Car crash

Monday, 30 May 2016 

Picture: Mike Bowers

Picture: Mike Bowers

If a car crash is two vehicles heading in the opposite direction on the same track, then we had the definition of it at the leaders’ debate on Sunday night. Both the press and the two leaders are grappling with the same thing but coming at it from completely opposite directions, and despite all the swerving and evasion to avoid it from both sides, the result ended up being a mess.

Away from the tedious finessing over policy detail, there really is only one issue this election: where both parties go from here now they’ve run out of options. Both parties come to this election exhausted. The leadership toing and froing of the last eight years has solved nothing. Rudd/Turnbull failed to take their parties somewhere new, the return of the old under Gillard/Abbott only made things worse.

Since it became clear that the 2013 election and the end of the Gillard/Rudd period, has solved nothing, there is now more talk of a widespread political malaise in press commentary. But no real attempt to get what was behind it. Instead there has been an exhortation from the more serious commentary to reignite the serious drive for reform from the Hawke/Keating era that never actually happened. As a result, we had this belief when Turnbull took over the leadership, that he could simply over-step the paralysis in the parties and solve the political crisis through his own Fabulousness and pick up where Rudd left off but without the policy waffle.

But Turnbull is no Rudd. He simply does not have the political smarts that allowed Rudd to defeat a long term Prime Minister and become, at least for a while, the most popular political leader in a generation. Rather than take on his own party as Rudd did, Turnbull looks keener to tread water and wait for an election victory to give him the authority he still lacks.

But this isn’t going to happen. Unless it is a landslide, surviving a first term against Shorten Labor is unlikely to be seen by his critics as such an achievement as to shut them up – especially as they will regard him as having watered down the agenda to do so. But as was already clear under Abbott, other considerations than electoral ones apply. Turnbull will still face the almost impossible task of finding a way of promoting the party’s brand and remain electorally viable.

So on Sunday night, we had a format and questions that were suitably high-minded and serious to evoke the, er, great debates of the Hawke/Keating/Hewson era, and two leaders who were simply not in a position to respond.

Of the two, Shorten at least seemed to have adapted more to the times. The little man act, the bad suit, the excessive politeness, the “keeping it real” counter-position of mums and dads against the big corporations and the banks with their $50bn tax cut, was more in keeping with the diminished expectations of current circumstances.

In contrast, Turnbull still has the windy rhetoric that he had when he took office but without the expectation now that it would actually mean something. Without understanding the situation both leaders’ find themselves, there has been understandable annoyance from the press at the two leaders’ lacklustre performance, but especially on Turnbull from whom so much was hoped.

The debate is unlikely to have changed much, given that it reflects the reality of which everyone is already aware. But it might give an indication that in the unlikely event Labor does win, there will be complete incomprehension from some quarters as to why.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Monday, 30 May 2016.

Filed under Political figures, State of the parties

Tags: ,


4 responses to “Car crash”

  1. Dianne on 31st May 2016 7:23 am

    It seems to me that our politicians have played a major role in unpicking the threads which stitched us together. Big, rough stitches which stretched and pulled and chaffed but held fast until the pinking shears went snip-snap.

    Now we are encouraged, nay compelled, to think of ourselves as individuals powered by aspiration, driven by fierce urges to compete so as we are not left behind as Losers.

    Except all we have ended up with are huge mortgages and the debt incurred to send the kids to private schools. We are working longer hours than ever for less pay because we want our contracts renewed. Otherwise ….

    I think many of us are yearning for yesteryear, an imagined time perhaps, but there were recognizable step ladders to self-advancement. Career paths which could take you from the factory floor to the board of directors. All at the same company.

    Young people were not locked out of the housing market by inflated prices compounded by the uncertainty of the workplace which see so many on short- term contracts or in part-time or casual employment.

    No wonder so many young people are not registering to vote. What’s in it for them?

    Car crash? Yes Shrike except I see both jalopies headed in the same direction racing towards the edge of the cliff.

  2. F on 31st May 2016 10:52 am

    “But this isn’t going to happen. Unless it is a landslide, surviving a first term against Shorten Labor is unlikely to be seen by his critics as such an achievement as to shut them up – especially as they will regard him as having watered down the agenda to do so.”

    This is interesting, and is being almost masked now amongst the political class:

    12 seats to the ALP. We have 5 weeks to go,and this is the best case scenario for the Liberals. This isn’t including the disaster of South Australia and Xenophon, and its underplaying what is happening in Western Australia. How will Turnbull and his media supporters explain this?

  3. Riccardo on 3rd June 2016 11:20 am

    Australians used to pride themselves that PMs tended to stay for the long term, and we weren’t like Japan or Italy with a new PM every week.

    But it has been nearly ten years since the last one who stayed for a long stretch.

    This shows we have reached the same level as these countries, but for different reasons. In Japan, the edifice of the LDP was running the show with the bureaucracy and who was the leader didn’t matter much.

    For us, though, I suspect we have reached the Italian level. Politics doesn’t offer any real change.

    I don’t buy the idea of a big Neo-Liberal conspiracy – though no doubt some people tried to mount one – because the socialist/social-democratic or even “Labor” project had long since exhausted itself before any such project could be mounted.

    Whitlam, the great Zeus in the pantheon, himself cut tariffs because at least one aspect of the Great Settlement had already failed, long before people worried about Milton Friedman or Reaganomics.

    The other parts were also failing – White Australia, centralised wage fixing (which Hawke and Keating put the knife to), discretionary monetary policy. All dying, and it only took technocrats to finish them off, assisted by larger than life political figures to put a gloss on why.

    I keep coming back to this point. Kimbo the Great always talked about Australia having ‘Independent Initiative’ – not just being sovereign over the landmass, but being able to act independently of other countries (Beazley was one of the few defence policy enthusiasts).

    But I ask – can we act independently. Clearly not on immigration – the song and dance is for the audience. People come, turn up in Indonesia, Indonesia acts whether we want them to or not.

    On monetary policy, our interest rates are drifting down to the same low level as the rest of the developed world in the face of moribund economic development.

    Wage fixing – the government already has complete control over wage fixing, but has no real use for it – limited discretion is there to either raise or lower wages.

    A lot of people make face about us signing away our tariffs for a few pieces of silver, but as an export driven small economy, we never had much discretion in that space anyway. Only large countries have the luxury of regulating their imports, and the only way we can become a large country is to merge with another one eg the USA, which flies in the face of ‘independent initiative’.

    Deciding to be a small, isolated country has its costs, something the Kiwis are more honest about than we are.

  4. An election that will resolve nothing - Left Flank on 15th June 2016 7:24 am

    […] Each side is trapped by a recent history of failure to break free of the exhaustion and hollowing out of its respective political project. As the always perceptive Piping Shrike writes: […]

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