When Malcolm Turnbull was Minister for Communication he was often refreshingly honest about LNP policies he didn’t agree with, leading to an expectation that when he became PM policies would be modified. Now that politics is alive again after the summer torpor, several well-known commentators have taken a look at what the change to Turnbull means.
First John Quiggin in Abbott without the attitude.
- Nearly five months after Malcolm Turnbull became PM, it’s finally possible to get a clear view on the big question of what the change means. Has the shift from Tony Abbott has led to a real change in policy approach, centred on growth and innovation? Or is it merely cosmetic, amounting to the end of the tribalist rhetoric and gesture politics that eventually cost Abbott his job.
Based on recent developments, the case for “merely cosmetic” seems overwhelming.
Quiggin cites climate change, the massive job cuts in CSIRO, the $5 billion Northern Australia infrastructure fund boondoggle, and sticking with the ridiculous $160 million plebiscite on equal marriage, even though its leading backers have announced they won’t be bound by the result.
Clearly Turnbull made some strong commitments to the conservatives as the price of gaining the PMship.
Lenore Taylor says Turnbull remains wedged between the Abbott-era positions he was compelled to retain and his own policy ideas, which he hasn’t worked out yet.
As Laura Tingle said, we thought the “Coalition party room would rather eat ground glass than contemplate bringing Malcolm Turnbull back.” Yet they did, such was the need to get rid of the dysfunctional Tony Abbott.
But Taylor says all but the flakiest of the Abbott era ideas appear immovable. Knights and dames have gone, the red tape bonfire which turned out to be mostly about “removing anachronisms and correcting punctuation in the nation’s legislation” has disappeared, the Green Army has lost half its funding.
One of the main reasons for getting rid of Abbott and dumping Hockey was to fix the budget and the economy. Here Turnbull seems to have put himself in a straight jacket. Taxes as a proportion of GDP won’t rise, there will be no extra funds for the states to pay for schools and hospitals, there is no revenue problem, when manifestly there is, and now he’s going to join the “bedwetters” and wimp out on the GST that Morrison and some of the states clearly want.
Taylor points out that Turnbull is using the same rhetoric as Abbott and Pyne used on school funding, saying that more money makes no real difference, forgetting that his old friend David Gonski found otherwise, and ignoring their promise before the election to match Labor’s funding.
Both Quiggin and Taylor think Turnbull will win the next election. But, says Taylor:
- Shorten does have the advantage of entering the election fight knowing what he’s selling and why, and not having to spruik a bunch of policies everyone knows he doesn’t believe in.
Laura Tingle agrees with Quiggin and Taylor that Turnbull will win. In fact:
- You will be struggling to find anyone in federal politics, as the political year begins, who thinks Bill Shorten has a snowflake’s chance of winning this year’s federal election.
But Shorten is probably safe because no-one in Labor thinks anyone else would do any better. And some are not attacking Turnbull as vigorously as they might, for example on the NBN, for fear of getting their hands dirty.
In fact Turnbull’s problems seem to make him stronger. At least the Abbott resurgence and some of the outlandish statements of conservatives like Abetz are more interesting than Bill rabbiting on about education, health, jobs and the budget.
Shorten won’t give up. He can’t. However, I expect Shorten will get the same treatment as Beazley got. We’ll have ABC reporters explaining why Shorten can’t “cut through” in getting his message across rather than reporting on what he actually says.
Elsewhere John Menadue lambasts the ABC for failing to report on Turnbull’s NBN mess, and gagging one of its employees who has now left the ABC.
Perhaps we should be glad that Turnbull is just chairing cabinet, not actually chief executive running the show. Wait a minute, isn’t that how democracy should work?