Bill Shorten is the alternative Prime Minister. To examine Shorten in detail and demand that he release detailed, costed policies - or even go hunting for some sort of moral core to the man - is to admit that the press gallery couldn't be bothered doing this to Opposition Leader Abbott during the last term of Parliament. They shy away from him, for now, to hide their own embarrassment.
The most potent and immediate threat to Abbott's longevity is the Federal Parliamentary Liberal Party. If you're going to do a greener-pastures piece on a prospective PM, you have to focus on the most potent and immediate threat within the Federal Parliamentary Liberal Party: Malcolm Turnbull.
Why Turnbull is appealing as a potential Prime MinisterWe live in a time where much that we have taken for granted, even treasured, no longer holds and will not carry us into any sort of secure future.
Malcolm Turnbull is an intelligent man, widely learned beyond the academy and also nourished by the arts. He has done a number of things with his life, pointing the way for most of us who’ll never have a full-time career in the same organisation. People awake to the various threats and opportunities facing the country believe him to be someone who gets them, someone with whom they can do business.
Toward the end of a long rambly piece, [$] Mike Seccombe quotes Thomas Keneally to good effect on Turnbull:
“Malcolm might be a prince but he’s not the sort of prince that tramples people under the wheels of his carriage.”That first paragraph is doubtful, but more on that below.
More importantly, perhaps, Keneally thinks the public now sees something in Turnbull that makes him forgivable, and therefore loveable again.
“He still holds out the chance of development, and most importantly, for God’s sake, a bit of vision. I think the public can see he is a work-in-progress.
“Whereas Abbott gives a sense of being a work that’s reached the limits of its capacity to change.”
Turnbull’s scope for growth may enable him to shake off his party-line adherence to stupid Abbott policies, which is necessary to take the Coalition from where it is to where it needs to be.
Keneally is right about Abbott: no scope for growth, only gaffes and failure from hereon in. There is no point in making people fearful when you haven’t got what it takes to make people feel safe. There is no point playing up security when the machinery of policing and the defence forces look clumsy in your hands.
Why Turnbull failed as leader in 2009Turnbull failed as leader because he wouldn’t listen to advice. He likes to surround themselves with the sorts of bright young things who surrounded him at Goldman Sachs, people who’ll put up with his crap and who will make ill-considered ideas sound plausible and now.
Never mind that crap about tall poppies, or how nobody likes a know-all; politics is for participants. Only journalists treat it like some sort of spectator sport - which is why they are surprised all the time, not least at the decline in public consumption of their stale cliches.
Turnbull learning to appreciate other perspectives is the sort of huge personal challenge that will define him as a man as much as a leader, like Hawke’s victory over alcohol, or Howard’s over the nasty racism and sectarianism of his upbringing.
Can Malcolm Turnbull get over himself?It’s hard to ask that question if you're besotted with his charm. When someone's charming you, you can't disparage them without disparaging yourself as an object of attention.
You can only realise you’re being gamed and stand up to a facile charmer if you know who you are and what you’re about. Self-awareness and guts are two of the many qualities in short supply in the press gallery.
Hope for a liberal approach*snort* If he isn’t going to stand up for issues on which he had taken a strong public position over many years (same-sex marriage, climate and carbon pricing, republic), what are your hopes for issues on which he hasn't (asylum seekers, science, etc)?
Let’s have none of your malarkey about idealism. Given the choice between wistful idealism and hard-headed pragmatism I want both, in spades, and a whole lot more besides.
Grech and Utegate?Both were put-up jobs by Eric Abetz.
Moral of those stories: stop listening to Eric Abetz.
The Coalition has problems getting its legislation through the Senate. Abetz is leader of the government in the Senate. Abetz isn’t working. Abetz should be sacked.
Maybe the Fair Work Act is less than perfect, but if it is Abetz will be unable to correctly identify either problems or solutions. He will make backbenchers unable to show their faces in the communities they represent.
Yeah, never mind Abetz. What about Grech?Godwin Grech embodies two things, both more significant than he - more significant than Turnbull, if you can imagine.
The first is mental illness. This country need more and better support for people suffering mental illnesses, and their families. The Liberal Party broke Godwin Grech’s mental health; my guess is that James Ashby received far more support from the Liberal Party than Grech ever did.
This government is not serious about doing anything with mental health services except cut them. Returning servicemen, domestic violence victims, none of them will get any more help from this government with or without Turnbull.
Second, Grech was a nobody; but there are millions of Australians who might be classified similarly. The way he treated Grech may well be more indicative of Turnbull’s approach to the little guy than Keneally’s apologia.
Other nobodiesRichard Ackland is right about Turnbull playing to the Liberal Party gallery with his exultation of Phillip Ruddock. I mean, what school did David Hicks go to?
Administrative competenceGiven that he doesn’t listen, what makes you think he’d be administratively competent? In terms of pushing paper around Canberra, working through ideas in a calm orderly manner - what makes you think Turnbull is even capable of that?
The Labor Party assumed Kevin Rudd was administratively competent, but they voted him as leader because the press gallery loved him and couldn’t distinguish an administrative shambles from a hole in the ground. Even now, they can barely articulate the chaos in Rudd’s office; the only story the press gallery understand is that Gillard was a bitch.
The Liberal Party knew Tony Abbott was administratively incompetent, but they (like the ALP) overestimated their ability to cover for him. The press gallery hyped Abbott and even pushed for Rudd to return to lead the ALP, because they still can’t distinguish an administrative shambles from a hole in the ground.
Labor have learned their lesson; in October 2013 their only two candidates for leader were two known quantities, machine-men with decades of experience in the party itself. The press gallery thinks Shorten is boring but so what.
The Liberals are looking for their next fix, and Turnbull is dealing. If Tony Abbott can make Katharine Murphy go to sleep for two years imagine what she and her ilk will do under the spell of Turnbull’s juju.
The NBNAustralia could have built a national telephone network in the 1920s but conservatives in power then didn’t feel like it. When the nation was under attack in the early 1940s, US advisers were appalled that the country didn’t have a national telephone network and lobbied Chifley and Menzies until they made it a bipartisan postwar priority.
The National Broadband Network could have been like that, but all Turnbull did was hand it to Telstra at the behest of Murdoch. A statesman would have stood up to the old bastard. Turnbull doesn’t understand upload and assumes internet consumption is as essentially passive as television.
Journalists don’t understand the potential of broadband either - or if they do, they understand it only as a threat to the sorts of fools who employ them. Playing to the gallery is one thing, but when journalists travel and counter faster broadband everywhere but here, Turnbull will be seen to be negligent.
Shirtfronting public broadcastingTony Abbott ruled out cuts to the ABC or SBS. Turnbull cut both. Nobody asked whether Turnbull was undermining Abbott.
You know who watches both the ABC and SBS? Urban moderates. A politician who shafts his base for no reason is a clown.
You know who watches the ABC? The very sorts of people Turnbull needs to reach out to - older conservative people, in the suburbs and the bush. Talk about self-defeating behaviour.
Not even his partyRight-wingers in the Liberal Party have spent a generation pushing liberals out of the Liberal Party. Their job is almost done. They have discredited moderate liberalism by having people like Phillip Ruddock and Joe Hockey act as standard-bearers for right-wing ideas.
The last thing they want is to have their agenda completely discredited with a shift too “the sensible centre” and have Malcolm Turnbull foisted on them. In 2008, Malcolm Turnbull looked like a messiah and would have won a leadership plebiscite hands down. That’s why right-wing dickhead John Ruddick wasn’t writing pieces like this back then.
Most people can appreciate nuances in political positions, in the same way that most people can distinguish between red and green. John Ruddick and his pals in the Liberal right genuinely can’t distinguish between a moderate liberal like Malcolm Turnbull, a moderate social democrat like Bill Shorten, a left-wing Labor figure like Kim Carr or the late Tom Uren, and a rancid old communist like Lee Rhiannon. He genuinely sees them as peas in a pod. All of those far-left gradations in which Guy Rundle has lived his life would be lost on the likes of Ruddick. This is his tragedy, and if he had his way the Liberal Party would consist only of people with the same deficiency.
Turnbull is a moderate and a negotiator, which means he reaches out to those with whom he feels he can cut a mutually beneficial deal. Ruddick has nothing in common with people who aren’t rusted-on Liberals, thank you very much, and as with Bronwyn Bishop as Speaker they ride their (real and perceived) opponents when things go their way.
Turnbull is out of step with the Liberal Party, as I’ve said before. He has to wait until it is even more discredited than it has been before he can remake it in his image. He ignored that last time and they rolled him the minute he faltered. They will do the same again.
Turnbull could be the first genuinely dapper PM since KeatingAnd?
His wife is very impressiveYes she is. A combination of Jeanette Howard and Peta Credlin, with plenty more besides. And?
You're being very brusque, aren't you?Yes. If you really want more of Turnbull you'll have to get used to that. And I'm perfectly certain someone like you would, too. By brooking no discussion on this subject I do so in homage to the man himself.
Any specific issues you'd like to explore?Oh, plenty. Big, important issues, which should be the bread and butter of press gallery journalism but which causes actual practitioners to bleed from the eyes. Tax reform, asylum seekers, cybersecurity, promoting economic growth in a stagnating global economy, Defence capital acquisitions, water flows in the Murray-Darling, a sound foreign policy based on goodwill and shrewdness, closing the gaps between Indigenous Australians and non-Indigenous Australians …
Any testable indications on how Turnbull would make a blind bit of difference to Abbott (or Shorten) in any of those areas? The longer you've been a press gallery journalist - or a Liberal - the fewer plausible excuses you have for talking up an unsuitable leader.