The list of unresolved and vexed issues that confront the new parliament this week would be enough to give even the most experienced and wise leader pause for thought. Alas, in Malcolm Turnbull the nation has a Prime Minister who, despite clearly having enormous faith in his own abilities to provide sound, solid and inspiring leadership, has yet to transform such self-belief into public confidence and acclaim.
It is hard to think of a single issue where the Prime Minister is assured of making decisions in the next few months that will not manage to further antagonise and alienate large swathes of mainstream Australia. From changes to superannuation, to gay marriage, to grappling with debt and deficit, to offshore detention, to indigenous recognition and yes, even to amending Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, the days of hesitation and inaction must now draw to a close. Mr Turnbull must lead, conservatively.
It didn’t need to be this way. The tortuous eight week election campaign and the tedious ten month ‘on and off the table’ period that preceded it gave ample opportunity for Mr Turnbull and his team to outline a clear, conservative vision for the future backed up by solid policy work. That they failed to do so is a failure of Mr Turnbull’s leadership skills coupled with unrealistic expectations from ninety-nine per cent of the media about what a Turnbull prime ministership would deliver. (The other one per cent is staring you in the face.)
Mr Turnbull can succeed. But to do so, he must become a leader who stands for clearly identifiable conservative values that mainstream Australia are comfortable with. These do not include behaving like a hipster ABC producer trying out slogans on twitter.
Firstly, and most importantly, Mr Turnbull must address our national debt. As Chris Smith writes in this week’s issue, the billion dollars being frittered away each month on interest on our debt is a national scandal. Allowing our debt burden to drift, or to become the plaything of the new Senate, is no longer viable. If the newly-elected government will not offer the leadership to cut our bloated welfare, education and health spending, it is almost certain that ‘events’ will do the job for us at some point in the guise of another major financial crisis. Unless the budget is brought rapidly back into balance, it is more than likely that the big ‘R’ in Mr Turnbull’s legacy will stand for Recession rather than Recognition.
Taxing superannuation is not the way to address debt. Already, the Australian reports that the changes made to super in the budget have seen contributions slump by $800 million in the June quarter. Confidence in super is being shattered. Ironically, Treasurer Morrison’s one and only likely legacy will have been to wantonly dismantle the successful Keating-Howard era superannuation system as assuredly as the unlamented Mr Kevin Rudd dismantled its successful border policies.
The refusal to countenance amending 18C is a disgrace, as James Allan writes this week, showing Mr Turnbull to be a leader happy to ‘actively block reform’. There is a key difference between when Tony Abbott (wrongly, even by his own admission) shied away from amending 18C, and now. That difference is of course the three QUT students who are living proof of how 18C actually incentivises people with prior (forgive the pun) grievances to see ‘racist’ behaviour in the actions of people with different coloured skin where none actually exists, and to thus pursue them for financial compensation. This is a world away from the heated debate about whether a popular columnist’s musings on the nature of mixed indigeneity were ‘racist’ in tone or in fact. That Andrew Bolt was found guilty for stating the bleeding obvious was, to this magazine, a complete travesty of justice. But if any of these three QUT students are prosecuted, with the disastrous impact that that will have on their lives and careers, this will go down as the greatest miscarriage of justice in Australian history since the conviction of Lindy Chamberlain.
The failure of Howard-style clear-sightedness from Mr Turnbull on what Julia Patrick labels the ‘two bad ideas’ of Recognition and the Treaty is fuelling dissatisfaction and anger on all sides. Indigenous Australia is being titillated by the fantasies of aboriginal activists and their cohorts in the self-loathing white left. Mainstream Australia is more than happy for purely symbolic gestures (à la Mr Rudd’s ‘Sorry’, or Noel Pearson’s ‘Preamble’) if and only if they are complimented by practical actions (as in clamping down on welfare being spent on grog). But what mainstream Australia will not tolerate in any shape or form is new legal rights and financial ‘settlements’ being bestowed upon citizens of one particular colour (particularly when that colour is not always visible to the naked eye; but let’s not go there lest we stumble onto issues referred to above).
And then there’s the Plebiscite, potentially threatened by the Safe Schools and other fellow-travellers piling on board with their opportunistic left wing social engineering agendas. Penis tucking, anyone? Er, no thanks.
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