Tony Abbott to sack ministers for backgrounding? Not bloody likely!

Liberal senator Arthur Sinodinos. Photo: Cole BennettsSinodinos slams ‘political sabotage’
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The call from a respected senior Liberal, Arthur Sinodinos, ostensibly for Tony Abbott to sack cabinet ministers for backgrounding against Joe Hockey and Abbott himself, seems extraordinarily decisive, as far as it goes. But let’s be honest, it is not going anywhere.

Plainly, this a rhetorical rather than a literal call for the Prime Minister to use his most severe rebuke.

The call by press release is in fact a symptom masquerading as a remedy, and is itself, part of the gathering symphony of dysfunction now drowning out the government’s official message of “jobs, growth, and community safety”.

It barely requires stating. The very essence of backgrounding is that it is anonymous. It is both unnamed, and unprovable. A minister suspected of backgrounding would never admit to it, and a journalist/beneficiary of said leaks would never give up their source. The wiley Sinodinos knows this, and thus knows that no ministers could or will be sacked. Even more, the ex-chief of staff for John Howard knows that in the fractious condition the government and its leadership now find themselves, the percussive dismissal of a senior minister or ministers for alleged “disloyalty” would almost certainly prompt a crisis of its own resulting in internal collapse.

Frankly put, Sinodinos knows Abbott is in no position to sack anyone.

Which is not to say there isn’t some frustration evident in Sinodinos’s words, given his Liberal Party is fighting a do-or-die byelection in the WA seat of Canning.

Party loyalists are concerned that talk of losing, or, of the serious ramifications of a violent anti-government swing, increases the danger of self-fulifilling prophesies.

Yet politics being what it is, Canberra watchers are caught somewhere between bemused and befuddled by the Sinodinos snipe.

No blind adherent of the current leadership, nor particularly of Abbott’s uber-powerful chief of staff Peta Credlin, Sinodinos is widely thought to be a supporter of the popular alternative to Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull.

Turnbull in turn would be the big winner of a change of leadership – a change that is more likely, not less, if Canning goes bad.

All of which has some conspiracy-minded theorists wondering what Sinodinos is doing. On the face of it, he is strafing leakers. Yet he knows they will not be identified and then ejected.

Which leaves us contemplating the sub-surface meanings. First, that any public attack on “backgrounding” inevitably draws attention to that backgrounding and thus kicks the story along for another day at least. Even assuming this was not his primary purpose, it is an outcome of which the experienced Sinodinos would have been well aware.

Second, that pro-Turnbull forces are worried that in a final desperate play, Credlin might advocate throwing Hockey overboard, to forestall her own removal, and they want to expose that option and thus kill it off.

Or third, that previous assumptions of allegiances within the NSW Liberal caucus, are out of date and that Turnbull may have lost supporters, such as Sinodinos himself, to the up-and-coming Scott Morrison.

Either way, it is a curious contribution.

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