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Political Realities, Leadership Change and why Democracy won

There are those on the left who desperately wanted Tony Abbott to be Prime Minister at the next election. They rightly saw his unpopularity as Labor’s best asset. I thought that there was a greater imperative. As a believer in representative democracy first and foremost I felt that our political system would be better served if he was given the boot.

There is no individual in Australian political history who has done more to damage the conventions and institutions of our democracy, and indeed the Parliament itself, than the former Prime Minister. Personally, I hope he leaves politics altogether and takes the stench of his confrontational politics with him.

Abbott in both his tenure as Opposition Leader and Prime Minister had a breathtaking, pungent absurdity about him. A Christian man of unchristian demeanour.

Australia has never elected a person more unsuited to the highest office. He was a Luddite with little appreciation of science, the needs of women, and was out of touch with a modern pluralist society.

In hindsight the Australian people have learnt a valuable lesson. In future they should check out the credentials and character of the leader of the party they support. It was an experiment we cannot afford to have again.

The election of Malcolm Turnbull provides an opportunity to wipe the plate of democracy clean. Debate will now be able to take place without the negative pugilistic dog eat dog style of Abbott. It can still be assertive and robust but at the same time conducted with intellect and decorum. Given his sense of superiority (already displayed during question time) and ego don’t inhibit him perhaps his panache and wit might insinuate itself on the house and generally raise the standard of discourse.

Whatever you think of Turnbull’s policies, and he has many detractors in his own ranks, there is no doubt that he is a tough competitor with a formidable mind. One who can debate with true elasticity of intelligence and skill.

He will be a daunting opponent for Shorten and Labor. It is, however, an opportunity for Shorten to rise to the occasion and Labor supporters should challenge the party to also rise above itself.

Already the early polls are suggesting a resurgence of Coalition support. If Turnbull plays his cards correctly he will take many advantages into the next election campaign.

A ministerial reshuffle that rids itself of ministers with a perception of nastiness like Dutton should go over well with the public. As will a more refined and decent political language that no longer reflects Abbott’s crassness and sneering sloganeering.

Unlike Abbott who thought he was above the independent senators and the Greens, I believe Turnbull will seek to take them into his confidence to get legislation passed.

A major advantage he has is that the public are sick and tired of revolving door leadership. If my calculations or indeed my memory serve me correctly we haven’t elected a PM who has served a full term since 2004. That’s about a decade ago.

Unless he stuffs up in a major way the electorate will be reluctant to change again. Continuity of governance with the pursuit of ideology for the sake of it is not what the people want. Added to that is the fact that Turnbull is not beholding to the media. He has in the past told Murdoch, Bolt and Jones where to go.

During the Republic Referendum I worked assiduously for the Australian Republic Movement. I came to admire Turnbull’s capacity to present his case in the face of Howard’s rat pack that included Tony Abbott and Nick Minchen. Turnbull’s account of the The Reluctant Republic still resonates with me.

But if there is much to like about Turnbull there is equally as much to dislike. There can be no doubt that he has prostituted himself to gain power. All of those things that set him apart from the conservative wing of his party he seems to have been willing to capitulate on, and in so doing displayed an hypocrisy unworthy of him. He has spent the first week defending Abbott’s policies.

“No more Captains calls” he said. Then without even swearing a new Cabinet, he prostitutes himself (again) by reneging on his previously respected and long held beliefs on climate change. He then does a deal worth $4 billion with the Nationals and at the same time outrageously sells out the Murray Darling Scheme.

In his initial comments after becoming PM he made a big pitch about the future of innovation, science and technology. He would therefore know that a large part of our future is tied up in renewable energy. That the jobs of the future are in the technology sector, as is our economic future which makes his decision to stick with Abbott’s policy on climate change all the more disappointing. Conservatives around the world acknowledge these points, why can’t ours.

He has at this early stage left himself open to the charge that he is not his own man but rather a captive of the conservative right. It can arguably be said that the policies remain the same and an abrasive Prime Minister has been replaced with an eloquent but no less deceptive one. How he will prosecute the case for a Republic is unknown. It will be odd that we have a Monarchist Government led by a Republican Prime Minister.

Even the hypocrisy he shows on same-sex marriage has the smell of betrayal.

It is of course far too early to judge him but based on his immediate decisions it is obvious that he had to do deals to get the job.

For me his willingness to betray long held beliefs and principles has been nothing short of pathetic. I predict however that the general public will overlook it for what they will perceive as better attention to the economy.

As for the Leader of the Opposition. well according to the polls Bill Shorten is about as popular as Abbott was. He carts a lot of baggage that he will carry into the next election.

There is now no point in holding back on policies and allowing Turnbull to make all the running. He should in some way adopt the Whitlam approach, create a narrative, and release policy showing an innovative futuristic approach to economic issues and government. But above all Labor must attract the younger generations. It is the under 50s that will determine who governs.

Having said all that, if the polls continue in an upward trajectory Turnbull would be well justified in going to an early election. The next month will see Turnbull stamping his authority on the party and his leadership. He has the charisma to sell them and the public is in a buying mood. I can only hope that Bill also has something to sell.


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  1. M-R

    But John, the people didn’t want Rudd ousted in the first place. It was Shorten who oversaw that. His dismissal was the only example we’ve had where it wasn’t we the democratic mob who cried “GET RID OF THIS USELESS PERSON !”. I can’t help thinking Labor will never be alright again until all those involved in that forum assassination have moved on. Yes, they probably did have reason to worry, but they never discussed it with us, and the MSM had no idea either.

  2. Jexpat

    Another such victory and we shall be undone.

    Political reality, ever and since 279 BC.

  3. Richard

    In relation to the new leader, we wait and see. As they say, actions speak louder than words. There are some things by the new leader that would suggest that things have not changed. If he continues to appease the right wing of his party things will not have certainly changed.

  4. paul walter

    It is good summary and for the reasons John suggests, I dread that at the election due sooner or later, the public will reveal its usual imbecility.

    I suppose Canning will offer a barometer as to it.

  5. David Bruce

    Turnbull’s first task is to manage expectations. Despite all his talents and capabilities, he doesn’t walk on water. By making deals and concessions now, he will need time to alter the political debate within his own party. Herding the party room cats to align with public opinions, values and expectations will take time, and I expect him to achieve it!

  6. Jexpat

    David Bruce:

    That was one of the more impressive, concise (and unrealistic) bit of apologetics I’ve heard on the topic yet.

  7. Möbius Ecko

    Except when the white anting begins David Bruce. It’s what they did to Turnbull last time he was leader.

  8. Florence nee Fedup

    Short honeymoon is store, I believe.

  9. keerti

    “Abbott in both his tenure as Opposition Leader and Prime Minister had a breathtaking, pungent absurdity about him. A Christian man of unchristian demeanor.”
    This seems a strange conclusion to me. Christians have been persecuting the “Wrong Do-ers” for hundreds of years ( the crusades, the inquisition, the witches of Salem, the klu klux clan..etc) I’d say abut is a fine example of a practising christian as he has been persecuting the unemployed, pensioners and refugees. Is turncoat different? He wasted no time bringing back shafting the unemployed for example.

    “It is of course far too early to judge him, but based on his immediate decisions it is obvious that he had to do deals to get the job”

    It is most definitely not too early to judge him! We’ve known mr smarmy turncoat for a long time. Watched him prostitute his beliefs for the party, bugger the upgrade of the internet…etc. He is less than abut. abut had the integrity be a c++T and act like one.Turnbull will seduce half the population while he sticks a knife in their back. There seems to be a strange idea that all of what was being done was abut policy backed by the other loonies in the party. Wrong, the lot of them are loonies! Turncoat has publicly stated that he supports all the policies of the liberal party.Don’t wait for a sudden return to whatever ideals he may have said he held in the past. If he truly held those ideals and had any sense of integrity he would have resigned rather than compromise himself. To my mind he stinks worse than abut!

  10. Catherine Wallace

    Keerti is dead right.

  11. Victoria Phillis

    “In his initial comments after becoming PM he made a big pitch about the future of innovation, science and technology.” If this is not just political Abbott speak (lies) I look forward to the PM rolling out the NBN as FTTP instead of the mess he was trying to sell us as a Abbott Minister. The new jobs and smart manufacturing will be created in renewable energy, 3D printing and value adding to our raw materials. We need a fast reliable NBN and better investment in pure research along with adaptive design.

  12. kerri

    The young folk whose future we now meddle with will undoubtedly vote Green.

  13. stephengb2014

    Well I am actually impressed with Turnbulls performance so far, he has gor the last 2 days consistantly shown the Lanor Party asathetic in theor attacks.
    Now either Tirnbull has their measure or the
    Anor Party front bench os setting the LibNats up for a big cotcha.

    Which do you think it is?

  14. Herbie

    I’m inclined to agree with David Bruce.

    I too hoped for him to wheel in and undo all the backward steps Abbott had taken us in, however when he came out and supported the ‘current policies’ I was a little taken aback, and have pondered this for the few days.
    My thoughts now, or are they hopes, are that he has taken a gently-gently approach. The wounds in some elements of the Libs will be raw for a little while yet, and him taking carte blanche as leader and making his own calls would have been detrimental on several fronts. First, he claimed he would not go with Captains picks, so of course he will need to consult with the party, and in the first few days that is too soon to have debate on all issues. One by one though I’m sure we’ll start to see him make changes. Secondly, if he starts pronouncing his own ideals this early then he will only set those conservatives against him to secretly plot behind the scenes for his downfall. I think he really needs to toe the party line for now, calm the angst, and then gradually take things in his own direction. As mentioned, he will need to herd the cats, and to do that effectively he must build momentum behind himself such that the party wouldn’t dare to depose him.
    We all know he supports technology, climate change and renewable energy etc, so I’m sure we will begin to see him steer the ship in that direction as the dust settles. Remember you can’t turn an ocean liner in an instant. It takes time to gradually wheel around to a new direction and many kilometers are passed before it starts to takes effect.

    So yes he must have done deals to secure the top job, hence we see the water go to agriculture and the like, but wait for him to reshuffle the cabinet and get a few more like-minded ministers alongside him, and then he will be able to gently persuade things in his own direction. Pissing off his own party now will not serve him in the long term. I’m sure he remembers his own previous downfall vividly – brought down by those within his own party.

    And as for his ‘performance’ on the NBN, I feel he had his hands tied. Abbott ruled the roost and wanted the NBN stopped. Malcolm really had very little moving space on the issue, and just keeping it rolling out was something. In time it can be returned to it’s full capacity, after all the optic cables are still being laid to the node.

    And for the record, I’ve never voted Liberal, and really cannot stand Shorten. If Turnbull can turn things around he will get my vote.

  15. Ken Peak

    I thank John Lord for his contribution. But you know there is one specific point where I disagree with John. I believe I’m a person ‘to the left of the chair’ sharing much of Lord’s critique of the Abbott Government. However, did ‘democracy win’ as John Lord suggests? I’m not sure it did. Sure we all wanted the Abbott Government to change its course. We all wanted better of our Prime Minister. But we, the people, had no say in Abbott’s demise, just as we had no say in Kevin Rudd’s demise. Sure it’s happened before, but to me this shows just rotten Australian politics has become.

    Politics isn’t a zero sum game. Some ‘to the left of the chair’ also fall into the trap of concluding that if you oppose Abbott you must like Shorten and so on.
    I voted directly for Kevin Rudd in 2007, not just to get rid of the obnoxious right wing John Howard, but also because I wanted Rudd to implement the program he stood for as leader of the ALP. I voted for Kevin 07 and Labor’s program. I was not consulted when Julia Gillard led the plotters to knife Rudd in the back in 2010. I was not consulted when Labor changed the program Rudd said he would implement. I was really incensed about that. There was no reason for the coup in my view, after all Labor was ahead in the polls. What galled me even more was that I was called a sexist misogynist for opposing the policy changes that Julia Gillard delivered.

    What we got was Gillard immediately giving the green light at the Lowy Institute to open the floodgates and allow every racist xenophobe to fling their bile in the asylum seekers ‘debate’ that Abbott ended up winning. We also got a 180-degree about turn on the mining tax to protect the likes of Gina Rinehart and appease the likes of Labor’s Paul Howes – you remember him, he’s that ‘dig it up, chop it down and burn it’ kind of guy. It won’t be long and he’ll be in the Senate. Labor’s mining tax retreat in 2010 is not given enough significance by the commentariat. Gillard introduced a carbon tax that ended up doing little to reduce our carbon emissions. To me introducing market mechanisms to improve the environment has never worked, and it won’t work in the future. The market got us in this mess and is incapable of getting us out.

    Gillard simply appeased the factions in her own party that put her there. I was not consulted about any of this. Neither were the millions of others who put Kevin into the Lodge. Since then, Labor has lost the fundamentals about being Labour. It’s now a right-wing party of the status quo. For me, Labor’s ‘Game of Thrones’ meant that the Gillard-Rudd Government was on a par with Abbott’s as one of the worst governments this country has ever seen. Labor stalwarts will no doubt disagree.

    When they delivered their coups, both Gillard and Turnbull said that they didn’t like the leader’s style. However Labor introduced policy changes by stealth, proving to me that Rudd’s style was the excuse and changing the policy mix in 2010 was the real motivation. Again the people were not consulted. This time, Turnbull has said he will not change the Abbott policy mix. So why remove him? Given that we still have the Abbott Government with a sprinkle of Turnbull’s ‘middle class charm’, it would have been preferable for those of us to the left of the chair to keep Abbott until the next election.

    Australia stands on the brink of becoming a single ideology state with two factions who just ‘argue’ about detail. Ever listened to parliament recently? That single ideology of course is neo-liberal. For me democracy is the poorer if we allow our politicians to dictate about our country’s leaders. Perhaps we should write it into law that if the Prime Minister is changed by backroom coup, an election should follow immediately. Either that or we introduce recall legislation so that if our parliamentary representatives fail to deliver what they promised, they can be recalled by us, the people. This would be, after all, the democratic thing to do.

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