Joe Hockey isn't an alternative to Abbott. He is the lynchpin of this government. He needs to get across both the ideas that a) the economy really is in crisis and b) he's the Treasurer to address said crisis with such tools as are available to the Treasurer. Any credit for consistency and good government that will become due to this government will accrue to Hockey, not Abbott. If he fails at either or both, both men and their government will go down. Even if he succeeds it may put him in a position where he takes on Abbott and shunts him out, but that won't happen soon if at all.
Malcolm Turnbull isn't an alternative to Abbott. The Liberals know how to play him and he hasn't learnt any new tricks.
In the republic debate in the late '90s, Howard and Abbott backed Turnbull into a republican model that was unpopular, limited in scope, and focused on changing as little as possible about the way our political architecture works. Turnbull could have worked with those who supported a republic but not the model that was excreted from the convention - many in number but relatively powerless - but he chose to pooh-pooh them all. With a broader base he might have won one or two states in the 1999 referendum and maintained momentum for an eventual republic which would now be realised.
As Opposition Leader in 2008 Turnbull was unpopular, limited in scope, and focused on changing as little as possible about the way the Liberal Party worked. He was played for a fool by Eric Abetz over Godwin Grech, and Howard legatees like Nick Minchin nibbled away from the sidelines at any attempt to move the Liberal Party on from the reasons why it lost in 2007, even given the gift of Howard being removed from Parliament. Turnbull could have worked with those who supported anyone but Abbott (especially the Victorians; Turnbull would have won more seats in that state than Abbott has or can) - they were many in number but relatively powerless - but he pooh-poohed the idea that Abbott would beat him. He could have been the beneficiary of the Rudd meltdown and Gillard's fumbles. Even though he lost by a single vote in 2009, he may as well have lost by fifty.
As Communications Minister today, Murdoch and Abbott have backed Turnbull into a telecommunications model that is unpopular, limited in scope (both in terms of Labor's NBN and those operating in other countries), and focused on changing as little as possible about the way our media and ICT architectures work. Turnbull could reach out to those who are interested in ICT as a facilitator of growth - many in number but relatively powerless - but again, he chose to pooh-pooh them all.
There's a pattern here. Malcolm Turnbull is not about greatness and the leadership to get us to a bright new future. Those of us who thought he might have been were wrong about that, too. He can't build and maintain fractious coalitions, more a marquee man than a big tent guy. He tosses babies out with bathwater. His one tangible political legacy, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, should be coming into its own now with the drought but it is as one with Nineveh and Tyre. Turnbull will puddle along in Communications and may well take on another portfolio, but like Kevin Andrews or David Johnston his past is more substantial than his future.
A government is not obliged to be fractious and divided.
Paul Fletcher is Turnbull's parliamentary secretary. When Fletcher talks about the private sector, not the federal government, determining the future economic benefits Australia can draw from digital technologies, he isn't interested in hearing from some apps developer who lives with his parents. By 'the private sector', Fletcher means Telstra, Optus, and Foxtel. They will determine what we shall have and what we shall not have in line with their pre-existing plans.
Several countries around the world have determined specific goals for their digital sector.That's nice.
In 2011, Brazil set its sights on raising its ranking from seventh to fifth world's largest economy by 2022 largely on the back of its exploitation of digital technologies enabled by fibre broadband ... South Korea and Sweden are constantly hailed for their digital vision
Countries that don't want to change their global position leave it to the private sector. The US is the biggest economy in the world, it leaves its ICT infrastructure to the private sector (it does have a significant military capacity, whose innovations - including the internet itself - occasionally spill over into the private sector). Countries that want to improve their economic position require government intervention: Brazil, South Korea, and Sweden are examples of this, as are China and India. Australia's economic position relative to other countries is one of stagnation or decline in most metrics, so by default the Abbott government has committed us to a low-growth future that it does not fully understand. The government is deaf to rallying cries like this; companies that don't exist yet have no clout.
Google Australia managing director Mailie Carnegie told Fairfax Media in October, the company wanted the change the tune of the public discussion ... "I look at the energy around the NBN. At the moment it's focused around cost. I'd love to talk about the benefits and how we can change the rhetoric, from cost to disruption," she said at the time.Neither Fletcher, nor Turnbull, nor anyone in this government will have any truck with this communist notion of 'disruption', thank you very much. Australia being 'open for business' means that unions and asylum seekers are up for disruption, not large and somnolent businesses. There was never any indication that any other outcome would apply.
This brings us to the man who should be more not-Abbott than anyone else: Bill Shorten.
Do not underestimate the determination of a quiet man.Nobody wants to hear from a party that has just been defeated. Even though Rudd and Gillard have since departed Parliament, there were good reasons why the previous government was re-elected. Shorten was right not to come out too hard too early.
- Iain Duncan Smith, UK Conservative Opposition Leader 2001-03
A successful opposition needs a few points of difference and With education funding (including childcare) and environmental issues (fracturing the water table for the sake of gas, dumping the Barrier Reef), are plenty in themselves. Simple statements of principle - that education is important, in itself and economically, and likewise for the environment - could sharply limit this government and help voters work out what post-Rudd/Gillard Labor stand for.
This government wants to act on behalf of stratified education and of those who casually pollute as a by-product of other gains, but it wants to be seen to act on behalf of all Australians. An opposition that is about maximising educational opportunity, and which points out there are more jobs with a burgeoning reef (e.g. in tourism) than there are in a depleted one (e.g. in mining), leaves the government exposed as facilitators of those who would constrict the country for their own purposes.
Communications is another potential issue: the government's "reviews" and "consultations" will leave it too long to develop a strong and coherent policy; Labor will be able to offer more and better than whatever we might get from Abbott | Turnbull | Fletcher | Partners (limited liability). This is a good start.
Shorten has given Abbott enough rope. He is in a strong position to say: I've had enough of this government, and make some declarative statements that ring true with people, and which help define him and what a potential Labor government might offer.
As to unions: targeting dodgy unions and unionists should help them, and Shorten by extention, more than it hurts them/him. It's just what Coalition governments do. What they tend not to realise is that it relies upon unemployment going lower than it is and staying that way. You can't get stuck into unions when unemployment is high or rising, unless you have carefully made the case that they (rather than global economic conditions) are directly responsible for it. If the economy turns down and unemployment rises, there will almost certainly be high-profile corporate failures that will make union malfeasance look small-scale. That's why I disagree with this paywalled article by Laura Tingle: the idea that Abbott looks purposeful while talking workplace relations is not that significant, a matter of parliamentary theatre rather than wider analysis.
Workchoices failed because it had plenty of detractors and few die-in-a-ditch supporters. The Heydon Royal Commission will come under pressure to be wrapped up early if it turns on employers as the Costigan Royal Commission did. Labor has 120 years of dealing with unions. Shorten should be able to draw on that.
As it stands, Shorten has made few such declarative statements. He's surrounded by sand, and the few lines drawn in it have genrally been put there by others. This might have been designed to bipartisanly protect both Burke and Hunt, but it looks like the government has bent Labor to its will and blunts its criticism of Hunt. If he won't come out swinging in favour of the national disability scheme or education or the Great Barrier Reef, and if he won't be goaded over having been a union official, will he stand up for anything?
Greg Jericho pointed out that this government was elected despite popular support for Labor policies. If Shorten can establish that Labor is able to fulfill those policies it is a long way toward returning to government - especially as it becomes clear that Coalition promises of bipartisan support for school funding, disability care, and telecommunications were never real, and that those who were taken in by the 'Seinfeld politics' idea were mugs. As Hawke and Keating did with Whitlam, it is possible to retrieve legacy issues from a government that has been emphatically dispatched.
Shorten is only the third federal leader in ALP history to have spent more of his parliamentary career in government rather than opposition: the other two were H V Evatt and Kim Beazley. Evatt was a champion of human rights but couldn't carry that through to a coherent narrative of government. Faced with multifaceted challenges to national security and human rights in 2001, Beazley couldn't establish a coherent narrative for government. Shorten might be able to establish a coherent narrative for government, or he might not. His union background is much benefit to him as it was for Frank Tudor or Simon Crean, if not more so.
Now is the time for Shorten to start drawing lines in the sand, to start defining himself that he might govern others. Rudd and Gillard have gone. This government has stuffed up and isn't great at explaining itself, or explaining away its shortcomings. Soon it will go to ground to put together the Budget. Shorten should fill that vacuum so that his criticisms of the Budget have a framework, or he will end up like Iain Duncan Smith - in office but not in power.
Tony Abbott is in power, and without meaningful opposition he is cementing himself there. Last September I thought it was better to perpetuate the fiasco rather than submit to this darkening ecliptic, but others voted differently and, well, here it is.