Living Within Our Means

Most  of those involved in assessing the public commentaries by Prime Minister Turnbull have spent the week-end trying to work out what might happen now and what Turnbull might say next. His latest “slogan” that “we must live within our means” is of course meaningless unless accompanied by appropriate policies.

However, despite the widespread criticisms of what he has said and tried to do so far, there have been no public reactions by senior members of the Liberal Party organisation. It would be surprising if this  continues given that we are in an election framework and there is now a real danger of a slip in the polls to negative. There would seem to be a need for senior members to quickly ensure that the party itself issues a framework of policies consistent with liberal values and that arrangements are made that major proposals to be made by Turnbull are first checked with a committee of seniors.

The need for this is clear given the evidence to date showing that Turnbull is a “loose canon” and that even his inner circle (let alone Parliamentary Party members) is unable to keep him from firing and missing the targets. In this article in today’s Australian,  columnist Graham Richardson makes an observation which appears on the ball

“The problem for those in the government is that coming to an agreement with the PM is meaningless. He can, and does, agree to a course of action in the cabinet room or whatever room in which he has met with colleagues and advisers, then walks to the next microphone and says something completely and utterly different. It may have been a short walk but Turnbull needs only seconds to change his mind and revert to the dark days of his time as opposition leader when his failure to consult proved fatal. The only real change is that he does consult now and he does come to an agreed course of action before he unilaterally decides that only he knows better anyway and ditches the agreement”.

In Bolt on Turnbull, Andrew Bolt reaches much the same conclusion, asking “when did you last see a prime minister act with such sustained ineptitude as Turnbull did over 48 hours last week” and that, as regards the States Income Tax plan, “there was no trace of that ‘very positive feedback’ Turnbull had claimed to detect”.

Bolt rightly points out “All this…eats at Turnbull’s confidence, at his colleagues’ trust and at the media’s fast-vanishing goodwill, leaving him with less heart, authority and freedom to propose the tough reforms we need. Turnbull has already dropped so many other plans he told us were important. Remember how he was going to raise the GST? Cut personal income taxes? Fix bracket creep? Cut back on negative gearing and capital gains tax concessions? Forget it. All abandoned, strengthening suspicions that Turnbull is all talk and no follow-through, a kind of Liberal Kevin Rudd”.

“Instead, in the past four months, Turnbull has announced another $1 billion to allegedly help poorer nations cope with climate change, $1.1 billion for an innovation statement that disappeared without trace, $1 billion to fight hepatitis C, $1 billion for a clean energy fund wanted by the Greens and, last week, yet another $2.9 billion to the states for extra health spending.

And, relevant to the need for the Liberal Party itself to intervene “But here’s the problem. Turnbull now cannot afford another bold announcement about reform, making spending match income, having crashed so often already”.

Two other critical articles are here, one from the Editorial of the SMH which says inter alia that

“Australia needs new ideas to reconcile budget pressures and demands for ever-costlier government services. But voters and state governments don’t like being ambushed with new ideas that seem half-researched and developed without consultation. It’s even more galling when the proposals look like government attempts to: disguise a lack of tough decisions on budget repair (think reluctance to tackle tax perks for the wealthy); cover up errors on funding cuts to schools and education (think the 2014 Abbott-Hockey budget); and shift the blame for inevitable tax hikes to the states to plug the resulting gaps.

Little wonder then that the Prime Minister’s handling of his latest idea – “the biggest reform to federation in generations” – lost him many admirers this week. By Friday afternoon most of the states, too, had resoundingly rebuffed his key plans for state income taxes as well as federal funding of state schools and hospitals”.

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