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Turnbull, winner?

17 May 2018 443 views One Comment

The unwritten rule that the PM broke now protects him


It may be far too early to declare Malcolm Turnbull a potential winner of the next federal election but it’s not too early to declare that it’s now a real contest.

Despite Prime Minister Turnbull’s long losing run in Newspoll (we’re up to 32 now), with a strong and united federal election campaign the gap is now bridgeable and there’s every chance that the super-Saturday of by-elections will give the Liberals up to three extra seats.

With Georgina Downer (daughter of Liberal scion Alexander) as the Mayo candidate in South Australia and with the Xenophon party imploding, it would be extraordinary if the Libs failed to regain what was once a safe seat.

With One Nation preferences almost certain to go to the LNP this time in the Queensland seat of Longman, that should be a win too. And with the former MP Brett Whitely likely to be the candidate in the seat of Braddon in Tasmania’s north-west and the state Libs in good shape, there’s a fair chance of victory there too. Who would have believed it just a couple of months back?

Turnbull has certainly had his fair share of luck lately. A surge of revenue from a lift in the terms of trade and from companies that have largely exhausted their GFC tax-loss carry-backs meant that last week’s Budget could cut tax, boost spending and still deliver a faster surplus (at least if the growth assumptions turn out to be correct).

What was there not for the public (if not for reputable economists) to like in a Budget that made no tough decisions whatsoever?

Net savings measures totalled just $404 million out of budgeted spending over the forward estimates of more than $2000 billion! And the citizenship fiasco that engulfed the government last year has now come back to bite Bill Shorten who was far too complacent about Labor’s checking the bona fides of all its federal MPs.

In fact, it’s currently Shorten’s leadership that’s now under more pressure than Turnbull’s. Despite a budget reply that announced almost twice the tax cut for low and middle income earners, Labor now looks vulnerable because, under Shorten, it just keeps moving further and further to the left. As Bob Hawke and Kevin Rudd demonstrated, the way for Labor to win government is to move to the centre. Hawke famously promised to work with business as well as with unions via a consensus-building national summit; while Rudd pretended to be a younger, slightly more hip version of John Howard with his (false) claim to be a ‘fiscal conservative’ and his rhetorical demand that the ‘reckless spending must stop’.

Probably because he’s never felt secure, despite the Rudd-rule that these days it takes a 60 per cent vote in caucus to roll a Labor leader, Shorten has given in repeatedly to the militant unions on economic policy and the green-left on social policy.

At the last election, Shorten should have supported tougher action against rogue unions as a poacher-turned-gamekeeper. He should have used some of the revenue from Labor’s crackdown on negative gearing and capital gains tax concessions to return to surplus faster than the government.

Instead, he refused even to criticise the Victorian government’s union-driven attack on volunteer fire services and he promised to spend significantly more than the Coalitions extra revenue on schools and hospitals.

Since then, Shorten has been even more obviously hostage to the most irresponsible elements in his party. He’s promised to make it easier for essential services workers to go on strike and to overrule the Fair Work Commission on penalty rates.

He wants to restore the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, which was putting owner-drivers out of business, and to abolish the Australian Building and Construction Commission without any replacement cop-on-the-beat. He’s committed to funding the ‘safe schools’ gender fluidity programme masquerading as anti-bullying and he’s doubled down on Labor’s 50 per cent renewable energy target.

This is despite the evidence that unreliable wind and solar generation has put power prices through the roof and risked widespread blackouts.

Despite Malcolm Turnbull’s failure on the Newspoll test that he set for his predecessor, no one is stalking the current PM in the way he stalked Tony Abbott.

The political commandment that Turnbull broke at great cost to the Liberal Party – ‘thou shalt not kill a democratically elected prime minister’ – is now what protects him. It’s hard for the ABC and Fairfax to criticise a leader who’s taking the Liberals to the left and it’s hard for News Ltd to criticise Turnbull when the alternative is Shorten who’s looking more and more like Jeremy Corbyn downunder.

All of this could change if Shorten were to give centre-right voters reason to think well of him. But his Budget reply was just his latest distillation of the politics of envy. He attacked the government’s proposed corporate tax cut (especially for the banks) not once but 13 times, even though this used to be his own policy. And his spending proposals could have been lifted straight from the Greens: an extra $17 billion for schools (on top of the government’s own Gonski money); an extra $3 billion for hospitals; university places for anyone who wanted one; and a hundred thousand more TAFE places. Also, and predictably, the ABC would have its funding fully restored.

From time to time in Australia politics unexpected developments can provide crucial, vote-winning surprises.

To be honest, I never thought that anyone or anything could make Malcolm Turnbull look like an acceptable PM.

But that was before Bill Shorten started imitating Bob Brown rather than Bob Hawke.

Emeritus History of Politics & History at Griffith University, Ross Fitzgerald is the author of 40 books, most recently the political/sexual satire SO FAR, SO GOOD: AN ENTERTAINMENT, co-authored with Antony Funnell and published by Hybrid in Melbourne.

‘The Spectator Australia’, 19 May 2018, p vii.

One Comment »

  • Andrew Bolt said:

    The latest ‘Spectator Australia’ is out now. No rabbits – neither among the columnists or in that Turnbull Government Budget.
    Rowan Dean on the Turnbull Government’s disgraceful boycott of the opening of the new US Embassy in Jerusalem and its refusal to move our own embassy from Tel Aviv to the capital:

    Worse, Mr Turnbull managed to compound one of the Left’s great lies: ‘Obviously, the status of Jerusalem and negotiations relating to Jerusalem are a key part of the peace negotiations, which we wish the very best for and which we support,’ he said.

    No, Mr Turnbull. It is only the status of East Jerusalem that may potentially require negotiations in any peace deal, not Jerusalem itself.

    Allan Gold:

    By its failure to attend the American celebration for their new embassy, Australia’s government was tacitly saying that despite 70 years of existence as the modern State of Israel’s official capital, our government still didn’t recognise Jerusalem as the Jewish nation’s seat of government. And it was denying the three and a half thousand years – a thousand years before the birth of Jesus – that Jerusalem has been the home and heartbeat of Israel and its people.

    Jerusalem is identified 669 times by name in the Old Testament, yet it isn’t mentioned even once in Islam’s Koran. It’s also true that since the rise of Islam in 632AD, Jerusalem has rarely been mentioned, either as a religious or social issue, among Islamic nations, except when its legitimacy is contested – for example, in the time of the Crusades, and since 1948 when the State of Israel was voted into existence by the United Nations.

    Neil Brown, former deputy Liberal leader back when loyalty was a qualification, seems to think the Liberal Party is still led by fighters and stocked with MPs of principle:

    The big issue coming up over the horizon, at least in Victoria, is the Aboriginal Treaty, which the socialists in Melbourne are working up with great zeal as part of the epic battle with the Greens to see who can give away more of their own country and faster. But the government has made a big mistake by starting this process, as the Clan Elders Council has just shown. It claims the clans are being victimised and overlooked in the consultations that are underway. Before this farce gets completely out of hand the federal government should step in and remind the states that, under the constitution, treaties are a matter for the Commonwealth, not the states; that there is only one country here, and that is Australia; and that if the states will not butt out, the feds will enforce their rights through legislation.

    John Allan, writing in a week where the Turnbull Government boasted the Liberals created 1 million jobs in less than five years – one the very same day that the unemployment rate actually went even higher, to 5.6 per cent, since two thirds of those jobs went to the immigrants now pouring in:

    …maybe this Coalition government is just so desperate for a massive immigration intake to keep GDP figures up (remembering, of course, that GDP simply measures economic activity and so will always go up if you have the world’s highest per capita immigration intake) that it wants the whole topic off the ‘what is acceptable to talk about’ table.

    Maybe that’s why you never hear Mr Morrison talk about GDP per capita growth in Australia, which since 2007 basically stinks, and at best is no better than a country such as Japan that takes in next to no immigrants.

    So who then benefits from this Ponzi-looking scheme? The current crop of politicians. Yep. The poverty-fleeing immigrants? Yep. Those at the top of the economic pie, the corporate elites on seven figure salaries, who get cheaper labour and most of the benefits but bear few of the costs? Yep. Who else?

    Ross Fitzgerald on the great dilemma:

    The political commandment that Turnbull broke at great cost to the Liberal party – ‘thou shalt not kill a democratically elected prime minister’ – is now what protects him. It’s hard for the ABC and Fairfax to criticise a leader who’s taking the Liberals to the left and it’s hard for News Ltd to criticise Turnbull when the alternative is Shorten who’s looking more and more like Jeremy Corbyn down under.

    All of this could change if Shorten were to give centre-right voters reason to think well of him.

    David Flint on the same sad theme:

    The Federal Budget process is no more than a conjuring trick to ensure the next election results in a high-taxing, high-spending government, led either by LINOs (Liberals In Name Only) or Labor, with the real problems facing Australia ignored.

    Andrew Bolt, Melbourne Herald Sun
    May 18, 2018

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