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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Thirty pieces of silver



Disappointment, disillusionment, disgust, desperation, desolation, despondency, and above all simmering anger - these are the emotions so many Australians have had, and still are experiencing when they reflect on Malcolm Turnbull’s period as prime minister. And this applies to many Labor supporters, who welcomed Turnbull’s overturning of Tony Abbott. Surely, they thought, nothing could be worse than the appalling Abbott.

Yet, despite Turnbull looking and speaking like a prime minister, in such stark contrast to the malevolent Abbott, with his reckless abandonment of the values and principles we all know Turnbull once embraced, in just over a year he has killed off any respect he initially had. We deplored so many of Abbott’s principles, but at least he stuck to them. Turnbull has turned out to be a shameful turncoat, ready to betray his beliefs for thirty pieces of silver.

We are astonished, dismayed and saddened.

This piece is a companion to the last published: Abbott’s legacy of destruction. It exposes the other side of the deeply tarnished Abbott/Turnbull coin. The two pieces need to be read in parallel.

Ten pieces of silver to abandon climate change action
Of all his fine principles, shall we ever forget Turnbull's stand on climate change!

He supported Kevin Rudd’s push for an emissions trading scheme – even crossing the floor to do so! You will remember his much publicized proclamation:

I will not lead a party that is not as committed to effective action on climate change as I am.

What a tragedy it was that Rudd reneged on his promise to work with Turnbull to achieve bipartisanship to bring in an ETS. We could have had one many years ago. We now are as far away from an ETS as ever.

In December of last year, Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg was foolish enough to utter the words: “…we know there’s been a large number of bodies that have recommended an emissions intensity scheme, which is effectively a baseline and credit scheme”. Hard right-wingers Cory Bernardi and Craig Kelly went ballistic, Tony Abbott chimed in to repeat his longstanding opposition, and Murdoch’s Chris Kenny wrote a column in The Australian warning Turnbull that it was ‘political madness’ to re-consider an ETS.

Turnbull’s retreat was rapid. Within 24 hours he was insisting: “We will not be imposing a carbon tax and we will not be imposing an emissions trading scheme, however it is called, an emissions intensity scheme is an emissions trading scheme. That is just another name for it. That has been our policy for many years now.”

Suitably chastened, Frydenberg soon echoed Turnbull’s words, adding apologetically: “I have never advocated for a carbon tax and an emissions trading scheme; that is why the Government won’t proceed with one.” Ben Eltham, writing in New Matilda commented: Somewhere...a rooster crowed twice.

Although we all remember Turnbull’s 2009 proclamation, he has made many other utterances, from which he has retreated. They can be found in the archives. Some may surprise you. Take a look at them: You will find them here:

Here are a few of them:
“Climate change is a global problem. The planet is warming because of the growing level of greenhouse gas emissions from human activity. If this trend continues, truly catastrophic consequences are likely to ensue from rising sea levels, to reduced water availability, to more heat waves and fires.

“I do not believe we can effectively move Australia to a lower emission economy, which is what we need to do if we're going to make a contribution to a global reduction in greenhouse gases, without putting a price on carbon.”

“…some years from now if there's a global emissions trading scheme agreement, as many have hoped for, then I'm sure Australia would be part of it.”

“The question of whether or to what extent human activities are causing global warming is not a matter of ideology, let alone of belief. The issue is simply one of risk management.”

“If Margaret Thatcher took climate change seriously and believed that we should take action to reduce global greenhouse emissions, then taking action and supporting and accepting the science can hardly be the mark of incipient Bolshevism.”

“We are already experiencing the symptoms of climate change, especially with a hotter and drier climate in southern Australia - the rush to construct desalination plants is an expensive testament to that.”

“Look at countries like China, they are determined to dominate all clean technology areas, putting lots of money into wind, solar, electric vehicles and battery storage. America's political impotence, caused by their terrible partisanship, will see them left behind.”

“Many Liberals are rightly dismayed that on this vital issue of climate change we are not simply without a policy, without any prospect of having a credible policy but we are now without integrity. We have given our opponents the irrefutable, undeniable evidence that we cannot be trusted.”

"Direct Action is “a con, an environmental fig leaf to cover a determination to do nothing” and a “recipe for fiscal recklessness on a grand scale”.

“First, lets get this straight. You cannot cut emissions without a cost. To replace dirty coal fired power stations with cleaner gas fired ones, or renewables like wind let alone nuclear power or even coal fired power with carbon capture and storage is all going to cost money. To get farmers to change the way they manage their land, or plant trees and vegetation all costs money. Somebody has to pay. So any suggestion that you can dramatically cut emissions without any cost is, to use a favourite term of Mr Abbott, "bullshit." Moreover he knows it.”

“I believe that politicians should speak the truth all the time. Invariably there will be occasions when you make statements that are factually incorrect due to an error.”

“I've been around in public life for a long time. I think people know what I stand for. They know that I have strong convictions, committed principles and I'm prepared to stand up for them.”
How laughable! Turnbull has shown over and again that he will not stand up for his principles when members of his rabid right wing stamp their feet and demand that he toe the line he agreed to get their votes to topple Abbott. We have seen that time and again, but nowhere more flagrantly than over the issue of climate change.

The man who so strongly supported an ETS now refuses to have a bar of one.

After Turnbull replaced Abbott, climate pundits were excited. Corporate advisor, Paul Gilding, insisted that there was great support from Malcolm Turnbull on renewable energy and climate change: “Turnbull actually supports climate action and has long understood the economic implications of the transition required. And rather than being fearful of those implications he embraces them – seeing the inherent opportunity in a transition away from coal and towards a technology-driven transformation of the renewable energy system. The influence of this over time, on the business community and on public attitudes will be long lasting and leave a legacy for a generation.” How disillusioned Gilding must be now!

But as we have seen in the last couple of months, ever since September when in South Australia a ‘once in fifty-year storm’ tore up transmission towers and blacked out the entire state, Turnbull has become a fierce critic of the targets set for the adoption of renewable energy, initially blaming the state’s dependence on renewable energy for the disaster, later capitulating in the face of undeniable evidence to the contrary.

He and his minders, having decided that ‘energy security’ will be the defining issue in the months ahead, have attacked Labor and the Greens relentlessly as ‘ideologically driven’ incompetents whose ‘utterly unrealistic renewable energy targets’ will not be achievable, and will drive energy prices skyward. Turnbull has ruthlessly abandoned his long-held principles in the pursuit of political gain, for himself and the LNP.

Turnbull castigates those who seek to transition to renewables rapidly, and now supports coal mining. He even allowed his Treasurer to bring a lump of coal into parliament to mock Labor. He now talks of ‘clean coal’ technology, as if it was an imminent and financially viable possibility, which experts in the field insist it is not. His behaviour is no different from that of Abbott who proclaimed that ‘coal is good for humanity’ and would be around as a major source of energy for many decades!

He is Abbott personified, but without a skerrick of principle left!

Now, a coalition of eighteen business, energy, investor, climate and welfare groups, including the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Council of Social Services, and the ACTU, has called for an end to partisan energy politics and urgent action on global warming in the knowledge of its devastating effects on business, investment in energy, agriculture, the environment, and indeed life on this planet. But Turnbull and his government are not listening!

This whole piece could be about Turnbull’s shameful retreat from the urgency of global warming, but let’s visit some other of Turnbull’s inglorious retreats.

Ten pieces of silver to ‘demolish the NBN’
Who will ever forget PM Abbott’s infamous instruction to his then Communications Minister, Malcolm Turnbull: Demolish the NBN? Abbott wanted it destroyed only because Labor had proposed and designed it, a groundbreaking Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) proposal that would have placed Australia at the forefront of modern Internet communications, and would have given it a competitive advantage over its neighbours and overseas' rivals. After the Abbott intervention, thanks to the lily-livered, mendacious response of Turnbull, a tech-head who made his fortune in Internet communications with the sale of his OzEmail, we now rank a lowly 45th in the world for Internet speeds.

Although Turnbull knew full well that FTTP was the superior option, he messed around trying to convince us of the merits of a Multi Technology Mix (MTM) that included Hybrid Fibre-Coaxial (HFC), Fixed Wireless, and a Long Term Satellite Service, as well as Fibre to the Node (FTTN) where fibre was rolled out only to street corner boxes, with ageing copper wire making the connection to the premises. Turnbull’s selling spiel was that Labor’s FTTP was prohibitively expensive, too slow to roll out, and sotto voce unnecessary for Australia’s needs. FTTN, with its lower speeds, would be OK for this nation, which he continually implores to be ‘agile and innovative’.

The facts are that the FTTN rollout is arguably no faster than was planned for Labor’s FTTP, the speeds are poorer, and the cost is likely to be the same as for the FTTP, or higher. In other words, to placate the malevolent Abbott, Turnbull’s counterintuitive interference with the original FTTP plan has resulted in Australia gaining nothing, and we have lost a golden opportunity to be world leaders.

Once more, Turnbull has sacrificed his ideals, abandoned his technical know-how, and deliberately deceived the public about the touted merits of the Coalition’s FTTN MTM hotchpotch, leaving us no better off financially or logistically, but much worse off technically with an already out-of-date NBN that will soon need expensive upgrades.

Moreover, he has tried to convince us that the fast 100Mbps speeds promised by FTTP are not necessary, as many taking up the NBN are choosing slower speeds. But what about business and industry that need to send large files around the world; what about farmers who need to be in rapid touch with world prices and trends? Turnbull seems to be channeling the tech-ignorant Abbott who said that the speeds needed only to be good enough to send an email, or for his daughters to download a movie!

Turnbull, who does know the technical facts better than anyone else in his party, has sold his principles and values simply to gain political advantage for himself and his party. He has lied.

In answer to a question about the Coalition’s NBN on Q&A last year Turnbull obfuscated. Writing about it in Delimiter Renai LeMay said:
“On last night’s episode of Q&A, Turnbull did nothing to address persistent criticism of the Coalition’s NBN policy. Neither did he address – at all – Labor’s reworked NBN vision.

"Instead, what we got was a repeat of the standardised set of talking points which virtually every Coalition MP has been parroting about the NBN for the past two to three years.

"I find this insulting, to say the least.

"Turnbull is clearly aware that the NBN debate has moved on and that the country is now having a nuanced discussion of how the NBN project should proceed over the next decade, incorporating technologies such as HFC cable, FTTP and perhaps even new models such as Fibre to the Distribution Point.

"The Prime Minister’s failure to address that debate in any way, shape or form shows his lack of respect for the public; and also his determination not to meaningfully engage on the matter of the NBN. The increasing likelihood that the Coalition will not refine its NBN policy for the election reinforces that impression."
Once more Turnbull has recklessly sacrificed his ideals for a pottage of political advantage.

Ten pieces of silver to abandon marital equality
This piece is already long enough; so let’s conclude with Turnbull’s shameful retreat from his principles on this contentious matter.

Turnbull has always advocated marriage equality, and believes that a parliamentary vote would secure its legislative passage. Yet, despite public opinion strongly favoring marriage equality, and a majority in favour of a parliamentary vote to settle the matter, Turnbull will not budge from his commitment to the hard right of his party to have a plebiscite, which we all know was Abbott’s delaying mechanism that would give opponents the opportunity to disseminate emotive dissent, thereby creating doubt in voters’ minds, which the religious right hopes will result in a negative vote.

Turnbull has no religious, social or ideological objection to marriage equality – indeed the contrary is the case. Yet he is shamelessly sacrificing his long-held principles on the altar of political expediency, simply to placate the rabid religious right in his party, and thereby hang tenuously onto his prime ministership.

Do you need any more evidence that Turnbull has sold his political soul for thirty pieces of silver? On three crucial fronts: global warming, the NBN, and marriage equality, he has sold out so that he could grasp, and now cling doggedly onto leadership. There are many more of his values that he has sacrificed for silver: The Republic, Medicare, urban planning, and asylum seeker policy. But enough is enough.

What are voters feeling about him now, just eighteen months into his prime ministership?

Disappointment, disillusionment, disgust, disrespect, despair, despondency, desolation, and above all, intense anger.

What a political and personal price he has paid in return for his thirty pieces of silver!


What do you think?
What are your views about Malcolm Turnbull?

Have you other examples of how he has sold out his principles and values?

Let us know in comments below.

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Abbott’s legacy of destruction



Do you sometimes wonder how the Turnbull government has managed to get itself into such a mess?

Of course Malcolm Turnbull must shoulder much of the blame himself. A piece that I will post next week: Thirty pieces of silver attests to this. By sacrificing his long-held principles and values on the altar of his enduring ambition to be Prime Minister no matter what the cost, he has brought about many of the vicissitudes he is now enduring.

A look further back though uncovers a set of circumstances and decisions that were made before Turnbull assumed leadership, made by just one man – the malevolent Tony Abbott – who masqueraded as Prime Minister from 18 September 2013 to 15 September 2015, three days short of two years. Yet in that short time he managed to destroy so much of what this nation needs, leaving an untidy mess for his successor, who still struggles to repair the damage.

Abbott has not changed. Just a few days ago he once more exhibited his destructive nature when he publicly attacked Turnbull’s leadership and policies, which he predicted would lead the LNP to electoral defeat if it "didn't lift its game". This time his destructiveness was aimed at his leader and his party.

If you need any persuasion, it will not take too many examples to convince you of Abbott’s destructiveness. Here they are.

Deliberately ineffectual action on climate change
There is no more disastrous area than this to illustrate Abbott’s destructiveness.

It was well before his election as PM that Abbott exposed his denial of the reality of global warming. In July 2009, he told the 7:30 Report he thought the science of climate change was "highly contentious" and the economics of an ETS "a bit dodgy…”.

Then he let it slip at a meeting in Beaufort in October of that year that "The argument is absolute crap … However, the politics of this are tough for us. 80% of people believe climate change is a real and present danger." He toyed with the idea of supporting Rudd’s ETS proposal, as he thought it would not be "a good look for the Opposition to be browner than Howard going into the next election". He habitually thinks politically.

Quizzed about his Beaufort remarks by Laurie Oakes, Abbott said: "I think that the science is far from settled on all of this. But there are good prudential reasons for taking reasonable precautions against significant potential threats. That's why I think there is a strong case for an ETS but it's got to be the right ETS. It's got to be an ETS that protects Australian jobs and protects Australian industries... I am confronted by a hostile Liberal audience on this particular issue; I am trying to bring them around to support the position of the leader and the shadow cabinet.” When challenged about his Beaufort meeting statement, Abbott said he had used "a bit of hyperbole" at the meeting rather than it being his "considered position". Later, he conceded that on climate change he was a bit of a ‘weathervane’.

Clearly, Abbott saw political advantage in opposing action on climate change.

We all knew back then what Abbott’s climate change tactics really were, but just a few days ago Peta Credlin publicly exposed Abbott’s political chicanery. An article reporting this in BuzzFeedNEWS began: “Tony Abbott’s former chief of staff Peta Credlin has let slip that one of the most damaging political campaigns in recent Australian political history was based on bullshit.”

Credlin made her comments during an episode of Sky’s Sunday Agenda: “Along comes a carbon tax. It wasn’t a carbon tax, as you know. It was many other things in nomenclature terms but we made it a carbon tax. We made it a fight about the hip pocket and not about the environment. That was brutal retail politics and it took Abbott about six months to cut through and when he cut through, Gillard was gone.”

The article continued with Credlin's comments:
“It wasn’t a carbon tax, as you know.

“Okay, okay, okay. Let’s just provide some context. Australia has a complicated history in trying to do what many countries have already done – put a price on carbon emissions.

“Emissions trading scheme proposals contributed to the demise of Malcolm Turnbull as opposition leader in 2009 and Kevin Rudd as prime minister in 2010. Julia Gillard finally introduced a carbon-pricing scheme in 2011.

“It was Tony Abbott who re-framed Gillard’s scheme as a “carbon tax”, even though after the first year the price on carbon emissions was no longer fixed, and was instead set by the market.

“Abbott rode the anti-carbon tax movement all the way into The Lodge and eventually had everyone, including Labor and the media, calling it a carbon tax".
There it is – the brutal truth - straight out of the horse’s mouth!

'Direct Action' fraud
To placate voters who believed that Australia ought to take some action to combat carbon pollution and global warming, Abbott invented the Coalition’s ‘Direct Action Plan’. From the beginning it was a hoax. This is how Turnbull described it: “Direct Action is “a con, an environmental fig leaf to cover a determination to do nothing” and “a recipe for fiscal recklessness on a grand scale”.

As part of the DAP, Abbott created his ‘Green Army’ that was supposed to employ lots of young people in conservation pursuits, but we will never know how big or effective it was because it was axed by PM Turnbull and Treasurer Morrison before a review of it had been undertaken. We certainly didn’t hear much of what it was doing. Another ‘fig leaf’.

Abbott tried to convince voters that his DAP would cut emissions with little cost. Turnbull’s assessment was blunt: “First, let’s get this straight. You cannot cut emissions without a cost. To replace dirty coal fired power stations with cleaner gas fired ones, or renewables like wind let alone nuclear power or even coal fired power with carbon capture and storage is all going to cost money. To get farmers to change the way they manage their land, or plant trees and vegetation all costs money. Somebody has to pay.

"So any suggestion that you can dramatically cut emissions without any cost is, to use a favourite term of Mr Abbott, "bullshit." Moreover he knows it.”


Abbott engineered an LNP party room vote against an ETS, challenged Turnbull over his support for it (known then as a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme) and defeated him as leader by a single party room vote. But in the end it was Kevin Rudd who put the final nail in the ETS coffin by shamefully reneging on action to combat climate change which he had pompously proclaimed was: “The greatest moral, economic and social challenge of our time”.

Enough said. Climate change denial, abolition of the ‘carbon tax’, deliberate inaction via the DAP, opposition to an ETS and to existing renewable energy targets, together expose Abbott’s careless and destructive approach to the problem of global warming, which left unchecked will destroy our planet.

And in the process, Abbott injected his own brand of personal invective against his arch enemy, Julia Gilliard.


Demolition of the NBN
Here is another stark example of Abbott’s destructiveness. I hardly need remind you of Abbott’s infamous instruction to then Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull: “Demolish the NBN” after Labour had launched its groundbreaking Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) National Broadband Network, which would have given this nation a competitive advantage in a globally-wired world.

Instead, Turnbull’s multi-technology mix, combined with a second rate Fibre to the Node (FTTN) scheme has left us languishing 45th in the world of Internet speeds, behind schedule in rollout, and likely even more expensive than Labor’s plan. You know the distressing details of a good system ruined by Abbott’s malevolent interference, all in pursuit of destroying what his opponents had created.

In the process, he has set this nation back, damaged our competitiveness, left individuals and businesses struggling with an inadequate, fault-ridden system, and all this from a Liberal leader, who ought to have embraced the NBN as essential to our nation’s prosperity.

Abbott sacrificed his Liberal principles in pursuit of destructive vengeance against his political opponents. Shameful! Disgraceful!

Strangling marriage equality
Abbott wishes the status quo on marriage to remain. Whilst conceding that a relationship other than between a man and a woman can be legitimate, he maintains that “…however deeply affectionate or long lasting it may be, the relationship between two people of the same sex cannot be a marriage because a marriage, by definition, is between a man and a woman...

Whilst most people would concede that he is entitled to his opinion on this issue, the question is whether he is entitled to impose his views on the whole electorate. We know that his religious affiliation governs his attitude, which is understandable. But it is his devious way of engineering a decision on this matter that is so despicable and destructive of social cohesion.

He knows full well that the elected members of parliament are entitled and indeed competent to reach a decision on this matter, but fearing that this might result in a positive vote for marriage equality, he has deviously pushed the decision to a plebiscite under the pretence that this is the most democratic approach. He pushes this line despite a clear majority of the electorate being in favour of marriage equality, and also in favour of a parliamentary vote deciding the matter. While they are not objecting to a plebiscite, they see it as unnecessary, a waste of taxpayers’ money with a price tag of $160 million, and a pointless delaying tactic. The Coalition’s hard right inveigled Turnbull into agreeing to a plebiscite in return for their vote for him to topple Abbott.

Abbott knows that opponents of marriage equality will use the debate leading up to the plebiscite to unleash their venom on LGBTI people who are already vulnerable. The so-called Australian Christian Lobby, which does not represent any church or religious group, is ready and well funded to launch destructive opposition that will upset, damage and threaten the mental health of LGBTI folk. There is fear that those already on the edge may take their own life, so fragile are they.

Shortly after becoming PM, when the ACT Legislative Assembly passed the Marriage Equality (Same Sex) Act 2013, a bill to allow same-sex couples to legally marry, Abbott mounted a federal government challenge to this decision in the High Court, which ruled that the Act be dismantled as it clashed with the Federal Marriage Act 1961. This was Abbott’s first win; he is determined to have another, and kill off marriage equality once and for all.

Does Abbott care? No. A man with such destructive predilections is more concerned about political triumph than he is about the feelings and wellbeing of LGBTI folk. This issue is redolent with his mix of deviousness and destructiveness.

Imposing his moral views on others.
We know that Abbott has strong views grounded in his religious upbringing as a Roman Catholic. But he is intolerant of the views of others. Here are a few examples:

He is a trenchant opponent of embryonic stem cell research and euthanasia, and is uneasy about abortion, which he insists should be "safe, legal and rare". You will remember that in 2006, as Health Minister, he opposed access to the abortion drug RU486 so strongly that an angry Parliament voted to strip health ministers of the power to regulate this area of policy. Religious conviction overrode any vestigial concern Abbott might have had for women with unwanted pregnancies.

In his 2009 book Battlelines, he advocated at-fault divorce agreements between couples, which would require spouses to prove offences like adultery, habitual drunkenness, cruelty, desertion, or a five-year separation before a divorce would be granted. He argued that this would be a way of "providing additional recognition to what might be thought of as traditional marriage".

Abbott harbours hard line moral attitudes. He is unconcerned about what others believe. He will not change his beliefs to accommodate others, no matter how damaging his position might be to them..

This piece is already long enough. I could mention the 2014 Abbott/Hockey Budget that brutalized the less well off, and his punitive attitude to asylum seekers, but there is no need here to elaborate further on Abbott’s legacy of destruction. If you need any more detail, I recommend Wikipedia’s account of Abbott’s career.  

Abbott is politically combative, adversarial, vengeful, and pitilessly destructive.

His dictum is that if an opponent develops a policy framework, it must be destroyed, simply because it is not his or his party’s. No matter how beneficial it might be to the prosperity, competitiveness or security of this nation it must be destroyed. No matter how beneficial it might be to groups or individuals, it must be destroyed.

It is Abbott who has shaped so many of the adversarial policies with which Turnbull has now to grapple. It is Abbott’s destructiveness that has left a trail of damage and distress that will take years to rectify, if indeed they ever can be.

This man, who promised 'There will be no wrecking, no undermining, and no sniping' after he was overturned by Turnbull, after lurking in the shadows for years has finally come out into the open with a clear intent to destroy his nemesis, and his party with him.


Last Friday he launched an all-out assault on Turnbull and his government, even suggesting another set of Abbott slogans: ““In short, why not say to the people of Australia: we’ll cut the RET, to help with your power bills; we’ll cut immigration to make housing more affordable; we’ll scrap the Human Rights Commission to stop official bullying; we’ll stop all new spending to end ripping off our grandkids; and we’ll reform the Senate to have government, not gridlock.”

It is now obvious to everyone that Abbott’s destructive hand is around the throat of his party and its leader. Writing in The New Daily, Paula Matthewson put it this way: “The increasing intensity and destructiveness of Mr Abbott’s behaviour belies his claim to be interested only in protecting the Liberal Party’s conservative ethos. His behaviour is not one of protection but of destruction; a flagrant display of smashing the bat and ball, then setting both alight to prevent anyone else from playing.”

What a destructive blight on this fair nation Abbott has been, and continues to be. Has there ever been anyone worse?



What do you think?
What are your views about Tony Abbott?

Have you other examples of his destructiveness?

Let us know in comments below.

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Who is the culprit?

When you reflect on the dilapidated state of federal politics; when you question how on earth we have become encumbered with so many appalling policies, do you ever ask: 'Why is it so?'

I do often. And when I do, one culprit emerges over and again. Who is it?



Who in this motley collection is the culprit? Who is responsible for these policy calamities?

You be the judge. It's not a big challenge for the politically astute, but it might be revealing for the casual political observer.

Let's look at just a handful of policy catastrophes that afflict us still.

Consider global warming
Leaving aside the uninformed utterances of our new One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts and all the other climate deniers, there is strong consensus among thousands of climate scientists that the planet is warming inexorably towards levels dangerous to life on earth, which if not curtailed will become irreversible. A majority of ordinary people believe this to be true, and want something purposeful and effective to be done about it. So what is being done?

All our government is doing is implementing its so-called 'Direct Action Plan'. No environmental scientist or economist worth their salt can demonstrate that it is working, or even can work. It's a dud. Since Labor's 'carbon tax' was repealed and the DAP began, carbon emissions, which had begun to fall, are now rising again. Forget all Greg Hunt's talk about Australia 'meeting and beating' its emission targets, and Josh Frydenberg's reiteration of it. Emissions are increasing. We are not pulling our weight as global citizens. We are frauds in the climate change world.

Why is it so?

Who was it who thwarted the move towards an Emissions Trading Scheme that PM Kevin Rudd and Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull had agreed upon? Who used this nascent agreement to upend Turnbull and take his position? You know. Who used the repeal of the 'toxic carbon tax' as a powerful weapon in gaining power. You know.

Have you reflected upon how destructive a move this was, one that left this nation far behind comparable countries, one that made us a pariah? We have never recovered from that, and never will while we have no ETS.

Turnbull lost his leadership over this, and even today clings to it by a thread, obliged as he is by his deal with the conservative clique in his party to make no change to climate change policy. But he was not the culprit. He did not dream up the DAP; he supports it now only to save his skin. It was he who boldly said he would not lead a government that did not take effective action to combat global warming. His support for the DAP is insincere. It puts the lie to his previous pro-ETS utterances. It belittles him. You know who the culprit is in this sorry tale of missed opportunities and ineffective action.

Of all the misdemeanours of our prime culprit, this is the most egregious. It is quite the most dangerous. It is shameful. You know who the culprit is.

Consider the National Broadband Network

It is a strange coincidence that our prime culprit and our current PM were also the players in this sorry saga. Labor proposed a fibre-to-the-premises NBN that experts around the world acknowledge is the ideal model, one that would give the best results and provide this nation with an enduring position in the communications world, and a competitive advantage over those nations with inferior models.

You will have no difficulty recalling who instructed the then Communications Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, to 'demolish the NBN'. Demolition was his modus operandi. Anything Labor did must be demolished irrespective of whether it was in our national interest to keep it. Turnbull must have been horrified. His reaction was to create a hybrid, multi-technology model with a substandard compromise of fibre-to-the-node on the street corner with ageing copper wire to the premises. Turnbull knew this was an inferior model, but at least it was better than demolition. So we are now stuck with a model that will leave this nation well behind in the world of communications and uncompetitive, just when our PM tells us that we must be innovative so that we can be globally competitive.

It is shameful that this has occurred for no other reason than our prime culprit regarded anything Labor created was anathema, and therefore must be destroyed. It is shameful too that tech-head Turnbull now vigorously but unconvincingly defends the Coalition's NBN. He knows it will be inferior, probably will cost the same as Labor's, and might be no faster in rollout. Turnbull has sold us another pup with his FTTN NBN. But there is no gainsaying who is the prime culprit in this lamentable saga. But for him we could have had the best, but now we are stuck with second-best or worse. All the talk about the excessive costs and slow rollout of Labor's model has turned out to be bunk. Now Turnbull is trying to convince us that users don't want the fast speeds Labor's FTTP guaranteed. Has he checked whether businessmen want and need very fast speeds to be competitive?

Our prime culprit has inflicted on our nation yet another destructive decision born of adversarial hatred of anything his opponents proposed to do. You know who he is.

Consider marriage equality

We all know our prime culprit does not support same sex marriage, no matter what he says. So, knowing there was clamour from the community to introduce marriage equality to reverse the Howard government's 2004 insertion of 'between a man and a woman' into the Marriage Act, done so subtly by a simple parliamentary vote, our prime culprit sought to thwart attempts to change the Act by insisting it be put to a plebiscite after the recent election.

He knew a plebiscite would delay a decision; he knew that he could obscure the matter by allowing lots of time for debate and argument 'from both sides'. He is ideologically opposed; same sex marriage is contrary to his religious beliefs. He does not want it, although the community does. He hopes that by fostering debate religious groups can cast doubts in the minds of voters. He knows that doubt is a potent element in any public vote, be it referendum or plebiscite.

He knows that if his allies in opposing marriage equality, prominent among whom is the so-called but unrepresentative Australian Christian Lobby with its persuasive spokesman Lyle Shelton, are given a chance to spread misinformation, fear and doubt, even bigoted views, it might engender a 'No' vote in the plebiscite. He is devious, cunning and ruthless. His conservative supporters have locked PM Turnbull into supporting the plebiscite, although Turnbull himself supports marriage equality.

If the plebiscite fails to reach a majority in favour of marriage equality, just one prime culprit will be responsible.

Now think about income and wealth inequality

You don't hear Liberals talking about inequality - they accept it as the normal state of affairs. There have always been the Lords and the Ladies and the Serfs to bow before them. Driven by their entrenched neoliberal belief in the power and wisdom of markets, they cling tenaciously to the long-discredited theory of supply-side economics, colloquially known as 'trickle down' economics, which posits that tax cuts given to the top end of town trickle down as benefits to the workers in the form of more jobs and better pay. It's bunk, but advocates recite this belief like a catechism mindlessly repeated during worship.

All the evidence is that inequality is increasing in this country. It has been for years. It shows no sign of lessening. The construction of the 2014 Budget made inequality even worse. Neo-liberals don't acknowledge this; neither do they care about it.

Who is the culprit?

Some may identify Joe Hockey, or his successor, Scott Morrison, but think about who put them up to their budgetary strategy. The 2014 Budget was not Hockey's; the punitive attack on the less well off was authorised and endorsed by our prime culprit. He was the one who was prepared to punish the poor. Even his supporters acknowledged that the Budget was unfair, the most unfair in many years, and that those who had the least were targeted for the most punishment. Why is our prime culprit so mean?

To add insult to injury, the Coalition now proposes to give generous tax cuts to businesses. This includes the banks and wealthy international companies, many of whom pay little or no tax anyway.

The budgetary assault on the less well off and the attack on Hockey's 'leaners' are shameful, and equally the handouts to the well off are obscene.

So who is the culprit?

We know that there are a few good politicians, many mediocre ones, several poor ones, and an occasional lamentable one. This piece argues that there is one person, just one, who has inflicted on the Australian public a succession of appalling policies, just four of which I have outlined. His egregious actions have diminished us as a nation.

He has made us a pariah in the world of climate change action. He has thrust upon us an inferior broadband network that will curtail our competitiveness. He has manipulated the debate about marriage equality to diminish its chances of becoming law despite the public's wish that it be so. He has accepted inequality as the norm in our society and has sought to make it worse.

Can you think of a single politician who has inflicted so much destruction, so much damage on our society? Can you identify a meaner person whose adversarial nature has caused so much harm?

Yet he still hovers in the background like a ghost of things past, quietly, subtly eroding confidence in his successor, hoping for another opportunity to wreak havoc once more upon our lucky country.

You know who the culprit is.

If you are still scratching your head, click here!

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

Did you identity the prime culprit?

Do you agree with my assessment of who fits this description?

What is your assessment of this person?
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Hordes of illiterates



If you had to pick a minister to deliver a nasty message, you would not go past Peter Dutton, master of cruel comments, replete with his trademark po-face and matching body language. Last week, on Sky News, responding to the suggestion by the Greens that we should up our refugee intake to 50,000, his comment was: “They won’t be numerate or literate in their own language, let alone English. These people would be taking Australian jobs, there’s no question about that. For many of them that would be unemployed, they would languish in unemployment queues and on Medicare and the rest of it, so there would be huge cost and there’s no sense in sugar-coating that, that’s the scenario. To be clear: they’ll take all our jobs and also they won’t get jobs.”

Framing the Greens’ and Labor’s asylum seeker policy
Dutton’s outlandish claims are untrue, and he knows it. So what was he up to? The most obvious conclusion is that he was trying to wedge the Greens for advocating an extra refugee intake, and Labor, whom he insisted are seriously divided on asylum seeker policy. This framing was embellished by drawing attention to the association of Labor and the Greens. It was a triple whammy that only Dutton, redolent with all his innate nastiness and vindictiveness, could deliver.

But was it just another instance of Dutton spewing his venom all over his enemies and those loathsome asylum seekers that cause him so much angst? Commentators were quick to assert that his mouthing-off was not just same-old Dutton, but a well-planned Coalition strategy to frame the progressive parties as soft on border control, keen to bring in even more asylum seekers, who, despite being illiterate, would take jobs away from Australians, would join the queue of the unemployed, would thereby be a burden on our social security network, and would cost taxpayers a fortune. How they would both take away our jobs and yet be unemployed was not explained.

The fact that Julie Bishop and later Malcolm Turnbull quickly supported his remarks suggests powerfully that they, and the LNP machine, were not just backing Dutton, but had thrust him out there to do his dirty work. When Turnbull said “Peter Dutton is an outstanding Immigration Minister” he was confirming that the Dutton ‘outburst’ was a deliberate strategy to re-focus attention on the always-successful-for-the-Coalition boat people theme.

A day later Turnbull might have been having second thoughts about his unequivocal endorsement of Dutton when he described Australia as an ‘immigration nation’, a subtle variation on his ‘innovation nation’, and again when he wrote an opinion piece in Fairfax media attempting to justify the Coalition’s attitude to immigration. To add insult to injury, Turnbull then self-righteously accused Shorten of demonizing Dutton! Such bizarre political rhetoric seems to have no bounds.

Some have labeled the Dutton episode as an example of the ‘dead cat’ strategy. Attributed to Lynton Crosby, who used it in the UK elections when he was assisting David Cameron, it goes like this: You throw out an outrageous proposition to distract the media and say, to use Crosby’s words, “Jeez, mate, there’s a dead cat on the table!” Journalists will then talk about the dead cat, and will stop talking about issues that have been causing grief, or issues that favour one’s opponents. 2353NM has written extensively about this in Dead cats and reset buttons.

Dutton’s mouthing-off is a classic example of the LNP’s vindictive framing of both Labor and the Greens. Coalition members will ignore the indignant calls for an apology from Dutton, because what he did was under instructions from his party, who knew nobody could do it with more venom than could Dutton.

There is no doubt that PM Turnbull and his Coalition colleagues will use the asylum seeker issue relentlessly to frame progressives, especially those who would prefer a more humanitarian approach. They will be framed as soft, unwilling to strictly protect our borders, unwilling to protect Australian jobs, indeed unwilling to protect our way of life, which Dutton asserts is now threatened by hordes of illiterates, and that their approach is hugely expensive and a threat to our treasured multiculturalism.

Bill Shorten did hit back, but rather mildly with: “Mr Dutton’s comments are comments Pauline Hanson would be proud to make, and if this is the best the Liberal party can do, it is not very good at all.

The Coalition’s framing, indeed its xenophobic dog-whistling, will resonate with many voters, especially those in the marginal seats of Western Sydney, but as an insult to all refugees, and, as Lenore Taylor says, to Australians generally, it may not be as potent as it might have been.

How well Shorten’s rebuttal resonates with them, time will tell. But the Greens’ framing of Labor as indifferent to the suffering of those in offshore detention will blunt Shorten’s attempts to take a firm but humanitarian line on asylum seekers that might appeal to moderate voters.

The last piece on this subject on The Political Sword: Top hats versus hard hats outlined a number of instances of framing used by the main political parties; this piece builds on it, so let’s look at some more.

Framing the Green/Labor alliance
Another powerful LNP framing strategy will be to play on the possibility of an alliance between Labor and the Greens, something the latter have canvassed openly, from which Labor has speedily run away. The LNP will characterize such an alliance as a reprise of the Julia Gillard/Bob Brown alliance, the public signing of which we are now being reminded. Painted by the LNP as a catastrophe to be avoided like the plague, this alliance, with the support of the rural independents, resulted in one of the most productive periods ever in federal politics with around six hundred pieces of legislation passed, some of it epochal.

But the Coalition continues to portray it as a disaster never to be repeated. Facts are irrelevant; the perception of chaos and disunity in Labor that Tony Abbott and the Coalition exploited prior to the 2013 election was a prime reason why Labor lost. You will have noticed how quickly Turnbull and his ministers jumped on Richard di Natale’s desire to form an alliance with Labor as an opportunity to wedge Labor.

Framing health – a Labor strength
Labor has always been strong on health. So when Shorten announced, on World Family Doctor Day, that Labor would defend Medicare, would protect bulk billing, and would unfreeze the indexation of Medicare benefits, frozen by the Coalition until 2020, and inject $12.2 billion into this over a decade, family doctors and Brian Owler, president of the AMA, applauded, pointing out that this would reduce the cost to the patient of a GP visit by around $20, halting the imposition by stealth of the dreaded GP co-payment, already rejected by the Senate. Shorten made the telling point that the Coalition can find almost $50 billion to give tax cuts to businesses and multinationals ahead of funding Medicare - powerful framing!

Reflexly, Coalition spokespersons labeled the move as ‘same old Labor’. Scott Morrison said: “Every time you see Bill Shorten’s lips moving in this campaign, he’s spending more money that he doesn’t have.” ‘Same old Morrison’! So the old, old framing of Labor as profligate spenders racking up more debt and deficit continues, and will do so until Election Day.

Global warming a rich area for framing
Surprisingly, there has not been much emphasis yet on climate change, but that will change as we approach the election. Both Labor and the Greens have set carbon mitigation targets much more ambitious than has the Coalition, and will frame the Coalition as wedded to fossil fuels and those who own them, endorsing more coal mines even as the threat of global warming increases month after month. April was the hottest April on record for the globe, and we are heading for 2016 being the hottest year on record! They will frame the Coalition as short-sighted denialists, environmental vandals, and in the pocket of the coal lobby. It beats me why the don’t ask them: “Where is Abbott’s much-vaunted ‘Green Army?’, which was so central a plank in his carbon mitigation platform.

The Coalition, via their loquacious spokesman, Greg Hunt, will ignore the facts (always ‘with great respect’), will continue to assert that they are on track and will easily ‘meet and beat’ their emissions targets, will deny that emissions are actually increasing, will boast that Australia has higher targets and is making better progress than comparable nations, and that nothing more needs to be done but to implement their ‘Direct Action Plan’, which environmentalists and economists alike ridicule. Although forced to acknowledge the damage being inflicted on the Great Barrier Reef, Hunt was able to make light of it, make upbeat prognostications about its future health, and insist that he is devoted to improving water quality in the vicinity, as if that’s all that is necessary to preserve this iconic natural wonder and tourist bonanza.



Already Hunt is re-stoking scaremongering about Bill Shorten's ‘massive new electricity tax’, insisting that both Labor’s and the Greens’ emissions targets and their intention to re-introduce a carbon pricing mechanism to reduce carbon pollution “couldn't have a worse impact in terms of electricity prices”, which he insists will skyrocket for us all. He likes to emphasize its impact on the less well off, for whom he shows pseudo concern. Again it’s the ‘same old, same old’ carbon tax argument that served the Coalition so well under Abbott.

Out of touch Turnbull
By framing Turnbull as a man in a top hat in a harbour side mansion who is out of touch with ordinary people and the travails of Struggle Street, Labor and the Greens have attached a label to him that will stick. It contrasts with Labor’s framing of itself: Putting people first.

For his part, Turnbull has tried to negate this by travelling often on public transport, always ready to take ‘selfies’ for his Facebook and Twitter accounts. He doesn’t try to disguise his wealth, attempting instead to represent it as a result of enterprise and hard work, two attributes he values in others, and indeed wishes upon the whole nation.

How well Shorten’s ‘out of touch’ frame will dominate Turnbull’s frames: ‘jobs and growth’ and ‘enterprise and hard work’, is one of the intriguing questions that the long election campaign eventually will answer.

Framing the NBN
Events of last week highlighted the importance of the framing of the NBN. The AFP raid on Senator Conroy’s office and the home of one of his staffers in pursuit of the source of leaks from NBN Co. Limited, underscores how sensitive an issue this is for both parties. When, in a fit of pique at Labor’s fibre-to-the-premises NBN initiative, Tony Abbott instructed Malcolm Turnbull to ‘demolish the NBN’, tech-head Turnbull decided that instead of killing it he would create a hybrid mixed-technology system using fibre-to-the-node (FTTN), with Telstra's ageing copper wire from a box on the street corner connecting it to the premises. It ended up being second-class, soon attracting the tag ‘Fraudband’. Not only is it poor technically, it is slower, behind in its rollout, and increasingly costly, possibly eventually costing more than Labor’s FTTP version. In short, it is a flop. This is what the leak is said to expose.

To counter this embarrassment, and Labor’s framing of Fraudband for what it is, an inferior system, the AFP raids were a distraction welcomed by the Coalition. Turnbull angrily framed Labor’s protest about the raids as politicisation of the NBN initiative, labelling it a shameful slur on the integrity of the AFP, even putting our national security at risk! No one has yet explained how the AFP, supposedly free of political bias, chose the second week of the election campaign to add these raids to its six-month long investigation, how Sky News was there to report and film it, and how an NBN employee was allowed to photograph seized documents (subsequently ordered to be destroyed).

These recent developments have blunted the Coalition’s framing of Labor’s version of the NBN as grossly expensive, indeed unaffordable; Labor has countered by labelling the Coalition version as a dud, and an expensive one at that.

Framing ‘Jobs and Growth’ versus ‘Putting People First’
It seems appropriate to end this rather long piece with ‘Jobs and growth’, the Coalition’s most frequently used three-word slogan. The LNP has tacitly assumed that voters will interpret ‘Jobs’ as ‘jobs for you’, and that ‘Growth’ will be interpreted as a ‘growing, prosperous economy’. They have assumed also that these two concepts will be an object of admiration for voters, who will therefore vote for the party that espouses them.

What they never explain is how they will achieve jobs and growth, except to hint that if tax breaks are given to businesses they will invest more, expand their scope, boost the economy, and of course employ more. Their belief is that reducing company tax to 25% over a long period will provide the stimulus that will bring about ‘Jobs and Growth’. This is based on the old and long-discredited concept of ‘trickle down’ economics, which has been dealt with extensively in Trickle down thinking breeds inequality, published on The Political Sword on 11 May.  

Apparently, the Coalition is hoping that framing ‘Jobs and Growth’ as the centrepiece of its election pitch will win the day without having to explain what it means in explicit terms, and how it will work; indeed whether it can work at all!

In pursuit of his goal of fairness for all, Bill Shorten is framing his campaign messages under his three-word slogan: ‘Putting People First’. His object is to cast Labor as personally concerned about individual people rather than being wedded to the inanimate concept of 'Jobs and Growth'. He embellishes that framing by asking voters: “What sort of country do you want to live in?” His implication is that Labor seeks to provide a country that is fair to all, one that gives educational and job opportunities to every individual who can benefit.

Every time Shorten makes a promise to fund an initiative, Turnbull frames him as being on a 'spendathon', digging a bigger and bigger black hole of deficit.

Time will tell which framing, the Coalition’s economic one, or Labor’s personal one, will prevail.

As the election campaign continues, you will recognize many other instances of framing. Whatever messages politicians seek to transmit, they will place each of them in a frame that embellishes and enhances the message, that gives it deep meaning for voters, and that appeals to voters’ sentiments, and at times voters’ self-interest. They will seek to frame their opponents' messages and policies as ill-conceived, poorly thought through (thought bubbles), unworkable, extravagant, unfunded, and sometimes, ideologically driven.

As voters, we need to recognize the framings that politicians are using so that we can analyse and appraise their inherent merit, their feasibility, and their validity for each of us and for the nation as a whole. I hope this and the previous essay about framing: Top hats versus hard hats will assist you to do this.

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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My innovation is bigger than your innovation


Malcolm Turnbull launched his ‘National Innovation and Science Agenda’ on 7 December last, three days after Labor had launched its ‘start ups’ policy, ‘Getting Australia Started’.

The launch dates for the policies mean little as obviously before such a launch there has been considerable background work and consultation — by both parties. So, if they have both done the work beforehand, do they come to the same conclusions and have they found and addressed the real issues facing us in our future ‘innovation economy’? It should be noted, however, that Bill Shorten had raised innovation, STEM, and ‘a nation of ideas’, and outlined some aspects of his innovation policy, in his Budget Reply in 2015, months before Turnbull became prime minister: so there is an argument that Turnbull was playing catch-up and that even the catch-phrase for his policy, ‘The Ideas Boom’, was born in Shorten’s speech.

It wasn’t, however, only the political parties doing the work or engaging in the debate. At Parliament House on 27 November the Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA), which comprises the Australian Academy of the Humanities, the Australian Academy of Science, the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia, and the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, launched its report, ‘Translating research for economic and social benefit: country comparisons’. Also at Parliament House, six days later — a day before Labor’s policy launch — the Senate Economics References Committee released a report, ‘Australia’s Innovation System.’ So in the space of ten days there was a lot happening about innovation.

The Senate Committee recommended:
  • adopting a target to lift investment in R&D to 3% of GDP
  • establishment of an independent body to administer and coordinate innovation policies and programs
  • measures to enhance collaboration between universities and the private sector
  • the commonwealth and state governments collaborate to support the role of local and regional innovation ecosystems
  • education be a central focus, recognising ‘the central importance of the interplay between the STEM subjects and the humanities, social sciences and creative industries’
Labor has committed to devoting 3% of GDP to R&D by the end of the next decade but I have not been able to find a similar commitment from the Liberals. R&D is central to innovation and adopting the target can help bolster R&D in Australia, particularly given, as shown later, that we are currently overly reliant on public sector research.

The Liberals’ address the second, third and fourth recommendations. Its approach to the fifth is more limited than recommended.

For Labor’s response there is a need to look at both ‘Getting Australia started’ and ‘Powering Innovation’. When both are considered Labor is also addressing the second, third and fourth recommendations and has a greater emphasis on the fifth recommendation, particularly if its approach is read in conjunction with its education policy, the second sentence of which reads:
Improving education is the key to opportunity, to innovation and to the future economic and social prosperity of our nation. [emphasis added]
The differences in detail reflect the differing philosophies of the parties. The Liberal approach basically builds on existing business capabilities it sees in the economy and proposes measures to unlock and leverage those capabilities. Labor’s approach builds from the ground up. That is clearly shown in the approach to start-ups and STEM education.

As regards start-ups, the Liberals offer a 20% tax break for early stage investors and some tax cuts through the existing Small Business and Jobs Package. Otherwise its approach is legislative, to support business through reforms to employee share schemes, removing rules relating to depreciation of non-tangible assets (such as patents), reforming insolvency laws and relaxing the ‘same business test’ for tax losses.

Labor offers a $500 million Smart Investment Fund from which government will co-invest, with venture capital and other investors, up to 50% of start-up capital but otherwise its focus is educational — supporting a ‘start-up’ year of accelerated study or involvement with a university for those involved in start-ups and providing HELP loans for those completing university degrees to undertake an additional business-focused year.

For STEM, the Liberals support reforming the Australian Curriculum to provide more teaching time for science, maths and English and will ensure that primary teachers graduate with a specialisation, with particular support for STEM subjects. It will also support coding and computing in schools.

Labor proposes a National Coding in Schools centre where business and industry can connect with teachers. It will also provide scholarships for 25,000 teachers over five years to be trained in STEM, and for 100,000 graduates in STEM, also over five years, who will have their HECS debt written off on graduation.

In a piece in The Conversation, Anand Kulkarni and Travers McLeod suggest that a ‘beyond STEM’ approach should be taken that recognises:
… the interdependencies of scientific research and non-research forms of innovation such as design and organisational systems, together with the social sciences pivotal role in driving prosperity within innovation ecosystems.
So simply addressing STEM may not be enough, although it is apparent that we do need more people skilled in these areas. In April, Matt Barrie, a tech entrepreneur, pointed out that the number of young Australians involved in the tech industry had fallen dramatically and there had been a reduction of between 40% and 60% in those studying IT in the past decade, yet this at a time of a boom in technology.

The parties have a similar approach to overseas recruitment with both offering new entrepreneurial visas with options of fast tracking permanent residency.

Questions have been raised about the emphasis both parties place on start-ups. ‘Stilgherrian’ writing on ZDnet in September last year asked for:
… a conversation about innovation and the future that isn’t solely about the kind of high-risk fast-growth business models run by youthful technophiles that venture capitalists prefer.
Labor’s Kim Carr, speaking at an engineers’ forum on 20 November last said:
In Germany, the innovation system integrates all sectors of the economy.

That is in contrast to, say, the US, where there is great emphasis on ICT start-ups and the provision of venture capital, but where old industries are too often allowed to die out.

Germany, however, aims to renew them through a broad view of innovation.
As is often the case, it seems we are following the US model of start-ups and venture capital when there are other approaches to innovation which may better suit our economy. One can only hope that Kim Carr’s approach has more influence when Labor gains government.

The Liberals’ approach to collaboration seems to put the pressure on universities to play the more active role in joining with businesses. Its policy suggests that it will refocus a greater proportion of block grant research funding to universities to require collaboration with business. The ACOLA report, however, found that in a number of overseas countries the process is reversed with the incentive provided to businesses through specific or additional R&D tax incentives to promote collaboration. It suggests:
The argument for providing incentives to business to seek out translatable university research is that business will apply the disciplines of the market that it hopes to address. This commercial approach to research collaboration provides a ‘reality check’ which is considered important in separating out research outcomes with real commercial prospects …
It is an issue because, as the ACOLA report shows, in Australia only 4.1% of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) collaborate with researchers and only 3.5% of large firms: that compares, for example, with 16.8% of SMEs and 31.3% of large firms in the UK, and 13.9% and 43.2% respectively in Germany.

Eighty percent of Australia’s researchers are in the public sector (universities, CSIRO, etc). That is the highest proportion in the OECD. The next closest are Chile and the UK with 62%.

Australia encourages R&D by businesses primarily through the R&D tax incentive — what is termed an indirect approach. Other countries make greater use of direct support through grants, loans and procurement contracts to encourage business R&D, including loans and grants for SMEs.

In another recent article on TPS, I quoted Tim Mazzarol from the University of Western Australia who noted from a Business Council of Australia forum he attended:
… there was also a recognition that many large firms, particularly foreign owned multinationals, do very little fundamental R&D in Australia. The pipeline for STEM graduates into industry and the willingness of many large firms to serve a “Keystone” role in local business ecosystems is currently missing.
None of those issues, recognised by business itself, are directly addressed in the current innovation policies.

The Liberal government, despite now expressing hope for greater business-research collaboration has, since 2013, overseen significant cuts in public research funding and even cut $1 billion from the business R&D tax incentive. Innovation requires R&D and there is little point espousing one when cutting the other.

If both parties support spending on STEM teaching, they may need to assist industry to create pathways for STEM graduates into businesses — but that has not been addressed, although the parties may claim that their proposed regional innovation hubs will provide a focus and such a pipeline but it is not clear as yet whether that will be enough.

The last point in Mazzarol’s comment is also supported by ACOLA. It reports that overseas experience shows innovation hubs require at least one large firm at their centre.

But that takes us back to Mazzarol’s first point. Does Australia have a problem because many of our largest firms are actually overseas multi-nationals who, as Mazzarol reports, do not undertake significant R&D in Australia and so do not really have a great interest in supporting other Australian businesses? They may have no interest in acting as the focus of an innovation hub because their focus is to return profit to their home country (or a tax haven). Do we have enough large Australian companies to fulfil that role?

Of course, innovation also requires adequate infrastructure. For the digital age, and for start-ups making use of digital technology, one would have thought the NBN would have been a crucial component. The original NBN may have been but not the second rate system now being rolled out: in 2013 Australia’s average peak connection speed placed us 30th in world rankings but by the end of 2015 we had dropped to 60th; our broadband connectivity above 4Mbps ranked us only 45th in 2013 but in 2015 that had also dropped to 56th place.

If Australia is to take advantage of innovations in the digital age then, at some point, there will need to be an upgrading of the NBN and elimination of the copper components that slow the current system. Both the Liberals and Labor mention the NBN in their policies but, as yet, without any details for a future upgrading.

Innovation requires risk taking, not merely by the innovators, but by businesses when they consider adopting the new technology — that does not appear to have been considered in the current policies which focus on high-tech start-ups and fail to provide assistance for other businesses to adopt new technology, other than, perhaps, in the innovation hubs. But surely, as Kim Carr said, genuine innovation should spread across all sectors of the economy, including established industries, if we are to be successful.

Elizabeth Webster on The Conversation, suggests we could learn from the Australian primary industries:
Each major agricultural product group has an R&D corporation, jointly funded by farmers and government. It identifies common industry problems, appoints experts to research these problems, translates their findings into practical solutions and then delivers the message to the farmer. The individual farmer does not have to bear the full risk of the innovation — this is shared by peers with joint problems. By the time a proposed innovation reaches the farmer, much of the risk has been removed.
She does not suggest that this model can automatically apply to other industries but it provides elements that should be considered: ‘The R&D corporation model is constituted under acts of parliament. This means their members can think long term with the (near) certainty that their plans will not be scuppered by a change of government or minister’.

Another writer, Gavin Moodie, however, suggests that we can no longer simply follow the linear ‘supply chain’ model of research leading to development and then application in production. He supports the development of innovation hubs with many businesses gathered together but, like ACOLA, he recognises that ‘almost every successful innovation hub involves the participation of big enterprises as hub champions’.

Elements of both approaches seem warranted but so far we have only a commitment to innovation hubs.

One factor that is raised by a number of writers on this topic is the need for patience and consistency (such as provided by the agricultural R&D corporations). Moodie writes that successful innovation can require public and private sector collaboration over periods of 15 years or more.

There are questions whether the focus by both parties on start-ups and STEM teaching will achieve the intended outcomes without other supporting measures and, against the other issues I have raised, the policies of both parties fall short to differing degrees. Plus, when one takes account of the current government’s funding cuts to scientific research and education and the downgrading of the NBN, we have already set the ‘innovation economy’ back a few steps and need to make up that distance again. Labor at least gives greater recognition to those broader issues.

Finally, there is one key issue raised by Kulkarni and McLeod in their article:
… to be credible, innovation policymaking must be located within a long term vision of the structure of the Australian economy we should aspire to.
Do we yet have a long term plan for the structure of the Australian economy? — I think not. And when governments can undo the changes introduced by previous governments every three years or so, we are a long way from achieving that ultimate vision. Without it, even the best intentions regarding innovation may not achieve their full potential. Or do we just sit back and hope ‘the market’ will get it right.

What do you think?
Will the policies put forward by the parties really achieve an ‘innovation economy’?

Or are the policies only going part of the way and leaving the rest to ‘the market’?


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An ode to Mal Brough

Malcolm Thomas Brough was born in December 1961. He is the current member of parliament for the seat of Fisher, based on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. Between 1996 and 2007, he was the member for Longman, based on Brisbane’s outer northern suburbs. Brough recently announced his retirement from parliament would take effect at the next election. His brother Rob is also reasonably well known around the country as the host of a retired version of the TV game show Family Feud and he still reads the news on a regional Queensland television network.

Mal Brough was an army officer and ran some small businesses on the Sunshine Coast prior to his entry into parliament. He was also ‘noticed’ early by the powers that be in the Liberal Party. Despite being elected originally in 1996, he was appointed Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business in 2000, Minister for Employment Services in 2001, Assistant Treasurer in 2004 and went on to be the Minister for Revenue. In January 2006 he was appointed Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, a position he held until he lost his seat (along with John Howard) in the November 2007 election.

As minister for indigenous affairs Brough was the minister behind the Northern Territory Emergency Response in 2006, where the claim was made that reductions in social security payments and an increase in presence of ‘the authorities’ would somehow combat alleged high rates of child abuse and neglect in the outlying settlements of the Territory.

The Monthly, in an article from September 2013, paints a less than appealing side of Brough’s personality.
The Northern Territory intervention, the declaration of what amounted to martial law in Aboriginal communities awash with grog and plagued by child abuse, seemed the perfect vehicle for the captain-turned-politician. As indigenous affairs minister, he could bark out orders and expect them to be obeyed. Certainly, Howard thought Brough’s military background equipped him with the “right style” for the job. “His army training had given him a mix of authority and mateship,” he wrote admiringly in his memoir.

In making the case for the intervention, Brough projected the air of a commander addressing his troops on the eve of battle. The Australian public, he declared to parliament, were “willing to put their shoulder to the wheel when they feel that finally they can help to improve the lot of their fellow Australian citizens — the first Australians.” He concluded: “This is a great national endeavour and it is the right thing to do.”
Once he was out of parliament Brough became president of the Queensland Liberal Party for five months until the merger of alleged equals with the Queensland National Party was to occur. Brough resigned as president as well as a member of the party. According to The Monthly: “I’ve just had a gutful, quite frankly,” he told Fairfax Radio.

Under the terms of the formation of the LNP in Queensland, existing MP’s were guaranteed pre-selection for the 2010 election, and moderate Liberal Alex Somlyay in Fairfax as well as former Liberal but at the time National Peter Slipper in Fisher chose to take advantage of the guarantee, despite Somlyay recovering from throat cancer and Slipper’s less that stellar local reputation. It is claimed that Tony Abbott offered Somlyay an overseas posting to ‘free up’ a seat for Brough but the offer was refused. While the matter was referred to the Australian Federal Police, nothing ever came from the complaint.

It is history that Slipper accepted the offer from the ALP Government to become Speaker of the House subsequent to the 2010 election — and subsequently resigned from the LNP. Brough announced his intention to ‘serve the people of Fisher’ in December 2010 for the 2013 election knowing that pre-selection guarantees were a one off deal for the 2010 Federal election. The LNP’s leadership would have preferred James McGrath, the architect of Campbell Newman’s Queensland election victory and a former advisor to Boris Johnston, Conservative Party Lord Mayor of London, to be the candidiate in 2013. By the stage of the preselection however, Brough had built up local support and was subsequently selected to be the LNP candidate. Slipper ran as an independent.

Brough and Slipper’s aide, James Ashby, met during 2012. The details of that and subsequent meetings, together with the subsequent unofficial release of Slipper’s official diary entries by Ashby to a News Australia journalist via Brough are still under investigation by the Australian Federal Police. Independent Australia has written extensively on what they have termed Ashbygate — should you wish to read further, their reading list is here. Turnbull government ministers Christopher Pyne and Wyatt Roy are also under investigation over the same issue.

There is no way to know what the federal police are investigating, as quite rightly they will announce the area of their enquiry (in this case the misuse of official information — namely the diaries of the Speaker of the House) but not the specifics. It would be akin to the state police announcing that they will be knocking on the door at a specific address at 2.30pm in seven days’ time to look for evidence of an armed robbery. No doubt, if the evidence was in existence, it would not be where the police told the world they would be looking in seven days!

Having said that, investigators don’t just start looking into people’s lives because they drive a silver car, are holding a busload of people up on Monday morning when they can’t find their bus card or other meaningless justification. There has to be evidence of some potential misdeed reported to the authority with jurisdiction prior to an investigation being launched. Apart from the resourcing issue (investigations cost money for staff wages, telecommunications, office space and the rest of it), there has to be a reason to place people under a certain amount of (possibly unfair) speculation surrounding being the subject of ‘investigations from the authorities’.

It could also be suggested that politicians, as leaders of the community are held to a higher level of behaviour than others. Is it equitable? Probably not, but it is easy to argue that those who make the rules for others should clearly abide by the rules.

For instance, police, public officials and so on are expected to avoid conflicts of interest and uphold the laws they have a responsibility to enforce. Justices of the Peace — who are volunteers in the legal system — are not permitted to accept any reward for their services (in Queensland at least) and are expected to report any conviction made against them to the relevant government office. Should such a report be made, the expectation would be the Justice of the Peace will be asked to resign their office.

Malcolm Turnbull obviously knew when he appointed Brough, Pyne and Roy to his front bench that there was a possibility the investigations that were underway would produce evidence of some misdeed. As we have already discussed, the police don’t investigate people for the fun of it.

So why did Turnbull appoint them? Surely he has enough political smarts to realise that appointing three ministers who potentially will have to resign in disgrace wouldn’t be a good look — as well as being (several) ‘free kicks’ to the opposition parties. But then again, Turnbull doesn’t seem to consider how his choices and actions will be received at all. Perhaps it is a ‘born to rule’ mentality; perhaps it is that he believes the triple twists (with pike) that he has performed over the past few months since becoming prime minister; or perhaps he believes that we all want him to be prime minister so badly, we’ll accept anything.

To be fair, conversations about refugees, climate change, tax cuts, budget repair and so on are all things that Turnbull inherited from Abbott, and it does take time to turn around the workings of any large organisation including the federal government. Upon gaining the prime ministership, Turnbull claimed there would be a great deal of difference between him and his predecessor(s). Last November, Mark Kenny from Fairfax observed
Turnbull is in a hurry and his core message is the same to all of them [the impressive array of summits he attended soon after gaining office]. Australia, he wants them to know, is back — back in the international community, back participating in multilateral forums, back in the digital economy, back in the climate change discussion, back in the 21st century.

His oft-made observation that the household internet names — Facebook, Twitter, Uber, and Netflix — would still be in short pants if they were people, is designed to communicate his relaxed relationship with economic disruption, with change as opportunity rather than threat.

Such observations fit perfectly into Turnbull's nuanced Australia presentation — one that eschews dogma, and instead synthesises solutions as needed, applying the best arguments and policies for a given problem. Results are all that matters, he says.
By 9 February 2016, even Andrew Bolt was questioning the ability of Turnbull to get anything done. Michael Gordon, The Age’s political editor discussed Turnbull’s metamorphosis from charming persuader to brazen scaremonger, from agent of optimism to voice of doom, and from true believer to barrister with a brief. Gordon, unlike Bolt, actually made an attempt at analysis of the problems Turnbull faces:
The dangers are everywhere: recalcitrants on the backbench who will revolt if Turnbull proposes anything they do not like; a Treasurer still struggling to justify his can-do reputation; and the prospect of Australia's longest election campaign since the 10-week odyssey of 1984.

But the biggest danger is that the approach invites cynicism on two fronts. The first is that Turnbull's scaremongering is at odds with his previously stated convictions on negative gearing. Just like his embrace of a plebiscite on marriage equality, or "direct action" on climate change. This is why he needs to announce his tax plans sooner rather than later and focus on his blueprint for the future.
Turnbull was communications minister in the Abbott government. So let’s have a look at NBNCo something he had carriage of — the NBN. You might remember the ALP were going to connect over 90% of Australian properties to a fibre cable, much faster that the currently available ADSL and ensure that those who missed out on the direct fibre connection were to receive access to similar speeds through the use of satellites. The LNP claimed that the network proposed by the ALP was gold plated, the roll out too long and not worth the money it was going to cost. Turnbull’s plan (after Abbott made him communications minister and publically gave him the task of destroying the NBN) was going to be completed much sooner, much cheaper and more affordably. So how’s that going? According to an internal NBNCo report:
the giant infrastructure project has fallen two-thirds short of its benchmark construction timetable. Connection costs to each house or business are also blowing out. The model had been marketed to voters as superior to Labor's NBN because it was ‘Fast. Affordable. Sooner’.

The ‘final design’ process for connections — needed before construction can start — is running far behind schedule, according to the February 19 report.

The Coalition's NBN roll-out is beset by delays and rising costs. While 1,402,909 premises should have been approved at the date of the report, the figure was sitting at 662,665 — 740,000 fewer than planned. The snapshot says NBN Co has achieved 29,005 fibre-to-the-node ‘construction completions’, while noting its internally budgeted target for this period was more than three times that at 94,273.
So sooner — nope; cheaper — probably not; affordable — not only is it looking like not being any more affordable to build, but the running costs are higher as each of the ‘nodes’ on street corners to convert the digital signal from the fibre to the analogue signal used in the household copper connections needs a power connection and electricity to operate.

The NBN failure is entirely Turnbull’s fault as he was the minister who had carriage of the project for an extended period of time. It was on his watch; he was responsible and the argument that he inherited the mess when he took over as prime minister is clearly a fiction.

Sometime in the next six months, Turnbull is going to be appearing on your TV and on your internet screen suggesting that he leads a government than can creditably manage this country for the next three years. Just remember:
  1. how he has managed the NBN rollout since 2013 (it was his job under Abbott),
  2. his ethics in the appointment of Mal Brough to his ministry, as well as
  3. how the ultra-conservatives are still driving the real agenda
and the only reason he’s there is that his party determined the previous bloke was worse.

What do you think?


More about Puff the Magic Malcolm



In the first of this short series, I described how after the disaster of Tony Abbott, the promise that Malcolm Turnbull brought to prime ministership was already fracturing as he fails, day after day, to live up to his own values, and reneges on his strongly held views. Abbott flagrantly and unashamedly broke his promises. With Turnbull it is subtler; he is saying and doing things that we all know are contrary to his position. This is perhaps most obvious with the issue of climate change, a matter that was covered exhaustively in the first in the series.

This the second, deals with Turnbull’s position on marriage equality, the Gonski reforms, the NBN, Australia becoming a Republic, his immigration policy, his cities policy, and his economic policy.

Marriage Equality. Everyone who has been listening to Turnbull knows that he is strongly in favour of marriage equality. He has said so many times in parliament and out. Moreover, he advocated a vote in parliament to determine the matter. But once he became PM he reverted to Abbott’s delaying tactic of a plebiscite after the next election. Although he would regard the result as binding on the parliament, his old guard of conservatives, Eric Abetz, Cori Bernardi et al vow to vote as they wish, irrespective of the views of the electorate. It seems as if this conservative clique is calling the shots, and Turnbull does not feel secure enough in his hold on leadership to stand up to them. What a disappointment from the one who challenged Abbott on the grounds of poor leadership!

The hope that Turnbull would reverse the Abbott tactic, and either have a vote in the parliament or at least hold the plebiscite at the time of the election, thereby saving an estimated 160 million dollars, has so far been dashed. If he is hoping to run either of these lines, he is leaving it pretty late,

Disappointingly, the promise of a Turnbull different from Abbott on this important social matter has been tarnished.

The Gonski school reform is another area where Turnbull’s promise is fading. He talks about the need for innovation, agility and entrepreneurship, but doesn’t add that these attributes are built on a foundation of sound education that starts in preschool and extends to university and beyond. And it must be available to all who can benefit from it. The Gonski school reforms were designed to bring this about. After telling us all pre-election that he was on the same Gonski page as Labor, Abbott reneged post-election on the vital last two years of funding. Any hope that Turnbull would see the fallacy of curtailing spending on education was dashed after he and his education minister repeated the same weary line that ‘you can’t solve the schooling problem by throwing money at it’. Apart from being a stupid thing to say, suggestions about how the government would solve the problem, with or without money, were never forthcoming. So Gonski is in limbo.

The creation of a smart, innovative, agile nation will have to wait until Turnbull works out what to do about school education. His attitude to education accelerates disillusionment about him.

The NBN project has been a great disappointment for those who expected him to handle the NBN project with skill and flair. We all know he is a tech-head, a nerd when it comes to communications gadgets, the founder of OzEmail, one of our earliest email services. We remember that he was instructed by Abbott to ‘demolish the NBN’ which Labor had initiated, but hoped he would find a way of maintaining its initial design, which was to provide a super-fast broadband service to 97% of Australians with ‘fibre-to-the premises’ (FTTP) technology. He salvaged the NBN from Abbott’s onslaught by adopting a multi-technology approach, and substituting the inferior ‘fibre-to-the-node’ (FTTN) option, where fibre extends only to boxes on street corners, with Telstra’s old copper wire finishing the connection to the premises. In doing so, he lumbered this nation with a second rate facility just when we needed to be world leaders in an increasingly competitive global environment.

In a comprehensive assessment of the Coalition’s FTTN NBN in September 2105, Richard Chirgwin, telco analyst and journalist writing in The Register, gave credit for some aspects of the government’s rollout, but was scathing about many, for example, in the critical areas of technology, the rollout timeline, speed, and the cost, He wrote:

The Liberal Party's pre-election policy document stated ”Our aim is that everyone in the nation should have access to broadband with download data rates of between 25 and 100 megabits per second by 2016”.

“That timeline was quickly exposed as optimistic and the "aim" unrealistic. The universal 25 Mbps service promise has now been pushed out to 2020.

“Fibre-to-the-node (FTTN), however, has to be regarded as the greatest disappointment of the policy: the government has failed to deliver either the rapid rollout or the amount of savings promised in the policy.

“Approximately 65 per cent of the FTTN portion of the rollout is expected to be completed by 2016-17. The remaining 35 per cent will be deployed in 2017-18 and 2018-19 and will in most cases be in areas served by HFC [Hybrid Fibre Co-Axial technology] networks”, the policy stated.

“At the most recent NBN presentation, the company hopes to activate 1.8 million premises on FTTN by 2018. That's a little late. Also, absent a full footprint plan detailing which premises will receive which technology, it's impossible to say if the promise of 65 per cent FTTN completion is on track.

Verdict: Promises not kept.
Turnbull was scornful when he spoke of the cost of Labor’s NBN, which he deemed prohibitively wasteful. He ought now to be eating his words. Chirgwin had this to say:

Cost: By far the worst performance is in the matter of the cost of the NBN.

“The pre-election assertion that [Labor’s] FTTP network would cost $90 billion was quickly revised down to $73 billion, which is still a lot of money, but at the same time, Turnbull's statements about the cost of his multi-technology model have repeatedly been revised upwards.

“The $20.4 billion capex [capital expenditure], and peak funding of $29.5 billion, were obsolete within a year, and after several revisions, the most recent estimates for the NBN build are peak funding of between $46 billion and $53 billion.

“The government protected its own books by the simple expedient of capping its investment. To meet the balance, NBN will have to raise its own debt.

Verdict: The government has performed no better than its predecessor in making cost forecasts.”
You can read the sorry story in full here.

The use of the image below to head Chirgwin’s piece tells the story.



In summary, Turnbull’s demonized Labor’s FTTP NBN, and made wild promises about how much cheaper the Coalition’s FTTN NBN would be, and how much faster it would roll out to more homes. Once again he brought disillusionment to many – another Turnbull promise remains unmet.

Australia becoming a Republic has been a Turnbull dream for years. He was a member of the Australian Republican Movement since its formation in 1991 and later chairman. He headed the ARM team at the 1998 Australian Constitutional Convention, but John Howard’s manipulations thwarted his endeavours and the referendum in 1999 was lost, a stinging defeat that still lingers in Turnbull’s memory. Yet his advent to prime ministership kindled hopes that at last this nation might move away from being a constitutional monarchy to becoming a republic. Writing in The Age, Tim Mayfield expressed this hope in Australian republicans take hope from Malcolm Turnbull's ascent.

Expect yet another disappointment on this front. Perhaps understandably after his bitter 1999 defeat, he seems in no hurry to address the republic issue. He seems to be unwilling to spend any of his considerable personal political capital on this venture, especially in the face of resistance from his monarchist colleagues.

Political survival is more important to him than pursuing the cherished principle of Australia becoming a Republic.

Immigration policy has been dealt with here recently in Australia’s diabolical dilemma. We are still waiting to see if Turnbull returns the 267 adults and 72 children now in Australia on ‘humanitarian’ grounds. NZ Prime Minister John Key has shown his compassionate face by offering to take them. Will Turnbull persist with the harsh Abbott policy, or show that he has a more benevolent attitude?

Cities policy was hailed as one of Turnbull’s most enlightened moves. Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald in September of last year, in an article titled: Turnbull government's cities portfolio: What does it mean and will it work?, Nicole Hasham reported the reaction of Committee for Sydney chief executive Tim Williams: “…the decision to appoint a Minister for Cities is simply an idea "whose time has come". Hasham continued: “Infrastructure chiefs across the nation have been buoyed by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's enthusiasm for urban planning, including Jamie Briggs' appointment as the first Minister for Cities and the Built Environment and the government's new willingness to consider public transport investment."

That was then. What has happened since? We know what happened to Jamie Briggs, so how will his successor, rural MP Angus Taylor, fare? Turnbull has rejected suggestions he has downgraded cities policy in his ministry reshuffle.

At the very least,we expect Turnbull to discard Abbott’s environmentally destructive pro-roads, anti-public transport attitude.

Anthony Albanese, who carries the splendid tag: ‘Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Shadow Minister for Tourism, and Shadow Minister for Cities’, is sceptical about progress so far. Here’s what he said a few days ago about Turnbull’s disappointing performance so far:



This piece could go on and on cataloguing Turnbull’s disappointing performance, so let’s finish with his economic policy.

Nobody disagrees with his view that this nation needed to be ‘agile’, ready to grasp the abundance of opportunities here and overseas. We all agree that in the wake of the downturn in mining the economy needs to reshape itself. The renewables industry was just one such opportunity for readjustment in our economy.

Underpinning these needed adjustments is the acute need for fiscal reform. Nobody questions the need for tax reform, industrial relations reform, or welfare reform. The Turnbull government’s progress on these fronts has been slow, erratic, minimal, and flawed. It could hardly have been much worse.

The GST was the first target. Labor made its position plain from the beginning. But the Coalition procrastinated, bumbling along insisting it was still ‘on the table’, until finally a few days ago its abandonment was announced by Turnbull, followed by his treasurer. Even after that, Minister for Employment, Michaelia Cash, was insisting the GST was still on the table! The disorganization and indecision was awful. No reasonable person would deny Turnbull and Morrison the right to have the effect of changing the GST modeled by Treasury, but with all the punch that Treasury has, why did it take so long for Turnbull and Co. to reach the same conclusion Labor reached months ago?

Reasonably, Turnbull rejected any change on the grounds that the net benefit would be too low, and the political cost too high. He has always emphasized that ‘fairness’ must characterize any change to the tax mix, but the lack of fairness inherent in this regressive tax was not his stated reason for rejection. Lack of fairness was Labor’s prime reason for rejection. It knew that increasing the level and scope of the GST would increase the already-high level of inequality in this country. Inequality does not feature in Turnbull’s arguments.

The removal or reduction of concessions that favour the wealthy in superannuation, negative gearing and capital gains tax has always been a fertile field for increasing revenue. But the top-end-of-town oriented Turnbull government has shied away from these obvious opportunities. Turnbull challenged Abbott on the grounds of his poor economic leadership; we are still waiting to see if Turnbull’s is any better.

Labor has outlined its policies, as have the Greens, but the Turnbull government flounders, adding indecision to uncertainty. I believe this is principally because of treasurer Morrison’s ideological obsession with reducing taxes. He sees removing concessions as tantamount to increasing taxes.



At his National Press Club address last week we saw the fiscal dithering of the Turnbull government writ large as Morrison waffled for 46 minutes telling what we already knew about the tough financial situation this country is in, that repairing it would be a long haul, taking on Test Match dimensions rather than those of a 20/20 Big Bash (no doubt he thought this was clever framing), and that any tax relief would be ‘modest’, and a long time coming. While using his copious words to berate Labor’s proposal, we did not hear one word from him about the Turnbull government’s policy on negative gearing, superannuation and capital gains, or for that matter on any other fiscal policy. The speech was vacuous and insulting to the NPC audience that gathered expecting to get at a least a morsel of information on these crucial matters.

Morrison was attacked repeatedly the next day on talk back radio over his arrogant disrespect for those seeking information about important government policy, but fobbed off his assailants with his usual torrent of words unstoppably tumbling from his loquacious mouth. Bernard Keane of Crikey in his brilliant piece: Waiting for ScoMo - in which no policy happens, twice, aptly described Morrison’s NPC speech as “…more a one-hander version of Waiting for Godot, the play in which, famously, nothing happens, twice.

But at least in his post-address talkback appearances he did introduce us to the ‘unicorn’ frame. Morrison is not much better at picking apt metaphors than he is at picking apt fiscal policies. Let me take you down a side road for a bit.

We all know what this mythical creature looks like, but why did Morrison use the unicorn as a metaphorical frame?

I looked through Renton’s Metaphors but found no reference to the unicorn. Wikipedia did not help either. In fact it said: “In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, it was commonly described as an extremely wild woodland creature, a symbol of purity and grace, which could only be captured by a virgin…its horn was said to have the power to render poisoned water potable and to heal sickness.” Not what Morrison intended!

Another source asserts that chasing unicorns is looking for the right job. Surely not what Morrison was thinking!

In the Hebrew Bible it was often used as a metaphor representing strength…a wild, un-tamable animal of great strength and agility. Agility is what Malcolm desires; perhaps Scott does too!

I suspect though that his metaphorical meaning is that ‘chasing unicorns’ is the pursuit of something that, for all intents and purposes, is unobtainable, as unicorns don't exist.

He might have been wiser to tone down his rhetoric by choosing a more understandable metaphorical frame – perhaps ‘chasing rainbows’ would have resonated better.
That’s enough about the cascade of disappointments that have come flooding from our new PM, his treasurer and much of his ministry. To many, Malcolm is a likeable fellow. Well-educated, well-spoken, dignified, prime ministerly, he held out such promise to an electorate tired of the combative, aggressive Abbott. Turnbull heralded a new era for voters tired of the embarrassment of having Abbott as our leader, relieved that at last we had one who could make us feel secure, if not proud.

Then the disillusionment began. Day after day, as the Coalition vacuum cleaner sucked up policy opportunity after policy opportunity into the dust receptacle of abandoned prospects, disappointment grew.

Disappointment is contagious. Initial goodwill towards Turnbull is fading day after day as he and his government dither, ply us with platitudes, make faraway promises, dishonours them, does nothing, goes nowhere, marches on the spot, yet talks as if they have grand plans, sadly for a distant and receding future. Reflect on what Morrison said in his NPC address and you will see what I mean.

Some Labor supporters might want to see the Turnbull government fail, but even those must be demoralized by the reality that the awful Abbott government that did so much damage has been replaced by a torpid do-nothing outfit that seems lost in the political wilderness without a compass.

The Magic Malcolm that so many welcomed seems to have gone up in a Puff of Liberal Blue smoke.




What do you think?
This second pieces concludes this short series on Turnbull’s shortcomings and his backsliding as he fidgets under the repressive thumb of the reactionaries in his own party. If he cannot cast off the conservative curse, clamber out from under the repressive influence of the Abbott-led opponents, he may never show us the Real Malcolm Turnbull, whose values and genuine beliefs have made him so popular with the voters.

Will he be crushed into humiliating submission, crippled by forced conformity, curtailed in every move his better self tells him to make, incarcerated by those who gave him power? Even Laborites hope not. We know the Malcolm of old; we were hoping for something better this time around. But so far we have experienced only disappointment and disillusionment.

Do tell us what you think in the comments section.