Thursday, September 17, 2015
In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is not pleased by the Turnbull ascendancy
A mess of his own making
TONY Abbott is at his best when his back is against the wall. He’s a tough and wily fighter. But he left it all too late. He only has himself to blame for losing the Prime Ministership to Malcolm Turnbull.
His short, sharp statement Monday night, calling on the leadership ballot, was Abbott at his best. He said he was, “heartened by the messages of support flooding into Liberal Party offices saying most emphatically ‘We are not the Labor party’.”
The prime ministership is “not a prize or a plaything to be demanded. It should be something which is earned by a vote of the Australian people.”
Yes, that was Abbott’s greatest bargaining chip: the fury of voters having, yet again, been cheated out of their right, as they see it, to change the Prime Minister; the spectre of selfish, traitorous politicians, faceless or otherwise, placing themselves above the will of the people.
And yet, it would be a mistake to judge this leadership change by the standards of Labor’s Rudd-Gillard-Rudd farce.
Even the most rusted-on conservative voters were deeply disappointed with Abbott, and have been since the government’s first budget last year. Many had written him off and were fatalistic about Turnbull’s stealth attack. The most frequent comment about Abbott from supporters all year has been, “He just doesn’t listen.”
The truth is Abbott was given fair warning in February, in the leadership spill that wasn’t. That was a shot across his bows: change two fundamental elements of his government, or else. First, remove the lacklustre Treasurer Joe Hockey and, second, change the way your office functions – in other words, end your reliance on chief of staff Peta Credlin.
Abbott was told and told and told by colleagues, media, friends, former senior politicians, and he refused to make those crucial changes, for reasons known best to himself.
One backbench conservative, after weeks of urging the PM and his office to mount a more forceful defense against Turnbull’s blatant destabilization, lamented last night: “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.”
Abbott stubbornly clung to both Hockey and Credlin. His supporters tried to say that was demonstration of a positive character trait – loyalty. But as prime minister, his first loyalty should have been to the nation, not to individuals who have not served him well.
Hockey just wasn’t up to the job. And it wasn’t as if there wasn’t a brilliant candidate staring Abbott in the face, and willing to step into the role, Scott Morrison.
Why the PM thought the government was in a strong enough position not to put his top performing minister in the most important portfolio is an enduring mystery, and in the end, it sealed his fate.
Instead, Hockey was nursed through the last budget by Morrison, Josh Frydenberg and Mathias Cormann.
The government’s problems all go back to its first arrogant budget in which a string of election promises were broken and, astonishingly, the mariginal rate of tax was increased to a record 49 percent. This totemic mistake destroyed a key strength of the Liberal party and dismayed supporters. It was the first sign that something was wrong with the Abbott government’s DNA
Abbott seemed to be at once plagued by self doubt and stubbornly inflexible when it came to learning from his mistakes.
The best leaders in history have been tempered by failure and learned from the experience.
Turnbull failed dismally last time he was Liberal leader. He’s smart, but is he smart enough to learn from those mistakes?
If he runs the budget the way he’s run the NBN, with a massive blowout to $56billion, the country is in trouble.
Turnbull has to prove he has what it takes to be a leader and keep the conservative base of the Liberal party on side.
Same sex marriage and climate change will be his two litmus tests. Is he capable of subsuming his ego and allowing the Coalition party room position on both issues to remain unchanged?
As for the voters, there’s no clear explanation for why another democratically elected first term Prime Minister had to go. Sure, Abbott didn’t do well in the polls, but are we governed by pollsters? What did he do wrong?
That is the question Turnbull never will be able satisfactorily to explain.
But at least Abbott won’t do to Turnbull what Rudd did to Gillard. He’s too honourable.
Nationals finalise Coalition agreement with Turnbull, gain responsibility for water and support for effect test
The National Party has secured responsibility for water policy, and support for competition law reform under a new Coalition agreement with the Liberal Party.
The Nationals have long coveted the water portfolio, which has been held by Liberal members. It will be brought under the agriculture portfolio.
Currently, parliamentary secretary for the environment Bob Baldwin has responsibility for water policy, including implementation of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce was the Coalition's Murray-Darling spokesman before the 2013 election, however his Liberal colleague Simon Birmingham held ultimate responsibility for the Basin Plan at that time.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told a joint party room meeting this morning that positions within his Cabinet would be "dealt with" over the weekend.
The Nationals claim the agreement also includes support for reform of section 46 of the Competition and Consumer Act.
The Government is currently considering whether to introduce a so-called effects test, that protect small business against the misuse of market power by dominant players, like big supermarkets. The reform was a recommendation of the major Harper review of competition law.
Nationals leader Warren Truss said the Coalition agreement also includes a commitment to further reduce mobile phone and television reception black spots.
But when asked how much money would be allocated to achieving that, and over what period of time, Mr Truss said, "we don't put dollar figures into an agreement of this nature".
"What we're doing is talking about the policy direction that we intend to take in the future."
The agreement also contains an unspecified commitment to a "regional jobs recovery program in areas of high youth unemployment", and to financially assist stay-at-home parents with children under the age of one. It's not clear how much money will be available, or which areas will be targeted.
The two parties have confirmed a same sex marriage plebiscite in the next term of government.
Turnbull deflects questions over agreement in the House
In Question Time, the Opposition's Chris Bowen accused Prime Minister Turnbull of "a dirty deal" with the Nationals to support an effects test in return for their support.
He was asked to rephrase, and Mr Turnbull told the House that a decision to back an effects test "is not a decision that is made by me as PM".
"It is a decision, and would be a decision, by the Cabinet."
The government has previously said it would release its formal response to the Harper review recommendations by the end of the year.
Mr Turnbull also refused to comment on changes to water portfolio responsibilities, saying only that "ministerial arrangements will be reviewed and announced later in the week, or early next week."
Irrigators welcome water portfolio changes, but conservationists unhappy
The Australian Conservation Foundation criticised the decision to move the water portfolio.
Spokesman Jonathan La Nauze said it made "no more sense to manage water from the agriculture department than from the mining department."
"Water is a national issue, not an issue for the Nationals," Mr La Nauze said.
"With all due respect, we have little confidence that Barnaby Joyce could be trusted to keep the nation's rivers and our native fish healthy.
"This is a man who expresses contempt for Australia's wildlife on a daily basis, in fact he seems to have turned it into a sport."
But the National Irrigators' Council chief executive Tom Chesson said he hoped the move would lead to a "speedy release and resolution" of the government's response to the Water Act Review.
"We're also looking forward to a renewed focus on the social and economic costs of the Basin Plan to communities," Mr Chesson said.
Regional Liberal MPs urged swift resolution on coalition agreement
Some MPs and senators, unhappy with the way Tony Abbott was cut down as leader, had warned that the socially conservative Nationals should "not rush" into a new Coalition agreement with Mr Turnbull.
They wanted their leader Warren Truss to do policy deals, or get extra cash, to help regional Australia.
Those veiled threats were later dismissed by others in the party as a chest-beating exercise.
Earlier today Liberal MP Dan Tehan urged the Nationals not to delay the signing of a new agreement.
"It is absolutely vital that we unite and get on with governing the country," he said.
"We were elected as a coalition, so we need to make sure that we continue to operate as a coalition government representing rural and regional Australia, and representing metropolitan Australia."
Earlier today, former Nationals leader Tim Fischer expressed his belief that PM Turnbull would deliver for regional Australia, particularly on inland rail.
"Don't underestimate the broadness of his vision and his capabilities," Mr Fischer said.
"I think it does open the door for another look at inland rail. You just need a balance today more than ever before with the matrix of road and rail and access to ports."
Mr Fischer said Mr Turnbull's background as communications minister also means he understands the importance of a 'distinct regional news gathering service'.
"I think he will look at the need to revisit the media laws and the way the people in the bush need local news services," Mr Fischer said.
Abbott says he intends to stay in Parliament
THERE is growing speculation that his career in politics is over — but Tony Abbott has told news.com.au that he intends to remain in the Parliament.
Whispers in Canberra’s corridors tell of a “sulky” Mr Abbott who was still coming to terms with being dumped.
He has not shown his face in Parliament since being dumped as Liberal leader on Monday night — but this afternoon he has indicated that he wants to stay in politics.
“It’s been a tumultuous week and I now intend to spend some time with my family to think about the future,” Mr Abbott told news.com.au. “But my intention is to remain in the Parliament.”
The seat next to Queensland MP Andrew Laming in the House of Representatives was again empty today as for the second Question Time in a row Tony Abbott declined to appear as a backbencher.
Mr Laming was among those whose agitations in February led to Mr Abbott’s close call in a leadership spill ballot, but that’s not why he sat alone.
Mr Abbott has all but disappeared for most of the people who work in Parliament House, and has remained out of contact to almost everyone since he lost the leadership to Malcolm Turnbull Monday night.
Last night Christine Forster revealed brother Tony had not replied to her text messages. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has not had his returned either, although for quite separate reasons.
But today Mr Abbott did take a call from US President Barack Obama who saluted him as “a good mate on so many issues”.
After Mr Abbott’s bitter departure speech on Tuesday and his refusal to mention Malcolm Turnbull in his final public words as prime minister, there is considerable speculation about his future.
It is still not known whether he has been offered or asked for a ministry.
“I have had a discussion with Tony Abbott but he hasn’t given me an indication in those terms,” Mr Turnbull said of his predecessor.
Monash University professor of politics James Walter expects that Mr Abbott will end up pursuing a non-government or business role.
“I guess he’d probably go into some sort of business role or some sort of consultancy position,” Prof Walter said. “It depends what he’s offered. People usually get picked up because of their connections.
“Abbott is unlike Kevin Rudd because Rudd had international relations, foreign policy-type aspirations all along and some academic connections, so he could move into things related to the UN and he could move, for instance, to Harvard.
“I don’t think Abbott has those types of links or academic credibility.”
Prof Walter said Mr Abbott was “much more likely to go into some sort of straight business-related position, with the possible exception of working in fields he was always interested in before he became PM, like social issues or the work he did with indigenous people and Catholic connections”.
“I think it’s pretty unlikely that he might stay in politics for rest of this term because it’s not a long-term option unless he thinks he can make a comeback,” he said.
Prof Walter said Mr Abbott didn’t have the popularity needed to “pull a Kevin Rudd” and regain his role as prime minister at a later date.
“The difference between him and Rudd was that Rudd still had a base level of popularity so could persuade himself and the public that he could come back,” he said.
“Abbott has never had that level of popularity; the public polling has always not been strong so it will be hard for him to make a case that he’ll be swept back as prime minister or in a political role by popular opinion.”
Prof Walter said “there will always be someone who will pick up a former PM”. “Some people with those sorts of backgrounds in politics have ended up in non-government organisations,” he said. “For instance, the chair of the Red Cross in Australia has commonly been an ex-politician.
“You can imagine that Abbott might end up in that sort of a role or in the Catholic welfare bodies. I think that’s feasible given his interest.”
Whatever step Mr Abbott takes next, it’s unlikely he’ll be seen in the dole queue.
The amount in entitlements received by former prime ministers depends on their length of service, but they generally receive about 70 per cent of the PM’s salary as part of their basic pension.
Abbott certainly won’t be short of cash as he qualifies for $300,000 a year in a pension for serving two decades in government. It is understood the rules allow him to take up to half of it as a lump sum, where it is paid at 10 times the amount sacrificed — a lump sum of up to $1.53 million.
And, like previous PMs, Mr Abbott should also receive an extra $300,000 a year with which to maintain a staffed office, plus travel costs.
Why Malcolm Turnbull will end up disappointing many voters
HE IS considered socially progressive; someone whose centrist views make him popular even with soft Labor voters.
But Aussies who think that Malcolm Turnbull is going to steer Australian policy in an entirely new direction, think again.
If there is one thing our new Prime Minister has made clear over the last two days is that he plans to lead a more consultative government, a “traditional Cabinet government”. This means his own personal views on climate change, same-sex marriage, immigration and republicanism will have to take a back seat. He has a whole party to appease.
Dr Ian Cook, a senior lecturer in Australian politics from Murdoch University in WA, told news.com.au Australians should not expect too much to change in terms of policy.
“There are 44 people who didn’t vote for him,” Dr Cook said. “That’s part of the problem he faces.
“Of them, quite a few basically don’t agree with him or support the policies he would generally adopt. So he has to appease that side of the party.
“He will be trying to keep the other side of the party involved. In some ways I think what Turnbull was saying was that Tony Abbott did not address and bring in Malcolm Turnbull’s side of the party. It wasn’t proper Cabinet government in the sense that people weren’t encouraged to share their views, and have robust conversations.
“He now has to do the same thing too. He has to include them or be seen to be inclusive. And that’s going to hold him to a relatively conservative position for quite a long time.”
During Mr Turnbull’s first Question Time as Prime Minister yesterday, he told Parliament he was standing by the Coalition government’s commitment to hold a national plebiscite on legalising same-sex marriage. All Australians will have a choice about how the issue is resolved at the next election, likely in 2016, he said.
“Labor will say vote for us and marriage equality will be dealt with by the politicians ... we will say, if we are re-elected to government, every single Australian will have a say,” he said yesterday.
He has also reaffirmed his support for the Abbott government’s contentious climate change policy, the Direct Action plan. Mr Turnbull lost the leadership of the Liberal Party to Tony Abbott in 2009 over his support for emissions trading, but yesterday during Question Time he said he believed Direct Action was the right way to go.
“We are talking about a very specific policy that was carefully put together by the Minister for the Environment, that was carefully considered by the Government and it is working,” he said.
PM Malcolm Turnbull is sticking with the Coalition’s current policies on climate change, same-sex marriage and the republic despite his own well-publicised views.
PM Malcolm Turnbull is sticking with the Coalition’s current policies on climate change, same-sex marriage and the republic despite his own well-publicised views.Source:News Corp Australia
Professor John Phillimore from the John Curtin Institute of Public Policy at Curtin University in WA told news.com.au this commitment to keep current policy was the result of the “inevitable compromise” to secure the votes needed to win leadership.
“It seems to me that Kevin Andrews getting 30 votes as deputy leader after Malcolm Turnbull had been appointed as leader - and hence no prospect that Kevin Andrews would become the deputy leader - those 30 votes to me represent the hard core conservative vote who were just basically reminding Mr Turnbull that there is a conservative wing of the party who will be keeping him on notice,” Professor Phillimore said. “Perhaps part of the compromise or deals that were done was that he would basically stick with current government policies.
“I think it’s also the reason why Malcolm Turnbull has made the economic issue much more prominent. He is relying on his reputation as a former successful business person - and the Liberal Party was always quite keen to show its economic credentials - and I think he is trying to put that front and centre over the next year before the next election to show that he’s on top of that agenda.”
But whether Mr Turnbull manages to hold onto the leadership in Australia’s revolving door-style of politics depends upon his ability to stay out of the limelight, adds Dr Cook.
He said he thought Mr Tunbull would be a more articulate prime minister and a better communicator than Tony Abbott but questions the former lawyer’s ability to take a step back.
“I think if he isn’t able to recognise his job is to lead a team and not to be out in front absorbing the limelight, that’s a big ask for Malcolm Turnbull,” Dr Cook said. “That’s not his style. I think he learned a lot from being opposition leader and basically failing at that job. But whether he will address that larger problem (of leading a team and staying out of the limelight). I am not so sure about.”
Professor Phillimore thinks Mr Turnbull has made all the “right noises” in terms of trying to create a more inclusive government but also questions whether being a team player “suits his personality”.
And as for whether he think the Rhodes scholar will be a good Prime Minister, he explained sometimes some politicians have the skills for certain roles and that maybe Mr Turnbull might have the skills to be the Prime Minister.
“In terms of political leadership, sometimes good ministers are sometimes not good prime ministers and that was probably the case of Julia Gillard,” he said. “Sometimes good opposition leaders aren’t good prime ministers and that seems to be the problem with Tony Abbott. The skills that are required to be a good opposition leader in that case weren’t the skills that were required to be prime minister. He carried the opposition mentality over into the Prime Ministership.
“Malcolm Turnbull was not a good opposition leader and eventually he was defeated by his own party. But the skills of being opposition leader don’t necessarily translate to being a prime minister. Maybe he has the skills to be a prime minister. When you have actually got the authority of office as the leader you are viewed as a different type of leader as you were as opposition leader.”
Canning candidates say local issues key
THE two main Canning candidates insist local issues will be the focus of voters at this weekend's by-election, which is now being seen as Malcolm Turnbull's first big test.
THE poll, triggered by the sudden death of sitting Liberal MP Don Randall in July, was until Monday viewed as a litmus test of Tony Abbott's performance.
But with the ousting of Mr Abbott, the outcome is being viewed as a measure of Mr Turnbull's appeal.
Liberal candidate Andrew Hastie dismissed assertions the drama could cost him votes, but suggested the dramatic events in Canberra had come as a surprise.
He also said Australians were "feeling somewhat dissatisfied with the political class".
"Look, I didn't ask for this," the former SAS captain told reporters in Armadale on Tuesday. "I went into a meeting last night with one prime minister and emerged with another, but that's the reality and I support the prime minister.
"I'm not worried at all about the commentary that's going on around this campaign. "From day one, I've been focusing on local issues. I will continue to focus on local issues."
Labor's candidate for Canning Matt Keogh, a lawyer, also said Canning voters remained concerned about issues directly affecting them.
He denied the opposition's key ammunition against Mr Hastie had been lost with the removal of Mr Abbott, indicating that the former communications minister was also fair game.
"The key concern of the people of Canning ... has been cuts to schools and hospitals, the introduction of a GP tax and $100,000 university degrees," Mr Keogh said.
"He (Malcolm Turnbull) was a member of that Cabinet and he supported all those things. "My job right now is exactly the same as it was."
Mr Keogh was accompanied by opposition transport and infrastructure minister Anthony Albanese in Kelmscott as they were repeatedly photobombed by a car trailing an Andrew Hastie billboard.
"The problem here isn't who the leader is, it's the government," Mr Albanese said. "You can change the messenger, the spin is the same. "I think people are very tired with this government."
A snap Morgan poll on Tuesday, however, found 70 per cent of voters backed Mr Turnbull over Labor leader Bill Shorten as preferred prime minster.
Mr Hastie would not say whether Mr Turnbull had committed to visiting Canning before the election.