Thus Spake Mungo: The worm turned, the maggots squirmed

By Mungo MacCallum

In a singularly petulant and graceless speech in the early hours after election night, Malcolm Turnbull said he thought he would be returned to government.

His surly but defiant supporters – those of them who had not already gone home – snarled agreement. And for what it is worth, I concur: my fearless prediction is that the coalition will end up with between 76 to 78 seats in the House of Representatives, a thin but decisive majority.

But this is not the way it was meant to be, and it is definitely not 0as the commentators, the editorialists and the bookmakers confidently forecast. Although the national polls were always close, we were repeatedly reassured that the marginals were holding for the coalition.

In fact, they were all over the place: Tasmania collapsed, New South Wales swung further than expected and Queensland did not stay solid. It has been a damn close run thing.

We have been saved from the awful fate of Bill Shorten: our savings thrown down the toilet, our families left to starve at the hands of the unions, our children bound into slavery from the marauding hordes of boat people and the rest of the chaos of which we were warned by our government and its supporters, most particularly the tabloids of the Murdoch press.

Instead, we breathe again: Malcolm Turnbull lives on, but he is almost on life support. He promised us excitement, agility, unity and stability; now it seems a bit oxymoronic, and we’re not just saying that because he studied at Oxford. He is no more than half right: there will be plenty of excitement in the offing, maybe even a bit of agility.

But unity? Hardly: Turnbull is even further bound in thrall to the conservative rump, who will forever insist that their man – Tony Abbott – could not have done worse and would almost certainly have done better. There is no thought of a reverse leadership coup – yet. But stability is simply out of the question. The hard liners will continue to fester in the party room, waiting for the smallest stumble.

And there will almost certainly be plenty of those. It will be weeks before the final composition of the senate is determined, but it is already certain that Turnbull’s great electoral reform has backfired badly: far from clearing the independents out, they have jostled their way back in a way which will make stable government – even with the wishy-washy form to which we have been accustomed – all but impossible.

And the great strategy for a joint sitting to pass the industrial relations bills is no longer being discussed. In fact even the national economic plan – jobs and growth, globs of mirth – is at serious risk; it may survive, bit it will be need to be negotiated, perhaps beyond recognition.

So who is to blame? Well, certainly not Turnbull – he has no doubt at all. It was all Labor’s big lie on Medicare — shameless, fraudulent, dishonourable, etc: as I have noted elsewhere, it sounded like the bellowing of a maddened thesaurus.

But in fact the truth was that Bill Shorten’s exaggerated and misleading propaganda campaign was simply more effective than Turnbull’s exaggerated and misleading propaganda campaign. The coalition has niggled away at Medicare for years – generations in fact; Shorten’s contention that Medicare could be privatised, or at least dismantled, bit.

Turnbull’s apocalyptic threats to the budget over negative gearing, the so-called war on business, and the reprise of the boat people did not really resonate. It was as simple as that; but better any excuse than having to confront the dreadful reality: Turnbull stuffed it up.

As a result, Shorten should be immune from an immediate challenge. Anthony Albanese is a credible and popular contender, but the relief that Labor is not only back from the brink but hovering close to government should concentrate the minds of the doubters. This does not mean that Shorten is assured of another go at the next election, but it gives him more than a buffer than even he would have dared to hope.

So in a sense there will be a period of relative stability as both the major parties draw breath and sort themselves out. But in terms of legislation, or even policy, there is now something of a vacuum.

Labor’s platform has now been shelved and most of the coalition’s will have to be reformulated or at least placed on the backburner while both the party room and, more importantly, the senate can be persuaded of an agenda for the next term.

Shorten has declared that Turnbull will not have a mandate; political theorists may argue, but the practicalities make it clear that every so-called reform will have to be fought through, and many, if not most, will fail. Legislation will be at premium; compromise and conciliation will have to give way to the threats and bribes of the previous term.

This is not to say that nothing can be achieved, but it does mean that Turnbull will have to retreat from the belligerence of the campaign, and more particularly from his unforgiving stance on election night.

At his final press club address last week, he said that he believed Australians were looking for a greater sense of common purpose, for the parliament to offload the ideology and focus on an end to division for division’s sake. And perhaps they are, but they have seen precious little of it in the last eight weeks.

If Turnbull wants to make the change, he will have to start right in the parliament – even in the fastnesses of his own party room. It may happen, but it must be said that the portents are not promising.

And thus we have come to the end – or at least the beginning of the end – of a depressing election campaign, and the equally depressing beginning – well, the start of the beginning – of the next episode.

The next three years promise to be interesting times indeed, and very possibly still more depressing – more of the same, and we haven’t enjoyed that so far. But there is one ray of light and hope: we will no longer have to endure the daily homilies from the government spokescyborg, Matthias Cormann.

It may not be feasible to turn him off entirely – he is, after all, pre-programmed for eternity. But at least we won’t have to throw things at the television every time he appears. It’s not much, but it’s something to be thankful for.

5 responses to “Thus Spake Mungo: The worm turned, the maggots squirmed”

  1. Don McMillan says:

    My previous post predicting a minority Government with a dysfunctional Senate was not because I have great insight but we are following the same path of Greece. Every year more and more citizens are relying on Government handouts thus corrupting their vote. Our country lacks focus thus accomplishing anything in todays environment is near impossible.
    Democracy is failing. The minorities run the country. Political parties campaigns promised everything to the marginal seats at the expense of the rest. Minority parties with all their demands must be satisfied for any party to govern. There is no capacity to control our debt.
    The “silent majority” is irrelevant.
    Is there a cost for this behaviour? Clues maybe buried in History.

  2. Petrus says:

    Don You are correct that each year more and more citizens are relying on government handouts but there are two main reasons for that. One is that we are supporting students for longer, and there are more over 22 year olds who are entitled to Centrelink study support. To counter that successive governments have ended three of the more generous bits of middle class welfare by tightening the eligibility to Centrelink independent status previously granted after a single gap year, and no longer exempting salary sacrificed income and overseas tax exempt income (32ag) from parental income. The other main reason is that lots of baby boomers are going on to the age pension, a pension has been made relatively more generous through indexing against wage increases. We tried to counter that by super but it was too late to ensure that most boomers are self-funded retirees. That does not make us Greece though and we have a relatively low public deb, but in my view any public debt is too high. Unfortunately I suspect you are right to a degree – compromises with minor parties will compromise our ability to retire debt, and unfortunately too many commentators are echoing the Green’s complacency on this concern.

  3. Simon says:

    Turnbull was handed the electorate on a plate. All he had to do was shift considerably to the left and he would have won by a major victory. The far right would have nowhere to go except Hanson – where they went anyway. The middle right would have stuck with Liberal (who else would they vote for) and he would have picked up many of the people who don’t want to really vote for Labor but have no choice if they want to vote for a party that has a real chance of being in government. This was Turnbull’s undoing – that he stuck far too much to the right. And of course if he has gone left – where would that leave Labor? Turbull has gone from the great hope to a floundering fool in one easy step.

    • Len Heggarty says:

      Turnbull has stuck to the right because he is to the right. If he had wanted to be unstuck from the right he would have unstuck himself from the far right. He did not want to. It seems that people do not get that Turnbull is far right and wants to stay there at the far right.
      Turnbull did a deal with the far right and to do a deal with the far right means you are far right but don’t want to make it public that you are far right.
      Just how is it remotely possible that Malcolm Turnbull is anywhere near the left with all the money and investments that the has?

  4. Doug says:

    Well aren’t we in for interesting times!

    The tax debacle: I agree there are changes needed, but the poor wage earners are already saddled with most of the tax burden. I think we need a re-think on tax.
    I definitely do not agree with the lady from Queensland who just got re-elected, but her idea of taxing monies in & out of Australia seemed a good idea to me. Also, taxing such money movements would stop some of the banks betting on the foreign exchange markets (so any money entering or leaving the country would have a small tax attached: much like the old FIT tax. This would also alleviate the need for GST on foreign purchases.
    The other area that needs to be reeled in is Fossil fuel subsidies. This could be rolled back over 5 or 10 years. This would have the effect of moving business/consumers to Alternative fuelled vehicles. Some mines are already using robotised EVs in the mines. Reducing the use of fossil fuels that is mostly imported would help our balance of payments also.
    Follow the lead of countries like the US, where businesses must pay tax before deductions can be claimed. (I am horrified that a cleaning company that also runs health services, pays no tax at all. It is certainly distorted when a company that pays a reasonable dividend, can find enough grants & deductions to pay nil tax)
    ….Dom’t get me started on Ngative gearing!

    May the revolution begin!

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