The dangers of a re-elected Turnbull government

Barring a catastrophic budget, the Turnbull government is likely to be re-elected. Even in a close pool, Malcolm Turnbull’s  (slightly decreased) popularity will probably be enough to pull the coalition across the line.

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But his re-election will not be because he’s done anything much while in power.  in fact, there is a strong argument to be made that the Turnbull government is simply a rebadged Abbott government. When you think of the changes in policy and political direction, it’s difficult to escape this conclusion.

Nonetheless, the electorate will almost certainly feel that he deserves to be given a chance in his own right. However, it is unlikely to be all sunshine and sweetness and the leopard is already beginning to show most of his spots.

The first and major problem is that this government appears to be incapable of doing anything.  Malcolm Turnbull’s first six months as Prime Minister has been characterised by inaction and indecision.

In part, this is Malcolm Turnbull’s fault. He has not taken a significant policy position on any of the issues that the bulk of the Australian population thought he was passionate about: action on climate change, constitutional recognition for first Australians, legalising same-sex marriage, it’s a long list.

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Like Tony Abbott, Turnbull has been long on rhetoric but short on action

This problem was exacerbated by the fact that the government has been unable to create a coherent message around budget and taxation reform, two important issues for Scott Morrison’s first budget. The government appears to have painted itself in a corner by having all options on the table and systematically pushing every one of them off. This means it is highly likely that we will have a “do nothing” budget, something that will be designed to soothe the electorate in an election year but will not address the fundamental structural problems in the budget.

This brings us to the second problem. Scott Morrison is not a very good Treasurer. He has been unable to craft a coherent message around the government budget strategy (if it has one). He has not demonstrated significant insights into the nature of the economy and the government’s role in it. He’s probably going to be about as good as Joe Hockey and that’s no cause for celebration.

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The problem goes even further. The current cabinet is not laden with talent and statements by cabinet members like Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, clearly no economist, on the effect of the abolition of negative gearing indicates that he has no knowledge of the economics of taxation. However, ignorance does not deter him from making pronouncements on a topic he clearly knows nothing about.  Unfortunately, it is just one of a number of significant under-performers in the current cabinet.

It is quite possible that in Malcolm Turnbull’s newly elected Cabinet the collective wisdom will be outweighed by the collective ignorance.

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 Peter Dutton: an uncanny resemblance to Paul Keating but the similarity stops there

The third problem is that Malcolm Turnbull appears to have made a significant number of promises to the rabid right of the coalition in order to gain the Prime Ministership. One would hope that if he were to be re-elected, he would feel the has he a mandate that is significant enough for him to be able to face down the Right and initiate a series of policy objectives that are not held in thrall by the conservatives wing of the party.

The fourth problem is the NBN which, apart from being behind time and over budget,  it is probably going to prove woefully inadequate for Australia’s future telecommunication needs.  The architect of this second-best system was, of course, our new Prime Minister whose claim to is the Innovation policy. If he doesn’t understand the relationship between maximum capacity communication systems and innovation then he is probably not going to be able to move Australia into the 21st century in terms of technology.

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This is where Turnbull got the NBN wrong

 A related issue in terms of innovation is the cutbacks to staffing of CSRO.  this lack of understanding of the role of basic research does not augur well for the development of the new Australian economy.

The final worrying aspect is that the politics of the Senate over the last few days, particularly in relation to the government’s desire to bring forward the budget in preparation for a double dissolution, have been woefully handled by the government.The Government appears to have been outmanoeuvred by  neophyte Senator Ricky Muir. His attempt to bring forward the debate on the building construction authority was a brilliant piece of politics, unsuccessful as it proved, but the work of someone who clearly understands political processes and political strategy. Not bad for a first timer and certainly better than government strategies such as Christopher Pyne appeared to have been able to organise.

Unfortunately, this schermozzle has given Ricky Muir a lot of oxygen which may propel him through a double dissolution. He is starting to look like the kind of person we need the Senate.

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 Ricky Muir: starting  to be taken seriously

Reform to Senate voting and preference deals may be designed to eliminate the machinations that produce micro parties. These have produced senators that we have never heard of, let alone knew we were voting for.  These reforms will not stop people actually voting for people like Ricky or Jacqui Lambie or perhaps even Glenn Lazarus, and they may well be re-elected. I think you can probably safely to discount the rest. David Leyonhjelm is not going to get the donkey vote he got last time and the other three have become politically invisible.

So the prospects do not look good and the danger is that Australia will lapse into a political and economic torpor that will slowly erode the standard of living of all Australians.

 

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