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Turnbull’s end


About the same time as Malcolm Turnbull’s Coalition won the last general election, Nick Earls wrote an article in The Guardian discussing how various groups are victimised based on some concept of their ‘danger’ to society at the time. In the article, he suggests:

These days if you’re Irish, racial stereotyping skews pretty positively regardless of which side of the island you’re from – we’re affable, aren’t we? – but it wasn’t always that way. I arrived in Australia in 1972 at the age of eight in the middle of an apparent Irish joke boom, and spent much of my lunchtimes over the next couple of years being dragged aside and read pages of Irish jokes. As fun goes, it had its limits.

But it wasn’t as bad as being the kid from the Italian family who had his “wog” lunch thrown in the bin most days, only to watch the perpetrators spend $10 in cafes 20 years later for the exact same food – focaccia and prosciutto – with no recollection of what they’d done.

In some ways, Turnbull at the end of 2017 is like the kid bringing focaccia and prosciutto to school for lunch. Those like the conservative rump of his political party and the ‘Australian Conservatives’ want him to return to the days of the Vegemite sandwich on white bread in the greaseproof paper, while those of the progressive side of politics are waiting for him to embrace Himalayan Salt, Coconut Oil and discuss if Paleo is an appropriate food option.

When Paul Keating sat in the Prime Minister’s chair, he told Opposition Leader John Hewson why there would not be an early election — ‘because mate, I want to do you slowly.

It’s probably fair to say that since Keating’s day most of the Prime Ministers have come to a ‘gory’ end. While Keating was eventually removed from ‘The Lodge’ by Howard, it was a ‘conventional’ handover in comparison to those that followed. We have seen the voters remove the Howard government with the Prime Minister losing his own seat in Parliament, followed by (to borrow another Keating phrase) a conga line of Prime Ministers being knifed in the back by their ‘trusted colleagues’. Now we have Turnbull. Turnbull’s successes have been few — but there is no one with any apparent credentials to follow him from his side of the political spectrum. Are we now at peak absurdity when the current Prime Minister is doing everything in his power to ‘do himself’ slowly?

The end of the Parliamentary year has in recent years been seen as the ‘killing season’ where various political parties have knifed their current leader due to perceived poor performance, usually resulting in even more instability. The hope of a perfect administration that can pass whatever contentious policy items the political party desires through the Parliament without raising a sweat is elusive. Despite Turnbull’s arguably lack of success in passing what passes for Liberal Party dogma into law this year, Peter Hartcher correctly predicted that for a change, the knives would not come out during the last sitting week of Parliament.

Hartcher was correct — while Turnbull’s administration seems to be messy and he is quickly closing in on the self-nominated key performance indicator for a challenge to the leadership (polls where the Coalition is in arrears of the ALP’s estimated vote), usually, there has to be a challenger for a leadership coup to succeed. When Turnbull overthrew Abbott, he was seen as a leader in waiting by not only significant portions of the LNP constituency but also the ALP voters and Australians who don’t have a political allegiance. While Abbott, Bishop, Dutton and Morrison may all have their supporters within the Parliament, none of them has a sufficient support base both within the Liberal Party and more importantly outside it for a coup to be successful at this point.

The ABC’s Andrew Probyn has a different take in an opinion piece suggesting that Turnbull only just got there in the end.

Turnbull has made a big deal on energy security in 2017, creating the ‘NEG which we at The Political Sword have commented on before but the point remains that while Turnbull probably has some skin in the energy game, it is the Premiers that get to make the decision. And that decision is made when the actual modelling and specifics of the ‘NEG’ are completed in the 2nd quarter of 2018. Turnbull’s other contribution to the debate was to rubbish South Australia’s push for renewable energy, including the installation of the Tesla battery system to store the energy from a wind farm. Pity the battery system was completed ahead of time and is working successfully.

Probyn claims that the real winners on the same-sex marriage debate were Dutton, who came up with the idea of the $122 million opinion poll (which we’ll get back to in a minute), Cormann who negotiated with whomever he needed to so the result was acceptable to sections of the public and of course Dean Smith who had written the legislation that was in the end, the accepted outcome.

Ironically, the same-sex marriage debate is one of the few yes/no issues that has been measured by opinion polls over a considerable period and then the results tested by an independent organisation. It cost us $122 million, but we now have the data to demonstrate that the opinion pollster’s statistics do largely replicate actual polling as both survey methods recorded about 62% of Australians supported same-sex marriage legislation. So when Turnbull appeared on the ABC’s Q&A on 11 December and was asked a question from Teela Reid

Why won’t you respect our proposal to take it to a referendum like you put marriage equality to the people because polls reveal up to 61 per cent of Australians are in support of this proposal?”

His response …

Now as to its prospects at a referendum, let me tell you honestly… it would have no prospect of success whatsoever and I can tell you that is the view of every member of parliament that I’ve discussed this with,”

… was certainly patronising if not downright wrong based on the evidence provided by the same-sex marriage ‘non-plebiscite’, ‘non-vote’ survey thingy that spent around $122 million to prove that opinion polls are generally pretty accurate.

At the beginning of December, Shane Crocker listed both Turnbull and Opposition Leader Shorten’s current problems here at The Australian Independent Media Network and Shorten’s problem (singular) evaporated as soon as Dastyari resigned for the Senate. However, the majority of Turnbull’s 34 problems (plural) are still there to haunt his waking moments probably a fair way into 2018.

Turnbull’s habit of overreach and hyperbole is well known. While Barnaby Joyce was always the favourite to win the first ‘citizenship’ by-election in New England, John Alexander was never a certainty in Sydney suburban Bennelong. Turnbull was crowing the victory from the rooftops about the result in Bennelong, but a 5% or thereabouts swing against the government in a by-election 12 months or so after a general election isn’t a good result, especially when the candidate or the party leader and presumptive Prime Minister haven’t changed. Sure, the ALP had a candidate with a high profile who happened to live locally, but a 5% swing is something like 5,000 out of 106,582 voters saying to the government that we have seen what you have achieved over the past 18 months – and we’re not impressed.

Fairfax’s Mark Kenny explored Turnbull’s habit of overreach just prior to the Bennelong by-election. Kenny questioned if Turnbull ‘turning it up to 11’ when launching into rhetoric about potential Chinese influence in Australia a week before the Bennelong by-election (where the NSW Liberal Party was not assured as the winner) was a good plan in an electorate with a large population that identify with Chinese heritage. Certainly, Turnbull had a political point to play here with the potential for Chinese influence over now ex-Senator Sam Dastyari, however, it could have ended up a lot worse than it did.

It is probably difficult for the average ‘mug punter’ to see how Dastyari’s ‘crime’ is any worse than say a former Trade Minister who takes a $800,000 per annum job with a Chinese company (with links to their government) one day before the last federal election that he chose not to contest, or the $20,000 donation made by the same Chinese parties to the current Finance Minister Mathias Cormann. Coalition Social Services Minister Porter, of course, split hairs by suggesting that there was a clear difference because Senator Dastyari used the money he received to pay bills and expenses, not as a campaign donation.

It may be naïve to ask, but what is the difference between campaign expenses (which are presumably funded by the candidate) and bills and expenses (which are also funded by the candidate)? You could easily make the argument that if Dastyari hadn’t paid his campaign expenses from his own pocket, he could have used the money from his donors to pay campaign expenses. Either way, it isn’t a good look for the Coalition Ministers that have received funding from the same donors and still retain their seat at the table while a member of the opposition is effectively forced to resign from Parliament. What is the bet that at some stage Turnbull’s hyperbolic condemnation of Dastyari and the insistence that he resigns comes back to haunt Turnbull?

The long-awaited final report from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was also delivered to the government in December 2017. The 21 volumes contain a considerable number of recommendations, some which will be painful for any government to implement. The Catholic Church in Australia has already indicated that some of the recommendations that relate to their theology cannot be implemented, although the Pope has indicated that the recommendations will be studied seriously. Sean Kelly commented on the afternoon the Report came out in The Monthly’s daily newsletter

All of us find it easy to say to ourselves, “The problem is worse over there.” Perversely, other institutions will no doubt look at the Catholic Church and think, “Well, at least we’re not that bad.”

But you can be sure that as the months go on other organisations will be doing their best to contest the recommendations of the commission that most worry them, just as [Sydney Catholic Archbishop] Fisher did today. Yes, they’ll accept the majority of suggestions – but this one? Really?

The royal commission has already changed our country. It has brought some relief to thousands of survivors. It has unveiled crimes that had been ignored or actively covered up. It was announced by Julia Gillard when she was prime minister, and will be an indelible part of her legacy. The commission itself, and in particular the commissioner Peter McClellan, have given great service to our country. And as has been widely acknowledged, the survivors themselves deserve by far the most praise for their bravery. “Bravery” is a word we often hear, but in this case it is the right one.

It is obvious to say and must be said: much of the work of royal commissions begins when they are over. Malcolm Turnbull must make the implementation of its recommendations a priority, as must the leaders who succeed him in decades to come. So must the premiers and chief ministers. So must the leaders of every institution. And it is up to all of us to make sure they do. Our instinct to look away must be overcome, not just this week, but every week.

And Kelly is right. Turnbull and his successors will have to make some hard decisions and enforce them. We, as the people that elect the government, cannot afford to look away either. Does Turnbull have the power within the Coalition to force unpopular decisions through his party room?

The sad thing is that a lot of Turnbull’s issues are due to his own handiwork. In addition to the list provided by Shane Crocker, which includes the obvious such as Tony Abbott, the NBN, Cory Bernardi, climate policy, energy policy, same-sex marriage and ‘freedom of speech’, internal dissent from various ‘notable parties’, the environment and Andrew Bolt, you could add the future of refugees held in Australian controlled ‘detention centres’ on Manus Island and Nauru, Royal Commission into Institutional Abuse recommendations, apparent double standards over political donations (if Dastyari had to resign from Parliament, why doesn’t Cormann for example) and the tin ears in his party room.

The fact is that Turnbull’s been putting off the big issues for so long, most of us have lost faith. His frequent over-reaching and hyperbole doesn’t promote his words as something that we can count on. Most of his policies are like focaccia and prosciutto, they sound exotic initially, but the reality is that they are pretty average leaving the consumer asking for more.

Look at the NEG – Turnbull can spruik it as much as he wants, but the State Premiers have the power (pun intended) to do something. The trumpeted same-sex marriage survey cost us $122 million, the subject had been covered by numerous opinion polls and Turnbull apparently just went with the flow, allowing others to organise and mobilise. While Turnbull has the job of implementing the recommendations for the Royal Commission into Institutional Abuse, Gillard rightly gets the credit for starting the process.

So, while we can always hope that Turnbull can demonstrate his focaccia and prosciutto option as worthy of consideration, really it is a bread roll and cold meat in a world that is constantly changing. Most are looking for ‘the next big thing’, not a variation on an old theme. Ad Astra suggested Turnbull is selling us a pup in June 2016. Not much has changed since.

What do you think?

This article by 2353NM was originally published on The Political Sword.

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  1. Phil

    Despite my strong leaning to the progressive left, I have always accepted the reality that Australia has been and could continue to be successfully governed through time by alternating progressive and conservative administrations – some serious flips and flops along the way have occurred on both sides, but the nation has still made solid progress.

    Not so today however under this Coalition of arrogance.

    Turnbull’s conservatives have rejected outright the essence of our democracy, believing that they have the sole right to rule and therefore the purpose of their government is not policy progress, rather it is to eliminate all opposition – to impose their neoliberal ideology at any and every cost. The arrogance of this attitude within the Turnbull administration has fostered the most egregious levels of hypocrisy and this has become the defining characteristic of the government and of Turnbull – rank hypocrisy.

    I think the Liberal Party is irredeemably corrupt and has lost its legitimacy – it should be deregistered.

  2. Kaye Lee

    [In 2016-17] THE WA Liberal Party accepted $120,000 in donations from Chinese business figures with no obvious connections to the State

    The party accepted $50,000 in cash from a mystery Hong Kong donor, Kin Chao Sun, who has no obvious links to the State.

    It also took $50,000 from a mining company controlled by South Australian businesswoman Sally Zou, who this year registered — and then quickly dissolved — a corporate tribute to Foreign Minister Julie Bishop called the Julie Bishop Glorious Foundation.

    Ms Zou holds no mining or exploration tenements in WA.

    Another SA company, I Age Media, which runs a Chinese-language news-paper in Adelaide and has no obvious interests in WA, gave $20,000.

  3. Keith

    It is naive to believe in my opinion when a Corporation provides a donation to a political party that they are doing it through philanthropy.
    Pokies are a big issue in Tasmania; Federal Hotels has had a monopoly on them for decades. Labor now has a policy to pull pokies out of Hotels. The message from Federal Hotels very specifically was that they expected Labor to continue to go along with how pokies were managed in the past. Federal Hotels has ownership of pokies in Hotels at present. Federal Hotels had the expectation that they had bought the opinion of the Tasmanian Labor Party.

    The Tasmanian Times has some interesting articles about pokies.

  4. Jack Russell

    … and so kids, Sam was sensibly removed from centre stage so that the spotlight could be focused squarely on the truly egregious under-the-table activity of the L-NP with the same donors …

    The End.

  5. Glenn Barry

    Like the constipation that Turnbull epitomises, I think the Australian electorate will sigh with relief as this man and his government pass from the sphincter of our consciousnesses to be flushed forever away.

    Australia is no longer classifiable as a democracy

  6. Kronomex

    THe LNP is a classic case of “Do as we say, not as we do.”

    I can almost see Trembles screwing his eyes shut and balling his grubby hands together as he kneels before his Cayman Islands bank books wishing for something to happen so he can declare martial law and become the leader of the Peoples Democratic Republic of Australia.

  7. Matters Not


    It may be naïve to ask, but what is the difference between campaign expenses (which are presumably funded by the candidate) and bills and expenses (which are also funded by the candidate)? You could easily make the argument that if Dastyari hadn’t paid his campaign expenses from his own pocket, he could have used the money from his donors to pay campaign expenses.

    No effective difference!. Provided a candidate keeps the receipts, he/she receives the reimbursement and trousers the lot. It’s a personal donation effectively – one is paid in advance and the other is retrospective.

    Sam was foolish but there was a better defence than the one mounted. No political party wants that issue seriously debated. Too many skeletons.

  8. Matters Not

    Re money in politics, this is worth a look. Not in Australia but in the US – the direction we travel.

    Andrew Robb at $880 000.00 per annum was cheap! What about speeches, expenses etc.?

  9. Kronomex

    Jeez, this man is so full of shit it’s a wonder his teeth aren’t brown and stink.

    ““We all say ‘long live the Queen’ and we say that with great sincerity and with love,”” We do? I’ve always seen the royals a bunch of social parasites whose time was past after the end of the 19th Century, if not earlier.

    “…is have an honest, open discussion about how a president would be elected…” Politicians, in particular LNP and Labor, are absolutely terrified of the idea that a president be elected by the voters.

    If this is the sort of garbage Trembles starts 2018 with then rest of the year is going to be interesting.

  10. zoltan balint

    Big issue lists are good BUT where are the ‘no one is talking about’ little things that happen to change how people live in this country. Behind the sceens the LNP have been working very had to lower the value of workers and have dismantled a lot of controls and defunded departments that were set up to protect Australia’s against exploitation. Journalists are fed a story and they do not seek and reseach what needs examination.

  11. totaram

    Glen Barry “.. to be flushed forever away…”

    You hope! Sadly, it is not so easy.

  12. Chris

    Cheers AIM for this, wish I could do more than share and occasionally comment.

    You know what I know and I applaud the research and the writing and everything you are trying to do, but I can’t influence my mates to give a shit any more than you can. My missus tells me she doesn’t want to know ffs. We are just beaten down now and know the country’s going down and our living standards with it.

    Look after yourselves and those that deserve help. Our governments seem unable to do this properly anymore.

  13. Grant Reid

    What is the difference between a donation and a bribe? A donation is made expecting nothing in return meanwhile a bribe is paid expecting something in return! A person would have to be very naive to think that a chinese business man would donate money to an Australian political party expecting nothing in return and it does appear we have been on the rough end of a lot of trade deals in the last few years and their is the Andrew Robb saga how does someone get away with that?

  14. Chris

    Magic Grant, going to share that quote widely. Why do political parties need donations?

    Answer: they don’t, exactly as you say.

    They encourage bribes so they can feed from the trough and family blog the rest of us while feeding the hungry and smiling for the cameras.

    No wonder they are surrounded by armed police. Never used to be that way.

  15. Glenn Barry

    totaram – perhaps a large dose of laxatives is appropriate and I know a least two plumbers than can clear an acutely blocked s-bend

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