An admirer hails the new Prime Minister’s credentials, starting with the belief that a divisive turn as Opposition Leader taught him the importance of consultation and collegiality. Greater even than this presumed gift is a prime recommendation: he’s not Tony Abbott
Malcolm Turnbull’s accession to the PM’s job is obviously not popular in the Quadrant firmament. But cutting through the torrent of reflection and comment, much not kind to Turnbull, the facts seem clear. Tony Abbott’s government failed, period, like those of Rudd and Gillard before him. It was failing consistently in the polls (and this despite an uninspiring Shorten-led Labor Opposition) for two key reasons, both fundamental to the success of any government.
Abbott did not articulate a specific, relevant, overarching policy strategy for his government. And second, he failed to appoint and, in particular, optimally manage a team to implement this policy strategy. He had some significant wins, like on border control, but in the key economic area, including budgeting, his government drifted, even flailed, never got traction. Abbott’s off-the-cuff paid-parental leave policy suggestion epitomised the disorganised, ad hoc approach.
Abbott and his supporters did not understand this, and apparently still don’t, not least through the lame gambit of blaming destructive commentary by the media. Talk of “treachery” and “disloyalty”, and also that only voters choose the PM via elections, is nonsense. MPs ultimate loyalty is not to a leader but to their party and, ultimately, the country. And if a leader fails, so be it. The Westminster party system allows the flexibility of changing leaders mid-term, if deemed appropriate, albeit a flexibility to be invoked responsibly. And arguably Turnbull gave the Abbott government of time to demonstrate its capability.
People matter in politics, especially leaders. Abbott, like Kevin Rudd, proved a successful Opposition Leader. But both failed as PMs, Rudd conspicuously. Abbott’s economic credentials were always a concern, but his poor leadership and management of a working government is perhaps more surprising.
Now for Mr Turnbull and his team. He would appear to have much stronger economic credentials than Mr Abbott in articulating policy vision and strategy. And it may just be he will also prove more successful overseeing an efficient effective government team. Certainly he is bright enough to learn important lessons from Abbott’s failure, and also, perhaps in particular, from his failed first experience as federal Liberal leader. Turnbull’s up-beat exhortation to the nation the day he won the ballot hit the mark, and his new ministry makes sense.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man? In the current confusion, for his party and the country, Turnbull is confident, obviously senses major opportunity, for the country and his Government. We will see before long if he’s right.