QED

Turnbull’s Great Distinction

saint malcolm smallMalcolm 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.

8 comments
  • [email protected]

    Where to start with such rubbish?

    In two short years, the Abbott Government managed to: (1) completely halt the influx of criminals {alias ‘asylum seekers’) across our northern border – something Abbott’s critics said couldn’t be done; (2) repeal the economy-destroying carbon tax, despite a generally hostile Senate; (3) ditto the mining tax; (4) finalise several trade treaties that will have substantial long-term benefit to our country; and (5) push down by around half the federal government’s future level of debt – again despite the hostility of the Senate.

    To accuse the Abbott Government of failure because it was poor at communicating, or because it fared badly in the polls, or because the media constantly denigrated it, is to confuse appearance for substance. We can only hope the Turnbull Government achieves as much in substance as Abbott did.

    • Rob Brighton

      Hello Richard: That may all be true but we must work with what “is”, not what we perceive “ought to be”.

      Abbott did many things correctly but he failed as well, he failed at appearance as you quite rightly pointed out, he failed to get my old mum on side (a more conservative woman would be hard to find) once you have lost the “old mums” your in strife.

      We can only hope that Turnbull does not achieve substance, his form of substance is the antithesis of what I hope a conservative government stands for, no I want none of Mr Turnbulls substance, I want him to provide appearance, pop and sparkle to keep them mesmerized long enough for a conservative win at the next election, anything so we do not have to endure a labor government, Australia cannot afford it.

    • wse999

      All true, but he was still trailing badly in the polls, and against a weak opponent. And end of the day, as Costello reminded us, it is always ultimately about the numbers. Using his neat metaphor, after trailing for this long the bush was very dry. Just needed a match. However, as I was reminded by someone else, Turnbull fared badly in the polls as Opposition Leader, albeit against the popular Rudd, and was disgruntled inside the party for some time after he was removed. So we must hope he has learned from all that.

  • [email protected]

    This is a most persuasive article, the reasoning cannot be faulted. And yet! Considering the checkered history of Turnbull, one’s unease is not alleviated. As the trite old saying goes, the leopard doesn’t change its spots. This man, of formidable intellect, with ambition and narcissism to match, will contrive ceaselessly to further his well known, perilously “progressive” agenda (think global warming, agenda 21). Oh yes, he is biding his time for the moment, while ever on the lookout for opportunities to prosecute what is close to his “heart”, figuratively speaking. One fervently hopes that circumstances will keep him in check and prevent him from inflicting to much damage on our country.

  • Jody

    Firstly, I think we all must keep sight of the main game; keeping Labor out of office. Shorten is a disingenuous puppet and has zero ideas; Plibersek is an hard left Agony Aunt and Dreyfus a first class hater. Put them in league with the devil (the Greens) and we’re all for the slippery slope. So, it makes the incumbent look pretty darn good IMO.

    Secondly, give Turnbull a chance. The history of on-again/off-again leadership is the history of politics. John Howard had more stumbles than the law allows and yet he was very successful for a long time. He just grew old in the job, that’s all. But he weathered storms such as the Wheat Board scandal. True, the media cycle wasn’t totally counter-productive and destructive but everyone has to work with what they’ve got. If the community wants government which jumps to attention at each and every opinion poll (as I suspect) then it will truly get the government it deserves – there will be no real reform. If the community decides to grow up we might be able to get mature government which is willing to make the hard choices. At the moment I don’t see any political party making that happen.

    What I greatly fear with Labor is re-introduction of taxation for superannuation for over 60’s, blow-outs in national debt, more handouts and increases in welfare spending, more human cargo coming illegally into this country (the Left will trenchantly look the other way instead of the perilous European ‘experiment’), unemployment rising and debilitating class/culture wars. Political correctness on steroids will make Australia an even more intellectually arid place to live. I seriously despair but, on the other hand, won’t be around long enough to witness the inevitable mop up. There is nobody in Labor with the chops and courage (yes!) of Paul Keating to do what has to be done and stare down the unions.

    Watching “Australian Story” last night about Turnbull made me realize one thing; his conflicting political positions and progressive agendas are all attempts at getting approval. His unhappy childhood and family situation, together with the fact that he “wasn’t particularly popular at school” made me realize that, like so many people with whom one wants to find approval, he’ll take the position which he perceives affords the most respect. Unlike Rudd, who desperately needed the attention and affirmation of teenagers (selfies) etc., at least Turnbull knows precisely who he has to impress now; Liberal voters and the middle ground. We’ll see if I’m right (so to speak)!

  • [email protected]

    I admit I deliberately avoided the ABC 7:30 Report interview with Turnbull and even more pointedly Australian Story, tracing the biography of the great man. I simply assumed that both would be far more favourable to him than impartiality would require. Yes, I am prejudiced against both the ABC an Turnbull and with excellent reason. Only time will tell if he will turn out to be of benefit or detriment to the country. One fears the worst while hoping for the best.

  • Hoppy

    We simply cannot afford to have another Labor government in the near future. Therefore, the conservatives who currently attack Turnbull need to get behind him instead, to prevent Shorten making it to the Lodge.
    If the conservatives do support Turnbull, and their arguments for various positions are truly compelling, then perhaps Turnbull will move a little towards those views. If conservatives can’t convince people in the middle ground of the worth of their views, then perhaps those views aren’t relevant to the broad population, but that doesn’t mean the population is wrong! The Quadrant writers and commentators should set out to convince Turnbull and his team of the worth of their conservative views, but they should do so with logic and generosity, not by resorting to invective and abuse.
    Conservatives, you can’t win them all. Better to win some than none. Jody is right; let’s give Turnbull a go, support him and his team, and engage in the debate. Help him win the middle ground. The alternative is decidedly worse.

  • [email protected]

    We conservatives have no choice at the moment other then to support a Turnbull-led Government. In saying that, we have to be extremely grateful that it is a Coalition Government and fortunately the Nationals will help keep this man in check. However, we know he is far from stupid, and he will surely try to bring in policies or adapt present policies to suit his agenda which many of us find offensively wrong.

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