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Gladys throws the Libs a lifeline

28 March 2019 No Comment

But beware of Turnbull

But beware of Turnbull

            
By ROSS FITZGERALD

The return of the
Berejiklian government demonstrates that good governments can win a third
term, despite self-inflicted wounds. That will buoy the Morrison government,
even though it remains a long shot to win the federal election in under two
months’ time.

In New South Wales,
the Coalition has lost some country seats, but not to the Labor party. The
really significant fact is the rise of minor parties, especially the Shooters,
Fishers and Farmers in the bush, but also One Nation – especially in outer
metropolitan seats. Voters weren’t especially enthusiastic about the Coalition
but that didn’t translate into support for the ALP. Rather it became support
for parties that thought the government had been too wishy-washy on key issues:
not enough water for people in the bush, and not enough transport and too much
over-development for people in the city.

Like
Liberal-National governments everywhere, the Coalition in NSW was good at
government but poor at politics. The government ran public schools, public
hospitals and public transport in the main efficiently. It gave the police
strong support. It got the balance between conservation and development more-or-less
right in urban planning. It brought the budget under control and resisted the
extremes of political correctness on climate change and gender fluidity. Above
all, it unleashed the biggest infrastructure boom in the state’s history; and,
despite mega-projects being incomplete, won kudos for at least having a
go.

On the other hand,
the greyhound ban was the disaster to be expected when right-wing governments
pursue left-wing policies; any economic benefits from local government
amalgamation weren’t worth the political pain; the CBD tram produced vast
disruption for hardly any benefit for commuters; and the NSW government has had
three leaders in eight years, albeit via resignation rather than political
assassination.

A week out from
polling day, Gladys Berejiklian was in big trouble. But a disastrous series of
rookie errors from the NSW Labor leader put the Liberal-led government
back into the driver’s seat.

As the federal
government contemplates its own date with voters in eight weeks’ time, there are
key differences as well as some similarities. The Liberal National government
has kept Australia safe and the economy strong. It has secured our borders. It
has prevented major terrorist attacks. It has made some overdue decisions like
building the western Sydney airport and has helped to fund the infrastructure
boom. Although the public is undoubtedly feeling cost-of-living pressures, the
economy has created over a million new jobs under a government that’s tried to
be ‘open for business’. It’s handled the core functions of the national
government competently, without policy disasters such as the school-hall and
pink-batt programmes.

On the other hand,
having let climate change policy destabilise our energy supply, it has – as yet
– no effective response to the continuing withdrawal of baseload power and its
impact on manufacturing. And it’s run the future submarine project as a job
racket for Adelaide rather than as an urgently needed strategic deterrent as
the world’s balance of power is shifting against us.

The federal
government’s basic problem, though, is that it’s asking voters to have more
confidence in it that it had in itself – with two bloody leadership coups in
just five years.

By ditching the
so-called National Energy Guarantee, the federal government resolved to put
reliability and affordability ahead of emissions reduction; but committing to
build Snowy 2.0 but not Hazelwood 2.0 makes it seem that it’s still biased
against coal. And spinning a tiny reduction in permanent immigration as a cut
of 120,000 over four years makes the government look tricky. Then there’s the
inability or unwillingness of Prime Minister Scott Morrison to give a factually
accurate and politically credible account of why and how he ousted Malcolm
Turnbull.

As well, after
nearly six years as opposition leader and relentless scrutiny via innumerable
interviews, media conferences and public meetings, Bill Shorten is unlikely to
make the kind of elementary last-week-of-campaigning mistakes that Michael
Daley made when the heat was on. The biggest difference of all is that, unlike
Morrison, Berejikilan did not go into the election as already a minority
government.

It’s much easier to
know what the Morrison government is against that what it’s for, other than
motherhood aspirations like keeping the country together. Yes, Morrison is ‘on
the job’ from early in the morning until all hours of the night, and is clearly
a tribal Liberal in the way Turnbull never was; but other than the
much-anticipated further tax cuts to be announced in the April budget, he
doesn’t have a lot to present as a positive reason to vote Liberal.

If Morrison is
prepared to abandon his habitual political caution and announce some bold
initiatives: like a new coal-fired power station, a deep cut in immigration,
the deregistration of the construction division of the CFMEU, or lifting the
legal ban on nuclear energy, it’s just possible that he could win back voters
toying with minor parties on the right. It’s true that Shooters Party voters
and One Nation voters are not orthodox conservatives. But many of them
previously voted for the Coalition and could be won back by a government that
has more obvious convictions for which it is ready to fight.

It’s noteworthy that
former PM Malcolm Turnbull was prepared to give an endorsement video for a
state Liberal candidate – even though he had not done so for his successor in
the federal seat of Wentworth. We can count on more pointed interventions from
him, especially if Morrison looks like he might pull off an unlikely victory.

Probably the strongest factor against a
Coalition comeback is Turnbull’s propensity to sabotage his successor’s
campaign just when it might be picking up. 

Ross Fitzgerald AM is Emeritus Professor of History & Politics at
Griffith University. 

He is the author of 40 books, most recently the political/sexual satires
‘SO FAR, SO GOOD’ and ‘GOING OUT BACKWARDS: A GRAFTON EVEREST ADVENTURE’, both
published by Hybrid in Melbourne.

The Spectator Australia, March 30, 2019, p iv.

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