Flat White

Is there anyone on board who knows how to fly a plane?

26 February 2017

9:34 AM

26 February 2017

9:34 AM

After 75 weeks of indolence and drift Paul Kelly did his level best in The Weekend Australian to pick the eyes out of the Turnbull Government’s dire performance, writing that the Prime Minister “has had three strong weeks and injected new hope into the party”.

Of course Kelly’s claim is an admission that all has not been well after Malcolm Turnbull limped into his Point Piper compound at the end of last year – a year that was supposed to be about a ‘different style of leadership’ that ‘explains the challenges and opportunities’, ‘explains the challenges and how to seize the opportunities’ and that ‘respects people’s intelligence’ and ‘that explains  complex issues and then sets out the course of action we believe we should take and makes a case for it… advocacy, not slogans’ and so on ad infinitum.

The only seizing the disregarded voters got to see was of much purposeful action, pensioner’s savings and near-defeat at the election, though we did get #agile, #innovation and seemingly endless rounds of on-the-table, off-the-table economic policymaking (if calling policymaking is not too disrespectful of people’s intelligence), and an apparent election night seizure beamed into the nation’s lounge rooms that was supposed to be a victory speech after a campaign so cruisy it made a Jack Johnson Byron Bay concert look like a head-banging AC/DC show.

But let’s review some of the post-summer hols highs and lows since Turnbull’s been back on deck.

The political year got off to a rocky start with Health Minister Sussan Ley’s resignation over her parliamentary travel expenses, which highlighted the fact that Turnbull had been sitting for a year on the completed entitlement system review, which had been ordered by then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott following the resignation of Speaker Bronwyn Bishop over the so-called Choppergate affair. Given Turnbull’s demand for high standards of ethical behaviour among his ministerial colleagues, the inaction in response to the review’s findings and recommendations was an inexplicable unforced error.

Then, like Monty Python’s dead parrot spruiker, for a week Turnbull comically claimed that the Trans-Pacific Partnership, killed off by president Donald Trump in one of his first acts in the Oval Office, was still sitting upright on its perch pining for the fjords. It became a diplomatic fiasco after Turnbull incredulously claimed China could take the America’s place in the TPP, only to have Japan point out ‘It’s hardly a bloody replacement, is it?!’ and headlines like “Turnbull taunts Trump with China TPP offer” would have gone done swell in the West Wing.

The following week was supposed to be about laying out the government’s agenda for the year ahead. But Turnbull’s ordinary National Press Club speech was long on waffle and short on deliverables that will make a difference to the bleeding-away base. An energy security policy is supposedly being cobbled together, but there was nothing to show and the government is still wedded to the Renewable Energy Target. The big agenda reveal speech vanished when Turnbull refused to acknowledge his own donation to the Liberal party – despite flagging increased financial transparency in his speech – only to disclose the $1.75 million contribution later on the ABC’s 7:30, which became the story, blotting out the purpose of his speech altogether.

The Press Club flop rolled seamlessly into a Washington Post report of a contentious call between Turnbull and Trump over the “dumb” refugee swap deal which evidently led Trump to end the “worst call” call prematurely. The PMO tried to spin what sounded like an ego clash with the head of Australia’s closest ally as a great show of strength on Turnbull’s part and that he had saved the dead-of-night, lame-duck Obama administration deal foisted on Trump, even though Trump had signed an executive order three days before the call approving the deal.

Then there was Newspoll, Turnbull’s other rationale, in addition to economic leadership, for defenestrating a first term PM, which showed Coalition support has collapsed and One Nation’s rising. The next day, after a six-month drum roll, South Australian Senator Cory Bernardi announced he was splitting from the Liberal Party to form the Australian Conservatives.

In a desperate attempt to do something – anything – Turnbull kicked off the new parliamentary year with a spray across the dispatch box at Shorten whom he called a ‘social-climbing sycophantic parasite’ to cheers and jeers though some were saying sotto voce he would know one. But Turnbull’s reprise performance (he did the same in 2015 — anyone remembers? No.) provided a bit of a dead-cat distraction for a week. And to be fair, it was a good performance. But it was delivered seven months after the election. And then what?

The following week was consumed with another round of on-the-table, off-the-table over capital gains tax increases, only to be followed the next week with capital gains tax increases being on-the-table – apparently – or not (which blunted the government’s attack on Labor’s  grossly irresponsible and unworkable 50 per cent renewable energy target.

The first parliamentary sitting fortnight ended with a spectacular and unseemly Liberal brain snap over former Queensland Premier Anna Bligh’s appointment to the ABA, and backbench threats to punish banks with higher tax treatment (bill of attainder much?), which only gave legs to a story that the Big Four Banks were betting on a Labor victory at the next election. The message to ordinary punters was of a government and party consumed with its own self-interest.

Throughout all of these alarums and excursions the only highpoints in the performance of Turnbull’s government, if they can be called that, have been Turnbull’s ad hominem attack on the leader of the opposition,  bagging the South Australian government over blackouts and economy-killing renewable energy targets, which is like shooting fish in a barrel, and putting pressure on federal Labor over its renewable energy targets (but which was muted by the government’s own vulnerability over Turnbull’s climate change religion and commitment to the RET).

Yet where is the promised economic leadership? How is the government going to win back the confidence of one million voters who turned their backs on it at the last election? Is there anybody compos mentis who doesn’t think that the government is on a glide-slope to defeat under the current settings and seems not to know how to pull up?

In his speech to launch “Making Australia Right” (published by Connor Court), a collection of essays which include criticisms of his own government, Abbott said that the next election is still winnable. He also had the temerity to make, what Chris Kenny called five “sound” policy suggestions to help win back disaffected Liberal voters.

The response from the increasingly fragile and Abbott-obsessed PMO and some of the party room to the man whom had devoted 20 years of his life to the Liberal Party including leading it for six years, had been a minister in the successful Howard government, had turned a defeated rabble around in a single election cycle into a winning machine, tearing the bark off of two Labor PMs and snatching 25 seats in a landslide victory, and who could never be accused of taking early mark when there was a day and a night to campaign, was ‘Oh my god, how could you! Just shut up and go away. We know what we’re doing. Malcolm has been doing so well until Tony spoilt everything!’

An intriguing notable exception to the chorus of condemnation was Abbott’s former deputy, Foreign Minster Julie Bishop, who said it was entirely reasonable for Abbott to speak up. Well, of course it was.

In the meantime, is there anyone on board who knows how to fly a plane?

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