitution. A Liberal Party unwilling to conserve the document that created from scratch one of the greatest nations in history is worse than “not fit for purpose,” to use Loughnane and Hume’s phrase. It has no purpose.
Prima facie, Mr Dutton doesn’t have much in common with his ill-fated predecessor as Opposition Leader, Brendan Nelson. One used to be a copper, the other a medico. The former was a dedicated Liberal from a young age, the latter had a road to North Shore conversion after a youthful preference for the ALP. The first has a hard man image he’s eager to soften, the second was a Wet forced to muscle up. Both of them, however, took on the most thankless mission in Federal politics: keeping the show on the road after a shattering annihilation and a lengthy occupancy of the Treasury benches. That shared tendency to finesse their way out of the doldrums via saleable pretending should be worrying to anyone who cares about the Liberal Party’s future. Certainly, Mr Dutton is better at it; he is vastly more experienced than Dr Nelson was and his pragmatic self-editing is far less clumsy.
Nevertheless, fifteen years ago the Nelson-led Opposition was struggling to find its rhythm against a Labor Prime Minister using race as a legacy plinth and being given the fluffy pillow treatment by the Love Media. Back then, Kevin Rudd’s planned apology to the “stolen generation” was touted as the magical key to a new epoch of equality and advancement for Aboriginal people. Opponents of this curated atonement and its improbable historiography were denounced as hateful racists. Does any of this sound familiar? By 30 January 2008, Dr Nelson had to make a decision: either endorse the ‘sorry’ hokum and alienate conservatives or oppose it and become piñata du jour for the Press Gallery ad infinitum (as if that wasn’t his fate anyway). He opposed it and the “culture of guilt” he said it would foster forevermore. A week later, he changed his mind to avoid the embarrassment of Turnbullites crossing the floor and to bolster his standing with opinion-makers. When he spoke in support of the apology motion on 13 February, left-wing crowds watching big screens around the nation reacted with hatred and vilification. The Nelson era ended eight months later. Parliament’s loss, such as it was, became the War Memorial’s gain.
After a fortnight that showcased Anthony Albanese’s laggardly victory lap approach to everything, Mr Dutton’s Voice strategy is now being hailed as a masterstroke by cons and a headache by pros. Media duchessing begets flabbiness in Labor champs – a rare though handy advantage for Liberals that the Opposition Leader has deftly exploited. The PM didn’t bother to commission advice from the Solicitor-General, will not rule out legislating a Voice anyway – so much for the old discarded democracy – falsely claimed a Voice would be non-justiciable and refused to draft a bill prior to a referendum to allow everyone to see if this ignis fatuus can even be reduced to writing. Suddenly, Chris Kenny, Peter van Onselen and other backers began pleading for Mr Albanese to start doling out particulars. Yes, it was a tactical victory for the Opposition but equivocation remains a strategic risk. We have all the details we need: this is an attempt to subvert Australian governance for the purpose of institutionalising left-wing cultural control. It will have no more ameliorative effect on the lives of our much-beloved Aboriginal compatriots than Sorry Day. It is therefore worse than counterfeit, nebulous, insincere and useless. It is cruel.