No sooner had the latest Newspoll been published (details here) with a 51/49 TPP in favour of the Coalition, but with the first negative net satisfaction ratio for Turnbull personally, than he announced an early return of Parliament to (again) consider two pieces of legislation on workplace relations and a double dissolution election on 2 July if the legislation is not passed this time by the Senate (of the two pieces of legislation, one has already been rejected twice and this rejection could be used to call a DD). This would be a considerably earlier election than the September/October months which Turnbull himself had previously foreshadowed.
Strangely, Turnbull was in such a hurry that he did not tell Treasurer Scott Morrison that he (MT) had also decided that the budget will be held on 3 May instead of 10 May. This is seen as indicating that Morrison is not on the inner circle and that Turnbull is opposing measures to improve the budgetary position. In fact one report today suggests opposition by Turnbull to measures to better control spending on health.
Of course, the decision followed Turnbull’s success in securing, with the support of the Greens in the Senate, new voting arrangements for that chamber which would prevent seats being won through exchanges of preferences by candidates who have only a small number of “first” votes. This has been widely accepted as a reform which more closely reflects the view of the majority of the electorate.
But while this change in Senate voting arrangements provided an additional opportunity to hold an early election, the question remains as to why Turnbull decided out of the blue on such an “early strategy”, with a procedure last adopted in 1977.
Andrew Bolt describes the decision as showing “how desperate Malcolm Turnbull is for the early election he needs to save his skin” (see Bolt on Early Election). Of some relevance is the Morgan poll, which shows a TPP of 50.5/49.5 in favour of Labor. Also relevant is the increased division within the Coalition on the policies it should be pursuing and the failure of Turnbull to produce the economic policy platform which he foreshadowed when he secured a vote against Abbott on leadership of the Coalition. A victory for a Turnbull-led Coalition would, at least in theory, allow Turnbull as an elected leader to determine new policies with the much more “progressive” approach he adopts. A report today suggests that he has already started to change Abbott’s policy on renewable energy: it appears that Federal investments (sic) in renewables will now be made even at very low rates of return.
In announcing the “early strategy” Turnbull himself emphasised the importance of re-instating the powers of the former Australian Building and Construction Commission and to endorse legislation making unions as accountable as companies. He also referred to the long-running lawless behaviour of the CFMEU. But Turnbull has for six months as Prime Minister said little new about union lawlessness or that the reform of workplace relations needs to extend well beyond the construction industry.
The failure of such policy to emerge is despite Turnbull’s indication some months ago that it would publish its reaction to the report by Justice Heydon which showed that the Fair Work arrangements are not conducive to encouraging employment and productivity. And on 7.30 on Monday night Turnbull dodged the question of a broader reform except to say that “workplace relations … is very much in our thinking, but we will be – whatever policies we take to the election, we’ll lay out well in advance”.
In reality it is difficult to imagine a more bureaucratic, more interventionist approach to employer-employee relations than Fair Work and one that is far from fair to individual businesses. Turnbull now has 15 weeks in which to “sell” an approach to workplace relations that extends across all industries and recognises that, with union membership in the private sector only 12 per cent (and which would be less under a deregulated system), the opportunity exists for a major improvement in a vital arm of economic policy.
In considering the Turnbull leadership and his adoption of a polical strategy not used since 1977 it is pertinent to recognise that his behaviour is not dissimilar to that of a neophile. Wikepedia lists the characteristics of a neophile as including “ a distaste or downright loathing of tradition, repetition, and routine; a tendency to become bored quickly with old things; a desire, bordering on obsession in some cases, to experience novelty; a corresponding and related desire to create novelty by creating or achieving something and/or by stirring social or other forms of unrest”.