Yesterday’s Commentary suggested that Turnbull’s attack on the role played by Shorten as head of the AWU was no more than a start in restoring the Coalition’s polling. Today, Andrew Bolt argues that such a strategy is counter-productive (see article below). He rightly points out that Turnbull’s existing policy on the renewable target will still produce bad results in the form of higher electricity prices – and no benefit in terms of reducing world temperatures. In fact, the current target of 23 per cent by 2020 would not only add further to electricity prices even if it were to be achieved, which is widely regarded as highly unlikely. It would also mean that Australia would be imposing on itself higher costs than in most other countries at a time when US President Trump is likely to include in his policy the abandonment of usage of renewable, or their minimal use.
Turnbull’s attempted recovery from declining polls appears to involve two immediate strategies. First, expose and publicise dubious activity by Shorten when he was head of the AWU. Second, attack the energy policy adopted by Shorten now that he is leader of the Opposition. This approach seems to have been welcomed by most members of the Coalition and praised by some in the media, both of whom reacted with comments to the effect “why the hell has he taken this long to point out the defects in Shorten as Labor leader” or words to that effect.
For the second day in a row Turnbull has “savaged” Shorten in Parliament – and outside it. The savaging included an accusation about the benefit to Shorten arising from “managing” one of the deals done by the union he led before he became an MP and Labor’s leader, as outlined in the Heydon Royal Commission. The opportunity for the government to use those investigations has so far been largely neglected and the attack on Shorten presumably reflects a number of recent unfavourable developments, such as the drop in Coalition polling to 46/54 on a TPP, the resignation from the Liberal Party of Senator Bernardi, and the apparent success of Trump in effecting major changes in policy in the US (one of which was even quite favourably regarded in a poll here).
Turnbull’s address to the National Press Club was supposed to set out his policy agenda for 2017. Perhaps the first thing to note is that his text made no mention at all of the election of Trump as the new President of the US and the possible need for Australia to change some of its policies as the result of the major changes being implemented by Trump. This was surprising if only because of the importance of the US as a world power and our alliance with this country. But also because Trump appears to be reversing many of the major policies pursued by Obama, some of which have implications for Australia’s.
A New Year should bring hopes of decisions by governing and other influential bodies which will improve lives and avoid conflict. Perhaps the most hope comes from the election of Donald Trump as US President and the end of the regime run by an Obama who failed so badly to support political systems based on what have become known as western values. His attempt to “capture” opponents of those values simply by recognising their views revealed the paucity of his understanding of history and the need for western leaders to explain the virtues of those values as well as at times being prepared to fight in their defence and, in the case of the President, even outside the USA as a leader supporting values whose overturn would be threatening. Obama seems now to be spending the latter days of his presidency by exacerbating his errors rather than ameliorating them. His claim that he could have won a third presidency if the US Constitution had allowed it is but one example. Another is the US treatment of Israel in the Security Council, involving the abandonment of the long standing veto by the US. Worse than this is the report that Obama is considering declaring that the “women of the century” should include Jane Fonda, the American actress who not only supported North Vietnam in the Vietnam war with the US but falsely accused US airman of telling lies about being tortured when captured. John Kerry, appointed Secretary of State by Obama, was also an opponent of that war that was supported by the Soviet Union and China and in which Australia was an active participant.
We are in a period when there is an increased need to check reports and interpretations of political policies and announcements appearing in the media and even those made by supposedly independent government agencies. This applies particularly to policies on climate change, where there exists a divergence of opinion about dangerous warming unless governments reduce/eliminate emissions of CO2.
The last Newspoll on 20 November showed the Turnbull Government with a TPP of 47/53, the exact opposite to what it was on 23 Nov in 2015 and down from the 50/50 TPP as recently as 12 September. Judging by what happened last year, there will be another poll in early December ie very soon. This should provide an indication of the extent to which, as Turnbull claimed in addressing the Party Room on 29 Nov (see Turnbull on Performance), “we are delivering … on the National Economic Plan” (sic). It will be recalled that, after an extended eight-week official campaign period and with the first election under a new voting system for the Senate that replaced group voting tickets with optional preferential voting, the Coalition lost 14 seats in the 2 July election. It is left with only a one seat majority and a Senate with 11 cross-benchers of diverse views (and 35 Labor/Greens and 30 Coalition).
We are used to politicians changing their policy positions but, when they do, a question inevitably arises as to whether to accept the latest version as a genuine change. This is particularly relevant to policy positions announced by Turnbull given his well-known history of critiques of Liberal Party policies. So, how to assess what The Weekend Australian’s Paul Kelly describes as “a repositioning of Turnbull” and a preparedness all of a sudden to assault Shorten on character grounds (see Paul Kelly on Turnbull 26-27 Nov 2016)? In fact, not all the change-rationales are canvassed in Kelly’s piece – for example, Turnbull may have at last realised that “something has to be done” to reverse Labor’s favourable polling and to minimise the risk of a challenge to his leadership by Abbott during the Christmas-New Year period.
On Friday evening I attended the annual dinner of the HR Nicholls Society and gave the vote of thanks to the speaker, Senator Eric Abetz. His address was highlighted by The Weekend Australian giving it the front page lead story (see below) and the SMH also reported it, but not The Age. Abetz, who was dropped by Turnbull from ministerial ranks (he was Minister for Employment under PM Abbott) and from being Coalition leader in the Senate, used the HRN dinner as an opportunity to criticise Turnbull for failing to make reform of workplace relations a major policy issue at the election on 2 July. He pointed out that, with the ammunition provided by two major reports (the Heydon Royal Commission and the Productivity Commission), a policy advocating further reform had been a “gimme” and he noted that “not even the unlegislated elements of the 2013 election policy were taken forward such as changes to right of entry, transfer of business and individual flexibility arrangements”.
Today’s front page of the Australian Financial Review carries the composite photo below of Malcolm Turnbull seated on a couch with Bill Shorten and Nick Xenophon and Pauline Hanson standing at the back. The accompanying (very) glossy magazine purports to present them as four of those in Power in Australia. In its subsequent pages the magazine includes many others, along with, surprisingly, Muslim Waleed Aly. President Obama is added for good measure, possibly because it is the last chance to do so.