Flat White

What is the point of the Turnbull government?

8 August 2017

8:24 AM

8 August 2017

8:24 AM

The writing has been on the wall for the Turnbull government for a long while. The parting shots from Laurie Oakes appear even more prescient now than they did just a few days ago. The veteran Nine Network political editor essentially announced he was going as he was too tired and disillusioned to cover yet another leadership spill.

The Prime Minister will now attempt to move on from the past few days of wasted political capital and get back to a week of legislating. The accumulated damage from this and previous spats now seems irreparable. Especially from the perspective of an electorate which has already tuned the government out. Turnbull finds himself in the same position as Julia Gillard late in her government, the crucial difference being Malcolm Turnbull has no significant policy achievements to justify his general failure.

This sitting week is also unlikely to be exciting in terms of major reform. As part of its legislative agenda, the Turnbull government has set aside the first sitting day to introduce amendments to the Safe Work Australia Act 2008 and the Customs Tariff Act 1995. Used car salesman should be happy with the second lot of amendments, which abolish a $12,000 special customs duty on used automobiles. Nevertheless, it’s hard to get inspired by minor tweaks and changes. The most exciting time to be an Australian has come and gone.

Perhaps more substantially the government will also seek to grant royal commissioners greater authority. This would include further scope to demand the submission of written statements, and an increase in the penalty for failing to respond or produce documents. Again, this falls into the “important but unlikely to deliver swing seats in the next election” category.

Given recent scandals in the education sector, the government will also introduce legislation to amend various acts designed to improve education provider quality and standards. All up it’s looking like a reasonably uninspiring first day back. At least from a purely political perspective. Turnbull needs to pull something out of his hat to distract the press and remind the electorate why he even wants to be Prime Minister.

The partyroom debate on same-sex marriage may have been put to bed for another month but the spectacle lingers. Not even the move by the Liberal Party leadership to ban press photographers from certain hallways in Parliament last night could make the special partyroom meeting disappear. It did prevent awkward shots of Tony Abbott’s entrance and the exits of disillusioned MPs at the end.

Not to be denied journalists had already begun snapping shots of the rainbow over Parliament House and tweeting excitedly. The hopes of the otherwise largely secular Press Gallery were dashed. Many reporters still managed to brand the proponents of same-sex marriage “moderates”. As though those advocating to change any policy are the standard by which moderation should be judged.

The final result is that a day of relatively uninspiring legislative reform has been vastly overshadowed by a week of infighting. The job of parliament is to trawl through essentially unexciting and often boring legislation. The danger for Mr Turnbull is that’s all he seems able to offer up to an electorate promised excitement.

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