苏州吴江区美甲培训

苏州美甲美睫培训学校

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Malcolm Turnbull is through by the skin of his teeth – but he must learn lessons from the experience. Photo: Christopher PearceLatest from Federal Election 2016Peter Martin: Three simple tweaks to tell the budget truth
苏州美甲美睫培训学校

When the other side is using a sledgehammer on you, you have to pull one out and start swinging yourself, Malcolm Turnbull was told.

The exasperated advice came as members of the Australian Republican Movement’s inner-sanctum watched their cause falter ahead of the referendum in 1999.

The problem, they diagnosed, was common-or-garden politics in which Turnbull had seemed strangely reluctant.

Left-leaning populists, such as the former independent MP Phil Cleary and the late Clem Jones, were splintering the pro-republic vote with their direct-election alternative.

It was manna from heaven for monarchist leaders Tony Abbott and the then prime minister John Howard, who warned people against leaving it to politicians, fully aware that the direct electionists were doing their work for them.

Turnbull was urged to slam Cleary et al as wreckers and to hack into the senior Liberal hypocrites applying the wedge, even as they took the pay cheques as politicians themselves.

But he was unenthusiastic and, as chair and a major funder of the campaign, he had extra sway. Despite the committee’s inclusion of people with extensive direct political experience, Turnbull gave the impression it was his way or the highway.

“He wanted to stay above the fray,” said an insider from the time.

“We were fighting with one arm behind our backs, because Malcolm insisted on a level of intellectual argument … we couldn’t mention the royal family, we were getting slammed,” revealed another.

The similarities with his election campaign just run – albeit nearly 18 years later – are plain. Not least the unhappy process of starting out and going steadily backwards. And more specifically, his reluctance to properly head off a badly exaggerated Medicare scare campaign.

Liberals grumble that the “Mediscare” campaign nearly killed them. Yet the more important question looking forward is why Turnbull’s campaign was caught off-guard, and why it was so half-hearted once the allegation had emerged.

In any event, his descent started well before Mediscare.

Much has been written about how (and why) the Turnbull juggernaut hit the ground dithering after Christmas, thus managing to wipe out an extraordinary 56/44 two-party-preferred lead from November to be 50/50 by April.

It is hard to know whether to blame his shambolic “thought-bubble” policy processes that saw a bigger GST, negative gearing excesses, and state income taxing powers, come and go (all the political pain for naff-all fiscal gain), or the steady disappearance of Turnbull himself, as voters thought they knew him.

More likely it was a combination of both expressed in a general sense that Turnbull had become unclear about what he stood for personally, and more instrumentally, what he wanted to do right now.

Even the election, its timing and form became an unnecessarily drawn-out affair with weeks of speculation over moving the budget date, rescheduling the tax white paper (would it be before the budget or in it?), the Senate voting reforms, and the double dissolution.

Eventually, the budget did get moved to facilitate the election and the do-or-die voting reforms did get passed if only to be immediately neutralised by the double dissolution. Politically, it was a mess, and the sense of chaos was hardly assuaged by a crazy-brave eight-week campaign in which the dull-as-ditchwater budget would ensure no exciting policy announcements would be made throughout its extended duration.

Within the campaign itself, the reluctance to get down and dirty – re-emerged.

The Liberal campaign continued to underestimate the sensitivity of voters to rising medical costs in the suburbs, and failed miserably to understand the credibility deficit it carried with voters on trust generally and Medicare in particular.

Both of these stemmed from the 2014 budget, which Tony Abbott continues to defend even now as “visionary” and as the right fiscal formula despite its blatantly broken promises.

Three lessons.

First, to the extent that this was Abbott’s post-coup booby trap, it was Turnbull’s responsibility to locate it and defuse it ahead of time. He didn’t.

Second, as an Ebiquity analysis of all election advertising done by the major parties shows, the Liberal campaign compounded this failure. Labor’s advertising focused on “out-of-touch Malcolm” and the Medicare claim, with 75 per cent of its ads being negative in tone. The Coalition went 55 per cent positive and, while Labor ran a negative ad on day one (May 9), the Coalition waited another month to June 7, to unleash its “same old Labor” attack ad.

Hardly agile.

Third, as Turnbull showed in the republican push, he prefers his own advice to that of others – a fact painfully evident on election night also.

To his credit, Turnbull at least has acknowledged the first problem, noting the Coalition’s past behaviour on health assisted the Labor claim regarding Medicare.

His prospects in a difficult Parliament will turn on his success in addressing the other two: playing politics as hard as his now emboldened opponents, and, at least pretending to suffer fools gladly.

Mark Kenny is chief political correspondent.

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