Mal’s Coalition cascades into chaos

When we posted How are the ‘adults’ managing our economy? on The Political Sword in April it seemed as if Turnbull’s administration of his Coalition couldn’t get any worse. We were wide of the mark! Now he sits apprehensively and indecisively on his house of cards, on tenterhooks lest he lose his balance, praying it doesn't collapse.

That piece was written as the 2017 Budget was being prepared. Scott Morrison was warning us about what we might be in for. Knowing that debt would increase, he tried to butter us up with talk of ‘good debt’ (spending on infrastructure) and ‘bad debt’ (recurrent spending on, for example, welfare). With his credibility in the doldrums, it is doubtful if anyone listened, let alone believed him.

The April piece on TPS began:
Who will ever forget the insults, the slurs, and the slander that the Coalition heaped upon Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan as they managed the economy through the Global Financial Crisis and beyond? They were depicted as children playing games in their political sandpit with no idea of what they were doing, making one catastrophic mistake after another.

Remember how the Coalition boasted that the children should get out of the way and let the adults take over, insisting as they did that they were the experts at economic management. So convincing was the rhetoric that the electorate believed them and has consistently rated them as superior to Labor in economic management in opinion polls.

Recall the ‘debt and deficit disaster’, a mantra with which they assailed Labor for years. Remember the ‘intergenerational debt’ they accused Labor of accumulating.

Since their election in 2013 they have had their chance to show their much-vaunted expertise under the skilled management of Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey, and then Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison, with Mathias Cormann a consistent shadowy presence. How have they done?
We know how they have done – appallingly. The Coalition’s incompetence and mal-administration is now legend.

Here are some contemporary facts:

Wages growth is the weakest on record, dating back to the late 1990s. Underemployment remains high with an increasing trend towards part-time work, creating the “gig” economy.

Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe warns that record high household debt and record low wage rises are constraining consumer spending and hurting the economy.

The economy is under performing and will continue to do so through 2017 and beyond.

Stephen Koukoulas summarized the situation in The Guardian as follows: 
Based on the performance of the economy since the last fiscal update in December 2016, the budget is likely to confirm that this is a big-spending, big-taxing government with a strategy for continuing budget deficits and rising debt as it funds some of its pet projects.

It is all but certain that government debt will remain above 25% of GDP in 2017-18 and the forward estimates, meaning the government will be the first in the last 50 years to have spending at more than a quarter of GDP for eight straight years.

At the same time as spending is entrenched at high levels, the tax to GDP ratio is set to exceed 23% of GDP for only the eleventh time in 50 years. Tax revenue is growing solidly, in part in line with the expansion in the economy.

It is also close to certain that the level of net government debt will be projected to reach 20% of GDP, up from 10% when the Coalition won the 2013 election and the highest since the 1940s when the war effort boosted borrowing to record highs.
At as 30 June 2016, gross Australian government debt was $420 billion. In June 2017 the Turnbull government breached the $500 billion mark, (expressed alarmingly by some economists as half a trillion dollars) thereby doubling the deficit it inherited from Labor. Gross debt is projected to exceed $550 billion this year. Morrison is hoping to recoup some of this in this year’s budget with his $6 billion tax on the banks, but still intends to give a $65 billion of tax cuts to business!

We all know that housing affordability is worsening, locking out of the market young folk who do not have wealthy parents. The Coalition refuses to do anything about this as it sticks to negative gearing and the generous tax concessions around capital gains, thereby perpetuating the advantage moneyed investors enjoy over the young.

And as for the NBN, it continues to be a hybrid, copper-dependent mess that is not delivering what business needs, is rolling out far too slowly, and eventually will cost more than Labor’s superior FTTP design. It has been an Abbott/Turnbull debacle from the moment Abbott instructed Turnbull, then communications spokesman, to ‘Demolish the NBN’. Will it ever recover from that?

Need I give you any more evidence that our nation is steadily going backwards under the mal-administration of our economy by the Turnbull government?

On top of all this financial ineptitude, we have witnessed chaos writ large as Turnbull and the fractious conservative right squabble about how to handle the issue of same-sex marriage.

The chaos intensified when a postal ballot that will cost $122 million, was chosen. Astonishingly, the ballot won’t be carried by the Electoral Commission, but by the Bureau of Statistics, which has shown that it can’t carry out even a routine census proficiently. The High Court will decide if such an arrangement is constitutional. How the ABS will conduct the ballot is a mystery, as it’s a statistics-gathering organization. Long delays are likely before we will know the outcome of yet another Turnbull government stuff-up.

Then, as if that shemozzle wasn’t enough, Turnbull and his ministers have become entangled in the dual citizenship fiasco. They have been quite unsure how to handle it, and woefully inconsistent in their approach. Turnbull was only too ready in his characteristically sarcastic style to lampoon the Greens after Scott Ludlum and Clarissa Waters discovered their dual citizenship and resigned. “It shows incredible sloppiness on their part” bellowed our PM in parliament. Now, with several of his own ministers, no less the Deputy PM, the Deputy Leader of the Nationals, and his Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science all caught up in the saga, Turnbull’s barefaced inconsistency has been exposed. Canavan has been excluded from ministerial duties, while Joyce and Nash are permitted to continue as if nothing had happened!

All the time Turnbull is fighting a guerrilla war with the hard-right agitators in his party room, who threaten him with retribution unless he follows their dictates. He is so shackled, hog tied, clapped in irons – use whatever metaphor you like – that he is rendered impotent strategically, administratively, politically, and as a leader.

The voters continue to be unimpressed. We have now had the eighteenth Newspoll in a row where the Coalition trails Labor, this time by eight points: 54/46. If this trend continues, by February of next year Turnbull will have passed Abbott’s infamous record of thirty bad polls in a row, Turnbull’s raison d'etre for upending him.

Essential poll shows the same result. Turnbull’s satisfaction score continues on its poor trajectory, now minus 20. The Guardian features images from the Essential Report that illustrate Turnbull’s dilemma graphically.

Now that the Coalition sees defeat coming at election time, worried that Shorten’s “inequality” meme is biting, Mathias Cormann was sent out to launch a panicky attack on him in a speech at the Sydney Institute.

Writing in The Age in an article titled: 'Socialist revisionism': Mathias Cormann's doomsday warning of 'success exodus' under Bill Shorten, James Massola says: ‘Finance Minister Mathias Cormann has painted a doomsday scenario of Australia under a Shorten government, claiming a "cocky" Labor leader is relying on the politics of envy to propel him to the Lodge as people forget the failures of socialism. In an extraordinary speech …Cormann charged Shorten with making a "deliberate and cynical political judgement that enough Australians have forgotten the historical failure of socialism" and exploiting the politics of envy’, even describing Labor’s policies as akin to communist East Germany.  

Need I go on further to convince you of the widespread paralysis that is afflicting Mal's Coalition? You may care to remind yourself of what we published in April, just four months ago, in How are the ‘adults’ managing our economy? To do so click here.

The piece concluded:

The unavoidable conclusion is that this ‘adult’ government is economically incompetent, driven by its conservative rump, quite unable to see its way through the nation’s economic difficulties, incapable of analyzing the economic situation, inept at deriving solutions, bereft of planning ability, and hog-tied by ideological constraints. Moreover, it is so unutterably arrogant that it cannot see its ineptitude. And even if it could, would it be capable of doing anything about it?

As a substitute for informed opinions, all we get is self aggrandizement and platitudes from Turnbull, and a torrent of meaningless drivel from the Coalition's two motor-mouthed financial Daleks: Morrison and Cormann.

How has it come to this with the adults in charge?
Has the situation improved? You be the judge. Click here.

What is your opinion?
How do you assess the Coalition's performance?

Can it regain traction before the next election?

Let us know in comments below.

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How are the ‘adults’ managing our economy?
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Who will ever forget the insults, the slurs, and the slander that the Coalition heaped upon Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan as they managed the economy through the Global Financial Crisis and beyond? They were depicted as incompetent children playing games in an economic sandpit with no idea of what they were doing, making one catastrophic mistake after another. Remember how the Coalition boasted that the children should get out of the way and let the adults take over, insisting as they did that they were the experts at economic management. More…

Rudd and Abbott: saviour of their parties


Two of the three ex-prime ministers who were deposed by their own political party have been in the news in recent weeks. Kevin Rudd requested backing from the Coalition government to bid for the Secretary-General position at the United Nations and Tony Abbott claimed there are factional divisions in the NSW Liberal Party. On face value, both men are using the media to further their own ends. To observers of Australian politics, this really shouldn’t be a surprise.

While Rudd’s campaign was probably always going to be unsuccessful according to others, on the face of it he does offer the UN some demonstrated leadership ability in trying circumstances — such as the GFC when Australia was the only developed economy that continued to expand during the late 2000’s. Certainly he also has some less redeeming character traits as well — some of which were aired in public when the ALP deposed him as prime minister.

Abbott made a number of claims about factions and backroom lobbying in the NSW Liberal Party, despite Prime Minister Turnbull’s claim to the contrary.


In spite of Abbott probably airing the ‘dirty linen’ in public for his own perceived advantage, he is correct. In any organisation there is usually a difference of opinions on a host of issues, with some being convinced that policy and practice should change to reflect current society/meet differing expectations and so on, while others will suggest that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Sometimes the discussion on a combined position is amicable; mostly it isn’t. It also stands to reason that if you can influence parliamentarians — a benefit of being a member of a political party — you could have a better chance of ensuring a particular law of the land reflects some advantage to your business or personal position — so the stakes can be pretty high. Abbott, to his credit, did ban lobbyists from holding organisational positions in the Liberal Party (suggesting there could be a conflict of interest) early in his prime ministership:
One of Mr Abbott's first acts as prime minister was to rule that party officials could not lobby his government, a move mirrored by then-NSW premier Barry O'Farrell.
Rudd too changed the rules of the ALP after he was brought back to the prime ministership in 2013. Effectively he ensured that there was only a small number of opportunities to change the leadership; the Daily Telegraph claimed at the time that it was an attempt to shore up Rudd’s leadership; probably a pretty good assumption.

In a similar way, Fairfax Media claims Abbott’s statement:
… comes as Mr Abbott's conservative-right faction struggles with increasing irrelevance in NSW, where the moderate faction has become dominant, led by key figures such as party president Trent Zimmerman and lobbyist Michael Photios.
So the rule changes orchestrated by both men could also be construed as attempts to maintain or increase their personal longevity and power within their respective political parties. On the face of it, there is nothing new to see here. However, lets dig a little deeper, there are almost certainly unintended consequences in play here. Rudd and Abbott really are pretty similar. Both men were ruthless as opposition leaders. Rudd was seen as being in touch with the majority of the population and an example of generational change from the days of John Howard and his long term government. ‘I’m Kevin from Queensland and I’m here to help’ went down in folklore and contrasted sharply with Prime Minister Howard’s last term where his ideological position on workplace rights lost him a lot of support.

Abbott became opposition leader during the initial debate around a mechanism for the pricing of carbon emissions. While later demonstrated to be completely false, visions of $100 lamb roasts and entire cities being shut down due to the impacts of the ‘carbon tax’ that Abbott would rescind on day one certainly grabbed the mind of the public.

On top of that, both men were ‘stop gap’ leaders. Rudd was ‘unaligned’ according to the ALP’s system of factions and took over from Kim Beasley who is often cited as the best prime minister Australia never had. Beasley accepted the position of ambassador to the United States when offered the positon by Rudd and survived the transition to an Abbott government seemingly unscathed. As he was ‘unaligned’, Rudd really didn’t have the support of any of the established factions of the ALP, having arrived in federal parliament via the Diplomatic Corps and some time as Queensland ALP premier Wayne Goss’ Chief of Staff. (Goss was the person who led the ALP to victory after a number of decades of predominately National Party rule by Bjelke-Petersen and others). Rudd’s time as prime minister commenced late in 2007; his popularity ratings sank to a position where the ALP decided to remove him from power in June 2010. Some of the reasons for his drop in popularity were supposed to be because of his management style, the actions he took during the Global Financial Crisis, refugee processing and the lack of progress on emissions trading legislation. The ALP reinstated Rudd into the prime ministerial role in 2013 and he lost the subsequent election to Abbott.

Abbott won a party room leadership showdown in 2009 by one vote over his predecessor Malcolm Turnbull. The leadership contest was opened due to differences over climate change policy — Turnbull was prepared to support the Rudd government’s Emissions Trading Scheme; Abbott wasn’t.

The Coalition under Abbott and the ALP under Gillard obtained 72 seats each in the 2010 election. According to contemporary media reports, Abbott begged the three independent cross-benchers to allow him to become prime minister – even his opposition to emissions trading was negotiable according to Tony Windsor, one of the independent MP’s involved in the discussions:
"But ... Tony Abbott on a number of occasions said that he would do absolutely anything to gain government - anything," Mr Windsor told Sky News.

"One could draw a conclusion from that that if we pulled a tight rein and said 'Well, you've got government if you put a carbon price on' he would agree with it - that was the inference from his statements."

Mr Windsor said he had made a "character judgment" about Mr Abbott after the discussions.

"He actually begged for the job ... (he said) 'I will do anything to get this job'," Mr Windsor said.
It seems both Rudd and Abbott are the personalities who will do anything to reach a goal or shore up a position. Now let’s look at why this is relevant in August 2016. When Rudd achieved victory over Howard and Abbott achieved victory over Rudd, they were in the pantheon of glory within their respective political parties. As the opinion polls went south (and the other side was suddenly looking like a winner), there was a reassessment of their capabilities; the respective party rooms came to the conclusion that their leadership was untenable in the long term.

Potentially a believer in the axiom to keep your friends close and your enemies closer, Rudd was kept in the Cabinet by his successor Julia Gillard. History suggests that Gillard didn’t keep Rudd close enough, leading to a challenge in 2013 where Rudd was re-installed as prime minister. One of the things Rudd did to the ALP rules subsequent to his re-installation was to institute a requirement that the parliamentary leader of the ALP be elected by polls of not only those in parliament, but the broader ALP membership. Rudd claimed he decided to: ‘
“. . .democratise the party for the future.

''Each of our members now gets to have a say, a real say in the future leadership of our party. Decisions can no longer simply be made by a factional few," he told reporters in Balmain.
While the statement is true enough — all ALP members now have a vote on the leadership of the Federal Parliamentary Party — subsequent to the 2013 election Anthony Albanese won the ‘ALP members’ vote and Bill Shorten won the ‘parliament’ vote which was held due to an election defeat. Obviously, while all ALP members are equal, Caucus has more say.

As we all know, Abbott was rolled by his party room in 2015 (it couldn’t be because it seemed to work so well when the ALP did it, could it?) and for a while Malcolm Turnbull and the Coalition’s approval figures, according to the opinion polls, were stratospheric. Accordingly, Shorten and the ALP’s polling figures went down by a similar level.

The benefit Shorten inherited from Rudd was that it would have taken his resignation, an election loss or a 75% vote of no confidence by the ALP Caucus to topple Shorten. If there were any ALP ‘bedwetters’ (to coin a phrase) in late 2015, they probably realised the hurdles required to change the opposition leader were almost insurmountable and decided (publicly anyway) to grin and bear it. It’s now also history that Shorten went on to lead the ALP to the 2016 election, suffering a narrow loss which was a better than expected result.

Abbott’s recent disclosure regarding factions in the Liberal Party probably didn’t surprise anyone. Turnbull’s claim last October that the Liberal Party in NSW was one big happy family was treated with the ridicule it probably deserved by those that should have some idea of the reality (the video above was published widely when it occurred). In the words of The Guardian:
“Tony Abbott has warned that lobbyists holding positions as power brokers in the Liberal party creates the potential for corruption.”
and
“Some of these factional warlords have a commercial interest in dealing with politicians whose preselections they can influence,” Abbott said.

He said this created a “potentially corrupt position”. “The best way to see off the factionalists is to open up the party — the more members we’ve got, the harder it is for the factional warlords to control.

“There are people not on the state executive who caucus regularly on the phone and face-to-face with people who are on the executive to try and get pre-cooked outcomes.”

Abbott said he wanted to empower the membership by letting them choose Liberal candidates for parliament. The call for more democratic preselection is likely to re-open a debate between moderates and conservatives over how candidates are chosen.
Abbott’s opinion seems to be that if the process of preselection within the Liberal Party is opened up, and dare we say made more ‘democratic’, the party will preselect those whose opinions are shared by the majority of the Liberal Party members in the electorate. He may believe that more ‘conservative’ people would be elected but there is no guarantee that outcome would occur, just as Rudd’s changes to the ALP rules didn’t save his leadership.

Rudd was probably trying to cement himself as the parliamentary leader of the ALP in 2013. Abbott is probably trying to ensure that more ‘conservative’ Liberal Party members are given a chance to enter parliament ensuring that he has a greater number of like-minded people around him, improving the chances of a second ‘Abbott era’.

Both interventions, however, have the effect of opening up both major political parties in areas where they have been accused of pandering to sectional interests. While Abbott obviously thinks he can influence ‘conservative’ Liberals to a greater extent than the more numerous ‘moderate’ faction, it is not a fait accompli that the ‘moderate’ majority would send more ‘conservatives’ to Canberra.

Rudd’s ‘reforms’ to the ALP leadership have made it more democratic (all members have some say) and made it easier for a new leader to develop and implement a strategy designed to improve the position of the ALP at the next election. As the leader is not judged on instant results (because the bar for changing leaders is set at a high level of discontent), a new leader and the party organisation have a reasonable expectation that the strategy will, if somewhere in the ballpark, be implemented in full. Shorten and the ALP’s opinion poll popularity certainly played a part in the demise of Abbott, who went from hero to zero in about two years. The election results also demonstrate the success of the ALP sticking to one leader and strategy for a considerable period of time.

Wouldn’t it be a delicious irony if Rudd and Abbott’s seemingly self-serving interventions into the operation of their respective political parties make the two major parties more democratic and ensure rank and file party members have a genuine say in their respective party’s destiny?

What do you think?
Let us know in comments below.

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How has it come to this?



The MSM and blog sites abound with critiques of the election and tentative predictions of the political outcomes. So why bother writing yet another to explain how it has all come to this? You will judge whether this analysis adds anything useful.

Far from fulfilling his oft repeated promise of stable government and sound economic management; far from avoiding the 'chaos' of a close result, Turnbull seems unlikely to achieve either. The consensus among those analyzing the election results, the commentariat, and the social media, is that the outcome will be a narrow LNP majority.

I’ll not try to best guess the long-term political outcome, and instead ask what has brought about this situation.

While acknowledging that multiple factors bring about any election outcome, I propose that this time five significant factors have been in play: the Turnbull character; Medicare; Inequality; Turnbull reversals on the NBN, marriage equality, global warming and the republic; and insensitivity towards the Coalition’s constituency.

The Turnbull character
We don’t have to go far back to gain insight into Turnbull’s character. Annabel Crabb’s 2009 Quarterly Essay: Stop at Nothing: The Life and Adventures of Malcolm Turnbull spells it out in detail. You can read a summary of it in her article on the ABC website, updated on 16 May this year.  This is what we wrote about it on The Political Sword in June 2009.

Against the background of Turnbull’s successful involvement in the Spycatcher case and his representation of Kerry Packer (the Goanna) in the Costigan Royal Commission into the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union, Crabb writes: “From the Costigan affair we can draw some preliminary conclusions about the young Turnbull. The first is that he has no regard for orthodoxy...” and “This refusal to ‘play by the rules’ is something of a lifelong pattern for Turnbull; it explains much of his success, but also accounts for the worst of his reputation.”...“The second thing we learn from Costigan is that violent tactical methods are not just something to which Turnbull will contemplate turning if sufficiently provoked. It’s not enough to say that Turnbull is prepared to play hardball. He prefers to play hardball – that’s the point. It is impossible to rid oneself entirely of the suspicion that Turnbull enjoys the intrigue – the hurling of grenades...”

Turnbull is a risk taker. He backs his own judgement. He gambles on being right. Often he is, sometimes not. His gamble this year to take on Tony Abbott by challenging his leadership paid off immediately with a convincing win in the Liberal party room, high popularity in the electorate, and improving polls. But his gamble a couple of months ago to call a double dissolution election predicated on the urgent necessity to restore the Australian Building and Construction Commission, if needs be by a joint sitting of parliament, has ended in disaster for him. It was a charade from the beginning, hardly mentioned in the campaign, and now unlikely ever to pass a joint sitting. This episode was vintage Turnbull risk taking, foolish risk taking.

It is understandable that the relief felt by the electorate when he replaced the calamitous Abbott has dimmed memories of Turnbull in his earlier days as opposition leader and minister for communications. Then he performed as he is performing even now: incautious, indecisive yet at times precipitous in decision-making, inadequately prepared, and lacking in due diligence.

You will all remember ‘Ute-gate’, where Turnbull was conned by a Liberal mole in Treasury, Godwin Grech, into believing the contents of what turned out to be a fake email that attempted to implicate PM Rudd and Treasurer Swan in an underhand deal in which a car dealer gave Rudd a ute for campaigning in return for OzCar favours. Turnbull swallowed the story, hook, line and sinker, as did Murdoch journalist Steve Lewis. Turnbull, the accomplished barrister, had failed in due diligence, as had his collaborator, Eric Abetz.

In case Turnbull’s recent prime ministerial aura, such a contrast to Abbott’s embarrassing ineptitude, has erased the memory of his earlier days as Liberal leader, go to the archive of The Political Sword and re-read: The old rusty uteAfter TurnbullWhat will Turnbull do now?The Turnbull endgameTurnbull in a China shopMalcolm Turnbull’s intelligenceWhat is Malcolm Turnbull up to?, The Turnbull Twist, and Why does Malcolm Turnbull make so many mistakes?.  

It would take you hours to do so, and there are still more, but they will be sufficient to remind you that Malcolm Turnbull has not changed. What was written then could be written now. The context has changed, but the man has not. He creates his own disasters; he makes the going tough for himself.



PM Turnbull is the same man who over the years has been a big risk-taker but has lacked judgement and has eschewed due diligence. His successes have been overshadowed by his failures. We are now witnessing his most spectacular failure, one that will affect us all as politics in this nation enters an uncertain phase where governance will be very difficult.

Medicare
In an angry, ungracious speech on election night, Turnbull blasted Labor for its ‘Mediscare’ campaign: “Today, as voters went to the polls, as you would have seen in the press, there were text messages being sent to thousands of people across Australia saying that Medicare was about to be privatised by the Liberal Party. The SMS message said it came from Medicare – an extraordinary act of dishonesty. No doubt the police will investigate. But this is, but this is the scale of the challenge we faced. And regrettably more than a few people were misled ... But the circumstances of Australia cannot be changed by a lying campaign from the Labor Party.”

Turnbull sought to label the Labor campaign as the prime cause of his loss of support. The following day Scott Morrison was equally adamant; he was arrogantly unwilling to concede any fault on the Coalition side.

The next day though Turnbull was prepared to acknowledge that ‘Mediscare’ worked because the seeds of the scare ‘had fallen on fertile ground’, no doubt a reference to the suspicion created in the electorate by the Coalition’s many recent attacks on Medicare: the threat of a GP co-payment, the freezing of GP rebates until 2020, the threat to remove bulk billing inducements for imaging and pathology tests, and the increased co-payment for pharmaceuticals. Turnbull ought not to have been surprised that voters were susceptible to believing Labor’s assertion that the Coalition intended to privatize Medicare. The Coalition’s past and more recent attitude toward Medicare rightly made them suspicious. Turnbull’s denials and voluble reassurances were simply not believed.

’Mediscare’ was a significant factor in Turnbull’s humiliation at the polls, but not the only one. He reaped what he had so abundantly sown.

Inequality
Although the word was seldom uttered, the people were aware of the widening gap between those at the top and those languishing at the bottom. They spoke of feeling they were being left behind, struggling with cost of living pressures, and finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet. Many were finding it hard to get a satisfying job. Their feelings of abandonment and resentment were accentuated by Turnbull’s continual reminders that there was “never a better time to be an Australian!”, something they were not themselves experiencing.

Voters needed no more than their contemporary experience to feel left behind, but then along came the Turnbull/Morrison move to give $48 billion of tax relief to businesses, extending over the decade to the big banks and multinationals, the very ones whom we all know do not pay their fair share of tax. The tax rorters were being offered a generous tax break!

The Coalition mantra of ‘Jobs and Growth’, on which they based their much-vaunted ‘economic plan’ was yet another example of the Coalition’s faith in ‘supply-side’ economics, despite it having been discredited repeatedly. The term ‘trickle-down’ began to be mentioned by commentators and included in questions to politicians, and even the long-debunked ‘Laffer curve’ was mentioned in a question on Q&A. The public became aware of the fraud they were being offered by the Coalition with their monotonously repeated and meaningless three-word slogan: ‘Jobs and Growth’.

I wrote in April that inequality would be a hot button election issue and it was - not in overt terms, but simmering angrily below the surface and significantly influencing voters’ preferences. Will the Coalition heed their desire for a fairer deal?

The Turnbull reversals
Countless comments have been made about Turnbull’s reversals of position. There has been widespread disappointment at his stance toward crucial issues. They are familiar to you all.

The NBN
In his attempt to avoid Abbott’s ‘demolish the NBN’ instruction, he has given us a hybrid multi-technology fibre to the node (FTTN) mishmash with speeds slower than are needed by a nation competing on the world scene, far too slow in rollout, and possibly more expensive than Labor’s superior fibre to the premises (FTTP) model, which Turnbull ridiculed so sarcastically. For such a tech head to oversee the introduction of this inferior technology is disgraceful. People are appalled, angry, and disappointed, especially those in rural areas, who if they can get connected to the Internet at all, suffer debilitating buffering.

Marriage equality
Marriage equality is the focus of another Turnbull reversal. In an earlier life he was strongly in favour and insistent that it should be resolved with a conscience vote of the parliament. But he reneged on that to placate the hard right conservatives who want a plebiscite, designed by Abbott to delay the debate, allow it to be debased by the bigots, and eventually to be defeated. Another disappointing Turnbull reversal!

Global warming
After all the talk in his early days: “I will not lead a party that is not as committed to effective action on climate change as I am”, he has disappointed the climate lobby by insisting that the Coalition’s paltry ‘Direct Action Plan’ is all that we need, and that it is working. All his devotion to an emissions trading scheme has evaporated, simply to appease the climate skeptics in his ranks and thereby secure his leadership. It is to many his most profound, his most disturbing and disappointing reversal of principle.

The Republic
The cause to which Turnbull devoted himself so fully for so long no longer attracts his interest. He has discarded any intention to move soon on this, much to the chagrin of those who feel it is high time Australia became a republic. While it was unlikely to be a vote changer; it did confirm in many minds Turnbull’s willingness to sacrifice his principles for personal advantage.

Insensitivity to the Coalition’s constituency
Whatever else a politician does, he needs to avoid alienating the people who support him financially and who vote for him.

Turnbull has managed to alienate a large group of wealthy superannuants by proposing that changes to superannuation be made that will disadvantage them, and by the prospect of the changes being retrospective. In some analyses of the poor result for the Coalition at this election, anger over proposed changes to superannuation among his constituency have been cited as a powerful force that tuned away Coalition voters.

Another group that has been alienated are the hard right conservative clique that is currently agitating for more say, more clout, and more recognition, led by Tea Party admirer Cory Bernardi who wants to establish a group like GetUp, but right leaning, one that can represent conservative views. Because Turnbull is a moderate with progressive views, this group may cause him more grief than his traditional opponents as he tries to keep conservatives and ‘small l’ Liberals together. The conservatives are hostile and dangerous, still angry that he toppled their patron, Abbott. They paint Turnbull as a fraud, a traitor to their cause. Writing in The Australian, right-wing Sky News commentator Graham (Richo) Richardson's assessment is: “Turnbull is a traitor to his class and constituents.” His opponents will erode his standing in the party through internal sabotage. The sharks are already circling! We saw it when Kevin Rudd sabotaged Julia Gillard; it can happen again. It is more debilitating than external attacks.

In an attempt to reverse the alienation among Muslims that Abbott provoked with his anti-Muslim attitude and his obsessive focus on terror threats, Turnbull held out the hand of friendship, even to the point of inviting several prominent Muslims, including a radical sheik, to an Iftar dinner that he hosted for Ramadan. Whilst applauded by some, it has further alienated those who follow Pauline Hanson, who has now added to her anti-Asian stance an equally aggressive anti-Muslim one.

When the Coalition gets around to analyzing why it has done so poorly at this election, coming close to defeat, expect it to include pointed reference to the alienation of important parts of the Coalition’s constituency, with accusatory fingers pointing firmly at Turnbull.

You are bound to read about reasons for the diminishment of Turnbull’s prestige and standing, other than those cited above. Tell us about them in a comment.

How has it come to this? PM Turnbull has ‘won’ but is apprehensive; Opposition Leader Shorten hasn’t, but is smiling?



Whatever other factors were in play during the election, prominent factors were: Turnbull as an incautious risk-taker; the Medicare bogey; the unfairness and inequality felt by those on Struggle Street angrily watching the top end of town get the rewards; the reversal of deeply held Turnbull principles on the NBN, marriage equality, global warming and the republic, all sacrificed at the altar of self interest; and insensitivity towards the Coalition’s natural constituency. All were recipes for failure, and at worst, political disaster. Time will tell how potent they were.

What do you think?
What do you believe are the most significant factors in the Coalition’s poor showing?

Please offer your suggestions in comments below.

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Top hats versus hard hats



Now that the official election campaign has entered its second week, it’s time to assess how each of the major political parties is framing its narratives.

You will recall that earlier this year there were three pieces on The Political Sword on framing: Framing the political debate – the key to winning, More on framing the political debate – the key to winning, and Still more on framing the political debate – the key to winning.

The series began by asserting that the most plausible explanation of why Tony Abbott did well as an opposition leader but was an awful failure as prime minister was that in opposition he had the uncanny ability to frame the political debate in his favour, but in government that ability deserted him.

Abbott is gone but his voice has not. He still talks of the ‘legacy of the Abbott government’, or more pointedly, the ‘Abbott/Turnbull government’. What’s more, the guru who directed him all through his period at the top, Peta Credlin, has reappeared as an ‘election commentator’ on Sky News to offer her sage remarks.

Perhaps unintentionally, when Credlin labeled Malcolm Turnbull “Mr Harbourside Mansion”, she reinforced Bill Shorten’s early attempts at framing the political debate with his catchy phrase: “Top hats versus hard hats”. Shorten will try to frame the contest between the Coalition and Labor as one of the toffs versus the workers. Derived from British slang, a ‘toff’ is a derogatory stereotype for someone with an aristocratic background or belonging to the landed gentry, particularly someone who has an air of superiority, who is often caricatured as wearing a top hat, a monocle and a bow tie. Although Turnbull does not fit this stereotype precisely, we have already seen him characterized in this way in the mainstream media, particularly by cartoonists.

Top hats and hard hats are easily recognized icons that people in the street will intuitively apply to the top end of town and the workers toiling in uncongenial labour.

This framing will enable the electorate to give concrete meaning to the blight of inequality in our society, which will be a hot button election issue. While some might find the notion of inequality difficult to visualize, its real world manifestation, top hats and hard hats, will be visible to all.

This imagery captures the real meaning of Labor’s campaign slogan: "Putting people first”, which is code for "putting ‘ordinary’ people first".


Expect Shorten's ‘top hats and hard hats’ framing to be prominent throughout Labor’s campaign, and expect Turnbull and the Coalition to try to negate it. We saw this played out after Turnbull’s name was found in the Panama Papers. Although there was no hint of impropriety by Turnbull as a company director, a point the media and Shorten himself acknowledged, the mere mention of Turnbull in the Papers ‘raised eyebrows’ because of the now infamous connection in the Papers between individuals and companies and shady offshore manoeuvres to avoid paying tax. Turnbull seems completely innocent, and has said so, yet the association will remain throughout the campaign with the help of reminders from Shorten like “To be fair to Mr Turnbull, he should be given the chance to fully explain himself”. Expect more of this because the Panama connection reinforces Shorten’s framing of Turnbull as a toff in a top hat.

The ‘top hats versus hard hats’ framing will be strengthened every time Turnbull attacks trade unions, every time he insists that the Australian Building and Construction Commission must be reinstated to counter “lawlessness and thuggery in the construction industry”; indeed he will remind us that this is so important to the economy that the double dissolution election we are about to have was called because of the Senate’s refusal to reinstate the ABCC.

Top hat versus hard hat framing will also be reinforced every time Shorten points to the unethical, and at times fraudulent behaviour of the big banks, and how this has impacted on the ordinary man in the street, some of whom have lost their life’s savings or have been denied legitimate insurance claims, all because of the banks’ system of paying personal bonuses to executives who make or save the bank money. Shorten will continue to press for a Royal Commission into banking (which has wide appeal in the electorate); while Turnbull will insist this is overkill and that the Coalition has the banking problem in hand. What’s more, he’s given them a stern lecture!

This framing is now set in concrete and will be restated and reinforced by Labor every single time instances emerge of the little man at the bottom of the pile being done over by the big man at the top. Shorten will see to that.

There are countless examples of the well off receiving advantages that are denied to the less well off; the budget provided still more. Newly announced Coalition policies will do so again and again as it embeds its trickle down philosophy into its economic plans for “jobs and growth”, which is another version of Bill Clinton’s “It’s the economy, stupid”. For ages, the Coalition has portrayed itself as the ‘adult’ party best suited to manage the economy, and Labor as kids without a clue. By focusing on “jobs and growth” the Coalition is reinforcing this framing.

Whenever the well off seem to be gaining another benefit under the Coalition, and Labor objects and points to inequality, the Coalition will try to counter this framing with its ‘class warfare’ and ‘politics of envy’ catchphrases, which it trots out every time criticism is directed towards those at the top being given special advantages. It’s a slogan that resonates with the electorate; few people regard envy as a desirable attribute, so to be accused of envy is uncomfortable. Shorten needs to rebuff this characterization. I thought David Marr’s rebuttal on Insiders was clever. He hinted that ‘the politics of greed’ might be used to counter ‘the politics of envy’.

Let’s look at some other attempts at framing.

In the last few days, as several Labor parliamentarians and candidates have expressed discomfort at the punitive approach this country is taking towards asylum seekers, Coalition members: the Deputy Liberal Leader, the Immigration Minister, the Treasurer and his sidekicks, and any Liberal handy to a microphone, have lambasted Shorten and Labor for being 'soft on border protection'. They have been vigorously framing Labor as being disunited on border protection, even keeping an account of the numbers who seem to be at variance with Labor policy. Their framing has already extended to painting Labor as so soft on border protection that should Labor win government the people smugglers would soon be back in business, with boat arrivals starting up again in earnest, complete with all the horrible consequences: more drowning at sea, hordes of arrivals, long periods of detention, untold expense for the taxpayer, and a reversion to the ‘awful period under Kevin Rudd’.

This is powerful framing. Generally speaking, the electorate embraces the tough, albeit ruthless approach to ‘border protection’ the Coalition has in place, and in Western Sydney, where there are many marginal electorates, voters would react strongly against any relaxation of the Coalition’s measures. Abbott created this animosity to asylum seekers as soon as he called them ‘illegals’, stoked up his ‘Stop the Boats’ slogan, and implemented his harsh and unbending approach to what he liked to label ‘border protection’, as if we were facing an enemy invasion. Scott Morrison was ready to do his bidding, and now Peter Dutton seems to relish being Mr Tough Guy.

Peta Credlin too is onto the power of this framing and says so in an article in the Sunday Telegraph: Bill Shorten’s boats plan is sinking fast, reproduced in the Herald Sun:
We’ve seen this week that it isn’t just the senior Labor leaders who lack ticker on boats. At last count, 16 MPs or candidates have openly defied Bill Shorten. If they’re prepared to go rogue before an election, there’s every chance the boats will start again if Labor is put back in charge of our borders… It was a humanitarian catastrophe, a national security disaster and a budget calamity. But that doesn’t mean it won’t happen again.
This framing of Labor can be expected to exacerbate, especially if more Labor people abandon party unity and speak out against Labor’s established asylum seeker policy. Shorten must pull these dissidents into line. We understand and respect their feelings, but they need to decide whether they want Labor to succeed at the election. Although social media gives expression to many who endorse the dissidents’ views, such views are electoral poison to a hard-nosed electorate that Abbott has indoctrinated to be tough on asylum seekers and is averse to any hint of softness on border protection.

Some Labor people feel it would be better to spend another term in opposition than go along with the Coalition’s harsh policy, which by the way Turnbull has faithfully and forcefully reiterated with a gun at his head and hard line conservatives ready to pull the trigger. Who knows whether he believes his hard-line rhetoric? But be certain it will continue. Some Labor dissidents might prefer to be in opposition, but do their views coincide with their constituencies?

Here are some more contemporary examples of attempts at framing.

Malcolm Turnbull has vehemently condemned Labor’s proposed changes to negative gearing and capital gains tax, painting them as irresponsibly ‘smashing the housing market’, depreciating the value of many people’s largest asset – the family home, and pushing up rents. That most economists, many commentators, and the RBA itself disagree has not softened his attack. Obviously, he sees this framing as advantageous, taking, as he insists it does, wealth from families whom he asserts will lose out as their home loses value. He knows that taking away wealth or advantage always creates anger and resentment.

Typically, Abbott’s framing of Labor’s proposal as “a housing tax” was much more brutal!

Predictably, the real estate industry has come out against Labor’s proposed changes, and is threatening a campaign similar to that of the miners against the mining tax. Self-interest always trumps the common good.

For his part, Shorten has framed negative gearing as a taxpayer subsidy to enable the wealthy to buy their “second, third or tenth home”. Again, the toffs will do well while first home-buyers are left bereft, outbid by wealthy investors. Shorten’s line is appealing to young couples seeking to enter the housing market, and to their parents too.

How well these contrasting frames will play out, only time will tell.

The Coalition has had difficulties selling its planned changes to superannuation. It has framed this policy as hitting only the very wealthy (which it believes will appeal to most of the electorate) and that it is fair and is definitely not retrospective. Retrospectivity is an attribute voters hate. It is fascinating to hear well-informed economists and commentators disagree so strongly on the issue of this policy’s retrospectivity. I’m not going to canvass here one side of this debate, or the other. Read though what Peta Credlin had to say on this subject: 
"There are two problems with the Coalition’s changes to superannuation. First, every candidate has to be able to explain them and super is notoriously complicated at the best of times. Second, the government looks like it is using our savings to solve its Budget problems. Why should people trust a government that raids their personal, private savings whenever it needs money? We put our money into our super so we can look after ourselves. Claiming that the changes are not really retrospective, when they take into account contributions starting from 2007, makes the government look devious as well as unprincipled.”
Clearly she doesn’t think highly of the Coalition’s framing!

As if criticizing the Coalition’s superannuation policy was not enough, Credlin took a shot at Turnbull’s abandonment of his ‘Penrith walk’: “Added to this, cancelling a planned walk through a Penrith shopping centre was a bad look for the Prime Minister. I warned here last week that Labor would try to paint him as out of touch and he played straight into their hands.” Then, in an apparent attempt to soften her labeling of Turnbull, she added “Yes, he is “Mr Harbourside Mansion”, but he and Lucy bought their home after many years of hard work. He has an inspirational self-made background and he has to disable Labor’s attack by telling his story rather than let them define him.”

There it is, right out of the horse’s mouth! Being ‘out of touch’ is another frame Labor is attempting to put around Turnbull. Credlin can see this plainly.

And of course the old, old stereotypical framing of Labor as the profligate spenders, and the Coalition as the party that looks after the top end of town but says ‘No’ to spending on the less well off, will continue.

This piece is already long enough. The campaign has just begun. Many frames have surfaced, too many to discuss now, and many more attempts at framing will emerge. The Greens are vigourously framing themselves, Labor and the Coalition to suit their agenda. I will deal with all this next time around.


So until the next piece on framing, what do you think?
Are you picking up the framing that all sides are using?

Have you seen other examples of framing and counter-framing?

Let us know in your comments below.
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