The reactions to Turnbull’s dinner at Kirribilli House with “dozens” of Muslims vary but will likely have only limited electoral influence in a context where the latest Fairfax –Ipsos poll shows for the second time that Labor is ahead at 51/49 on a TPP basis. While the Newspoll of marginal seats suggests this may not be sufficient to win (because the support for Labor is not fully reflected in marginal seats), the Fairfax poll seems to confirm that there has been a slight swing against Turnbull since the election started. In one sense this is surprising given the greater extent of promised additional unjustified expenditures announced by Labor, the fact that it has acknowledged that it would have higher Budget deficits than the Coalition over the next four years, and numerous policy announcements that provided the opportunity for extensive criticism, including the claim that Turnbull would privatise Medicare (Turnbull favours government interventions and the claim just gave him justification to confirm that without upsetting colleagues). But Turnbull has so far failed to exploit Shorten’s poor budget policy partly because the Coalition itself has already budgeted for high deficits and this makes it more difficult to distinguish between the two major parties. In addition, Turnbull has continued to announce expenditures which while claimed as already provided for in the Coalition budget estimates (The Australian’s SPEND-O-METER shows $5bn announced by Turnbull cf $16.2bn for Labor during the election campaign) give the impression that both sides are adding to deficits and that the differences between the two are small.
Important also is the limited extent of announcements by Turnbull of policies in other areas. On workplace relations, for example, the announcements extend beyond the re-instatement of the ABCC to only a very limited extent and do not make use of the Heydon Royal Commission’s recommendations (see Workplace Relations). Equally, no indication has been given on Australia’s defence involvement in the Iraq/Syrian war against IS even though the US Defence Secretary publicly invited an increase in Australian participation. And on climate change, Turnbull’s announcement with the Coalition’s “Greenie” Hunt of extensive funding to protect the Great Barrier Reef came after it was revealed that an acknowledged expert on coral bleaching has concluded that the dangers of damage are much less than other experts have judged and in fact exposed research errors by them (which led to him being told in effect to fall into line with his colleagues!).
The failure of Turnbull to present a convincing role for the Coalition across all major policy areas, and to sufficiently distinguish the Coalition from Labor, has contributed to the indication that there will be a large vote for minor parties and an almost certain repetition of the difficulty of securing passage of legislation in the Senate. On present indications even if the Coalition is returned Turnbull will present himself as a failed leader with a limited mandate for reform.
Turnbull’s Dinner for Muslims
The Age has given no coverage to this incident, the ABC’s Insiders program gave it limited coverage but News Limited publications have included extensive comments additional to those made on the day after the dinner and reported in yesterday’s Commentary. These include an editorial pointing out inter alia that
“A quick Google search by Mr Turnbull’s staff, however, would have revealed that the sheik[invited to the dinner]also condoned stoning to death for adultery, insisted Islam would take over the world and said wives must obey their husbands to enter heaven. Other guests shared his disdain for homosexuals, including Australian Federation of Islamic Councils head Hafez Kassem, who said active homosexuals should be “treated”. Other religions also regard homosexual acts as sinful. But they do not prescribe the death penalty for that or any other “sin”. Under sharia law, death is the penalty for homosexuality in at least 10 theocratic Islamic states — a practice defended yesterday by Yusuf Peer, president of the Council of Imams Queensland: “That is what Islam teaches and that will never change.” Homosexuals are not the only people, however, whose human dignity is affronted by Islamic leaders. A decade ago, Australia’s most senior Muslim cleric, Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali, blamed immodestly dressed women not wearing head coverings for being preyed on by men. He likened such women to abandoned “meat” attracting voracious animals” (see Editorial on Turnbull Dinner).
In addition to an excellent Op-Ed in The Australian by Janet Albrechtsen entitled “Shut Down The Sheiks Who Incite Violence by Muslims” and an article by Peta Credlin in the Sunday Herald-Sun arguing that the offending sheik should have been removed from his leadership of head of the Imams Council the next day, several letters were published on the views expressed by Muslims. My letter below (written before the Turnbull dinner) calls for a public statement indicating that support of violent activity and preaching will not be accepted. Note also the letter by Senator Cory Bernardi in similar vein.