Trump’s Executive Orders and Twitter announcements continue day by day and it is pertinent to consider their effectiveness and possible implications so far: Job Approval ratings in US polling show a slightly higher net rate of disapproval of Trump, on average - 48.3 to 46, with more disapprovals than approvals (see attached on Polling on Trump Job Approval). But the protests shown on our TV, and the imbalance in the news, clearly exaggerate the opposition to Trump. It is probably little different to the election, albeit more aggressive. Even “our ABC” felt it had to mention support for Trump in last night’s TV news. Despite Trump’s critical remarks about NATO, the meeting of European leaders in Malta on Feb 3 seems to have produced mixed views about Trump (see EU on Trump). The British PM (the only one to have met Trump as President) told them that the US under Trump would still cooperate on defence. The French PM, whose approval polling in France was in single figures the last time I looked, attacked Trump’s support of Brexit (but in front of May). It appears that the meeting was mainly concerned with helping Libya stop emigrants to Europe across the Meditarranean and improving controls on entry of refugees. However, the current President of the EU (actually of the Council), Tusk, thought the US is a threat to the EU!
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.
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?”
As the end of the first year of Turnbull’s Prime Ministerialism draws nigh, assessments of his performance are appearing in the media from various quarters. The Weekend Australian’s lead article reports former Treasurer Peter Costello as not directly criticising Turnbull but as calling on the Liberal Party to “explain better its agenda, motivations and priorities” and to “smash the high-tax cheer squad”. The AFR has even published a survey of the views of 50 people regarding his achievements and, in the range from A to F, has awarded him only a D+ (see attached Results Turnbull’s AFR Survey). In fact, almost all commentators in the media (including journalists themselves) have reservations about Turnbull’s contribution to the political debate and to where Australia is or should be heading. While they tend to focus on how he has been performing recently against Shorten or on specific issues, rather than the longer term and broader perspective, this suggests that there may not be a ready recovery of Turnbull’s personal polling in the current session of Parliament. This despite Shorten’s poor handling of the contradiction of Labor’s foreign policy in statements made by Shadow Minister Senator Dastyari.
Can there be any question that the G20 meeting in China was not “a success”? The length of the communiqué (7000 words!) and the policies approved might seem to establish it was (see G20 Communiqué). Indeed, it is difficult to find anything missing from the endorsed policies. But one wonders how the discussion of them by 20 leaders could possibly have been covered in the two days and whether any of those endorsed policies will replace those currently being implemented at home. All the more so given that there were numerous important bilaterals on the sidelines.
With the imminent resumption of Parliament some warming-up is occurring. In The AustralianFinance Minister Cormann is reported as making new claims that the Coalition has already made large budget savings ($221bn over 10 years locked in) and that more could be made with Labor support. It appears Cormann refers to possible savings additional to those proposed by Turnbull to implement a miniscule $6.5 billion in budget savings said to have been agreed by Labor. But why hasn’t the Coalition detailed some possible additional savings?
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.
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”.
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.