An incomplete revolution: Liberal edition

Tuesday, 15 September 2015 

David Rowe: AFR

David Rowe: AFR

A “humble” Malcolm Turnbull promised to be a team player, pledged no radical shifts in policy, and assured there would be no recriminations.

“I listen to everybody,” he said. “I am a great believer in networking. I am a great believer in communication and consultation.”

Malcolm Turnbull assuming the leadership in, er, 2008

For the last five years, Australia has had to endure the tedious process of both major parties regaining control from what Barrie Cassidy called the “party thieves”, Rudd and Turnbull, only to see the major parties make such a hash of it that both “thieves” ended up taking the party back again. Sort of.

With Labor, the party reasserted itself through its institutions, and Rudd’s recapture of it happened without the total capitulation of those power brokers and union leadership that probably would have been necessary to make it a success.

With the Liberals, it was ideological, especially on climate change, and again it appears that Turnbull has recaptured the party but without having totally overwhelmed the opposition. This was shown not only in the modest size of the victory but more importantly in the motivation he gave for the challenge a few hours before.

In announcing the challenge, Turnbull really only gave one area, besides presentation, where he would be different from Abbott, on the economy – the thin space on which he would seem to be in tune with the right. However, there are two problems with this.

First, the economy is not exactly an area that plays to the main strength of Turnbull that allowed him to return, namely his public popularity. In fact, it would be fair to say that the “merchant banker” image was one area where he ran into problems against Rudd as out of tune with the widespread acceptance during the GFC that pumping money into the economy was necessary (a stance, it’s been forgotten, that was widely accepted in the Liberals as well, so much so that it was Turnbull that had to over-turn the frontbench’s support for the second hand-out).

The economy is not exactly going great guns now, and the public already made clear from the first Budget that it has no time for ideological games on this. It will not be immediately obvious how Turnbull will manage both to please the right and the voters at a time when the economy is running out of steam.

Related to to this is the second problem that even if he wasn’t having to please the right, this economic space is very thin indeed given that there is not really much any government can do. In the past it was either pressure unions to increase wage “flexibility”, or throw money at the problem. With the anti-union attacks being little more than the half-arsed show trials of the TURC, it really is only about throwing money around.

It was something that the Abbott government had already come to terms with in a second Budget that abandoned any pretence at clearing up the deficit, but rather at least not blowing it up as badly a Labor – resulting in low level grumbling from the party and business commentators about its lack of “reform zeal” and especially dumped onto the hapless Treasurer.

Beyond the economy, there looks at the moment to be not much else that Turnbull can talk about. On issues such as climate change or gay marriage, where Turnbull differs from the majority of the party, it was clear yesterday that Turnbull was in no mood to tackle the party on that. In fact, in the spirit of inclusiveness, Turnbull looks ready to accommodate all positions except his own.

In short, Turnbull faces a similar problem to Abbott – trying to balance the needs of a party right obsessed about its “brand” and the public rejection of it. This blog had thought that instead, the Liberals might plump for the one who appears best at balancing both, but certainly Turnbull’s record has not been that great. In contrast to Abbott’s attempt to manage this tension, unsuccessfully, by the occasional culture war wink to the right that bemused everyone else, Turnbull looks more inclined to resume the consultant-ese waffle of his first stint and that we had a taste of again last night.

Turnbull’s acceptance speech was almost a carbon copy of last time, and, like last time, this approach still has the potential to satisfy no one. The interview with Steve Ciobo suggested that not only Morrison be there to keep an eye on Turnbull, but that the right are in no hurry to forgive Turnbull’s recapture of the party.

The message was even clearer from Joyce, saying the Coalition agreement would have to be renegotiated and that the threat of walking away from it was real. The Nationals, of course, are dying, and Joyce himself may be in trouble in his own seat at the next election. The Liberals need the Nationals’ numbers and, while the Nats have nowhere else to go, they can still cause trouble. They did last time.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Tuesday, 15 September 2015.

Filed under Political figures, State of the parties

Tags: , , , ,


12 responses to “An incomplete revolution: Liberal edition”

  1. Phillip O'Reilly on 15th September 2015 9:11 am

    Great stuff, don’t you sleep?. One of your very best articles with lots to chew on.
    Turnbull talks about his economic plan, but haven’t heard much detail about what he is proposing in substance in the last two years, having ample opportunity, after all, wrecking the NBN did not take long.

  2. F on 15th September 2015 10:27 am

    Excellent analysis. The overweening cheer squad mentality of the press gallery last night was something to behold.

    However, when you ask them what exactly is going to change, they answer: “style….Prime ministerial discretion?”

    Is that it?

  3. Ramon on 15th September 2015 4:32 pm

    One of the better pieces of analysis of what the ‘man of destiny’ is facing. Some nice turns of phrase too…consultant-ese waffle is up there and sums up the half baked sophistry masquerading as eloquence that the press gallery/public so love about him. Now that his hands are bloodied it will be interesting to see how his moral luck (or Dame Fortuna as per Machiavelli) plays out.

  4. Fred on 15th September 2015 10:19 pm

    Excellent article.
    One can only wonder when it will eventually dawn upon the great unwashed that Turnbull has spent billions of dollars building a national broadband that will be obsolete before it is finished. If it wasn’t so tragic it would be funny. No minister in the history of his country has managed to achieve such reckless waste. Yet now he is Prime Minister. Truly, we are stuffed.

  5. Jack on 16th September 2015 4:15 pm

    This blog has lost all credibility…how many times was it asserted here that Turnbull’s best and only chance of becoming leader again passed in Feb ’15…

  6. The Piping Shrike on 16th September 2015 5:41 pm


  7. Mercurial on 17th September 2015 7:21 am

    Good response, TPS.

  8. calyptorhynchus on 17th September 2015 8:38 am

    I suppose I’ve always read too much Shakespeare for my own good, but I was half-hoping for some Captain’s calls on the night he was elected (a real Carbon policy, withdrawing the legislation to give environmental protection powers back the States &c)

    Looks like Turnbott is just going to be content to go down in history as someone who went along with the stupidity of their party rather than trying to do something about it (and possibly failing).

  9. Phillip O'Reilly on 17th September 2015 9:40 am

    How many times have this blog told us that the agenda of the political parties is exhausted – countless.
    Long may that continue.

  10. The Piping Shrike on 17th September 2015 4:29 pm

    Even more countless.

  11. Lino Vari on 18th September 2015 7:15 pm

    More hilarious shenanigans, this time from the other side, isn’t it obvious by now, that the impotence of their various measures at influencing the economy in any substantial way, the political class seem at a loss on what to do, apart from cannibalise themselves, which is fun to watch, until the realisation kicks in that they are still capable of causing a lot of long term damage: action on global warming, asylum seeker policy, same sex marriage, indigenous policy, tax policy, need I go on.
    Nice analysis, but far too short, I was just settling in, and it ended.
    More to come no doubt.

  12. Ralph on 21st September 2015 11:44 am

    Together with Andrew Elder’s Politically Homeless, this is the best “macro” political blog in Australia, digging into the underlying trends and foundations better than any other. Always insightful and always worth a read. Keep up the good work, Shrike!

Comments are closed.