Scott Morrison’s pre-election pretence of happy Liberal family unity has not even lasted until the actual start of the campaign.
The angry spirits of last August’s leadership collapse are still roaming the Earth.
The perception, probably a week before the Prime Minister gets the election campaigning proper on its way, is of Liberals lining up to bag one another.
Queensland senator James McGrath joined the queue recently by threatening the job of troubled Environment Minister Melissa Price unless she approved the Adani coal mine.
When that approval appeared today, there was warranted speculation Ms Price had caved into the threat. There is no evidence of this, but perceptions matter on election eve.
But the big outburst came from former Liberal prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, who clearly feels free of obligations to Peter Dutton and Scott Morrison after his ouster last August.
Today, Mr Turnbull launched a book by former Australian Democrat star Natasha Stott Despoja.
If that wasn’t bad enough, he then used approaching news microphones to question the performance of Mr Dutton, whose challenge cost him the leadership, and ridicule Mr Morrison, who emerged from the August turmoil to replace him.
What was Mr Dutton — the senior national security minister of the commonwealth — doing consorting with and doing a favour for a Chinese billionaire with links to his homeland’s all-powerful Communist Party?
And he resoundingly sneered at Mr Morrison’s pet disposal bins for embarrassing issues. Mr Turnbull said the Prime Minister could not relegate “the Dutton issue” to just gossip inside Canberra corridors.
What he said, quite pointedly, was: “Scott Morrison is the Prime Minister and you can’t wave this off and say it is all part of gossip and the bubble.”
Mr Turnbull is not the only person unimpressed by Mr Morrison’s Canberra Bubble formulation.
And he is not the only person to highlight questions raised by last night’s Four Corners report on Mr Dutton’s dealings with the Chinese businessman Huang Xiangano, a suspected Chinese agent of influence who had bought his way into our political system, to the point of sharing wontons with the minister in charge of ASIO and the Australian Federal Police.
The critical point is that Mr Turnbull’s commentary underlined those questions. He didn’t manufacture them; they were already there. He enhanced their pertinence. After all, he was prime minister when all this was going on.
He no longer is in Parliament, but he is entitled to as much commentary as, say, John Howard.
They are valid questions, and as a former prime minister Mr Turnbull has amplified them.
Further, his intervention has made sure they will have a life in the campaign itself, when Mr Dutton will be battling to keep his marginal seat of Dickson.
As for unity, former prime minister Tony Abbott after his 2015 demotion reserved his right to contest Liberal policies and personalities.
Mr Turnbull in doing the same is showing the party has not exorcised those angry spirits of August 2018.