By Dave Chadwick
Dear Malcolm, it is time we have a talk. I’m not angry – I just have to ask: What the hell are you doing?
I write this as someone with more than a passing interest in politics and no loyalty to either major party. As such, I was happy to see you take the leadership of the party from the worst prime minister in Australia’s history and your party could have easily won my vote at this point, if you backed up your words about mature politics and showed you would work towards the kind of progressive ideas you articulated prior to taking the leadership.
I wasn’t expecting you to immediately legalise marriage equality, take meaningful action on climate change and do something about the systemic abuse in our offshore detention camps. I understand you lead a conservative (ironically named) Liberal Party and you have to contend with a number of ultra-right wing ideologues such as Eric Abetz (who must know where a lot of ‘bodies are buried’, based on his continued power within his party is in direct contradiction to his performance). Still, I hoped that a more moderate and rational agenda would begin to be recognisable under your leadership.
So in your first months, I was content with some of the smaller things. Your considered reaction to the Sydney siege and your replacement of the chief science advisor with someone who didn’t appear to think the world was flat. These were positive signs. As were reversing Abbott’s bizarre prohibition on investment in wind power and discontinuing your government’s disgraceful campaign of undermining Professor Gillian Triggs for doing her job.
But that was about as good as things got. You really did nothing more of substance. Even when those who oppose marriage equality within your party gave you good reason to abandon the costly plebiscite and bring the vote to parliament, you let the opportunity pass. Even in the face of obvious and more dramatic evidence of climate change, you have showed no heart to actually confront the problem – a problem you have already publicly recognised too.
You placed all of those issues to the side and pretty much said the most important thing to focus on is improving the budget. If you had followed through here, this would have been a more credible action, but you didn’t. Instead you mangled the discussion of tax reform, by ruling out anything that either seemed too unpopular with the public or big business donors who will fund your election campaign.
As someone who owns a house that is negatively geared, I wasn’t ecstatic about the ALP policy to end negative gearing, but if it were part of a set of reforms to tax policy aimed at making tax fairer and also addressing our budget deficit, I would wear it. I have said the same about increasing the GST. If we have to take a small bit of short term financial pain, to prevent a much bigger problem in the future, explain a coherent plan and stick to it. I am crying out for a leader who is willing to be honest with us about what they stand for, but it doesn’t seem like that is you.
I’m not sure whether it was the fact that ending negative gearing might force rich people to pay tax (which seems to be against Liberal Party policies) or just that it seemed an easy populist way to undermine Shorten, but the hyperbole and zeal which you ripped into the ALP policy was worthy of your predecessor (and that is far from a compliment).
Eventually, you seem to have ruled out any real tax reform. Now you are suggesting cutting company tax and even cutting income tax. This suggests either the budget situation may not be as dire as you made out and you are as adept at fear-mongering and scare tactics as the man you replaced, or you are just not that serious about fixing the budget.
Because there is a looming long term problem in our budget and despite broken promises over education funding and major cuts to CSIRO and the health sector, the LNP has done little to address it. Now, with a double dissolution election on the horizon, no doubt the recent announcement of road funding is the start of a series of announcements of pork barrel politics and desperately transparent election sweeteners.
All of this casts some doubt on the central argument the Liberal Party likes to run that they are better economic managers compared to the irresponsible Labor governments. Given your government appears just as financially irresponsible, I really can’t split you in this area, and in fact will save half a billion dollars (according to PwC analysis) on the overall costs of an unnecessary plebiscite just by not voting for you.
Economic performance aside, you also failed to stand up to the lunatic right in your party and sanctioned decisions to the detriment of our country. I accepted you may not have been able to depart too dramatically from the Abbott policies you inherited, but you at least could have done more to ensure no more of these redneck brain-farts entered the national discussion. The Safe Schools debacle is a blight on your character for failing to dismiss it, just as much as it is on the homophobic ideologues who propagated it. The fact that even after the unnecessary review you approved found no grounds for concern, you still placed greater restrictions on the program to appease the hateful can’t be something you are proud of. Similarly, the fact that your government continues to approve coal mines and invest in the coal industry – even as across the globe, demand for coal is dropping quickly – says a lot about the influence the coal industry has on your party.
So to sum up, you have shied away from conflict with your own party over climate change and marriage equality. You have just as quickly shied away from controversy with voters in the area of tax reform. I had hoped you would be a good leader for this country, but on exposed form, it appears I was wrong. You have shown little willingness to LEAD either your party or the nation and are instead being LED by both. This is particularly problematic as your party does not actually appear to want the same thing as the people it represents- instead being far more concerned with the interests of the large companies that finance it.
Your failure to lead according to your expressed convictions has let me and millions of other Australians down. I’m not bitter or angry though. Perhaps (like the man you replaced) you were never up to it in the first place and it is my fault for expecting you to be better than you are.
Still, if you’re not going to lead, should you have taken the job?
This article was originally published by Dave on Quietblog.