The Turnbull Government has degenerated into a circus. It’s somehow actually worse than the Abbott Government. At least the latter had method even if misdirected by troglodyte ideology. The Turnbull Government has no discernible values at all and no method, either!
Witness the progression of policy since Malcolm Turnbull’s rise. He came to power with a very clear vision:
Ultimately, the prime minister has not been capable of providing the economic leadership our nation needs… We need a different style of leadership. We need a style of leadership that… respects the people’s intelligence, that explains these complex issues and then sets out a course of action that we believe we should take… We need to respect the intelligence of the Australian people. We need to restore traditional cabinet government [and] put an end to policy on the run and captain’s calls.
We were set up to be treated like adults and have the nation’s challenges explained to us then addressed, the economic challenge of the end of the mining boom being of primary importance.
Prime Minister Turnbull started slowly but OK with the innovation agenda which fitted with this reality but it was small and in now way lived up to its absurd hype of being an “ideas boom”, the ads for which are still rolling out all over at tax-payer’s expense.
GST reform could also have fitted with the structural adjustment theme and it was rolled out next. It was a way to help repair the Federal budget through boosting revenues and productivity via tax efficiency. But, soon afterwards it collapsed after it took heat from lobby groups and internal Treasury modelling showed it would hit growth. Why it was rolled out at all before this modelling was done is a pointed question given one should know one’s research before announcing policy plans.
Associated and afterwards came a narrative about bracket creep and the need for income tax cuts. This was toyed with in public for a few weeks then got suddenly junked as it became obvious (as if it wasn’t already) that there was no money for said cuts.
Then came negative gearing reform. It was also supposed to help address the budget deficit, as well as adding equity to a clearly and grotesquely unfair tax system favouring assets over income, old over young and rich over poor. Treasurer Morrison was wheeled out again to sell it but hardly were the words out of his mouth when Labor countered with a much more comprehensive and considered policy proposal. The Government panicked, flopped around for a week or so, then ‘pulled an Abbott’ and abandoned all reform to negative gearing, leaving Treasurer Morrison high and dry once again, citing spectacularly dubious and widely debunked BIS Shrapnel research as his reason.
Next onto the comical tax conveyor belt was a company tax cut. It was bandied about in public for a few weeks before it too was off to the knackers as it again became clear that there is no money for it and, moreover, that yet more modelling showed that although it would boost growth it would also hit growth.
Throughout this tax schmozzle the Turnbull narrative oscillated wildly between post mining boom fear mongering, placing emphasis on the need to find growth, and half-baked solutions that rose and fell with the regulatory of a metronome. It is absolutely no wonder that polls have sunk throughout.
As they have done so the Prime Minister’s methodological madness has accelerated. Rather than pause and take stock on where he was going and what he was doing, the PM’s gathering maelstrom has in the last few weeks spun off a series hair-brained schemes like some crazy policy Catherine wheel:
- perhaps spooked by his own failure, the PM engineered a remarkably self-serving and flimsy double dissolution trigger in its Australian Building and Construction Commission legislation (which is good idea) despite having declared consistently that he would run his term thereby immediately trashing his own polls given the severe lack of national interest in the policy;
- he unilaterally shifted the Budget timetable to accommodate this desperate ploy but failed to tell his Treasurer and thus filled the media with a week of speculation about a failing relationship which, let’s face it, would be no surprise given the number of occasions ScoMo has been hung out to dry;
- the day before COAG, the PM unilaterally declared that the states ought to be raising their own taxes and that they would get no money unless they did. Despite the idea having merits, the complete lack of a process to implement such an huge Federation reform agenda meant it was treated with the contempt it deserved by state premiers;
- next the PM threw a high speed ponzi-rail Hail Mary proposal to link eastern cities funded largely via dealing the developers into the resulting land value increases. Just a day later, his own head of the task force, John Alexander, openly confessed that the plan was all about spreading the Sydney and Melbourne property price bubbles into regional areas, the very opposite of improved competitiveness and productivity that is need to address the post-mining boom challenge;
- Labor then blind-sided the flailing prime minister again when it announced a Royal Commission into banking malfeasance, something that is years overdue, to look into both financial planning and interest rate setting scandals, so the desperate PM (or Treasurer or both) immediately responded by seeking to boost funding to the (ir)responsible regulatory body, ASIC, which pointed out that it was Coalition budget cuts that had gutted its functions in the first place.
The Turnbull Government is now caught between the reality of an increasingly difficult post-mining boom environment that it has acknowledged and having absolutely no plan to address it. Worse, Labor has filled that policy vacuum forcing the Coalition to fight it instead of governing.
As such, the Turnbull Government has no discernible narrative that outlines both the national challenge and the solution, and it has a leader popular for intellect, policy savvy and ideological centrism instead spouting populist fear-mongering, policy vandalism and Right wing garbage. Against his own benchmark of considered process and no “captain’s calls” Turnbull appears ridiculous and he is reliant increasingly on whacky, isolated and transparent PR clap trap as his only re-election strategy.
This goes way beyond bad advice, ideological confusion or the difficulties of governing in a down cycle. This is simple ineptitude and it goes straight to the top.
He is also a former gold trader and economic commentator at The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, the ABC and Business Spectator. He is the co-author of The Great Crash of 2008 with Ross Garnaut and was the editor of the second Garnaut Climate Change Review.
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