04 February 2009

Do something

Kevin Rudd has correctly identified the two main threats to Australia: the climate and the economy. He's doing more on the latter than the former at the moment, but any measure that addresses both will be seen correctly as either a winning move, or well-intentioned and ultimately harmless.

Malcolm Turnbull has done as much as he can on climate, given the dead weight he carries behind him, but it isn't enough to demonstrate that he gets the problem and has the answers. As far as the economy goes - he's practically abandoned the field. The monster that is the GFC just won't be appeased by ritual sacrifices such as tax cuts; the grab bag of tricks that saw off Kim Beazley or Mark Latham just won't do.

I'm no economist, and it may well be that Rudd's latest stimulus package falls into the classic fallacy of political logic, doing something for the sake of appearing to act:

  1. We must do something.

  2. This is something.

  3. Let's do this.

However, Rudd is at least Doing Something in the face of crisis, which is more than Turnbull is really doing. If you show that you at least understand the problem, you can be forgiven for not having all the answers; if you don't demonstrate that, people will stop listening. You can be cynical and talk about getting between voters and buckets of money - but doling out the cash didn't save Howard, and if Rudd had made a coherent case for belt-tightening people would have gone along with it.

Frankly, I expected better from Turnbull. He should have taken on Minchin by now and made him a national laughing-stock. Minchin is a backroom operator who hates scrutiny, he would have shrivelled having to defend all things Howard in the face of overwhelming public rejection. With Minchin incapacitated, Turnbull would have a freer hand on environmental issues and been a bit more nimble economically. He could have dazzled us all with some out-of-the-box way of spending $15-20b, but nope - same old same old.

The reason why Rees is in such a hopeless position is because he seriously thought the AAA rating from the very clowns who gave similar ratings to subprime mortgages was worth having in the face of impending disaster. He didn't get it, and still doesn't. He might try and turn it around with a massive capital works budget, but all the political credit will go to Rudd and state government will go to the Liberals.

Similarly, Malcolm Turnbull really is dead now. It's 2009, the election is next year. Liberal MPs are positioning themselves for preselections, and the fact that Minchin and Abbott have any clout at all means that brainless hacks are short-priced favourites for the plum seats. He's a clever man and he works hard, but Malcolm Turnbull is a man trapped in fast-setting cement. Turnbull should have been more savvy about the party he leads, which involves more than the Federal Parliamentary Party.

By now, either Rudd or Turnbull needs to get the measure of the other. Bernard Keane makes the case that it is Rudd who has it over Turnbull, and his argument is persuasive; the reverse argument relies on Turnbull getting credit for foreseeing any failure of the stimulus to fend off economic disaster, but it is Rudd who will get credit for Doing Something.

The first thing that Turnbull, that slickest of city-slickers, needed to have done was to get out into the bush and prevent troglodytes like Katter and Joyce from defining him to rural voters. Here are eight rural seats Turnbull should have been all over by now, glad-handing and scone-munching his way to victory:

  • Flynn (Q)

  • Corangamite (V)

  • Braddon (T)

  • Page (NSW)

  • Dawson (Q)

  • Eden-Monaro (NSW)

  • Blair (Q)

  • Franklin (T)

None of those seats is particularly safe for Labor, and all should be expected to snap back to the Coalition as part of the swing back to the centre. Bob Hawke's first government was much more savvy than Rudd's is, yet moderate Andrew Peacock gets a lot of credit for taking Hawke to the wire in 1984. Similarly, Turnbull could have done the same in 2010, with a bit of zip and a bit of drive, making Rudd look shopworn and out of his depth. Rudd is doing what he can while Turnbull is still idling, like a Ferrari stuck in traffic on Sydney's William Street.

Nobody will give a damn what Turnbull says hereafter on, say, Defence or Education or whatever: he's missed the main game, and all he has to look forward to is that of every moderate Liberal: a human shield for those who deserve the ignominy for the position the Liberals find themselves in, Minchin, Abbott and the other Howardites.

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