The AFR has nice piece today on the inner working of Prime Minister Turnbull’s government:
Turnbull appears to have learnt from his predecessors’ mistakes. He has reversed a trend that began under Kevin Rudd in 2007 and was continued by Tony Abbott and his chief of staff, Peta Credlin, from 2013. He has given up power.
After he became prime minister last September, Turnbull held a meeting of all 400-odd ministerial staff in the new government. He said they would always be welcome in his office, according to a former political adviser.
The message surprised many in the room. Access to the PMO, as the Prime Minister’s office is known, was rationed under Abbott. Some ministerial chiefs of staff couldn’t get solo meetings with Credlin, sources said, because she preferred to deal directly with ministers.
…Even ministers concede that Turnbull’s decentralisation has made him less effective at managing what has been dubbed the “24-hour media cycle” – all-day coverage of politics on websites, social media and cable television (although by fewer reporters).
But they argue that over the longer term Turnbull’s approach will produce better policy, which will deliver votes.
…Observers say Turnbull’s office lacks the personal intensity of Abbott’s office, which often felt under seige because of the strong emotions created by Credlin’s tough style and Abbott’s deep loyalty to her. More staff feel they have direct access to the Prime Minister, which they say enhances the sense of collaboration.
“Within the PMO, it’s a very happy place,” said a business executive who lobbies the government. “People get along.”
…Abbott and Turnbull are very different prime ministers in private. Abbott made himself accessible to the business community, lobbyists say, but was reluctant to consider major policy changes.
…Turnbull is more open to different policy ideas, and his attitude has filtered through the bureaucracy according to Innes Willox, the chief executive of the Australian Industry Group, a lobby group for many manufacturing companies.
“This government is much more consultative, not just with us but more broadly,” Willox says. “I get the sense that they are much more prepared to engage and listen.”
Listen to who? The article is a procession of quotes from lobbyists that are very pleased with their access to Do-nothing Malcolm, no doubt including the journalist that wrote the piece. But who is actually delivering the PM the policy reform advice that he needs to hear? You know, the national interest stuff that every lobbyist in Canberra is there to destroy? And who is making any decisions at all?
Turnbull’s Government may be open and consultative but it is not elected to be so. It is elected to govern. John Hewson has a much better notion of what’s going on, he writes at Domainfax:
Turnbull promised to be different, encouraging all policy options to be put on the table.
But he took them off the table, almost faster then they were put on.
To some extent, I am blamed these days for the lack of political courage. My Fightback package, running to hundreds of pages of policy detail, is now easily dispensed with as “the longest political suicide note in history”. I am easily tagged as being politically naive.
But, even so, it is stretching it to now go to the other extreme, running in fear of saying very much at all! Especially as the policy drift has meant that the magnitude and urgency of the issues/challenges is much greater today than was the case in the early ’90s.
Fear only works, sustainably, in a leadership vacuum. The outcome of the last election, which saw Turnbull’s standing collapse relative to the enormous expectations with which he assumed the prime ministership, was much more about his failure to deliver the expected leadership than his stand on any particular issue.
To be fair, Bill Shorten was given some credit for his leadership calling for reform of negative gearing/capital gains tax, especially as the government’s only response was a scare campaign that it would “smash” housing, against the background of the budget repair task, and the threat of a downgrade in our AAA status.
I would suggest that the most effective response to a scare campaign is to counter with policy substance. If Turnbull went on the front foot, setting out, say, a detailed health policy, and being prepared to debate and defend it, setting out a clear strategy to deliver it, I believe that, in time, the electorate would cut him considerable slack.
Too busy keeping a “happy place” for that.