Why does Malcolm Turnbull make so many mistakes?

A man with a background like Malcolm Turnbull shouldn’t make so many mistakes.  An ex-merchant banker, Goldman Sachs manager, businessman, barrister, politician and Opposition Leader should be more perspicacious.  He doesn’t seem to understand what he’s doing.

Earlier this year he made the mistake of accusing Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan of ‘talking up inflation’ and ‘egging’ the Reserve Bank to raise interest rates, both commonsense-defying accusations.  Now inflation is down to an annualized 3 per cent, at the top of the comfort zone of 2 to 3 percent favoured by the Reserve Bank.  So raising interest rates has had an anti-inflationary effect, even if it was not the only factor.  Rudd and Swan were right in pointing to the erosive effects of steadily rising inflation and the need to get it under control.  Now that that has been achieved, the Reserve Bank has today been able to further cut interest rates, to 4.25 percent, much below the rates during the Coalition reign of ‘interest rates will always be lower under the Coalition’. How could Turnbull not understand such fundamental financial truths?

Then he made the mistake of questioning the Government’s $10.4 billion economic stimulus package after having given it bipartisan ‘un-quibbling’ support.  Shouldn’t he have understood that such equivocation leads to erosion of confidence in his decision-making?  To justify his about-face he said he would have formulated the package ‘more astutely’.  No details were provided.  Another mistake – he expected his assertion to be accepted without question.

Then there were the mistakes he made in criticizing the Government’s bank guarantee.  It should have been capped at $100,000, it should have had a shorter duration, it would cause havoc, it has made the situation worse, Australia is the only country whose actions have aggravated the financial crisis, Rudd and Swan have no idea what they’re doing, they’re incompetent in financial management, they’re out of their depth, and so on it went – nothing they did was right.  Yet no independent commentator has shown how any of these criticisms are valid.  Some in the media have given Turnbull support, but with no justification.  How could an ex-banker make so many mistakes?  How could he be so lacking in understanding?  The guarantee seems to have worked.  Who’s complaining now?

Next he made the mistake of insisting that the Government must not go into deficit – that would be a failure in economic management.  He can’t find an economist, or for that matter a columnist, to back his aversion to a deficit, or more correctly his aversion to Rudd going into deficit.  Then he repeatedly makes the mistake of declining to say whether he would go into deficit if he was PM.  So who does he expect to give his rhetoric credence, apart from his rusted-on supporters?  [more]

This week he made the mistake of giving his National Party colleagues his blessing to cross the floor and vote against tax incentives for planting forests as traps for carbon emissions.  A piece by Samantha Maiden in The Australian, Malcolm Turnbull surrenders in Coalition row over forests plan accuses him of ‘running up the white flag over a backbench revolt on climate change’.  Another mistake, this time of leadership, that undermines his authority.  Four senators did cross the floor and Fiona Nash resigned from the shadow front bench.

Today Turnbull is facing another revolt in his ranks on IR with at least two Liberals refusing to accept Labor's mandate to abolish WorkChoices.  Last week he accepted Labor's mandate and declared WorkChoices dead as Liberal policy.  But some conservative hardliners within his party don't agree with him and are threatening to ‘vote with their conscience’.  Read all about it in Samantha Maiden’s article Liberal MPs may spurn Malcolm Turnbull over IR in today’s Australian.  Here’s another example of weak leadership, further undermining of Turnbull’s authority, and flagging party discipline.

Next he’s threatening that the Coalition will block the $28 billion school funding bill in the Senate and thereby delay next year’s funding to non-Government schools.  How could a Coalition leader make such an electorate-angering mistake, a mistake that will disadvantage many Coalition voters?  What does he expect to gain?  Such political mistakes are foolish and costly.

Perhaps most seriously for him, Turnbull has made the mistake of allowing Julie Bishop to exercise her prerogative to select the Shadow Treasurer position.  She is not performing well, the media has begun an attack, some of her colleagues are privately expressing doubts about her ability and white-anting her via the media, and Bishop and some of her colleagues have been forced into defensive mode.  His mistake was to appoint her when he knew she didn’t have the qualifications or the qualities for what is a difficult job.  He overlooked a better choice in Andrew Robb, the only Coalition member who has shown some understanding of the financial crisis.  It was either a mistake of political judgement, or a sign of leadership weakness in not insisting that he pick the best team.

What a catalogue of mistakes, what a lamentable lack of understanding of economics, financial matters, politics and leadership.  How can he go on?  Laurie Oakes thinks he has the answer: even when he‘s wrong, Turnbull is never in doubt about the correctness of his position.

History may show that Turnbull’s biggest mistakes are underestimating Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan, perpetually insisting they ‘simply don’t understand’ financial or economic matters, consistently condemning their every move, changing his tune whenever it suits him, flying in the face of competent economic intelligence, failing to exercise strong leadership, continuing to make political points at a time of unparalleled financial turmoil and steadily losing credibility as he does, indulging in obfuscation and circumlocution while avoiding answering questions asked by interviewers, and most significantly failing to notice that the people are not behind him. 

Polls show that the only parameter on which Turnbull has made any headway since becoming Opposition Leader is a better satisfaction score than Brendan Nelson, not a difficult ask.  This week’s Essential Research Report shows that respondents felt Julia Gillard would make a better PM than Malcolm Turnbull 39/34.  The people are watching, thinking and making up their minds.

Does this piece sound Turnbull-esque?

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Bushfire Bill

2/12/2008"... apart from his rusted-on supporters..." And that says it all. We shouldn't worry about Turnbull, because he's only playing to an ever-shrinking crowd, like all Rainmakers end up doing before they're tarred-and-feathered and then railroaded out of town (only to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and start all over again in the next county). "To be, or not to be? That is the bare bodkin".... a famous quote from Huckelberry Finn that particularly well sums up Turnbull. The "Royal Nonesuch" was a con, in the form of faux-Shakespeare. The townspeople who were duped went along and even encouraged their fellow citizens to go too, but only so everyone was a victim. After that the tar brush came out and the company moved on. Turnbull is a talking machine who thinks he can bamboozle the public with his Goldman-Sachs talk. And he can, some of the public, but only for a little while, until they wise up to to the scam he's running. Some commentators mistake bluff and thunder for wisdom. They equate bloviation with profundity. They're wrong. They'll always be wrong. You can't write that someone is wrong on principle and then, in the same paragraph sometimes, write that they're clever at politics too. It's too imbalanced a proposition. The thing about Turnbull that hardly anyone has commented about is that he has a smirk fully as potent as Costello's. He also has the lawyer's conscience: that is, he'll try his best to win the case but when it's clearly over, he can walk off to dinner at Primo's, leaving the client to walk off to 20 years hard labour. All lawyers are, at heart, psychopaths. You have to be to survive in the game. In his own mind Turnbull sees his brief as "to win at any cost". But even that optimism doesn't always bear fruit. The shock tactics that he uses - witness the interview with Uhlmann (no slouch in the shock tactics area himself) - are there only to needle the witness, perhaps to impress the judge. But in a law suit the impression has only to last for a day or a week. It has only to impress the pedestrian, 12-man jury, or the judge eager to be off to the races that afternoon. It's not a good scheme to use when you are trying to convince 12 million voters, many of whom are dead scared at their economic prospects and damn grateful they have a government that's doing something about their fears. When he falls over Turnbull will move on. He's a survivor. He'll see the winds of change blowing in his direction and leave town before the mob come for him with torches and pitchforks, and a tar brush. He's the ultimate carnival barker. When the punters don't "Come one, come all" to his tent he'll shake off the disappointment - it's only momentary - and try the ploy on the next town. It takes a monumental ego, and a giant of an imagination to be like this, plus a huge sense of self-importance. That never goes, though, the self-importance, the ego. It's part of the scammer's code to have ultimate confidence in himself. In a way Turnbull's conning himself, but hardly notices the self-deception. There's not enough time. There's always one more mug around the corner for the likes of Malcom Turnbull, in politics or out of it. In confusion is profit. It will ever be thus for the Malcolm Turnbulls of this world.

doghouse

3/12/2008BB, I would hate to be your enemy, ouch! Rgds

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3/12/2008Thank you again BB for your contribution to the Turnbull debate. When I began this piece, it was my intention to be heavily satirical, thus the final sentence. But as I gathered the content and put it together, it seemed to me that what I was writing was not so exaggerated after all. I have often noticed that writing crystallizes and clarifies my thoughts. By the end of the piece I could see an underlying theme emerging – Malcolm Turnbull is not a natural politician, in the sense John Howard was, and he is a not a strong leader, as Howard was. Howard was tuned into the political dynamic, always looking for political opportunity, the wedge; it was only in his last year that he faltered. Turnbull makes heavy weather of politics; his attempts at wedging are usually ineffective, his selection of matters to attack the Government too often leave him up the creek without a paddle, and his reliance on bluster and a booming voice in place of facts and argument to make his points leaves him exposed to scorn. I wondered why such an intelligent man, with such diverse life experience was so ineffectual. Then I wondered if his legal training and his expertise as a barrister was an impediment. While those of a scientific bent would rely on the accumulation of facts and figures and logical reasoning to advance their case, barristers may not always find this approach suitable. They may sometimes find it preferable to omit some facts, or distort them, or to argue that they mean something different. They may find it more effective to attack the credibility of the witness than the veracity of the facts. They may find logic does not help their cause, but distorted logic or even illogic is more appropriate. If this is so, it may explain some of Turnbull’s statements, his obfuscation during interviews, his longwindedness when answering. Sounding convincing yet confusing the listener is a barrister’s stock in trade, but is dangerous in politics where eventually such tactics are exposed by political opponents or the media. Howard was a strong leader. [quote]The Howard Years[/quote] reveal how controlling he was – a true martinet. By comparison Turnbull seems weak. Not insisting Julie Bishop stick with IR rather than tackling the Shadow Treasurer position, allowing revolt by the Nationals and some of his back bench over legislation currently before the House, is something Howard would not have tolerated. Turnbull is showing his lack of authority in the party room and his readiness to put up with dissent. This is dangerous for him – leaders get rolled if they can’t exercise discipline.

Bushfire Bill

3/12/2008Nice to see Mumble agreeing with the idea that if Turnbull can't make it all the way he'll move on: "And would Malcolm stay if he lost the leadership and had no prospect of regaining it in the near future? There's only one job he's really interested in. ... From Malcolm's point of view, there's lots more fun and money to be had living in Sydney, buying and selling stuff." We're rid of Turnbull. We only have to go through the motions. "

doghouse

3/12/2008"I wondered why such an intelligent man, with such diverse life experience was so ineffectual. Then I wondered if his legal training and his expertise as a barrister was an impediment." So when he calls for the sacking of Ken Henry he did not mean it? Was that a barristers question as described in The Oz and elsewhere? In other words he did not mean it? If so what else does he say but not really mean? If he is a true politician and lawyer/barrister that would mean everything ;-)

doghouse

4/12/2008"Earlier this year he made the mistake of accusing Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan of ‘talking up inflation’ and ‘egging’ the Reserve Bank to raise interest rates, both commonsense-defying accusations." AA George Megalogenis has a very interesting blog post regarding interest rates. Truffles, to my memory, has been consistent with his claim that interest rates were too high, I dont believe his claims about the ALP "egging" on the RBA as it is supposed to independant. Looks like he might have got one thing right. "GDP slowed by two-thirds, from a growth rate of 1.5 per cent over the December and March quarters to a miserable 0.5 per cent in the June and September quarters. Household consumption collapsed from 1.8 per cent to zero over the same period. Now the rub. Federal spending as measured by the national accounts halved from 2 per cent to 1 per cent. Only state and local governments kept up their end of the bargain with their spending rising from 1.8 per cent to 2.1 per cent. A year ago, household consumption was worth 55.9 per cent of GDP. Now it’s 53.7 per cent - a record low. A year ago, federal, state and local spending was worth another 17.8 per cent of GDP. Now it is 17.3 per cent - a figure last seen in 1979. How did federal Labor manage to run against the cycle? The simple answer is they didn’t know what they were doing. The more subtle explanation is that neither did the Reserve Bank. Glenn Stevens was still raising interest rates in February and March - the very quarter that the data tells us the economy had peaked. It is easier for the Reserve Bank governor to admit error. He can cut interest rates as fast as he can raise them. " http://blogs.theaustralian.news.com.au/meganomics/index.php/theaustralian/comments/number_crunchers_missed_turn/ While Swan can rightly reply that it was an inheritance from the previous Gov and that the RBA had little choice, Truffles can claim that he was right all along, the rainmaler scam paying dividends?

Bushfire Bill

4/12/2008Rainmaker or not, there's something fishy about Megalogenis's argument. The aim of the punishing rise in interest rates was [i]exactly[/i] to cause the result that it did. There had been 9 previous rises before the election rise, yet Turnbull has no comment on those. Then the extra two after Labor got into power were designed to tell the punters, and the businesses selling them goods and services that the Reserve Bank was serious about inflation. After the election there hardly a pause in the spending figures. People were prepared to pay whatever was asked by the retailers. The two extra rate rises were a case fo the Rserve Bank seeing their bet and raising a quarter per cent until we got the message. To me it's all fairly academic, in that interest rates have fallen by three per cent, that's 4 times what they went up in the first semester of the Rudd government, in the second semester of that government. Lo and behold, prices have fallen, petrol is down, and many other goods and services too. If the GFC had not happened and the Reserves had not put up rates, where would we be now? Turnbull's main claim is that the government "egged-on" the Bank, daring it to raise rates. I see absolutely no basis for this accusation, other than Liberal spin. They were still stung by rates going up during the election, and have said so a few times since. The rot had to be stopped, and stopped it was. Turnbull is NOT right in the implication of his main claim that there was some kind of anti-Liberal conspiracy between the Bank and Labor. We were spending too much and we got caned for it. Now that we've stopped, the rates have come down. It's all pretty simple to these tired eyes.

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4/12/2008doghouse, I don’t know what Turnbull was thinking when he asked Rudd if he would sack Ken Henry if he had not passed on information about the bank guarantee from Glenn Stevens, but subsequent events suggest Turnbull’s motivation might be anger within the Coalition at the Reserve Bank and its governor, raising interest rates as it did on its watch, even during the election campaign. The Piping Shrike http://thepipingshrike.blogspot.com/2008/10/day-right-died.html put it this way on 27 October: [quote]“The public stoning of Dr Henry in Wednesday’s Senate hearing and George Brandis’s bizarre behaviour on Lateline on Friday shows that the coalition had more in mind than political point-scoring last week. There is a basic misconception that Turnbull’s call for Dr Henry to be sacked on Tuesday was no more than a slip of the tongue that was twisted by Rudd. If so, why didn’t Turnbull tell coalition senators to ease off when interrogating Henry on Wednesday? If the issue was really that Rudd didn’t take enough advice from Stevens, why did a Liberal backbencher then attack the RBA Governor’s own handling of the crisis at the end of the week?”[/quote] So Turnbull’s question may not have been a ‘barrister’s question’ but a deliberate attack on both Henry and, through him, on the Reserve Bank and Stevens. On your next contribution, my point was simply that no one has ever shown how it is possible to ‘talk up’ something like inflation, which is a statistic derived from a variety of variables, and how the Reserve Bank was susceptible to ‘egging’ from anyone. If Swan was ‘egging’, what was Turnbull doing every time he indicated that inflation was overestimated and questioned whether raising interest rates was necessary? As you say, Turnbull has consistently indicated that interest rates were too high, but only since Rudd was elected; his mistake was attributing the high rates to ‘egging’ from Swan. The Reserve Bank and its governor, although sensitive to all the variables that feed into their judgements, seem pretty single-minded in their deliberations and not likely to be pushed around by external urging from those with a vested interest. They certainly didn’t bend to Howard and Costello’s arguments against raising rates. George Megalogenis is being wise after the event. He shows that federal spending as measured by the national accounts halved from 2 per cent to 1 per cent and asks how federal Labor managed to run against the cycle. His simple explanation is they didn’t know what they were doing, but he provides a more subtle explanation, namely that neither did the Reserve Bank; Glenn Stevens was still raising interest rates in February and March - the very quarter that the data indicated the economy had peaked. He goes on to say [quote]"It is easier for the Reserve Bank governor to admit error. He can cut interest rates as fast as he can raise them. But prime ministers don’t enjoy the same flexibility with fiscal policy because the lead times are longer. The Rudd Government inherited an over-heated economy, with inflation too high for comfort and fiscal and monetary policies in open conflict. The Howard government had been pump-priming in a vain attempt to save its own political skin just as the Reserve Bank belatedly cranked up rates. In a perfect world, Howard should have bequeathed Rudd a monster surplus. The Reserve Bank, for its part, should have left interest rates on hold in the first half of the year. Only then could all sides claim they did everything possible to avoid the worst of what the world had in store for us."[/quote] If Megalogenis is right, no one is in a position to throw stones; they’re all living in glass houses.

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4/12/2008BB, I agree that the 'egging-on' accusation is not sustainable. You may be interested in a piece by The Piping Shrike today titled Tetchy, http://thepipingshrike.blogspot.com/2008/12/tetchy.html in which he says inter alia, [quote]"Turnbull’s need to duck and weave on the ABC the other day over his stance on the deficit at a time when the government should be vulnerable, illustrates the pressure he is under to take meaningless ideological positions to manage his weak grip on the party and his tin ear when it comes to political tactics. The media have been critical of Bishop’s inability to take on the government over the economy but they might consider the lead she is getting from the one who was equally ineffectual in the same position. The media might start finally to take notice of the polls and come to the conclusion that Turnbull may look more like an opposition leader than Nelson but is no more politically effective."[/quote] Mumble is not the only one questioning Turnbull's political longevity.

doghouse

4/12/2008Check this piece out from non other than the Poison Dwarf. http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,23494251-7583,00.html Date: 7 April 2008 From some of my clients ( I work with sales guys) he was not the only one to feel that a tipping point had been reached. Nevertheless I agree with both of you AA and BB that his claims are not sustainable. Particularly as the RBA is independant and has been so for quite some time, also, with the benefit of hindsight it means we have more room to move than the US and other countries. You do have to wonder if Truffles has sold himself out to get the leadership and to keep some of the more rambunctious elements of the Liberals satisfied. That piece from The Piping Shrike is beautiful, just beautiful.

Bushfire Bill

4/12/2008"AA" and "BB"... let's get married! But seriously, folks... Milne's argument is that somehow the debt-additced punters wouldhave stopped buying all by themselves. But he forgets the necessity to formalize things. Until the Reserve Bank [i]officially[/i] said "Enough's enough", the punters would have gone on spending thinking that, if the Reserves didn't mind, then there can't be all that much harm in borrowing more on the credit card. I think (and to some extent regrettably, because those interest rate rises hurt me in the hip pocket) that the Reserve Bank was right. they had to show it was high stakes poker, with them holding not only the good cards, but most of the pot too, with infinite ability to call and then raise the bet. "Ya wanna splurge, Big Spender? Well, [i]we'll[/i] show you what [i]we[/i] can do to stop you!" Until the Australian public lay down and croaked for mercy, they had to go in hard, harder than they would have had to if we'd been sensible in the first place. We were so addicted to throwing credit around, we needed some harsh medicine. And we got it. Those rises certainly made [i]me[/i] think twice about putting it all on the card. And I'm glad I the Reserves forced me to think when they did. I was about to make a big investment that would have cost me into six figures. When the Yanks came on board I would have got it all back of course (or so my logic went). But something in the government's and the Reserve Bank's message got through, just in time, and I hesitated. Three months later my American chums went broke (well, impecunious enough to renig on their promises of investment) and they sent me a "Dear Bushfire" letter, "So sorry, but we're broke as of the crash of Lehmann's. Good luck, BB! It's a great product! And we wish you all the est with it." OK, so that's one personal story of pulling back in the nick of time, of finally understanding what they were on about on the cusp of a blunder that could have sent me broke (for real). It was painful lesson, but I at last resisted the temptation to throw good money after bad (I'd already invested over $150k myself). I went out and got a job and will have that loss back in two years, if not sooner. Someone had to shake some sense into me, and into the australian people. The other galling retrospective thinking we hear is about how wonderful our banks were, and that we didn't need the government guarantee. Pig's arse! No matter [i]how[/i] solid our financial institutions were, the Gnomes Of International Finance didn't give a toss. If we hadn't guaranteed, then our banks would have sunk without trace, and real fast too. Looking back and poring over the coals is one way of amusing yourself, but it's better to do the right thing at the time, than wait to see whether the storm will blow over... which it did not, in the case fo the GFC. sometimes you just have to bite the bullet. Anyone who claims - as the Rainmaker does - that we should have spent on regardless is fooling himself and the nation.

doghouse

4/12/2008Teehee, Im reminded of Howards belated bleating during the election, why does the boom have to end?

Rx

5/12/2008Merchant bankers, it seems, have a deficit of understanding of the real world. That's how bankers (rhyming slang) in the US came to make those absurdly risky loans, by the million, only to see their banking system almost collapse, bringing the economy of every country in the world into fall also. They should be absolutely ashamed of themselves for their greed, ineptitude and for the disastrous consequences of their blind extreme capitalist stupidity. Turnbull has a background in the same camp: he is part of the problem. The Labor Party should weave this narrative around Turdball so tightly that he cannot move.

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5/12/2008BB, you and I do seem to have a similar orientation to federal politics. The extraordinary events in the Senate last night reinforce the impression that Malcolm Turnbull is losing control of his troops. Over the last week there had been erosion of Turnbull’s authority with two Nationals and some of his Liberal backbench not voting with the Coalition, but this episode was the most serious. Four National Party senators and two Liberal senators voted against Labor’s infrastructure bill in defiance of a Shadow Cabinet’s instruction to vote for the it, lest, as Andrew Robb put it, the Government ‘run the mother of all scare campaigns against the Coalition for opposing needed expenditure on infrastructure’. The Nationals refused to vote for the bill on the grounds that the new fund would absorb $2.4 billion from the sale of Telstra, which they claim had been earmarked to future-proof communications in the bush; some Liberals felt the same. Many Liberals absented themselves from the chamber, some abstained, including Nick Minchin, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, and a member of Shadow Cabinet. He lamely claimed that he was not required to vote as the motion was ‘Mickey Mouse’, an expression that he used to describe a motion for which there was a foregone conclusion. Nick Xenophon described the Coalition as not just ‘blinking’, but ‘rolling over and assuming the foetal position’. Whatever the excuses offered for the behaviour of Coalition senators who defied the instruction of Shadow Cabinet, there is no hiding from the fact that this episode represents a breakdown of Coalition discipline and an erosion of the authority of Shadow Cabinet, and in particular that of Malcolm Turnbull as Opposition Leader. The Government will make much of this. For his part, Turnbull will thank his lucky stars that this has occurred immediately before the parliamentary break, during which he will hope that the matter gets minimal airplay, and quickly fades from public memory. But if he is to sustain his leadership in 2009, he will need to bring his troops quickly into line, and insist on strict party discipline. The question is whether, in the light of these episodes where his authority has been flouted, he can recover sufficient respect to carry on as a credible leader.

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5/12/2008Bearnard Keane's take on [quote]Turnbull's shocker of a week[/quote] on [quote]Crikey[/quote] is worth a read. http://www.crikey.com.au/Politics/20081205-Turnbulls-shocker-of-a-week.html
I have two politicians and add 2 more; how many are there?