Leading article Australia

Back to the future

24 October 2015

9:00 AM

24 October 2015

9:00 AM

With luck and prudent decision-making, the Coalition government will ride comfortably high in the opinion polls up to and beyond the next election. Although the current enviable poll numbers are largely the result of Malcolm Turnbull’s personal popularity in the electorate at large, the real danger for the Coalition is not that the honeymoon wears off, but rather, that this government fails to take advantage of such unprecedented political capital and to invest it wisely.

Now is the time for Mr Turnbull and his cabinet to be selling a consistent, strong Liberal narrative and framing the national debate whilst most ears are tuned in. Rather than hiding behind powerpoint phrases such as ‘innovation’ and ‘flexibility’, Mr Turnbull and his team need to clearly and repeatedly explain how our budget needs to be brought back under control through dramatic pruning of our unsustainable welfare, health and education systems.

Five weeks on from the coup that brought the new team to power, the signals are mixed – some very promising, some less so.

On the one hand, Mr Turnbull, Treasurer Scott Morrison and Assistant Treasurer Kelly O’Dwyer have done well to embrace both Ian Harper’s and David Murray’s productivity and competition recommendations to shake up everyone from taxi firms to unions, from pharmacies and banks to industry superannuation funds. Combined with Mr Turnbull’s savvy and entertaining ripostes to Labor’s woeful attempts to re-ignite class and wealth envy, the pro-competition/pro-individual wealth narrative of this conservative government is long overdue.

So individualism, wealth creation and curbing union power – topics avoided for too long – now appear to be back in vogue. Good. Equally pleasing is the news that after all the nonsense ChAFTA has finally been signed off by Labor.

In other areas, however, the narrative is less clear. Disappointingly, new Social Services Minister Christian Porter has sent out a confused message with his compromised Family Benefits package that the Coalition had tried, but failed, to cut. This does not bode well for ending the age of entitlements any time soon – indeed, with the anniversary of 80s hit film Back to the Future, a time-travelling car probably offers the only hope today’s taxpayers have of again hearing a federal Treasurer boast of returning to surplus.

Mr Morrison claims he is ‘getting his ducks in a row’ before announcing his intentions, but – in a style that bears little resemblance to his former ‘Stop the Boats’ single-mindedness – appears less clear on precisely what those intentions are. His original ‘We don’t have a revenue problem we have a spending problem’ claim – a mantra that he should be repeating in front of any and every microphone that rears its fluffy head – appears to have been quietly discarded. But as Senator David Leyonhjelm said about our nation’s debt on 7.30 – ‘we’ve got no more feathers to pluck’.

The messages are equally mixed on climate change. On the one hand, individuals as diverse as the French ambassador gleefully predict that Mr Turnbull’s ‘personality’ will transform the upcoming Paris conference. For those, such as this magazine, who believe any serious legally-binding emissions-reduction deal reached at Paris will be detrimental to this nation’s economy and prosperity, as well as to millions of the world’s poor, this does not bode well.

The good news, however, comes from our new Minister for Resources, Energy and Northern Australia, Josh Frydenberg. Always an outstanding media and parliamentary performer, Mr Frydenberg has excelled recently with his forthright advocacy of the moral arguments for coal, detailed by Michael Baume in this issue. Labeled ‘deranged’ by the deputy leader of the Greens (a badge of honour, surely), Mr Frydenberg has spelled out in clear and simple language in numerous recent interviews the way in which coal has lifted vast swathes of humanity out of poverty, misery, helplessness and disease. Let us hope his wise words are remembered by his colleagues, most of all by his Prime Minister, in Paris.

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