Former Labor Prime Minister, Paul Keating has a delicious way with words. At a recent fundraiser in the Blue Mountains for Susan Templeman, the Labor candidate for Macquarie, the wordsmith spoke to the gathering and showed that he was in good form.
“Malcolm Turnbull… fundamentally he is a cherry on top of a compost heap,” he said.
While in the mood, he had a precise comment to offer the present government too. “This is a very, very ordinary government, with people falling out of it, ministers being lost, resigning, having to leave.”
Then he returned to Turnbull, “The great risk for Malcolm is that he doesn’t remain a cherry but turns into a sultana.”
Sometimes Keating’s words are sheer poetry. But, stepping back from the jousting that is party politics, one cannot help but wonder how, in Malcolm’s case, it has now come to this. He looked every inch the statesman just 6 months ago. Back then he looked like the Prime Minister we needed to have; forthright in dissecting the crux of an issue, articulate, caring.
So what went wrong?
The flip flopping that has followed the various tax reform measures proposed by Malcolm leaves political watchers like me in a blurred state of confusion. How does a government leader announce something one day and dump it the next?
I thought these things were thrashed out behind closed doors. I thought the script was prepared well beforehand and a unified launch executed with such precision that it took the media by surprise, thus limiting the opportunity for embarrassing questions.
This latest initiative, offering the states the right to collect income tax, has been a train wreck. It was a stupid idea from the start. The prospect of having six states and two territories competing against each other for people wanting to pay less tax was a “race to the bottom” to quote Helen Hodgson of The Conversation.
So what on earth was Turnbull thinking and who advised him on the plan? Many thought he would be better than this. Or, was it simply a case that the paucity of talent available in the Liberal parliamentary party is so great that anyone who was able to string a decent sentence together, was seen as a strong candidate?
When compared with Tony Abbott, Joe Hockey, Scott Morrison, Peter Dutton et al., the competition wasn’t all that great. So perhaps we have given Malcolm more credit than he is due. Perhaps he isn’t the statesman we thought he was. His subsequent performance would suggest we have made a grave error of judgement.
He is still the best choice among the Liberal Party, though, and the public seemed to agree. But was he the best choice in a field bereft of highly qualified, articulate, caring and forthright candidates?
Or, to use Paul Keating’s analogy, was he a healthy piece of fruit thrown on top of a smelly, rotting, rat infested, magpie scavenging, heap of dung? That question, it would seem, is being answered as we speak.
Much is made of the status of preferred prime minister in the various polls that we are fed. Malcolm is clearly the darling of the electorate when compared with Bill Shorten. Yet, Bill Shorten was the preferred prime minister when compared with Tony Abbott.
So, is the preferred prime minister stakes nothing more than a popularity contest between two less than charismatic candidates, absent of any policy initiative offered? It would seem so. How much store do we put in this type of poll? Is the electorate that superficial that it would vote for appearance over substance?
Bill Shorten has filled the policy vacuum created by the government and leads on initiative. Turnbull’s flip flopping on tax policy must surely be noticed, even by a dis-interested electorate.
The media have noticed it, but they are playing it very softly.
One can’t help get the feeling that one or two more flip flops by Malcolm, or by the government, will be enough to see a seismic shift in recognition of policy, rather than presentation.