As Parliament takes a two week break (again!), Turnbull is given a rest from answering questions from Shorten and leading commentators search for important things to write or talk about. As usual, ABC News continues to focus on murders - but not political ones. In Western Australia polling suggests political casualties amongst supporters of Premier Barnett, indeed the likely loss of government there, with Turnbull having made a negative contribution on his sole visit during the election campaign according to The West Australian newspaper (it described his visit as “a damp squib” and claimed he was “hopelessly unprepared, atrociously briefed or both” on what to say about WA’s share of GST grants). Instead, Turnbull has gone to Queensland supposedly to help the Nationals combat the increasing influence of Pauline Hanson there. But Nationals Leader Barnaby Joyce almost fell off his horse when he learned that Turnbull had taken a direct call from Pauline when she was meeting angry sugarcane growers and that Turnbull had apparently then agreed to discuss the issue with growers who had previously been unable to obtain a meeting with Turnbull ie his action effectively showed that One Nation has credibility with him and that the Nationals are being put aside as their vote is (supposedly) assured.
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.
As we get closer to the resumption of Parliament on Tuesday 7 Feb, many have increasingly wondered what issues the Turnbull government will prioritise in the New Year and how it will react to the new Trump government in the US. In today’s Herald Sun (see below), Terry McCrann suggests that Turnbull has offered few indications of the policies he intends to pursue actively and gives the impression that he is ill prepared to handle the new policies which Trump has indicated he intends to pursue in the US. This confirms, McCrann says, what he said back last April when he wrote that “Turnbull was a complete dud”. Perhaps Turnbull will make his position clearer in his promised major address on February 1.
Victorian Police Commissioner Ashton stated that the charging of five men with the threat of implementing terrorist acts in the centre of Melbourne was based on evidence that they intended to undertake an explosive event and use other weapons indiscriminately. It appears the police had been aware for some time that they had been planning terrorist action and had concluded that, when some of them were recently seen visiting possible targets (including St Paul’s Cathedral), it was time to arrest them. Ashton claimed publicly that they were “self-radicalised, we believe, but inspired by ISIS and ISIS propaganda." He also said four of the five were Australian-born with a Lebanese background and"there is another suspect in this matter who will be charged that was an Egyptian-born Australian citizen. All the others were Australian-born".
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.
Too much has already been said and written about interpreting the victory by Donald Trump and why it was not predicted. But some aspects have been overlooked or given too little attention. This is partly because almost all of the media either predicted or wanted a Hillary victory and many of them do not want now to accept that government regulation of and interference in the lives of individuals and businesses has gone too far. Associated with that has been the failure to accept the possibility that there could be a reversal of that intrusion, and that Trumps’ “swamp” in Washington might be heavily drained. What is involved here is not just a matter of actually stopping or reducing government intrusion: it requires reducing the expectation that governments will or should come to the rescue when there is a marked change in circumstances. The failure to deal with that expectation appears to have particularly affected voting in US manufacturing states where Trump succeeded.
It is now more than two weeks since the South Australian blackout on 28 Sept and yet the South Australian government has said nothing about the possible need to change its existing policy of relying on wind power to supply 40 per cent of the energy for electricity. Indeed, in terms of official news releases it took five days before on Oct 4 Premier Weatherill made even a formal acknowledgement of the blackout However, he did then announce an “independent” review led by former Police Commissioner Burns on October 4. My inquiry to the Premier’s office about whether submissions could be made has still not been answered.
The black out in South Australia (which still exists in parts of the state) has produced disputes about whether this is simply “the weather” or something more substantial. The Premier of South Australia is reported as attributing it to extreme weather causing towers to collapse but neither he nor his Energy Minister have made any justifying news releases so far. By contrast, the Herald Sun’s business editor, Terry McCrann, has made it clear that the weather was not extreme and that the blame lies with the structure of the electricity net work including the extensive reliance on renewable energy to meet demand (40%) (see attached McCrann on SA Blackout).
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.
The Weekend Australian ran as the lead report an interview by Paul Kelly with former Treasury Secretary, Ken Henry, who is now Chairman of the National Bank. Henry said that more needs to be done to reduce the budget deficit instead of talking about it (see Ken Henry on Budget Deficit). This provided an opportunity to point out that the “times have changed” since Henry was the TS and advised Rudd to go for broke: indeed the advice to Rudd was, at best, highly questionable if not wrong (see my letter below). The Australian is to be congratulated for continuing its helpful advocacy today partly through publishing a swag of supporting letters and partly by having its Canberra Bureau Chief, Phillip Hudson, pen a separate article (see Everyone to blame for our budget spiral of hopelessness). Hudson points out that one of the problems is that “ Neither Labor or the Coalition, on their current trajectory, promise a surplus before the next election. Morrison hopes for one in 2020-21. Labor went to the last election with a plan that would leave the budget $16bn worse off over the next four years before making everything tickety-boo within a decade. These scenarios are based on Australia continuing on its growth path of the past 25 years. What happens if something goes wrong?”