I 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.