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September 15th 2015 print

Peter Smith

What Will Malcolm Do Next?

The architect in so many way of his own demise, Tony Abbott has been swept from the stage, bequeathing his successor a litany of mis-steps in dire need of setting straight. As Turnbull rolls up his bloody sleeves, fixing the partial-pension mess would be a good place to start

brutus ponders II Tony Abbott has paid the price for Hockey’s budgets. The Medicare co-payment was a disaster of unparalleled proportions. To think that you could impose costs on poor families with kids while spending the proceeds on some new-fangled, pie-in-the-sky medical research was so inane that it must have been deliberately designed to inflict self-harm. Only some kind of deep psychosis could account for it.

Equally, that same psychosis must have been working overtime to promote changed indexation arrangements which would progressively erode the value of aged-pensions against community standards. Votes were lost. Now I don’t know, but I suspect it’s easier to lose a vote than get it back.

Okay, the second budget reversed these inane policy proposals. Noticeable absent, however, were the mea culpas that should have accompanied these reversals. Instead, lectures were given on the need to find replacement saving measures.

One of those replacement measures, orchestrated by Scott Morrison, the new likely Treasurer, was to hit those receiving part-pensions — all 327,000 of them, who have saved significant nest eggs, and who, without much doubt, predominantly voted for the Coalition. Incredibly, these were the people identified as ripe for plucking.

What a complete blunder. And it remains on the books as a ticking electoral time bomb. The elevation of Malcolm Turnbull will do nothing to defuse it.

Mr Turnbull must reverse this iniquitous attack on Coalition voters and, in his best collegiate manner, apologise for ever being part of a government which brought it in. If he does, he has some chance, at least, of attracting a sizeable proportion of the almost half a million votes lost since the last election. But, this will be no shoo-in whatever he does.

There is a good chance he will be facing Chris Bowen, rather than the hapless Bill Shorten, and that will be a far harder contest. Forget about Turnbull’s apparent popularity over Abbott. That was among Labor voters, who will proceed to cast their ballots for Labor, but with less enmity in the hearts for Turnbull than they would have had for Abbott. The fact that some voters find Turnbull more palatable than his predecessor won’t change a thing.

It is clear that electoral allegiances are more volatile these days than in the past. This ups the ante for retaining your normally rusted-on supporters. It should be remembered that the Abbott government had lots of successes.

It did stop the boats, it got rid of the carbon and mining taxes, it completed three important free-trade agreements, it was tackling the problems of red and green tape, it was appropriately strong on national security and – lost in the accusations of a having a poor economic performance – it presided over a creditable two-percent growth in employment over the past year, despite the economic turmoil cause by China’s economic difficulties. Oh, what the Europeans would give for that!

None of this proved sufficient. Turnbull will have to do better, apparently. Well, it is simply not possible. Once the initial optimism has faded those intractable budgetary problems will remain, as will the politically unpalatable need to cut benefits. In these circumstances, he will have to look to sectional interests. He will need to attract back traditional Coalition voters by ensuring they are not uniquely disadvantaged. Surely that is not rocket science – though it seemed to be for Hockey and Morrison. And, it must be said, Abbott was in charge and let it pass.

Nevertheless, a strong leader and thoroughly decent man was ill-served and, in the end, treacherously undermined. It is funny (strange) that the coup did not await the results of the Canning by-election. I heard Cory Bernardi say that the internal polling showed a strong Liberal victory in the offing and that was why the plotters had to bring on the coup quickly. If this is true, what an indictment it would be of Turnbull and those around him. Will that matter to the electorate? Probably not; only the hip pocket counts for much and Turnbull will optimise his chances if he remembers that.

Peter Smith, a frequent Quadrant Online contributor, is the author of Bad Economics

Comments [7]

  1. Bill Martin says:

    Turnbull is undoubtedly a very intelligent man in the IQ sence but one thing he is definitely not and that is a genuine conservative. He is, in fact, the Trojan horse of the left in the Liberal party and he always was. Think emission trading scheme, gay marriage, the ABC. The underlying principle of everything he ever does is dictated by his enormous ego, while his supplementary motivation is to advance the progressive course detailed in Agenda 21. His integrity is limited to the need in the service of these principles. He will be a disaster for Australia and more particularly for true conservatism represented in politics by Cory Bernardy an by Andrew Bolt in journalism. He is most unlikely to win the next federal election due to his complete lack of appeal to the Howard battlers. One hopes that Tony Abbott stays around to reclaim the leadership after Turnbull’s failure to retain government in 12 month’s time. Tony would then become what he is truly capable of, as was the case with John Howard under similar circumstances.

    • PT says:

      He his intelligent in the “IQ sense”. So was Hawke. However he thinks he is far more intelligent than he is, as did Hawke. But whilst Hawke came across as conceited but essentially good natured, Turncoat just seems arrogant.

  2. pgang says:

    The political class answers only to itself now. I doubt that I’ll cast a vote in any more elections. I am a mere citizen.

    • Trevor Bailey says:

      Well said, pgang. As mere citizens then, let’s continue to celebrate human virtues of loyalty and patience, unimportant as they seem to the political class.

  3. Bran Dee says:

    The reality is that the Coalition was only getting a mediocre result against one of the most shallow men that has ever lead the Labor Party.Imagine how Tony Abbott would have been skewered by a Paul Keating or a Bob Hawke.
    We had to have a change of leader because Tony Abbott ignored the necessity to have a focused Treasurer and a purged PMO and a Minister for Communications who would take on the ABC.

    How can one forget that on the night before the election that would inevitably seal the fate of debt and deficit spendathon Labor, Tony Abbott doomed himself with the totally unnecessary assurance that there would be no cuts to Health, Education or [drum roll here] the ABC.

    Chances repeatedly offered to the leader were not taken so last night the Party room said as gently as possible: Onya bike Tony!

  4. Jody says:

    I think Abbott should get another portfolio on the front bench as he’s got lots to offer, but he will never return to the leadership. There are other contenders now, like Scott Morrison (whom I met in his office a week ago and who is thoroughly affable). And Julie Bishop is a serious leadership contender now. There are lots of good people who could be pressed into the new front bench, replacing those who’ve gone past their use-by dates (eg. Kevin Andrews). And a couple of talented females would help “the look” too – and, after all, perceptions mean a lot in politics.

    Sure, Turnbull has a big ego but the biggest political ego in my lifetime was Paul Keating. He alienated people, despite really understanding the job of Treasurer and knowing what had to be done by way of reform. I never cared for Hawke, viewing him as unstable and his mouth wasn’t shaped in downwards direction for nothing!!

    Adam Creighton said tonight on “The Drum” (yes, I watched it to see them gloat over Liberal misery) and Creighton said, regarding spending cuts, “the most money in government is spent on the poor so that’s the first place you’d expected to see cut”. I actually agree with him, because people resolutely refuse to contribute anything towards their childrens’ public school education – the cost of which increase exponentially – and the middle class wouldn’t pay $7 to see a doctor so what can people expect but further cuts?

    The age of entitlement is over but it has to stop for middle class welfare and those public service ‘double dippers’ of parental leave. These people have already said they’re ‘entitled’ to it!!

    I fear for the future.

  5. Jody says:

    I was saying to my son (39) tonight, “it’s time for the Right to get off the back foot and tell the Left in no uncertain terms – when they invoke endless victimology and entitlement – “look, we’re already paying for you out of our own pockets so it’s time for you to bloody-well shut up!”.

    Instead of tearing out our hair in frustration (over Europe’s crisis as well) I think we need to laugh more. The problem with the modern polity is the extent of narcissism and the identity politics played over and over and the tendency of people to take it way, way too seriously. In our home we think ridicule and laughter is the best medicine for all of this. BTW, whatever happened to decent political satire anyway?

    Thinking about the late Bart Cummings and his dealings with the bureaucracy brought a smile to our faces and informs the way we should react to politics and political correctness:

    Official: “You’ve got too many flies in the stables, Bart”
    Bart: “Well, how many can I have?”

    Please, everybody, just laugh heartily at the Left. They’re entirely risible. Successful people just don’t behave this way.