In August 2015, with the Abbott government in disarray and a few weeks before Malcolm staged his coup, Laura Tingle wrote an article in the AFR which she could publish again tomorrow. It forcibly underlines how nothing has changed under Malcolm Turnbull and begs the question of how long he can survive.
The following are her words from 2 years ago…
It has been a noisy, out-of-control week in Canberra: the Liberal Party has imploded over same-sex marriage, the government has announced a farcical climate change policy, the credibility of its trade union royal commission has been shredded (insert citizenship woes instead). But in the hallowed space of the cabinet room, and even in the Parliament, it’s been much quieter.
Ministers reflect on the painfully thin agenda before the cabinet: thin in subject matter as well as substantive submissions. Parliament has not been overwhelmed by major legislation to debate.
A meeting of the National Security Committee of the cabinet has, however, recently asked for a list of national-security-related things that could be announced weekly between now and the election.
How much scrutiny has gone in to these “announceables” is unclear.
National security being the new religion, it’s a bit rude to ask any questions, to the point where senior ministers insisted during a bid for funds by a national intelligence agency some months ago that the “bean counters” from Treasury and Finance be kept out of the room.
Bombing Syria. Messing with the constitution to get a political outcome on same sex-marriage. These are now the playthings of a prime minister so desperate, so out of control that he is overseeing the complete surrender of proper governance to day-to-day tactics.
The problem is that it isn’t even working for him. Every issue that is running in politics at present is highlighting the bitter divisions, or policy confusion, or both, within the government.
Cabinet ministers are publicly brawling over the appropriate legal vehicle, and timing, for deciding the question of same-sex marriage. Attorney-General George Brandis dismissed Scott Morrison’s suggestion that there should be a referendum, and was publicly backed by two other senior ministers. Six MPs indicated they would cross the floor to vote in favour of same-sex marriage.
Coalition MPs recognise that Tony Abbott’s suggestion this week that the issue of same-sex marriage issue should go to “the people” was a purely political gambit to get it off the agenda short-term, shore up his support with conservatives in the party room, and bury it all together long-term.
But the glaring tactical flaws in this idea – the belief it would both stop the debate and could somehow stop same-sex marriage being an election issue – are so spectacular that even some of those close to Abbott are scathing.
Then again, the Prime Minister is now at war with his own party. His tactics are as much directed at his colleagues as his political opponents. He was quite happy to allow a party room debate to take place that saw 16 of his ministers argue against his position on same-sex marriage.
It’s not just on issues of social policy, however, where things have gone off the rails.
The government continues to announce policies that are long on columns of smoke, large in cost and short in detail.
Last week, the government announced it was spending “$89 billion” on “a strong and sustainable naval shipbuilding industry”.
This week, the government announced a climate change target that overwhelmingly relies on policies that have not yet been announced but which the government says can reduce our carbon emissions by 26 per cent by 2030 at a cost of $60 billion, compared to its claim that Labor’s policies (also not announced) to cut carbon by 40 to 60 per cent would cost $600 billion. (Shades of Morrison’s lies about the cost of Labor’s tax reform.)
If you hang around in Canberra long enough, you start to recognise the point where a government has become terminal, where the death spiral is irretrievable. It’s got nothing to do with the polls, or leadership rumblings.
It’s the point where the sheer stupidity of its decisions is so obvious, so craven, so contradictory, that everyone involved – ministers, backbenchers, the opposition, the media, voters – just know it can’t go on like this.
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