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.
I have previously mentioned the report that, following his agreement with Chinese President XI on controlling emissions, Obama had claimed that the US has ratified the Paris Agreement. The latest weekly letter from the US sceptic group (Science & Environmental Project) reports that a White House adviser has claimed that it need not go to the US Senate for ratification by two-thirds of the Senate. He asserts that “With respect to the legal form of the agreement, the United States has a long and well-established process for approving executive agreements, that is, a legal form which is distinct from treaties, which are approved through the advice and consent process in the Senate.” My inquiry of SEPP as to the possibility of this being taken to court produced the response that, while this is likely to happen, the stacking of courts by Obama is likely to mean it would take several years before any review by the US Supreme Court. SEPP notes that Obama boasts that the Paris Agreement is the most ambitious climate agreement in history.
My Commentary of 4 August examined Turnbull’s decisions in the period since the July 2 election when there was an opportunity to elaborate on policies neglected during the election. I concluded there was in reality a continuation of bad judgements as to both substance and process in the limited policies announced. Yesterday John Stone wrote Del-Con Notes in The Spectator surveying the election results. He described Turnbull “as a supreme narcissist”, a term seemingly being used overseas to characterise a culture seen by some as having developed around people in various walks of life who have excessive self-esteem (see discussion in an article not available digitally “Ego is not a dirty word”, Weekend AFR 6-7 Aug 2016)). Applied to Turnbull it suggests a political leader who has a limited interest in other peoples’ views or even that his own decisions turn out to be wrong. Stone concludes that “ sooner or later Turnbull will have to go” (see Spectator Australia article).
Since the election on July 2, Turnbull has continued his record of mistaken decisions as to both substance and process, plus a failure to indicate what substantive policies will be pursued other than the legislation already foreshadowed to restore the Australian Building and Construction Commission and to make unions more accountable under the registered organisation arrangements. But unless the (recounted) loss of Herbet by 37 votes is successfully challenged and another election held there (which seems too risky a venture), he has a majority of only one in the Reps and a deficit of 16 in the Senate.This means that if the two houses sit together he would need 9 votes from cross benchers (who include no less than 4 from One Nation and 3 from Xenophon) to obtain a majority to pass that legislation, which is a possibility but clearly uncertain. It is of some importance to climate change and extremist terrorist policy that One Nation ended up with 4 Senate seats, including one held by a sceptic (Malcolm Roberts) on global warming who is well versed in the data.
Last Friday my email distributor stopped me from sending or receiving emails because it discovered that I had arranged to transfer the responsibility to Telstra. My decision to do that reflected the sudden decision of the distributor to allow no more than a few to be recipients of my emails in one email whereas I had previously been able to include a large number as recipients of one email. The result was that a number of email recipients would have missed them and I received several inquiries about their absence. My apologies for the time taken to fix the glitch. I resume by taking you back the publication in The Australian on Thursday 21 July of an excellent analysis by Paul Monk of the Islamic problem (Paul is an acquaintance of mine who has considerable expertise as a writer and public speaker on defence and foreign policy issues). I sought to comment and succeeded in having the letter below published in The Australian on 22 July and it was accompanied by 5 letters in similar vein.
The Chilcot report in the UK on the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which took no less than 7 years to compile, has concluded that there was “no imminent threat” from Saddam Hussein at the time the US, the UK, and Australia invaded Iraq even though intelligence reports had concluded that he had acquired weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). As no WMDs were found by the invaders, it is now generally accepted that those intelligence reports were wrong, although some of those involved still argue that Saddam moved WMDs to Syria. Writing in The Times, Jewish journalist Melanie Phillips quotes several sources to that effect. She also argues that Saddam was “the god father of international terrorism”.
David Cameron has been British PM since May 2010 and won a second term in May 2015 with an all Conservative government (his first government was a Coalition with the Liberal Democrats). That second term was won with a much larger majority (331-232) than predicted by polls, probably because the polls under-estimated the (then) unpopular proposals by Labour Leader Millibrand (now replaced by the extremist Corbyn!). An independent inquiry into the polling suggested that the polling methods resulted in conservative voters being under-represented. The 72.7% who voted on the EU referendum exceeded the proportion in the May 2015 election (66.4%) and the 1975 European referendum’s 64.62%. Reports indicate that those who voted to leave appear to have comprised a high proportion of lower-middle income groups.
Due to the time needed to complete the sale of the house Felicity and I owned at Malua Bay, I have not been able to send a Commentary since 29 May. With the house sale completed today, it is opportune to comment briefly on an attempt by Turnbull to portray a close relationship with Australia’s Muslim community while at the same time acknowledging that “in this age of terrorism –overwhelmingly inspired by radical Islamist ideology –our security agencies must have the trust of Isalmic communities in order to succeed”. Attached are reports from today’s Australian, which gave front page treatment to Turnbull’s dinner invitation “dozens” of Muslims.
Malcolm Turnbull has been prepared to risk forcing a double dissolution to obtain a vote by both houses sitting together on legislation to pass the Registered Organisations bill and to re-establish the Australian Building and Construction Commission. That body was abolished under the Gillard government in May 2012 and replaced by Fair Work Building & Construction with much reduced regulatory powers. Turnbull also secured the winding up of the Roads Safety Remuneration Tribunal established under Gillard at the behest of the Transport Workers union and effectively designed to favour unions able to collude with transport companies.
Today’s Newspoll shows the two major parties are now on the same TPP (down from a steady 53/47 for the Coalition). Although Turnbull remains clearly preferred as PM, his indecisiveness over whether to raise the GST/cut income tax and his failure to produce any new substantive economic policy has contributed to the downturn. Turnbull’s general approach of not ruling any policy in or out –and then not deciding on anything – has not helped and his net satisfaction rating is down to 10 compared with 38 in mid-November. As Rowan Dean put it in Saturday’s AFR, “Turnbull: The Force Awakens has lost business to Deadbill”.