I have been a regular to semi-regular writer for The Spectator Australia pretty much from the start and for all three of its editors. If you’ve been counting, those ten years now encompass five changes in Prime Minister, six if you go back one further year to 2007. You don’t have to be the sharpest tool in the shed to realise something is seriously wrong with our politics and our political institutions. (Hint: Only two other democracies on earth have anything like our strong upper house Senate, Italy being a basket case and the US partially controlling its Senate with a voting system that means 99 per cent of those elected are either Republicans or Democrats so that the voters know who to punish. How does a Queenslander hold to account some Tasmanian Senator elected on the votes of a few family members or some NSW car lover? The Senate’s broken. Canada, the UK and NZ do just fine without a puffed-up, mandate-ignoring upper house.)
At any rate, had you believed all the naysayers a decade ago, you would not have thought it possible that this superb publication would last ten months, let alone ten years. Back then there were those in the ranks of our national broadcaster, the one that is subsidised by all of us taxpayers to the tune of more than a billion dollars a year, who pooh-poohed this experiment in giving vent to sensible right-of-centre opinions. The Speccie wouldn’t be profitable, they opined (as if needing to make a profit was a concept they could grasp or had ever condoned). Meanwhile, those in the money-vomitting Fairfax papers agreed with the ABC. Readers will be shocked, shocked I say, to read that both were wrong. A decade on and The Spectator Australia is still here, and doing better than ever. It has been a privilege to be a small part of this magnificent magazine from the start.
The idea, still at the core of the magazine today, was that you’d get all the great British writers like Rod Liddle, Taki, Rory Sutherland and more and then bundle them up with a dollop of homegrown Aussie writers. It would be a refreshing change from the monotony of left-leaning journalism; it would be quirky; it would be brave; it would be the best weekly in the country. And so it is.
For this decennial anniversary edition let me do two things. First off, let me briefly urge readers not to give up on free speech and on repeal of s.18C. Bill Leak – himself an avid Speccie fan – would want us to keep fighting. The current crop of Liberal MPs are on the whole a pretty dispiriting gaggle of parliamentarians for those of us who agree with John Stuart Mill that ultimately great scope for saying what one thinks is the most important issue facing a free society. For many Liberal MPs it is, alas, a third order issue (their words, not mine). Or worse, some flat out do not want to touch s.18C because deep down they believe citizens in a democracy ought not to offend others. They agree with Labor and the Greens, in other words. I will be blunt here. Such views are wrong-headed. In my view, you ought not to give your vote to any Coalition MP who holds those views. With such Libs, preference Labor to get these free speech sell-outs out. It is the only leverage you have as a voter.
Secondly, let me just say a last word about the Delcons. That is the name given to those of us who, immediately after the coup against Tony Abbott, predicted that Turnbull would be a disaster (think 38 consecutive losing polls by way of later proof). Delcons are those like me who said Malcolm would move the party significantly to the left (think attacking super; appointing lefties all over the place; ratifying Paris; throwing tens of billions at third-rate submarines to help Black Hander extraordinaire Christopher Pyne and half a billion, unrequested, at some Paris-loving Barrier Reef outfit, no tenders needed; spending like a drunken sailor on everything, and still managing to alienate the Catholics and satisfy few; the list goes on) and lay waste to the party base. Delcons are those who told you that it would be necessary to preference Labor as long as Turnbull was leader, as the long-term benefits of doing so would outweigh the admittedly terrible short term costs of such a bitter medicine.
Of course the response from Delcon loathers was the exact opposite, in effect a cry to rally around Turnbull, seemingly regardless of how far left he moved and despite his own treachery. Now if there was, for Liberal critics of Delcons, a point at which Turnbull could actually go too far to the left, well we never appeared to reach it. But notice that without the Delcons – assume that all Libs had adored Malcolm – don’t you think our recently deposed PM would have moved the Liberal party even further to the left? Put differently, something had to constrain Turnbull’s lefty inclinations and a big part of that constraint was coming from Delcons. Imagine a Turnbull with a 25-seat majority and then ask yourself the sort of policies he’d have delivered on energy, immigration, government spending, you name it. Supporters of Turnbull who attack Delcons surreptiously assume a world where there are plenty of Delcons, just not enough to bring their man down.
Secondly, ask yourself whether Delcons like me who back at the 2016 election said you should preference Labor to get Turnbull out (Shorten at best getting a small majority then) were right or wrong? A Turnbull loss and all the Abbott plotters would have had to pay a heavy price, paving the way to Liberal party reconciliation. Democratic party reforms, especially in NSW, would have gone through including over how party leaders were chosen so that it was no longer solely a gift of the partyroom. Sure, a Shorten government would have been really bad. But how much worse and more leftwing would it in fact have been than Team Turnbull? And with Labor’s no doubt crazy energy and other policies we’d today be about to vote Electricity Bill out. Instead we face the prospect of a rather bleaker future. Sure, with Turnbull finally gone it’s not too late to turn things around. Our fingers are crossed. But you can’t say that Morrison is off to a flying start. Scott, cut immigration and say you’ll ignore Paris.
Delcons were right and have nothing to apologise for. On the other hand, those 53 defenestrators of a first term PM Tony Abbott certainly do, as do the apologists for their deed.