In the election now under way the Turnbull government has so far been selling its re-election on the theme of “jobs and growth”. In my last two Commentaries I have given reasons why this poses problems, based as it is on a budget presented as an economic plan which has very limited substance in terms of either its aggregates or its components. As The Australian’s Economic Editor Uren put it, “taken together, the initiatives in the budget will not shift the dial on national growth one way or another to a measurable extent”. This is already reflected in dissatisfaction amongst Coalition members, with no lift in polling following the budget (in Newspoll the Coalition’s TPP remained fractionally below Labor’s), a majority of voters judging that the budget left them worse off but with Turnbull still well ahead as the better PM. There has also been questioning of the components by media and other commentators. Further, in the first public debate in front of a supposedly undecided audience, Shorten easily won the head count. On the ABC’s Insiders today there was agreement from the four participants (all with the left inclinations that the ABC normally gives preference to) that Turnbull has so far shown less ability than Shorten to get his message across.
Also, the Weekend Australian has run a front page lead by Political Editor Shanahan with the heading “FEAR OF CONSERVATIVE PROTEST AT POLL PM steeled for backlash over super”. In Inquirer Shanahan also has a longer version of the front page lead and this is set below. Shanahan’s opening two sentences reflect views I have experienced, which include statements of intended resignation from the Liberal Party. Note in particular Shanahan’s reference to yesterday’s editorial in The Spectator Australia “ about the ‘brutal assault upon superannuation’ and… that “the Coalition was ‘turning on the conservative heartland’ with the same ‘treachery and betrayal shown in the coup against Tony Abbott’”.
Of course, The Spectator Australia has a small circulation and those concerned about the reduction of tax concessions for super are mostly Coalition voters. But the issue of reciprocity involved in the debate on the reduced tax concessions extends across a wider audience than those directly affected by the changes in super.
The reference to The Spectator Australia is of particular interest because it is also running an article by John Stone suggesting a way of voting which, if followed, could greatly reduce the majority of a government led by Malcolm Turnbull without necessarily leading to a win by Labor. Stone concludes that a much reduced majority would “imply the need for a new Liberal leader to replace the one who had once again led them to near, or actual, defeat” (see DEL-CON NOTES ; Rules of Engagements).
Importantly, the Stone article also refers to a well-documented record of Turnbull’s “true” views on the web at www.stopturnbull.com. The author of that lengthy document starts by saying “The Liberal Party is supposed to be the custodian of classical liberalism and conservatism. Malcolm Turnbull is neither. He is a leftist-‘progressive’ and secular humanist who wants to take Australia in the same general philosophical direction as the Labor Party and the Greens”.The author also argues that Turnbull has appointed a weak cabinet, “lacking in assertive individuals, lacking in experience, and excluding key rural Liberals”.
It is not feasible here to detail all the references in this document to Turnbull’s views as these extend over a long period. But they clearly indicate that he is far from being a supporter of small government and while supporting the alliance with the US, that support seems to be based on the view that the US be a non-aggressive country militarily and culturally, which doubtless encouraged Obama to praise him. He joined the liberal Party in 2000 and when asked why he chose this he is reported as saying “I’ve thought about it, but the Labor Party would never accept a multi- millionaire as its leader”.Turnbull constantly attacked the policies and views of the Coalition before he became Leader of the Opposition in 2008 and the policies he advocated then, such as not voting against the Gillard government’s union favoured workplace relation legislation, did not reflect the Party’s in principle support for freer markets.
It is also worth recalling that, following his support for Rudd’s Carbon Reduction Scheme in November 2009, he lost his leadership to Tony Abbott (by one vote) and the support for his return to leadership (by 10 votes) was made conditional on him not changing Abbott’s policy of no carbon tax. But my own experience with Turnbull, involving an hour long discussion, indicates that he refuses to examine the case against the alleged dangerous warming threat. There is little doubt that if he retained leadership of the Coalition he would seek to adopt policies which would move in the same direction which Shorten proposes, such as increasing even further the usage of expensive renewable energy. If after winning the election Turnbull were to push for such a policy, the outcome would depend importantly on the National Party and might well lead to a split in the Coalition.