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March 22nd 2016 print

Peter O'Brien

Turnbull’s Gambit, Turnbull’s Spine

It seems likely our latest PM will get both his Double Dissolution and a campaign centring on the need to end union corruption. Does he have the wherewithal to make those vital reforms stick, or is the ABCC merely his means to go early? Many voters will have their doubts

turnbull selfie III smallI was mildly amused to read Graham ‘Whatever It Takes’ Richardson’s posturing in today’s Australian (paywalled) on the Turnbull tactic to achieve both a reform of Senate voting and a real chance at getting the ABCC, and  union accountability, made law. One of the things to which Labor’s head-kicker-turned-pundit objects is that Parliament will be recalled after a short recess ‘at huge expense’.  God forbid that Parliamentarians should do what we pay them to do!  And, in any case, where is the huge expense?  We are already paying MPs, their staffers and Parliament House’s functionaries.  The cost of a recall will be real, that’s true, but merely incremental.

That is, however, a minor quibble. What really tickled me about Richardson’s column was his assertion that the voting public will “work Turnbull out” for the trickiness of his gambit.  He claims that “the Governor-General will be forced to set a precedent on grounds the public will view with suspicion”.  Further, he seems to believe this will result in a groundswell of revulsion on the part of typical, constitutionally savvy voters appalled at the PM’s assault on the purity of our parliamentary tradition.

This typifies the navel-gazing mindset of the standard-issue Canberra political insider. Like so many others he is fascinated by the minutiae of political intrigue, able to see it only in so far as it provides grist to the mill of their latest leadership speculations.  Fellow Australian scribe Peter Van Onselen is an addicted exponent of this strange craft. Here’s the truth: if the Government gets its legislation passed, the voting public will no longer give a toss about how it was achieved by the time Election Day rolls around.

If a Double Dissolution is called, I suspect most voters will welcome it with nothing less than a sense of immense relief.  Bringing on an election a few months early is hardly the stuff of major controversy.  Turnbull will be campaigning on the need to curb union criminality.  Is it really likely, as Richardson predicts, that the Opposition’s response will be ‘yeah, but he doesn’t play fair’?  Good luck with that tactic.

There is no doubt that Turnbull’s primary aim is the preservation of his job, but that represents little cause for complaint if the outcome of an election triumph paves the way for desireable policies.  The real questions: will he make this issue resonate with voters, and can he frame it so that the result will stick? The case for the ABCC is undeniable, but that will cut no ice with some future Labor government still indebted and financially beholding to the CFMEU.  The interesting question for further down the road is what will be the long-term fate of  ABCC?  Allowing that the Coalition wins the upcoming election, will Labor bide its time and disband it all over again, as it did under Julia Gillard, when its turn comes to occupy the government benches? Probably. They did it once, they’ll do it again, given half a chance.

Could the ABCC be quarantined (at least to some extent) from such attack by widening its scope to include all industries and employers as well as unions, as now being demanded by certain players?  Would there be unintended consequences to such an expansion?  Might it become un-focussed and unwieldy? If Turnbull is serious about achieving more than a tactical, short-term advantage he will be devoting some thought to making sure the ABCC endures long after he is gone.

It seems increasingly likely Turnbull will get his election and, if he wins, the reform he wants. But the question, as always, hanging over the Member for Wentworth is whether he has the courage, conviction and principles to make it stick? Does he have the backbone, for example, to face down and dismiss the inevitable Labor line that he is seeking to reprise Work Choices?

Far more than the alleged abuse of parliamentary traditions which so concern Richardson,  that matter of trust and sincerity, of strength for the fight, is far more likely to be at the forefront of voters’ minds.

Comments [9]

  1. Davidovich says:

    I fear that the issue of trust and sincerity is unlikely to be at the forefront of most voters’ minds or, at least, who do you trust least – Shorten or Turnbull? A great many Liberal Party members wouldn’t trust Turnbull in a fit but they know that Opposition is a very painful and frustrating experience and so will mostly vote for the Coalition candidates.

  2. Bill Martin says:

    “But the question, as always, hanging over the Member for Wentworth is whether he has the courage, conviction and principles to make it stick?” – The only conviction and principles he has are those which further his personal interests, damn everything else.

  3. Lawrie Ayres says:

    I would like to know how the Senate voting will work in this coming election. I would prefer a system where I could number the candidates of MY choice in the order of MY choice. In a DD I would be able to number my selection 1 to 12 or in an ordinary election 1 to 6. I should not have to number 1 to 100 or however many candidates there are to register a formal vote.

  4. en passant says:

    I am afraid that my first six (or 12) choices will not include Liberal, Labour or the Greens so I may be one of the majority who vote for somebody called ‘Informal’

    • Bill Martin says:

      Yes, voting informal for the lower house would seem appropriate, hopefully to indicate the dismal support for Turnbull but without handing the reins to Shorten. But in the senate, support the Australian Liberty Alliance. If they were to get at least one senator in every state, that would be a powerful voting bloc, likely to have the balance of power. It is the only party that does not kowtow to noisy minorities, particularly to Muslims.

      • Max Rawnsley says:

        Understand how ALA has emerged. Where a seemingly attractive gap/opportunity appears there is likely to be new market entrants. My concern with ALA is that the organisation is very closely controlled significantly more so than the ALP or Liberals. What goes on with the Greens I do not know but that is just laziness on my part.

        AL policy platform is a smorgasbord for the disaffected. I even understand that but my concern is its closely controlled Executive Board and that its candidates are selected/approved by that board. This strikes me as being shades of PUP and we know that has, or is about to, end in tears without making any positive contribution to the Parliament.

  5. What a bloody choice – having the Australian economy and our standard of living murdered by Shorten and the LABOR/GREEN axis and the CMFEU, or having the Australian economy commit slow painful suicide with Malcolm Turnbull’s dulcet urgings.
    Despite that as Napoleon was reputed to have said – ‘more battles are lost from no decisions being made rather than bad decisions being made’. It applies also to politics. I am now more likely to vote for Malcolm now that he has made a decision – whether it be good or bad with regards to the Bills before parliament and being potential DD trigger. His mania with ‘clean energy’ and hence reviving a new waste of taxpayer monies is definitely a wrong decision for me but is outweighed by his actions to curb the CMFEU thuggery.

  6. Ian Matthews says:

    In answer to your question Peter: Lord Lachrymose of House Invertebrate hasn’t the stomach for anything but adulation. When it comes to making it stick, he will dog it.

  7. Keith Kennelly says:

    Watch the waffle during the campaign.

    That will turn people away from Turnbull.

    Shorten will appeal with three word slogans.

    Shorten in the lower house. Conservative on the Senate.

    There will then be another dd in a few months without Turnbull.

    Simple. That will ratf… them all.