Michael Pascoe: Dutton’s party takes another jump to the right

The National Party going the full Don Quixote tilting at windmills this week has been billed in some quarters as a problem for the Liberal Party. Not really – the Liberal Party pretty much is the National Party.

When Peter Dutton told the ABC’s Sarah Ferguson that the Liberals were the most united political party in recent history, “more united than ever”, he could easily have extended the claim to the Coalition overall.

David Littleproud and Barnaby Joyce whipping up the regional “reckless renewables” crowd were in keeping with Peter Dutton’s earlier performance as a whale-hugging conspiracy theorist over offshore wind farms.

Renewables bad, fossil fuels good

None of them were to be seen protesting in solidarity with farmers opposed to fracking on their properties but, hey, everyone knows where the Nationals’ first loyalties lie – renewables bad, fossil fuels good.

Politics is indeed a game of numbers, as the Nemesis documentary keeps reminding us, so it’s worth underlining the Coalition numbers this week.

Out of the 151 members of the House of Representatives, 25 are from the Liberal Party – just 16.6 per cent.

Then there are nine National Party members and 21 from the LNP – Queensland’s own merged Liberal and National Party – so call it 30 to 25 within the Coalition.

And that’s without bothering to consider where the hearts of many of the 25 lie. Nominal Liberals Andrew Hastie (WA) and Tony Pasin (SA), for example, were prepared to cross the floor to defeat Malcolm Turnbull’s National Energy Guarantee. 

A majority of the LNP members choose to sit in the Liberal Party room in Canberra – cue leader Peter Dutton – but that hardly matters. Always judge politicians by what they do, not what they claim.

Peter Dutton and Ted O’Brien have more in common with Matt Canavan and David Littleproud than Liberals such as Paul Fletcher and Simon Birmingham (no matter how hard Birmo tries to fit in).

March to the right

The result is that the old adage of the National Party sometimes being the tail that wags the Liberal dog no longer applies. The combined forces of the LNP and National Party are the dog, the Liberal Party is the obedient tail and the few remaining “moderate” Liberals barely fleas on that tail.

Following the numbers to view the official Opposition first and foremost as the LNP makes the march to the right more comprehensible.

Dutton’s increasingly Trumpy performances might cause the occasional wince at a gathering of Sydney or Melbourne Liberal supporters, but it brings cheers and head nodding in LNP/NP country.

Where Trump uses “they say” to float any number of falsehoods, Dutton is fond of “people I talk to”.

In his 7.30 appearance on Wednesday night, he pulled up just short of declaring the ABC, The Guardian and other “left-wing media” fake news. Give him time and it will be his go-to line.

It is rare for any politician to genuinely engage in an interview anymore, but Dutton tops the podium for bulldozing straight ahead with his talking points. Truth and perspective don’t matter – it’s all about stirring outrage and repetition.

I’ve chosen to play tackle, not touch, when I came into this business,” was Dutton’s proudly rehearsed line on Kitchen Cabinet. If you were Malcolm Turnbull, you might call that a thuggish remark, depending on what you mean by tackle. Rugby league’s State of Origin encounters come to mind.

Marching to the LNP beat makes it look like the Coalition has given up on the better-educated city seats lost to Teals.

It also means more seats could turn Teal at the next election, Paul Fletcher’s for a start, whether or not he runs and if the seat will still exist.

How much longer can Bridget Archer and Julian Leeser suffer the LNP ethos? And the Greens winning what was the blue-ribbon Brisbane seat of Ryan is a further warning as the LNP reheats the energy culture war it has never stopped fighting.

Trump’s formula

Concentrating on the base, concentrating on outrage and division and never letting facts get in the way of a good headline, is the Trump formula, right down to Sky News YouTube and social media promotion mimicking its Fox News model.

So the spectacle of Barnaby Joyce grandstanding about renewables isn’t a National Party oddity, it isn’t just Barnaby being Barnaby – that was his Wednesday night video.

The rally was as core Coalition as Gina Rinehart’s Institute of Public Affairs which itself has been trying to stir up anti-renewables fervour with misleading rubbish it has dared call “research”

The LNP/National Opposition is going all in. The old Liberal Party isn’t getting a say.

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