In the 1960 US presidential elections the Kennedy camp used a photo of Nixon with the caption, “Would YOU buy a used car from this man?” to great effect. It implied that he was sleazy and full of tricks, just like those dodgy used car salesmen.
Ok, ok, before I get all the used car salesmen commenting that they’re completely scrupulous and how dare I, etc, let me just say that I’m just reporting how a popular perception of the time was used to cast doubt on Nixon. And while it may seem like shameful, negative politics, Nixon’s role in Watergate suggests that they may have been onto something.
Anyway, I couldn’t help but think of Malcolm Turnbull and his corporate takeover of the Abbott government. (Yes, yes I know that some of you are going to say that it was already run by business, but corporate takeoever ARE companies taking over other companies.) This is not a new government as the media are encouraging us to think of it – this is the rusted out engine of an old car, put in the body of something not showing the signs of wear and tear so much. “Come on, just look at the leather interior and the dash… No need to look at the engine! How could a car with this sort of shine on the duco be a lemon?”
I think that the line that he’s just Abbott in an imported suit has some resonance, but I can’t help but wonder if it’s going to be his lack of conviction that gets him. Or to put it another way, most people prefer a strong government to an indecisive one, even if they don’t like what it’s doing.
When Turnbull was first elected, I felt a little relieved. I didn’t actually think he’d change much, but I thought that at least he’d be pushing back against the barabarians. Yes, he’d had to keep his views on certain issues on the back-burner, but we knew that he had them, right? I mean, he’s a staunch republican, a supporter of same sex marriage and a believer in the need for strong action on climate change. Why, didn’t he consider joining the Labor Party at one stage?
Abbott, on the other hand, I always felt had a fervent desire to go further. It wasn’t just what he was saying and doing; I always worried that he was a man to whom compromise was just something you told people that you were doing when you’d lost. Abbott was a conviction politician with a dangerous agenda, but, Turnbull, well Malcolm was more like a leader. He’d draw a line in the sand, and we wouldn’t have the same level of absurdity. We wouldn’t have the Nationals invited to the party room meeting, or non-appointments made to positions just to eliminate potential opposition.
Lately, I’m remembering a relieving principal at a high school where I taught. As one of the union branch executive, I was at a meeting where we went through a list of grievances. He acknowledged the validity of our grievance in each case, before pointing out that he was only there till the end of term and it would be wrong to set up a potential conflict with our actual principal or to break precedents. (Although he had no trouble breaking a precendent with something later in the term, when he disagreed with it!) After we’d left one of the others commented on how reasonable he was. “But we haven’t changed anything,” I protested.
“Yes, but he was so much more agreeable than Boris#!”
Turnbull is starting to make me wonder if there isn’t an element of that in what he’s doing. We like to think that he really believes in climate change, but now he’s actually leader, then his only change is to stop attacking renewables with quite the same gusto.
On a side note, I know that there were plenty of memes juxtaposing open cut coal mines with wind farms after Joe and Tony’s complaint about how ugly wind turbines were, but I’d have really liked someone to ask either of them if they found electrical poles beautiful and, if not, why not we start putting them underground?
Anyway, back to Turnbull…
While some may think that he’ll ignore his Faustian pact with the Ridiculous Right in the Liberal Party once he’s legitimately elected, I very much doubt it. I suspect that he’ll still be too constipated with the fear that they could easily replace him with Tony Abbott. Forget the reality. Turnbull has hardly admitted that anything was a problem with the government except having the wrong leader.
We still have no replacement for Elizabeth Broderick as Sex Discrimination Commissioner – we’re told that it’ll happen soon, in spite of knowing about the position becoming vacant over a year ago. Nor do we have replacements for the members of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency whose terms expired, so it seems that it’s still his plan to abolish the agency.
And his statement in Parliament yesterday about needing off-shore processing so that we can allow persecuted minorities in from Syria suggests that, not only is it bad luck if you persecuted and part of a majority, but that the only asylum seekers likely to receive any benefit from the change of leader are those whose case is so compelling that it receives a public outcry.
So, while the current popular narrative is that Turnbull is a foregone conclusion for the next election, there are number of factors that make this something less than a certainty. As Yogi Berra said, “Making predictions is hard, especially about the future”.
- The GST is a potentially a great big tax on everything if it was applied to fresh food, education and health. In reality, it is a great big tax on nearly everything. While there seems to be a collective amnesia about the fuss the Liberals made about the carbon tax, if they ever get to the point of spelling out the detail of a GST increase, I’d be prepared to make a guess that it won’t lead to a jump in support.
- If the priorities of the Abbott era were so unpopular, will the shine wear off Turnbull as it becomes clearer that not much has changed and that rather than being a strong leader, Turnbull is more in fear of his back-bench than the Australian electorate.
- The media is making plenty over the approval ratings of the various leaders, and while it’s true that Toxic Tony was having a strong negative effect on voters, it’s worth remembering that he was elected with a poor personal approval rating. In fact, it’s rare that the Opposition leader ever leads the incumbent as prefered PM or Premier. The more significant figure is the two-party preferred, and while some have the Liberals leading by as much as ten points, others have it much closer, suggesting that the electorate is even more volatile than usual.
- Notswithstanding point 3, nobody is considering what might happen if Shorten was replaced. Kevin Rudd’s plan to ensure stability in the leadership by having a popular vote of the membership may be the reason that Shorten will be there at election time, but it’s also possible that nobody with an eye to being PM actually wants the job at the moment. Continued poor polling and the Labor Party may actually decide that they need another “save the furniture” moment. If that happens, they’d be foolish to go through the rigmarole of last time, I suspect there’d only be one candidate, elected unopposed. Until Turnbull’s ascension, it would have been impossible to replace Shorten without Abbott pointing out that Labor haven’t been able to stick to a leader for more than a couple of years while he’s been Liberal leader since 2009. Turnbull can’t make any claim to Labor’s leadership tensions, particularly if they had another “drover’s dog” moment, like the switch from Hayden to Hawke.
- There’s little doubt that the most recent good unemployment figures are the result of an anamoly in the way that the figures are being calculate. If this should correct itself in the coming months, we could have the appearance of a sudden spike in unemployment. Combined with the global economic turmoil and the massive increase in Australia’s current account deficit, the idea of the Liberals as good economic managers could take a bit of a beating. Granted a large part of this wouldn’t be their fault, but as Labor discovered during the GFC, the captain who gets the praise is the one who steered the ship on the flat waters, not the one who successfully guided it through the storm.
So, while we have Malcom “Shiny Shoes” Turnbull threatening a double dissolution over secret documents, most people suspect that he’ll wait till the second half of the year before going to the polls. That’s not only plenty of time for the public perception to change, that’s a whole Budget away. And even without any of the other possibilities, a Budget can do a lot to change public opinion.
Just ask Tony Abbott.
#Not his real name. Although when I think about it, he did have more than a passing resemblance to the actor Boris Karloff who played Frankenstein.
P.S. After writing this, I read about the CSIRO slashing about 300 jobs. I guess the Turnbull government wants to put the money into Innovation.
63 total views, 2 views today