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The State of Our Political Madness

How indecently fortuitous has the Coalition been? It has purged itself of an incompetent leader seen domestically and internationally as a belligerent confrontational fool. Its reward for disposing of him, even after governing so ineffectually, in all probability will be victory at the next election.

The emergence of the new leader has done three things. Firstly, it has gotten rid of a grossly unpopular leader. Secondly, it has enabled a popular, charming man with an engaging smile, on the surface at least, who preaches fairness, optimism and all things foreign to conservatism, to become Prime Minister and in doing so annulled two years of atrocious government as though it were some sort of political illusion and not reality at all. How ironic it is that a government that has performed so abysmally is now in the box seat to win another term. Thirdly, is has dramatically empathised the short comings of Labor and Bill Shorten.

Malcolm Turnbull, for ridding his party of the combatant pugilist Abbott has been rewarded for his efforts with election winning polls and a personal popularity rating the envy of any celebrity. To date, with charismatic personality, he has seduced and beguiled his way into the hearts of those who wanted nothing more than to see the back of Abbott and some who didn’t.

The oddity is that whilst the punters welcome, for the time being at least, his sense of reason, fairness, discretion and natural charm, these characteristics seem out of place in a party so demonstrably right wing. He has even managed to converse with world leaders without wanting to shirtfront anyone.

He is a Republican leading a party of Royalists. A Prime Minister of Australia in which all state Premiers and Opposition Leaders are Republicans makes it more absurd. He is, despite his current utterings, a believer in doing something about climate change but the leader of a party that has many influential climate deniers in its ranks who think more about capitalist greed than the future of our children.

He is a committed believer in marriage equality leading a coalition of homophobes. He also leads a government intent on imposing its own religious values on a society rapidly backing away from religiosity.

Malcolm Turnbull is in effect an enormous contradiction that raises the question: How can you lead a party that has views so diagonally opposed to your own? And how can you preach fairness and reason when those you lead aren’t?

When your voice speaks of these values, how are people expected to accept the unreasonable voices of Dutton, Morrison and others?

It can work if hypocrisy prevails and thus far Turnbull has used every ounce of it and is being given the benefit of the doubt by an electorate looking for the political stability of years past. All things being equal, voters will not be inclined to change leaders yet again. The slate has been wiped clean. All has been forgiven. Performance doesn’t matter. Or does it?

With soft eloquent dulcet voice and pleasing smile Turnbull has shown a capacity for enthusiasm, seeing possibilities, spruiking innovation, even being inspirational. He has a way of putting calm into discussion. People feel relaxed with him. The very opposite to Abbott’s pugilist “no, no, no” negativity.

By not ruling anything in or out, particularly in economics, he has managed to convince people that he genuinely believes things have been done wrong, unfairly wrong, but given the chance he can put matters right.

Is it all that simple? No, it isn’t.

After two unacceptable budgets, Turnbull will have to deliver a third while monetary measures from the previous two are still waiting to be passed by the Senate. In total it is a monumental task in light of promised tax revisions to be put to the people before the next election. In addition, all these decisions will be overshadowed by a mid-year economic statement before Christmas that is sure to show a monumental blowout in the deficit. The tax Green Paper was due out this year; now it has been pushed to next year, assuming the Government doesn’t decide to skip straight to the White Paper.

There seems to be a public debate about the merits of increasing the GST, superannuation, subsidies etc – nothing has been ruled out, but Morrison refuses to participate.

It is unclear whether there are differences between senior ministers over tax – for example about whether there is a revenue problem (denied by Morrison) as well as a spending problem and whether the states have a case for extra funding.

At some stage the Government will finally have to rule in and rule out measures. That’s when the winners and losers will be declared. Someone has to be worse off.

Who will it be?

Another hangover the Government faces is the fact that they have asked the states to consider their own tax bases (as part of a Federal Sate relations review) in looking for ways to fund their future spending needs. The fact that the two are interwoven makes the task somewhat harder.

Besides economics the Government has an abundance of policy matters hanging over it.
Everyone knows the Government’s Direct Action Plan is dreadful and is likely to be called out as such in Paris. Greg Hunt continues to lie about its benefits.

Then there is the plebiscite on marriage equality. The public are dubious about its real intentions. Is it just a blind to give the Cabinet homophobes free rein to mount a negative campaign? Otherwise at $150 million it is a very expensive way to ascertain what is already known.

The Defence White Paper was delayed under Abbott and is now in limbo under Turnbull who wants it given further attention. Defence Minister Marise Payne has to do a lot of preparation for the public and diplomatic discussion that will come after its release. And of course the university deregulation plan put aside by Turnbull needs an alternative proposal.

On the treatment of asylum seekers Turnbull, amid international human rights condemnation, vacillates between appeasing the hard right wing and what his Christian conscience tells him. Or ‘intellectual compassion’ as he puts it. On the field of war you cannot always expect people to act rationally. The same applies to incarcerated innocent people. They don’t, however, deserve life sentences when innocent of any crime.

And health policy has become a mess and both parties will need to address it in the near future.

Thus it is that Bill Shorten has gone from short odds to win the next election to rank outsider. He doesn’t have the charisma of Turnbull and although the Royal Commission has found him innocent of any wrongdoing, some mud has stuck. The recent revelation of branch stacking simply underscores the negative view people have of him.

On the brighter side, whatever tax package Turnbull takes to the election will be a hard sell and it will give Labor a decent campaign pitch. Notwithstanding the importance of economics, Shorten must come up with a narrative that grabs the attention of the community.

How should he go about it?

A starting point would be a narrative about the decline in our democracy and the conservative’s participation in it. He could take the moral high ground, even acknowledge the faults, the corruption on both sides together with the destruction of our parliamentary conventions and institutions. Shout the need for a new truly representative democracy as often as Abbott said; “Stop the Boats”.

In every utterance, good democracies can only deliver good government and outcomes if the electorate demands it. Differentiate and deliver a campaign message that speaks to young and old alike by appealing to people to participate in this new democracy where all policy is centered on the common good. I can hear the first sentence of his first speech:

“I speak to all who have a common interest in renewing our democracy regardless of ideological association”.

Besides internal reform that engages its members, Labor needs to look at ways of opening our democracy to new ways of doing politics: ways that engage those that are in a political malaise so that they feel part of the decision-making process again.

Some examples of this are fixed terms, and the genuine reform of Question Time with an independent Speaker. Mark Latham even advocates (among other things) its elimination in a new book. In fact, regardless of what you may think of him, he has many suggestions of considerable merit.

Among many other things Shorten needs to promote the principle of transparency by advocating things like no advertising in the final month of an election campaign, and policies and costing submitted in the same time frame. You can add reform of the Senate into this mix, and perhaps some form of citizen initiated referendum. Also things like implementing marriage equality and a form of a National ICAC. Perhaps even a 10 point common good caveat on all legalisation.

He needs to convince people of a collective democracy that involves the people. A creative and exciting one.

In a future world dependent on innovation it will be ideas that determine government, and not the pursuit of power for power’s sake.

His narrative must convince the lost voters who have left our democracy to return. (and I am assuming that most would be Labor). He has to turn Labor’s ideology on its head, re-examine it, and then reintroduce it as an enlightened opposite to the Tea Party politics that conservatism has descended into.

Uppermost in his mind should be the “say it like it is” rhetoric of Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn.

He must promote and vigorously argue the case for action against growing inequality in all its nefarious guises, cast off its socialist tag and replace it with a simple proposition of the common good versus elitism. The same fight must also be had for the future of the planet.
He must turn his attention to the young, and have the courage to ask of them that they should go beyond personal selfish desire and aspiration and accomplish not the trivial, but greatness. That they should not allow the morality they have inherited from good folk to be corrupted by the immorality of right-wing political indoctrination.

He might even make it Labor policy to lower the voting age to sixteen (16 year olds are given that right in the Scottish referendum). An article I read recently suggested the teaching of politics from Year 8, with eligibility to vote being automatic if you were on the school roll. Debates would be part of the curriculum and voting would be supervised on the school grounds. With an aging population the young would then not feel disenfranchised.

Now that’s radical thinking; the sort of thing that commands respect. It might also ensure voters for life.

Perhaps the first thing he should do is employ a stylist. He always looks like he’s had a night on the town, worn the suit to bed and has never learnt to tie a knot. That aside Labor has its back to the wall.

The ALP’s chance of winning the election has likely evaporated with the fall of Abbott. It has no choice but to go with Shorten.

Whether he has the ideas to match Turnbull is unknown. What is known is that he certainly doesn’t have the charisma.



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  1. Michael Taylor

    A brilliant read, John.

  2. Clean living

    The most important change we need for our democracy is a California style “recall election” to protect us Abbott Mk 2.

    It is only then that the populace may begin to trust politicians!

  3. babyjewels10

    Great blog post!

  4. Keitha Granville

    Have you sent this to Bill Shorten ? Goodness knows someone needs to tell him what to do and how to fight the Smiler.
    It is deeply depressing to see how shallow the electorate is, how easily they have fallen for a snake oil salesman.

    Somehow we have to find a way to make sure that he doesn’t get another chance.

  5. stephentardrew

    Thanks once again John for a great article with which I thoroughly agree.

  6. jim

    Great post, it’s been told on the ABC that one boat arrived in our waters the PM said he can’t talk about “on water matters” (with a smirk) although I wonder if or when the ALP gets in, will the coalition still say the same about “on water matters” my bet is NO.but most of us know what the Liebrals are like.

  7. mars08

    Turnbull is making all the right sounds appear to be a “centrist” leader, while his government’s policies and actions indicate a continuing neocon agenda.

    The man has placated the centre, as his party appeases the right. Where is there any room left for the ALP?

  8. brickbob

    Thank you Mr Lord for a no nonsense straight down the line article,and yes Shorten should read it and take some if not all of your advice,it is his only chance of beating Mr Colgate.

  9. lawrencewinder

    Good article…. I despair for this country …I believe that this ruling rabble will win the next election as Labor are too frightened of “The Ugly American,” Murdoch to express anything like a vision (if they still have one) and the next term will see the rest of the “Coots-With-Queer-Ideas-from-a-Parallel-Universe” (IPA) agenda implemented. We are stuffed!

  10. Roswell

    An outstanding post.

  11. Loz

    Whilst Morrison and that other immigration guy are in power, there is no chance the LNP will be good for the country. Also Julie Bishop who, dependent on who is the latest PM, is like a weather vane in her opinions.

  12. Terry2

    A lot will depend on what Abbott decides at year’s end. If he stays in politics, it will be for one reason only, to reclaim his crown and he will do whatever it takes to that end.

    If he leaves politics then the conservative right are vanquished for the time being and Turnbull will romp home in the next election no matter who is leading Labor.

  13. Christine

    John, enjoyed the post however can’t believe you claim the waffling Turnbull has policies or vision and that he is representing the centre of politics. Just show me one fair and logical policy that this woeful Turnbull government has implemented.

    In fact this government is still attempting to pass previous unfair, heartless and flawed budget measures. We must resolutely hold Turnbull accountable for his government policies including the last two years and stop making excuses for Turnbull’s failures for example climate change and the NBN.

    To argue that Turnbull is advocating fair and much needed reforms is to give him far too much credit as there is no evidence that this government is about to repeal their previous legislation.
    In fact Turnbull on a number of occasions has stated that the policy settings are correct and his job is to sell the agenda.

    Our mission must be to hold this woeful, heartless and morally corrupt government accountable and it starts by not making excuses for Turnbull’s failures!!!

  14. helenmarg

    Amazing Article John .I agree .As said by all comments .While Morrison,Dutton,Porter,Bishop,Joyce, Etc .Etc remain we
    in dire straits.Appalling lot they are not fit to govern our country.Not answerable to Human Rights.

  15. Brad

    Many of Turnbull’s ideas Shorten had already announced. He has the ideas, or at least his party has them, so I don;t think a lack of vision is a problem.

  16. Möbius Ecko

    Oh you should have seen the sputtering and stammering from a few of my rusted on right wing friends, who were Abbott advocates, when I said it’s good to see the Liberals shift to the left by electing a lefty like Turnbull.

    They attempted to aver that Turnbull was as right wing as they come, but I quietly pointed out Turnbull’s left leaning policies and utterances of the past, and the fact that the Liberals themselves and their right wing media mouthpieces have not so long ago said Turnbull is better off joining the Labor party as it’s a closer fit to his ideology.

    No comebacks.

    It’s a conundrum for the hard right for sure. Waiting for the Turnbull white anting to start as was prolific last time Turnbull was leader.

  17. John Lord

    Funny June.

  18. Chris the Greatly Dismayed

    I totally agree with you Christine and I suspect Turnbuckle is the ‘highly risk averse enabler’ for other interests such as the TPP. I think that is exactly why the Libs are tolerating him easily……He is their smokescreen.
    ScoMo even seems to be getting in on the act with his ‘Save the Kidman Estate Campaign’. That is not ‘protecting Australia’s farmland and food security’. In an ABC article from 2006 “Randall Crozier manager of Anna Creek station – the largest pastoral lease in the world – says his usual stocking rate of 16,000 has been cut back to less than 4,000 – and that most of the cattle have been sold or sent to feedlots.”
    Or from Rowan Ramsey in 2008 “Anna Creek Station is the largest cattle property in the world and at full stocking rates carries about 30,000 head. When I visited in July they were down to 300. Staff had shrunk from nine to three, and the last of the cattle were expected to leave within weeks.”
    Even with thirty thousand head of cattle as its maximum that is less than 2 per square kilometre (by quite a bit). This is a good example of the Liberals grandstanding on issues that may appear against their usual interests when in fact ‘their stand’ means exactly nothing.
    While the ‘media’ gushes and says “but look what they ARE doing !” expect our health, education and working conditions to be eroded beyond the point of the average person in the US.
    Militarism, US bases and retirement homes for nuclear waste is about all they have as an economic plan.
    I don’t want to talk about Labor because I don’t know that I have anything nice to say….but here is an example….

  19. Trevr

    The only useful thing “knives in back” Shorten can do to erase the doubts about his leadership is to resign as Labor Leader. He is worse than useless.

  20. leonetwo

    Please, stop referring to Turnbull as ‘charming’. Everyone is doing it, I’m sick to death of it because it’s wrong. Turnbull is agit, he has about as much charm as a brown snake. An example – his nasty, snarky, sarcastic comments on Darwin’s port the other day. This is a ‘chariong’ man? I don’t think so. He made a fool of himself at that presser and made it worse when he was proven totally wrong.

    Let’s stop joining the MSM adulation of Turnbull. Let’s stop writing flattering comments about how ‘charming’ he is. Let’s tell it like it is. He’s not top bright, he totally lacks judgement, he is nothing more than an over-privileged prat.

    Turnbull’s incredible lack of judgement was shown to the world when he put Brough and Sinodinos on his front bench. Two crooks, still being investigated.

    How about we talk about that, and about all the corrupt deals and scandals in Turnbull’s past – the rainmker funding rort, the environmentally disastrous logging in the Solomon Islands, the involvement in the HIH.FAI business and the subsequent court case and of course, Utegate and poor, destroyed Godwin Grech.

    If we all cave in, curl up in a foetal position and start muttering about Turnbull winning the next election because he is ‘charming’ then this county is done for.

    It’s up to us. The media aren’t bothering. Let’s help Shorten out. Start now, let’s write, blog, post, tweet and link every dodgy detail of Turnbull’s shady past. And stop it with the praise.

  21. mars08

    I suspect that it has more than a bit to do with Abbott getting the bar so low when it comes to politician’s personalities. It going to take a decade of constant improvement just to get the bar out of the dirt!

  22. jim

    Turnbull so smart he is replacing cooper wire on the NBN with cooper wire maybe the LNP should get Tom Cruize to lead the party seems no mater how evil your policies all you need is a smirking leader and you in.Well thats what the poles suggest.

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