Mr Turnbull, where are your verbs?

It was one of The Political Sword’s regular contributors, Casablanca, who drew my attention to the absence of a verb in the Coalition’s prime slogan ‘Jobs and Growth’. She had been alerted by an article in The Guardian by Van Badham in May: Good slogan, Malcolm Turnbull, but growth in what kind of jobs?  

The absence of verbs is diagnostic of the malaise that afflicts PM Turnbull, Treasurer Morrison, Finance Minister Cormann and most of the Coalition ministry. 

Casablanca reminds us that we learned that verbs are 'doing' words when we were kids in Primary School. Yet here we are in 2016 finding that it is the intention to do something, to take action, that is missing from the centerpiece of the Coalition’s election strategy, its much-vaunted ‘economic plan’ for 'Jobs and Growth'; indeed it is missing from many of the Turnbull government’s so-called ‘plans’.

While it repeated ad nauseam its three word ‘Jobs and Growth’ mantra, it avoided saying how it would achieve this ethereal aspiration. We were left to deduce that somehow giving a tax cut to business would magically stimulate investment, expand business activity, improve productivity, create jobs, and increase wages. It was left to Arthur Sinodinos to confidently assure us that workers would be the main beneficiaries of a tax break for business – good old trickle down all over again! It seems the electorate did not give that assurance much credence; nor did it believe the insistent declarations about Jobs and Growth that emanated from Turnbull, Morrison and Cormann. No less than Victorian Liberal powerbroker Michael Kroger castigated Turnbull and Morrison for selling the ‘Jobs and Growth’ story so poorly; in truth the slogan was never saleable as it had no substance, it had no verb.

Whatever else we thought of the calamitous Tony Abbott, we have to acknowledge that his three-word slogans at least had verbs: ‘Stop the Boats’, ‘Axe the Tax’, ‘Stop the Waste’ and ‘Repay the debt’. We could see his intentions, even if we disagreed with them. The intentions of Turnbull et al are vague, lacking in action words, sans verbs.

Now that he has his majority, we will see how he intends to action his promises.

Writing in The Sydney Morning Herald in an article titled: Federal election 2016: Malcolm Turnbull is a man with no plan, just a lot of flimflam, economics writer Ross Gittins said:
“Malcolm Turnbull went to the election offering a "national plan for jobs and growth" that was supposed to secure our future. Trouble is, it now looks unlikely he'll be able to implement the centrepiece of that plan, the phased reduction over 10 years of the rate of company tax, from 30 per cent to 25 per cent.

“Unsurprisingly, the proposed cut in company tax did not impress the voters, who think companies are paying too little tax, not too much. Labor opposed the cut, save for the immediate reduction to 27.5 per cent for genuinely small business.

“With the government now facing an even more hostile Senate, it's unlikely Turnbull will get any more than that.

“This would be no great loss in the quest for jobs and growth. The government's own modelling suggested the tax cut would do virtually nothing to create jobs, and the boost to growth in Australians' incomes would be tiny and come only after a decade or three.”
So ‘Jobs and Growth’ not only had no verb, it had no substance. Asked what ‘the plan’ was to achieve ‘Jobs and Growth’, the stock answer was: “The plan is the Budget”. The people saw through this answer, picked it as a fraud, an attempt to deceive. It nearly lost Turnbull the election.

What is this aversion to using verbs, to stating what action will be taken, to saying how promises will be kept?

Gittins continued:
“But what about the other parts of Turnbull's ‘five-point plan’? It's a muddle of things that will be done, things already done and…what the plan will achieve.”
Apart from the planned company tax cut, Gittins mentioned "an innovation and science program bringing Australian ideas to market" that’s already done with benefits likely to be modest; "a new defence industry plan that will secure an advanced defence manufacturing industry in Australia"…a highly protectionist and costly way of buying votes in South Australia, of debatable defence value; "export trade deals that will generate more than 19,000 export opportunities", which refers to preferential trade deals already made with Japan, Korea and China, which Gittins’ colleague Peter Martin demonstrated usually add more to our imports than our exports; and "a strong new economy with more than 200,000 jobs to be created in 2016-17", based on Treasury's budget forecasts for growth in employment, but few of those extra jobs would have been ‘created’ by anything the government did.

Gittins continued:
“Get it? The "plan for jobs and growth" is a (now-thwarted) plan to cut company tax, plus a lot of packaging. That is, Malcolm Turnbull has no plan.

“And, as we've been reminded by noises coming from one of the credit rating agencies, nor does he have a plan to get the government's budget back to surplus anytime soon.”
In his election announcement speech, Turnbull used the words 'plan' and 'tax' 21 times, 'jobs' 14 times, 'economic' 11 times and 'investment' 10 times. There was no mention of climate change. Verbs were sparse; the predominant one by far was ‘will’. Take a look at his May 8 ‘word cloud'.

Isn’t it laughable that as the long election campaign progressed, the focal point in his platform: ‘Jobs and Growth’ became the object of derision among journalists and commentators, some of whom mockingly personified it as: ‘Mr Jobson Grothe’.

Malcolm Turnbull turns out to be a man without verbs. He has nouns, plenty of adjectives: ‘nimble’, ‘agile’, ‘innovative’, and ‘exciting’, and an abundance of stock phrases that he, Morrison and Cormann spout whenever they get a chance, as portrayed in The tale of two Daleks.

How will he proceed with his bare minimum of seats in the House and a likely uncooperative, or even hostile Senate?

His spurious raison d'être for calling a double dissolution election: the desire to reinstate the Australian Building and Construction Commission, if necessary at a joint sitting of both Houses, seems doomed to failure. His exaggerated rhetoric about the imperative of cleansing the CFMEU and other construction unions of corruption and strong-arm behaviour has lost its zing. Nobody is listening any more. Even the Coalition-leaning Bob Katter has warned that he will not vote for what he terms ‘union-bashing’ legislation. With his slim majority in the House and the lack of a majority in the Senate, how can Turnbull muster the votes he needs? The one occasion where his intended action was spelt out, looks like being a non-event. He might have had a verb in mind, but an adjective – ‘impossible’ – will likely operate to thwart him.

How will he get his company tax cuts through the Senate? Even without the cross benches, it is likely that Labor and the Greens will not approve his full package. The best he can anticipate is a tax cut for genuinely small businesses, which Labor seems inclined to support. That will help small business, but will do nothing much for ‘Jobs and Growth’.

Except among Coalition members there is negligible support for giving the tax avoiders, the big banks and the multinationals still more tax relief. What is likely is substantial support for a Royal Commission into Banking, which will put intense pressure on Turnbull’s slender majority. The verb ‘oppose’ will be in his mind, but he might be forced to consider some nouns: compromise, conciliation, negotiation, concession, and cooperation. On top of this comes the revelation that four of our most prominent accounting firms are complicit in tax avoidance, advising big business and multinationals how to avoid paying their fair share of tax. Will there be a move to include them in the banking inquiry. What verb will Turnbull use to block that?

How will Turnbull handle the marriage equality plebiscite? If Labor or the Greens put forward legislation for a parliamentary vote, will he be able to muster his troops to oppose, or will he give way and compromise. He has to choose between a verb and a noun.

His distaste for verbs may leave him dangling indecisively, just as he has been for months now.

The behaviours that voters seek in those they elect are honesty, openness, transparency, lucid and appealing plans for advancing our nation and its citizens, decisiveness in implementation, and fidelity in keeping promises.

Voters want action, verbs that they understand, plans that have substance and 'doing' words, and nouns that indicate collaboration with other parties and cooperation that will bring benefits to us all, not just the top end of town.

Voters are tired of waffle, empty nouns, implausible adjectives, deceptive platitudes, a paucity of verbs, indecisiveness, dishonesty, self-interest and special pleading by rent-seekers. They want honest actions that lead to equitable outcomes for all of us.

Verbs are important Mr Turnbull. Verbs tell us that you intend to act - that you are going to do something. Where are your policy verbs Prime Minister?

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20/07/2016The word I want to hear is "concede" - as in "I concede that my government and I have failed to govern competently, the voters have spoken, and I congratulate Mr Shorten in leading the Labor Party to this landslide result."

wayne johnson

20/07/2016i dont trust the lnp now nor have i ever he dosnt seem to get it does he he only helps the big end of town not the poor we havnt had a decent pay rise for years and the rents keep going up and the cost of living keeps going up as well so turnbull does not work for everyone he works for the multinationals you know the guys that want our assets and our land too

Max Gross

20/07/2016Here is a word: swindle. Here is another word: suckers.

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20/07/2016Jaquix Agree. wayne johnson How right you are. Max Gross If you haven't been here before, welcome to [i]The Political Sword[/i]. Do come again. 'Swindle' and 'suckers' are appropriately descriptive words


20/07/2016"The behaviours that voters seek in those they elect are honesty, openness, transparency, lucid and appealing plans for advancing our nation and its citizens, decisiveness in implementation, and fidelity in keeping promises." I think we'll all be waiting along time for those attributes in our elected representatives

Philip Picone

20/07/2016Seeing that the LNP hardly mentioned any policies during the election, I am more concerned about what they will attempt to say was policy and attempt to legislate. What I got from the LNP election campaign was that they didn't have to many ideas, and what they have could be done in 6 months. What will they then do for the next 30 months.

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20/07/2016Barry I fear you are right. The capacity among politicians to exhibit those attributes seems so limited. They seem to be preoccupied with winning at all costs, pursuing their own agenda ahead of the common good, and bound by party discipline. What a sad political milieu politicians work within - one that inhibits the attributes we long to see!


21/07/2016Two opposing views of Malcolm the orator. Malcolm Turnbull needs to release his inner orator Steve Kilbey. July 4 2016 The year was 1971, the scene was the National Times high school debating championships. I was representing the ACT and rumours had come down the line about NSW's third speaker from Sydney Grammar. Malcolm Turnbull Always Looks Ready To Punch Someone. Josh Butler 13/05/2016 1:28 PM AEST | Updated July 15, 2016 12:52 A soaring orator, Turnbull in full flight -- whether an impassioned answer during Question Time, a press conference on a new policy or just having a chat about his favourite things like the Ideas Boom or innovation -- is a sight to see. But there's one thing you may have noticed.

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21/07/2016Philip Picone Welcome to [i]The Political Sword[/i] and thank you for your comment. Do come again. You are right. The LNP was 'policy-lite'. It's prime focus was 'Jobs and Growth', which was not a policy at all - it was simply an empty slogan. Indeed, when it comes to legislating the premise on which it was based - a tax cut for businesses - the only aspect of that which will likely pass is a tax cut for genuinely small businesses. It will have difficulty legislating the superannuation changes; the reinstatement of the ABCC will likely fail; and the marriage equality plebiscite has already been postponed. So as you say, what will they do to fill their legislative agenda? Perhaps they will re-present rejected legislation, but how much of that will succeed? Despite PM Turnbull's grand words, mostly nouns and adjectives, nothing much will be achieved unless he adds verbs, doing words, action words. Of all Turnbull's disappointments, perhaps the greatest is the gulf between his words and his actions.

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21/07/2016Casablanca What interesting articles. It is revelatory that Steve Kilbey overtly shows his disappointment that the Malcolm he sees now is a shallow version of the one he first met at school, while Josh Butler leaves his emerging doubts about the contemporary Malcolm until his final paragraphs. The photos of Malcolm in closed fist pose are an interesting collection. The gesture is impressive; want a pity it is that it too is now looking hollow.


23/07/2016You have to wonder what political nouce Turnbull has. Calling a Double Dissolution only to end up with 76 seats and a senate even more diverse than the last. How long before the Abbott camp starts agitating for his removal. How long before we go back for an election for the House of Reps. Ir was bad enough that we had the worst PM elected in 2013 wondering WTF do I do now once elected then proceed to do nothing and then replaced with someone who waffle a lot. An Elegant Abbott if you like. Now they crow mandate, to do what other than govern. Jobson Grothe, no hang on that's a hand out of $50b for big business.

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23/07/2016Algernon Welcome back to The Political Sword. Do come again. You are right. Turnbull's political nous is questionable, just as it was in the Godwin Gretch 'Utegate' episode. For an accomplished barrister and businessman to behave so naively is astonishing. His judgement is suspect - not a desireable attribute for the leader of a nation - our nation! What will he do next? He couldn't be worse than Abbott, but because he is so much more plausible than Abbott ever was, perhaps that makes him more dangerous.
How many Rabbits do I have if I have 3 Oranges?