‘Amateur hour’: Dutton’s dud coup
LAST week's attempted coup by Peter Dutton was one of the "messiest" and amateurish political displays Australia has seen in modern times, experts say.
The Home Affairs Minister brought on two votes of the Liberal party room and was preparing himself to be the country's next prime minister, before a spectacular failure of strategy saw Scott Morrison swoop in and take the top job.
From a total misunderstanding of the landscape to "fiddling while Rome was burning", this is an inside look at Mr Dutton's disaster of his own making.
POLITICAL 'AMATEUR HOUR'
The way Mr Dutton and his supporters orchestrated the events of last week is almost astounding, Labor campaign strategist and commentator Dee Madigan said.
Despite the destabilising efforts and uncertainty of recent weeks, she said it looked as though the Queensland MP and his camp was "caught by surprise".
"I think it happened quicker than they expected and I don't think there was a long lead in - they saw an opportunity and went at it," says Ms Madigan, director of the consultancy Campaign Edge.
"It was very Shakespearean - full of sound and fury signifying nothing."
She described the coup by Mr Dutton as "amateur hour" and lacking in strategy, with "no sense" in how the right faction of the government executed it.
Frank Bongiorno from Australian National University in Canberra said this was perhaps the messiest leadership challenge modern politics has seen.
"There was some very poor execution," Professor Bongiorno said.
"It was a pretty strenuous effort to conjure a majority for Dutton when it seemed there wasn't one. It was probably always a minority or numbers that at best were going to be problematic."
On Thursday night, the eve of the vote that decided a new leader and new PM, Mr Dutton and his supporters went out to dinner.
The mood, it has been said, was celebratory, as though the conclusion was foregone.
"Dutton out to dinner instead of making phone calls was such a surprise to me," Ms Madigan said. "That was weird. That's not how you do it.
"Dutton doesn't seem very bright, let's face it, but you'd think he would've had better advice on how to execute the whole thing."
By contrast, the man who would ultimately be successful the next day, Scott Morrison, was back in his office at Parliament House garnering support from his colleagues.
It followed a masterstroke by Malcolm Turnbull earlier that day to delay a meeting until Friday at midday, which allowed his Treasurer to topple Mr Dutton's hopes.
Ms Madigan said it was the one smart move in a chaotic and deeply damaging week.
"It gave Scott Morrison time to do the numbers, which is what Turnbull would've wanted. It was the only sound thing to happen."
In The Australian today, political reporter Troy Bramston said those involved in the challenge "should be ashamed".
The whole affairs was "poorly conceived and clumsily executed" by a band of breakaways that included Michael Sukkar, Zed Seselja and James McGrath, he wrote.
Two of those backers - Mr Sukkar and Mr McGrath - lost their cabinet posts while Mr Seselja narrowly survived being dumped.
DUTTON AN UNLIKELY CANDIDATE
By the middle of the week, following his first unsuccessful attempt to topple Mr Turnbull, a cloud over Mr Dutton's eligibility to sit in parliament had emerged.
That, coupled with dire polling about his electability at the next election, has Professor Bongiorno wondering what one-third of the government was thinking in backing him.
"It's mysterious," he said. "There's perhaps a desperation about it. It seems incredibly ill-judged.
"You look at preferred PM polling over time and Dutton is usually down around five per cent. He seemed like an unlikely proposition."
The former policeman holds his seat of Dickson in Brisbane on a paper-thin margin, after losing support at the last election.
"I think it's another measure of the isolation of some of those making these judgment calls, showing a level of disconnect from voters that's almost incredible," Professor Bongiorno said.
"I can't see the strategy for Dutton."
Ms Madigan said the support for Mr Dutton showed this challenge was driven by ideology and not the goal of winning at the polls.
"You'd think that if the real reason for getting rid of Turnbull was because you were heading towards an election you were going to lose, you'd look at who was most likely to appeal to voters. And that was Julie Bishop."
The conclusion to the Liberal Part's self-destruction was a new leader who seems unlikely to do many things differently, she said.
And all that was achieved was damaging the public view of Canberra and how it operates.
"I think the general feeling from the public is confusion. What was the point of it? They didn't explain why a change was needed.
"It feeds into a general public perception about politics that everyone in it is all about themselves and that they're not listening."
WHAT NOW FOR THE GOVERNMENT?
A Newspoll has shown how catastrophic last week was for the government, which now trails Labor 44 to 56 on a two-party preferred basis.
The Liberal primary vote has collapsed to 33 per cent, the worst result in more than a decade, and Mr Morrison trails Opposition Leader Bill Shorten as preferred prime minister.
"All evidence points to this causing a significant amount of damage to the view of politics," Professor Bongiorno said.
"People seem disgusted with what's happened. The levels of chaos are incredibly damaging for the perception of politics. People are very disillusioned."
Mr Morrison now faces an uphill battle in reuniting his own party and convincing the Australian people that the government's focus is on their interests, and not the party's.
The mantra of recent weeks from the government's right, that it needs to appeal to its traditional base, is deeply flawed, Ms Madigan said.
"The base will not win you an election - the centre will. But they're not even talking to their base. They're talking to a small rump of it. They're worried about bleeding votes to the right."
As for their chances at the next election, she's not willing to call it.
"Politics is too hard to predict these days. Who knows?"