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Byron Shire
August 3, 2021

Relief as member for Warringah takes to the back bench

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Mungo MacCallum

As we all expected it would be, the verdict was swift and unequivocal.

According to Newspoll, some 62 per cent of voters thought that the replacement of Tony Abbott by Malcolm Turnbull was a good thing. Even among coalition supporters, said by the Abbott clique to be on his side, the vote was 56 to 36. There was simply no margin for error.

The result may not have brought instant euphoria – when respondents were asked about the next election, the figures are still lineball. But it cannot be denied that there is an overwhelming sense of relief: at long last politics can settle down to something like what we believed is normal.

For the five years of the Abbott regime, both in opposition and in government, we have been subjected to unrelenting ranting, abuse and hysteria. It was all about threats and crises: we were constantly warned that we were about to become broke and destitute, that we would be murdered in our beds. Now the screaming is about to abate.

This is not to everyone’s liking: the tabloids and shock jocks insist that the killing of police worker Curtis Cheng by a teenage extremist should have had Turnbull frothing at the mouth, not restraining his outrage with remarks that could be called sensible and constructive for some, but never to the zealots. But the overall tone has given the rest of us a chance to catch our breath, and perhaps even to consider about thinking about our future, rather than just reacting to the latest manufactured emergency.

There are many challenges ahead for Turnbull and his reformed government, but one of the most important is the need to break away from the demands of the instant gratification of the relentless media cycle and to begin planning for the longer term. And the encouraging news is that he is apparently making a start.

The first indication was the convening of what he insisted was a meeting, not a summit, with all the confected drama the headlines implied. A wide-ranging, but carefully selected, number of participants from various areas of the economy and the wider polity gathered for what was essentially a peace conference: leave your weapons at the door and smoke a quick peace pipe where we can sought a few of the apparently irreconcilable differences out. Only then will it be possible to decide what is politically feasible and what is not – a distinction Abbott refused to countenance, to his ultimate discomfiture.

Like Abbott, Turnbull has announced that he wants to be an Infrastructure Prime Minister. The two men were both Rhodes scholars, but in Abbott’s case he decided that the title should be spelled Roads.

But there was more. Abbott had extolled the various trade agreements concluded in his tenure as successive cornucopias, bonanzas which would flow through the government coffers into the pockets of every taxpayer; you would be carting the loot off in wheelbarrows.

But when Turnbull applauded the hard working minister Andrew Robb for helping to put together the formation of the Trans Pacific Partnership, he was much more muted: the yet to be ratified deal was not a source of undreamt-of opulence, an invitation to max out the credit cards before Christmas. The TPP was a foundation stone. A large and significant one, certainly, but there would be much shaping and building to be done before the construction was completed, the ribbons cut and the dividends began to arrive. No dancing in the streets just yet.

And there has been a similarly considered approach to infrastructure. Like Abbott, Turnbull has announced that he wants to be an Infrastructure Prime Minister. The two men were both Rhodes scholars, but in Abbott’s case he decided that the title should be spelled Roads: he would, he proclaimed at every opportunity, build the roads of the future. But in fact there was nothing futuristic about them: they were still the same old stretches of concrete and macadam to accommodate the endlessly increasing gridlock of cars, trucks and road trains of the private sector.

For Turnbull, infrastructure crucially includes public transport and facilities; part not only of his better cities agenda but, it is to be hoped, a model for the country at large. It won’t be quick; it will involve planning and co-operation with both the states and industry. But it could be visionary in the way that Abbott’s short-term sloganeering could never be.

And the long-term germ may even be catching, infecting the other side of politics: Bill Shorten had also foreshadowed a serious infrastructure program transcending party politics. There will be arguments: Shorten has already made up his own list of priorities, which can and will be criticised as picking winners. To be fair, these are not Abbottese captain’s picks, short bubbles, designed to shore up seats in the next election; most of them have been Labor policies for years. It has more to do with unfinished business than pork barrelling.

And even in the National Party, that hardline agricultural warrior Barnaby Joyce seems to have caught the bug. His reaction to the continuing problems of the Murray-Darling basin has not been to call for more dams, more irrigation and to hell with the environment an the greenies; he has moved to revive the idea of an audit, so we can try and find what is really going on before we jump to the old knee-jerk fixes.

There is still a lot of calming and therapy to be achieved; good government, like Rome, will not be built in a day. The Abbott legacy, which its eponymous founder seems to be determined to preserve, has been one of style as well as substance, and will not easily be dismantled. But it is undeniable that the mood has changed: already we are getting less of the announceables, the photo-ops and the silly hats which were the hallmark of the last administration.

And if you need a symbol of the switch away from the age of immediacy, look at Julie Bishop’s statement of intent to pursue another United Nations security council berth for Australia – not before the next election, or before any of the four after that, but in 2029. By then, she says optimistically, Wyatt Roy will be prime minister. You can’t get more visionary and long-term than that.

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  1. As Clive Palmer correctly put it about Newspoll –

    ‘Of course the polling’s rigged. Rupert Murdoch owns Galaxy poll and Newspoll and the media tries to set the agenda and determines the result of an election before it’s been held. That’s not a democracy, it’s up to the people.’

    Turnbull gave as his reasons for ousting Abbott. ‘we’ve been consistently behind in 30 Newspolls’. Quod erat demonstrandum.

    I’m not really a fan of Palmer but he was correct there!

  2. Can Supermal maintain the charade of consultation and conciliation..AGILE..seems to be the buzz word…the key factor in the leopards armoury after camouflage…. ohh and the longer he stands near the policies of Captain Clownshoes the more they resemble KrypToneite..


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