MALCOLM TURNBULL’S leadership is so diminished that it was considered a victory last night when his party gave him permission to talk to the Government.The Opposition members and senators agreed their leader could negotiate with the Rudd Government over its proposed emissions trading scheme. But it was on the condition that he not commit to anything.Knowing he would be rebuffed if he asked, Turnbull did not even try to seek permission from his party for the power to conclude an agreement.Instead, the party has agreed to Turnbull’s plan that he approach the Government with six amendments, then return to the full party room to report the outcome.Turnbull gets credit for taking the initiative in calling his party together to discuss the hugely divisive proposal.The Coalition has looked like a rabble, sniping and snarling and arguing with itself, all in the full glare of the TV cameras.Turnbull called yesterday’s special party meeting to get agreement on a practical path for approaching the Government’s scheme. He now has that.But a meeting designed to bring the party together under a positive act of leadership has affirmed the deep division in the Coalition and highlighted the low level of trust the party reposes in its leader.When a leader asks his colleagues for the authority to depart from customary consultation and to head off on his own on a policy, it’s called seeking a ”hunting licence”.Compare the hunting licences that John Howard and Kevin Rudd have demanded to the one that Turnbull won last night.Howard gambled the fate of his government on his ill-fated Work Choices laws. When he was considering amending them, he mentioned this to his cabinet once. The cabinet acquiesced and gave Howard and his minister, Joe Hockey, a hunting licence, without the least idea of what they had in mind.And when Rudd was considering an economic stimulus package in the face of the onrushing global recession, he mentioned it once in the vaguest terms to his cabinet, which acquiesced. Rudd then developed it in total secrecy within the gang of four – Julia Gillard, Wayne Swan, Lindsay Tanner and Rudd himself – without any further reference to the rest of the cabinet.For better or worse, this is the level of trust that successful leaders demand, and receive, from their colleagues.By contrast, Turnbull has managed to win his colleagues’ agreement to take a known set of amendments to the Government and to discuss them, but to make no decisions whatever.Turnbull’s amendments would lather the biggest carbon emitters with even more free permits, even more layers of pork-barrel lard, than Rudd wants to grant them.The amendments are designed to be difficult for Rudd to accept, but not impossible. Whatever tiny sliver of power that Turnbull’s colleagues have allowed him to keep is now in Kevin Rudd’s hands.
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