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Byron Shire
August 14, 2022

Thus Spake Mungo: Malcolm Turnbull doesn’t get it

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Malcolm Turnbull still doesn’t get it.

While desperately playing down the significance of his own 30th Newspoll loss on the unconvincing basis that he wished he hadn’t mentioned Tony Abbott’s, our leader has taken what he apparently considers the high road.

‘What I promised to do was provide economic leadership and traditional cabinet government and I have done both,’ he declared shamelessly. Well, the first is at least dubious; the much vaunted jobs growth is welcome, although it has done little to reduce unemployment. But debt and deficit have got worse, and stagnant wages for those who have them are the real problem. Still, Turnbull’s boast has some connection to the world of voters, so it cannot be dismissed out of hand.

But cabinet government? If Turnbull thinks that talking about the 30th Newspoll is confined to the political insiders and can therefore be dismissed by the masses, how does he reckon they feel about cabinet government in the front bar of the local pub? Agog with indifference? Comatose with enthusiasm? Euphoric with apathy? Catatonic with ebullience? Give us a break.

Whatever happens, it appears that the budget will be a frantic exercise in bribery and spin, and however lavish the handouts to targeted electorates, history suggests that they won’t produce the kind of bounce in the polls Turnbull needs.

Despite his pledge to eschew political slogans and treat the electorate with respect, our prime minister remains so far above the real concerns of his hard-working Australians as to be barely able to articulate their worries. He is still hammering the constant meme of jobs and growth, although disillusionment set in over that three-worder some two years ago.

And surely by now it is time to admit that not only is the great Enterprise Tax Plan economically suspect but politically flawed. In fact although Turnbull is determined to have another go at it in May, he could be forgiven for hoping that the senate knocks it back yet again, so he would have the largesse to distribute where it might attract more voter gratitude.

Whatever happens, it appears that the budget will be a frantic exercise in bribery and spin, and however lavish the handouts to targeted electorates, history suggests that they won’t produce the kind of bounce in the polls Turnbull needs. But, as he and his spruikers keep telling us, the situation is not irretrievable – yet. While Bill Shorten is the alternative there can still be life and hope.

So brace yourselves for the negative campaign to beat them all, a Kill Bill onslaught that will leave Abbott’s Ditch the Witch effort over Julia Gillard seem positively civilised. But to make it work – or even give it a fighting chance – Turnbull needs to convince his troops it will all be worthwhile, and there are disturbing signs that some, at least, are ready to tap the mat; that even those whose seats are rock solid are preparing for a mud-wrestle for the spoils of defeat and a stint in opposition.

The idea, especially from the unforgiving zealots of the Monash-Murdoch Forum, is that after the cleansing fire that will despatch Turnbull and his core supporters the true believers can then resume their rightful place as the conservative heartland of the party of John Howard – or perhaps Robert Menzies, or maybe Genghis Khan: any role model who will crush the unions, the Greens, Labor and, most of all, any heretics within the coalition who still harbour centrist – or, worse still, marginally progressive – tendencies.

And after the events leading up to and following the 30th Newspoll, it is clear that the rats in Turnbull’s ranks are not about to let up. The big one this week will be the National Energy Guarantee which Josh Frydenberg will try and negotiate through COAG in the belief that this will finally be the game changer that will show the mob that the government is not just a bunch of brawling incompetents, which it obviously is, but a bunch of brawling incompetents with a plan to save the nation.

Mission impossible, it may appear; but Frydenberg, while a dead-set conservative, is a reasonably intelligent and convincing politician, and is confident of persuading the states and territories to agree to some version of his agenda, ready to announce it – and presumably legislate it – through the budget session of parliament. But there is a catch; the party room has signed off on the bare bones of the original plan, but the details are yet to be filled in by the state and territory ministers, so it will have to go back to the party room.

And this will be the real test of the right’s sincerity: will they remain committed to their stance on coal at all costs, wrecking Turnbull’s precious circuit breaker and foreshadowing an unending and unwinnable feud that may well scuttle Turnbull his regime but will inevitably lead to defeat at the next election? Or will they back down, gracelessly no doubt, but with the risible claim that they are putting their party (if not their country) first?

This latter is Turnbull’s admittedly wistful expectation, and he needs it to be true, because his leadership is now on notice: Barnaby Joyce, now firmly in the Abbott camp of avengers and recalcitrants, reckons that around Christmas patience will run out. If the polls don’t improve – and that means more than switching from catastrophic to merely very bad, we want a genuine turnaround that gives at least some of the marginals a chance of survival – then, says Joyce, our prime minster must do the honourable thing and step aside.

It is not at all clear who would take over; one must assume that Joyce’s pick would be the unutterable Peter Dutton, but fortunately Joyce will not have a vote in the Liberal Party room. Fantasy, perhaps, but the sound of knives being sharpened in anticipation, either in the event of political assassination or just preparing to slit wrists, is becoming all too audible.

Of course that’s the apocalyptic option; the more likely outcome, if one can so describe it, is that things will just drag on, business as usual as Turnbull calls it. The more rational members of the coalition may well be defeatist, but they are not totally suicidal – they acknowledge that a coup, by anyone, would only make things worse, and some of them cherish the hope that a redemptive miracle can yet happen.

Turnbull, of course, has no need of miracles: he remains utterly convinced in his own invincibility. As I said, Malcolm Turnbull still doesn’t get it.


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  1. Amazing the list of superlatives in this article: unutterable, catastrophic, suicidal, assassination, sounds like a tom clancey novel. Will the conservatives really worry when the progressive coalition wins the next election and breaks the country yet again, like Spain a few years back, because no country can afford to create energy at ten times the cost of what is best, and regulation is best and a host of inhouse subsidy spruikers even better … give me a break, my wires are fusing.

  2. Ipswich must be the rubbish centre of the universe. Our asbestos carport went there across 200 miles. But now they’re saying no, no more recyclables. Did we ever recycle? China has been our recyclables outpost – face it, cheap labour – and now they’re saying no, those inscrutables. It was the great victory of the environmentalist movement … which never happened. How many aborted ideals are needed to prove a vacuum is vacuous?

  3. Like you think governments don’t plan for stints at opposition. Apart from Adam the Greens get their voice from Senate statistics. And Turnbull has nothing to prove, will give up his post with the same smile it took to get it. Abbott will fight like the alsation he is. Rational voice? The Tele hates her but as the female she’s the the rational choice.

  4. The female these days is the rational choice. The Greens have Sarah and watch out. But their numbers, apart from Adam Brandt, are due to statistics. The Tele don’t like Julie. The Tele don’t like Malcolm. Abbott is configuring his forces at the roots. But all this just about leadership. Really we vote for a local member and we should be choosing civics, people with a voice to the general assembly.

  5. I’ve been voting Leeinjohm because he does have voice a little while, for about six months into his four year tenure. The plans of mice and men.

  6. The local federal member up my way has been advertising herself in the local rag for years, not just coming up to an election, not just one full-page ad, two maybe all the time. And never a response to my missives. She writes me off maybe as a non-voter, I’m still a constituent. On the other hand I have spoken with all her opponents over the years, and am left feeling media frenzied. But hey, she’s the right gender, has the fad to her name, and can afford to buy her tenure.

  7. Why so many newspolls? Do we really have to know what the populace thinks every second week? In the end the result comes down to the best spin in the last week.

  8. The rational? It’s who can play the right card. We might end up with a Bishop/Wong scenario, because ever since Whitlam we’ve wanted something different.


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