AFTER TEN years of aimless governance and the primacy of policy that is ideologically driven by the far Left or far Right and/or based in cynical, dishonest, jingoistic populism, Australia’s sins are coming home to roost: Malcolm Turnbull holds office at a time the consequences of reprehensible political ineptitude are about to crash into the Canberra firmament like a nuclear bomb. Happy New Year, Prime Minister. Your job is to fix it. We doubt you can.
It is one thing to be in office, but another matter altogether to be in power; on the cusp of a difficult political year, it would take a bold pundit indeed to suggest Malcolm Turnbull holds power at all.
This reality — and the contribution made to it by the sham of his own Prime Ministership — is likely to cost Turnbull, his party and the country very heavily indeed.
Australia has become virtually ungovernable from the Right, and impossible to protect from the Left, through a cascade of disparate yet interconnected events that are set to collide with the national polity in 2017 like an atomic bomb; a quisling would say that this is the fault of the Labor Party and the damage it inflicted upon Australia during the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years, and that Turnbull is merely unfortunate to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
But however valid any condemnation of the ALP and the
Communist Party Greens might be, to say so would be to ignore the reality that the Liberal Party shares some of the burden of blame: and to whatever extent it is culpable for the crisis of governance Australia faces, the present government is disproportionately responsible for the lion’s share of that burden.
In some respects, you couldn’t invent the confluence of events that have created the political cesspool Turnbull faces if you tried: the wanton amateurism and sheer self-destructive bent he has exhibited as Prime Minister defy almost every known law of political orthodoxy.
But first, a little history.
There are those who accuse the Howard government of “squandering the resources boom,” an ALP criticism that is both unreasonable and incorrect; the Howard years saw the repayment of $110bn in debt left behind by Paul Keating, a budget billions of dollars in surplus, and billions more in the bank.
Could Howard and his Treasurer, Peter Costello, have done more? Possibly, with the wisdom of hindsight. But the reality is that whilst the $110bn spent fixing Labor’s budgetary vandalism might instead have paid for nation-building infrastructure, Australia’s debt-free, AAA-rated economic position wouldn’t exist today had Howard and Costello not acted as they did.
But from (roughly) 2004 onward, the Howard government also started to give things away in what is popularly decried by the Left as “middle class welfare:” tax cuts for middle income earners. Family benefits. Pension bonuses for self-funded retirees. These cost money. Responsible as they may have been regarded at the time, they set a precedent that was gleefully leapt upon by the ALP soon after it returned to office in 2007.
The Global Financial Crisis provided Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan the pretext upon which to start shovelling out cash: first under the guise of “stimulus spending,” but later by showering selected constituencies earmarked for electoral enslavement with hundreds of billions of dollars. Superannuation bribes for low income earners. Tens of billions of unaccountable “Gonski” education dollars. A “fully costed” National Disability Insurance Scheme that costs $22bn per annum, for which the original pot of cash is already empty. Preferential higher wages for certain unionised public sector employees, such as cleaners. Funding for “community organisations” that are no more than socialist propaganda units. The list goes on.
In other words, the advent of modest arbitrary spending under Howard was subsumed by the stimulus pursued by Rudd and Swan — with tacit support from the then Turnbull-led opposition — which in turn snowballed into an avalanche of legislated political spending the current government is welded to and unable to mitigate or repeal on account of a febrile Senate.
When the tactics of squalid Labor “leader” Bill Shorten are factored in — opposing practically everything for the sake of it, to the point of outright lies to voters — it is easy to see just how toxic the environment in which a conservative government must operate has become.
That’s the backdrop to the mess Turnbull now confronts: a budget nobody seriously believes will return to surplus despite the timid and simplistic account given of the figures by his Treasurer, Scott Morrison; a debt pile continuing to balloon and a hostile Senate that is disinclined to pass measures that might arrest that spiral; an empty agenda — let’s call that for what it is — and an apparent lack of any idea of how to develop one; and the complete lack of authority that is the inevitable by-product of winning a federal election by a single seat after a moderate to severe swing against the Coalition.
It is the compounding effects of these legacy problems — and the dire political straits in which Turnbull finds himself — that now stand to destroy the Turnbull government and with it, any prospect of sound government for the foreseeable future.
So strewn with potentially lethal incendiary devices is Malcolm’s path it is hard to know where to begin; but I think it instructive to redirect readers to the article I published two weeks ago, in which I called for Turnbull’s resignation: I urge everyone to read (or reread) this piece, for it fleshes out much that is wrong with his Prime Ministership and why, with growing inevitability, it seems destined to end in tears.
This column has never supported Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister, and won’t: I was however prepared to let the farce roll on for a while before calling for its demise. The hope Malcolm might have made a decent fist — rather than a botch — of the task was a faint one, but regrettably the latter was always going to be the punchline of the “Malcolm for PM” story.
Never popular with the conservative Liberals who comprise roughly of 60% of the party’s grassroots membership, Turnbull’s coup against Tony Abbott means a majority of Liberal Party members do not support their leader: yes, we go out and campaign for him and yes, some of us support MPs and candidates who ultimately back Turnbull, but the reality is that more than half the party has no truck with him — an undesirable position at the best of times, let alone in turbulent weather.
Like a creature from beneath the septic tank, Pauline Hanson roared back onto the national stage at the July election, taking votes from Coalition voters disappointed by the inability of the Abbott government to deliver (thanks in large part to the Senate) and/or disgusted by Turnbull’s execution of Abbott and the government’s consequent leftward drift.
The Hanson phenomenon will grow before it eventually dies off again, and whilst John Howard might have fought her off where state Liberal leaders failed in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Turnbull is hamstrung by the fact that in terms of political smarts, he isn’t a Howard bootlace.
Predictably, One Nation will leach more and more Coalition support. Turnbull will do nothing to arrest the slide because, literally, he can’t.
Hanson aside, Turnbull faces the real possibility of a reasonable chunk of the membership — plus God knows how many MPs intent on committing political seppuku — detaching itself early in 2017 to form some kind of “conservative” party headed by backbench South Australian Senator Cory Bernardi.
We examined this issue last week and observed that based on what is already known, not only would such a party not be “conservative” at all, but it would likely gift government to Labor for years: a sentiment echoed by Abbott yesterday in a newspaper opinion piece (which earned him a rebuke from Bernardi on the laughable basis it was written out of self-interest).
Should a solitary lower house MP follow Bernardi out of the Liberal Party, Turnbull will lose his tiny majority and face enormous, immediate and justified pressure to resign or call an election. Given the nature of the beast suggests he would do neither, the federal government would become a running sore that would fester all the way to an undeserved ALP triumph in 2019 and the emergence of a Labor government that really knows how to damage Australia.
Yet Turnbull doesn’t need Bernardi to inflict politically fatal blows on his government. He is quite capable of doing so himself.
Despite the blather about a “strong economic plan” to generate “jobs and growth,” the truth is that Turnbull won the July election with a very threadbare agenda.
Neither the inclination nor the capacity to craft and advocate a comprehensive blueprint from office in a “better late than never” rearguard action is evident.
In my critique of Bernardi’s putative “conservative” party, I outlined an orthodox conservative agenda that could be adopted by a major party of the mainstream Right which, incredibly, would pose few conflicts with Turnbull’s left-leaning personal instincts. To thus combat weakness with the presentation of substance would require courage, skill, and tenacity. But as his stupid “tax reform debate” earlier this year vividly showed, Turnbull has none of these attributes.
Even if nothing is actually legislated, racking up trigger after trigger for another double dissolution — with a substantial agenda upon which to subsequently campaign — would add tremendous legitimacy to the government’s claims to a “strong plan” and the obfuscation of the Senate for petty political purposes, but even this won’t motivate Turnbull to do it.
The new Senate, with its swollen crossbench, may indeed be marginally less hostile to the government, thanks principally to the eradication of Clive Palmer from the national polity.
Yet it would be a dangerous indulgence to think its realignment is in any way a reliable plus for the government: as a case in point, the bill to restore the Australian Building and Construction Commission (which the July election was ostensibly fought upon) was rendered pointless by an amendment Turnbull agreed to from Derryn Hinch for a two-year lead-in period; the almost certain prospect of a Labor victory at the next election means the ABCC is already as good as dead.
In turn, this means the union movement — knowing the Coalition has persisted with measures to bring it to heel, and cock-a-hoop in the knowledge those measures will probably never apply to it — will be emboldened to cause maximum trouble for the Liberal Party before the next federal election.
Next year sees state elections in WA, SA, Tasmania, and probably Queensland. That’s a lot of opportunities for unions to send fake emergency service workers to polling booths to bully voters, and a lot of opportunities for “nurses” to hit the phones, as they did in Victoria in 2014, to frighten shitless the old, the frail, and the sick. Every Liberal electorate the unions deliver Labor is a campaign unit lost; every Liberal state government beaten or kept from office in the first place is an extra Labor voice at COAG. The existing Labor states have shown themselves to be in no mood to cause Turnbull anything other than grief.
Turnbull faces the loss of Australia’s prized AAA investment rating if the Senate refuses to play ball; at best, this would add billions to the cost of servicing existing debt — and to the already haemorrhaging budget deficit — that could lead only to higher taxes or higher debt if spending remains impossible to cut. At worst, the certain ALP onslaught would simply compound the magnitude of the Coalition’s eventual defeat. After all, selling anything — let alone persuasively arguing the merits of its position — is an area in which this government has failed spectacularly.
Bill Shorten will continue to crap on about things that are “cruel” or “unfair;” just enough gullible voters will listen to him. Labor will lie to them and many will lap it up, for human nature is to gravitate to the soft option. It matters nowt that Shorten offered $110bn in tax hikes at the last election. The current Coalition government, poorly advised and tactically and strategically inept, simply can’t puncture the contradiction.
Energy prices will rocket, because of the cross-partisan obsession with renewable energy that Turnbull personally seems fixated with. Thousands of years’ worth of cheap coal sits in the ground and could power homes and businesses for a fraction of the current cost. But Turnbull, with his infatuation with emissions trading schemes and his blindness to the silliness of Australia shackling itself to the global climate change junta (which the biggest emitters, the USA and China, thumb their noses at) seems determined to simply let that happen.
Section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act sits unchanged despite irrefutable evidence it has been co-opted by the Left to cause political trouble on the feigned pretence of being “offended.” Yet this self-described “thoroughly liberal” Prime Minister lacks the fortitude to even attempt to change it to safeguard free speech.
Enraged voters — the silent majority in the suburbs and the regions — are already flirting with protest vehicles like Nick Xenophon’s party, or lunatic options like One Nation, in a desperate search for someone who might govern for them rather than for minorities, vested interests, and the electorally bribed. Coalition voters are disproportionately inflating those minor parties. Turnbull seems oblivious to the people walking away.
These people see an inner-city trendy obsessed with a republic (which will make no difference to their day-to-day welfare); climate change (over which they are fuming at being priced out of the capacity to heat and cool and light their homes); and same-sex marriage (a political football in this country for far too long, which can only be resolved by a popular vote if political posturing over it is to ever cease).
They see Malcolm having televised dinners with Muslim leaders, with scant regard for their own issues and communities: the clear message is that the great unwashed masses simply don’t count.
Their anger is already showing up in Newspolls, six of which in a row have shown Malcolm on course to lose an election badly. There is no firepower in the Coalition’s policy cupboard and the dubious record of its leader suggests the polls cannot now be turned. With the bonfire erupting around the Coalition, those polls will worsen. Turnbull must be held to account. Having used bad polls to destroy Abbott, he cannot eschew responsibility for bad polls now.
A restive public, in the absence of any compelling Coalition narrative to negate opportunistic Senators and lying Labor goons, has become conditioned by charlatans like Rudd and Shorten to think that governments announcing initiatives that make a single voter a dollar worse off ought to be run out of office — just to make things even harder.
So there it is: a Prime Minister with no authority and a fragile hold on power, mired in internal divisions and confronting the predatory spectre of One Nation on the lunar right wing, faced with a hostile Senate and a rotting budget position, approaches 2017 with little support from his party, the real possibility a chunk of it will defect, an angry electorate and an agenda — to the extent he has one — that is anathema to most voters.
If this is a clueless government led by an even more clueless figurehead, the only consolation is that Bill Shorten and Labor would be worse. That won’t stop voters electing them, however, if for no better reason than to be rid of the developing apocalypse that is the Turnbull government.
As one wag in the mainstream press noted last week, Turnbull’s greatest political achievement may ultimately prove simply to have been Prime Minister.
Happy New Year, Malcolm.