The move to swap Tony Abbott for Malcolm Turnbull has been close to a disaster
The business of politics is a matter of the utmost seriousness for many Australians. As Paul Keating famously used to say, if you change the government you change the country. Yet, for the dedicated follower, the political game also provides experiences and entertainment akin to theatre.
A great source of fun is the observation of the speeches of leaders when an election result is known. Traditionally the winners promise to govern “for all Australians”. But what the ordinary punters receive is often something else again!
Occasionally, election night speeches provide unforgettable rhetoric. Malcolm Turnbull’s this year was most revealing – especially in regard to what was missing. Were there a few words of thanks and sympathy for the half dozen or so individuals who had voted for his replacement of Tony Abbott, only to lose their seats? Not a word. Rather there was an expression of barely contained rage at the Australian people for having rewarded the election strategy of his Labor opponents. So incensed was Turnbull that we, his fellow Australians, had not previously seen up close and personal the extraordinary superiority which he sees in himself so that any consideration of the sacrifice of other party members did not seem to occur to him.
As a new year is about to begin it is worthwhile to consider the impact on the Coalition government and on the nation of the decision of a majority of Turnbull’s colleagues to replace Tony Abbott – the person whom the Australian people had endorsed to lead the country. On the balance of the ledger, the results of that decision have been close to a disaster.
In the main, the media clearly rejected the first Abbott/Hockey budget. Yet some of its derided provisions now seem very mild by comparison with what has followed.
Turnbull has embarked on the first effort of any government in our recent history to systematically reduce the living standards of many elderly Australians. The affect on the old age pension of tens of thousands will begin to be felt in the next couple of weeks. In addition, the reduction in living standards of tens of thousands of former public servants cut in a year ago.
It is all very well to state “But wait – some will get more!” That is no solace whatever to those who will have to cut back or remove the small assistances which they had undertaken to give their offspring or grandchildren. The heartache felt by all the elderly involved is, simply, unforgettable and unforgivable.
Many elderly Australians, conservative in their thinking, voted for Abbott and now see themselves as having been betrayed by Turnbull. His misjudgment in this matter has proven similar to his infamous taking at face value the information provided by one Godwin Grech, which proved fundamental in Turnbull’s original loss of the Liberal Party leadership.
Moreover Turnbull’s unconsummated flirtation with clear and positive responses to climate change, marriage equality and the movement to an Australian republic has left those who had hopes for him in those areas frustrated and angry. Yet, at the same time, Turnbull raising and resurrecting these controversial issues is creating deep suspicions in the traditional conservative base of his party.
These suspicions are being felt particularly in Queensland where support for the Coalition is in free fall while Pauline Hanson (whose message has at least the virtue of consistency) is watching her star rise again.
Turnbull’s performance in opinion polls is currently lower than that which saw him replace Abbott and, given the current trajectory, his government appears doomed to a Bill Shorten victory-by-default.
As a consequence, it seems highly possible that his party will depose Turnbull in March or April with an early federal election to follow shortly after the coup.
If this occurs, what will be his legacy? As one pundit wryly put it, Turnbull’s major achievement was simply to have been prime minister.
Ross Fitzgerald is an author and emeritus professor of history and politics at Griffith University.
The Sydney Morning Herald, December 29, 2016, Comment p 16.
Also The Canberra Times and The Brisbane Times.