Lachlan R. Dale analyses our new PM Malcolm Turnbull’s words thus far and speculates on the reversal of attitude for the Liberal Party.
Tony Abbott will not be missed. In opposition, he was a man who relentlessly bludgeoned both Labor and the press with three word slogans, but as Prime Minister, that sort of base politicking was never going to fly.
As Abbott took control of the Australian Government, many pundits wondered whether this battered political brawler could tone down his aggression and transition into the mode of a statesman; a unifier who could articulate coherent arguments for necessary, but difficult reform.
Well, the last two years have definitely answered that question. Abbott has proven he lacks the political skill to be anything other than a polemicist. The disdain with which he has treated the Australian public has shaken even the most cynical among us as he blatantly broke election promises, heaped flag upon flag into his already crowded conference room, and quietly swept his manufactured “budget emergency” under the carpet.
The damage he has done to the trust of the electorate is deep. Will Malcolm Turnbull really be any better? Well, let’s begin by examining the messaging from the press conference in which he announced his leadership challenge.
Turnbull opened by sating conservatives concerned with a worsening budget deficit, slowing growth and creeping unemployment:
“It is clear enough that the Government is not successful in providing the economic leadership that we need. It is not the fault of individual ministers.”
“Ultimately, the Prime Minister has not been capable of providing the economic leadership our nation needs.”
“He has not been capable of providing the economic confidence that business needs.”
He then appealed to his role as a unifier – as an individual who intends to lift the horrifically diseased standards of political office:
“…we need a different style of leadership… A style of leadership that respects the people’s intelligence, that explains these complex issues and then sets out the course of action we believe we should take and makes a case for it.”
“We need advocacy, not slogans. We need to respect the intelligence of the Australian people.”
Followed by an appeal to his own party:
“We need to restore traditional Cabinet government. There must be an end to policy on the run and captain’s calls.”
And then, as a finale, offered his core vision with a careful nod towards the core principles of both progressives and conservatives alike:
“Remember this, the only way, the only way we can ensure that we remain a high wage, generous social welfare net, first world society is if we have outstanding economic leadership, if we have strong business confidence.”
“That is what we in the Liberal Party are bound to deliver and it’s what I am committed to deliver if the party room gives me their support as leader of the party.”
Ahh yes, the bittersweet taste of a politician’s promise. At an entirely superficial level, it is pleasing to hear an articulate individual announce he intends to reverse Abbott’s devaluation of political discourse. In this small way Turnbull does offer some form of hope.
Whether he is capable of (or even interested in) enacting any sort of centrist reformation of the Liberal Party remains to be seen. Who knows what sort of heinous conservative policies he will have to embrace to shore up the support of Liberal Right. Turnbull has already indicated no change of policy regarding climate change or same-sex marriage and he certainly has a history of chameleon-like behaviour, happily towing the party line for the deeply regressive 2014 Federal Budget when it suited him.
This is the wildcard of a Turnbull Prime Ministership: will he be as willing as Abbott to negate personal principles for political gain? Does he have the stomach to address the divisiveness of partisan politics? The skill to play the unifier? The support to resist the Liberal Party’s lurch to the far right? The common sense to reject the deregulation of university fees? The sanity to roll back the war on journalists and whistleblowers? The foresight to invest in clean energy?
Time will tell how much of the man is branding versus substance.
The removal of the Abbottian cancer from the Prime Ministership is thoroughly worth celebrating, but there is still much work to be done before our political system can be taken off life-support. To be stuck between two equally uninspiring parties does not a healthy democracy make. Hopefully this deposition, one of many in recent years, will demonstrate just how bored the Australian public is of inept democracy.
Malcolm Turnbull. We’ll be watching you.