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He may have been a successful investment banker, but somehow Malcolm Turnbull didn’t have a convincing message to win a majority government or convince business leaders. Photo: Andrew Meares Illustration: Jim Pavlidis

Let’s rewind the clock. It’s the Tuesday before polling day and Tony Nutt, Malcolm Turnbull’s campaign director, rings his Labor counterpart with an offer George Wright could not refuse: a final leaders’ debate on prime time TV.

The debate proceeds and when, on cue, Bill Shorten accuses Turnbull of dismantling Medicare “brick by brick”, the Prime Minister fixes his gaze on the viewing audience and announces he will resign if Medicare is privatised on his watch.

For dramatic effect, he then produces a resignation letter from his breast pocket and hands it to Shorten, with the instruction that it be opened the moment the Medicare sale is announced.

It didn’t happen, of course, and we will never know whether such a theatrical flourish would have punctured Labor’s Medicare message as the campaign clock moved into time-on.

But it is useful to contemplate what might have been if the Coalition had deviated from the small-target script that was all about convincing voters the only criteria they should use to decide their vote was their preference for Turnbull over Shorten as PM.

Football teams regularly practice close finishes with the grand final in mind, playing out various scenarios to prepare for the unexpected. The good ones are trained to take risks when it matters and the great ones prevail no matter how much adversity they confront.

The letter idea didn’t come from some frustrated backbencher or superannuated spin doctor, but my colleague, crime writer John Silvester, who admittedly knows more about the thought patterns of cops and robbers than politicians and voters.

Even if Nutt, a highly experienced political operator, had suggested something like it, and Turnbull had acquiesced, it probably wouldn’t have flown for the simple reason  the key Labor message was not about privatisation, but whether Coalition policies would undermine Medicare’s fundamentals by increasing the health costs of battling families.

Even so, the surprise was the Turnbull campaign did not change in any respect as the finish line beckoned, despite the published polls showing the race was neck-and-neck and evidence that Medicare was clearly biting as an issue.

As another colleague, Tony Wright, observed from the Turnbull campaign bus in the final week, the Prime Minister had assumed “a casual and confident spring in his step”, suggesting an inner confidence about the result.

When the count went so disastrously awry, Turnbull could not contain his anger when he belatedly addressed the party faithful after midnight. It was almost as if the voters had crashed his victory party and he wanted to call in the cops.

Now, with the Coalition seemingly assured of a wafer-thin majority in the lower house and a qualified guarantee of support from Bob Katter, Andrew Wilkie and Cathy McGowan, the challenge for Turnbull is of the same order as the one that confronted Tony Abbott before he was brought down – and the odds of success are about the same.

The first imperative is to understand what has happened and to allow his MPs to vent internally about what went wrong.

This should involve a discussion of the many errors that were made after the leadership change: from the tax debate that produced a vacuum and no result; the thought bubble of handing taxing powers to the states to fund government schools; the decision to telegraph that the budget would trigger a double dissolution and be the Coalition’s entire election platform; the superannuation changes that were seen as punishing the Liberal base etc, etc.

There is also the issue of Turnbull’s tone, before and during the campaign, given that the biggest swings against the government were in Coalition seats with lower socio-economic profiles, where the call to be innovative and agile was more likely to have increased feelings of insecurity than allayed them.

“When Malcolm was talking about this being the most exciting time to be an Australian, he wasn’t talking to the people who are doing it tough,” is how one Liberal MP expressed it.

Turnbull insists he respects the result and will learn from its many lessons, but the message from his most senior colleagues is that they don’t get it, from Scott Morrison and Julie Bishop, blaming it all on Labor’s Medicare scare, to Christopher Pyne’s boast that the Coalition will have a solid majority and is now a “winning machine”.

It might have been a pithy line for morning TV from an optimist with a quick wit but it smacked of hubris. Not only will it reinforce the electorate’s view of politicians as totally out of touch, it will make the slim prospects of winning co-operation from the Labor Party even more remote.

Pyne likens the result to Bob Hawke’s narrow win in 1990, when Andrew Peacock won 50.1 per cent of the vote, but the big difference is that this was Hawke’s fourth straight win.

Turnbull remains in The Lodge, but Shorten is the leader who has emerged from this election with his stature in his party and the electorate enhanced. His challenge is to build on this achievement and his message is to prepare for another election within the year.

The next priority for Turnbull is to manage the relationships that will determine the success or failure of this parliament: an emboldened National Party; a backbench that will resent more attention being paid to crossbenchers; a bitterly resentful conservative flank; the demanding crossbench in the lower house; and a Senate that will prove harder to manage than the one it replaced.

Then there is the policy challenge which is almost impossible to exaggerate. If natural charm and intelligence are Turnbull’s advantages, his limited room to move is underscored by the warning from the ratings agency S&P Global that Australia’s AAA credit rating will be downgraded in the absence of “more forceful fiscal policy decisions”.

As the Grattan Institute’s John Daley points out, Australia’s twin economic challenges are to increase growth and to reduce the structural deficit, and Turnbull’s options on both fronts are limited by political reality. “Whether we’re talking about micro-economic reforms that increase the size of the economy, or cuts to services or increased taxes, each is going to be politically difficult,” he says.

Daley believes Turnbull would be better off focusing on doing deals with Labor and the Greens than the Senate crossbenchers, citing reducing capital gains tax concessions as one potential area for agreement. Pigs might fly.

“We are the Hawthorn of Australian politics!” the ebullient Pyne declared on Friday. No, minister, your outfit has nothing in common with the football team whose members pride themselves on openness and honesty, selflessness, the absence of ego and playing as a team. Nothing at all.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on 苏州美甲美睫培训学校.


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