Welcome to Do-nothing Malcolm’s “happy place”

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.



  1. But the reality is that there is no LNP policy that will stand up to scrutiny because by en large they are policies derived from an ideology that seeks to exploit and rob the voting masses.

    The approach being taken by Do Nothing Malcolm is a reflection of what most LNP aspirants want. This is a successful government when gauged by that measure.

      • wasabinatorMEMBER

        Yet they did just do that. Australia won’t have a successful government anytime soon when the alternatives differ only by name and while the voters show more interest in The Block than question time.

      • Damned it you do and damned if you don’t. The election win was a poison chalice and the next election will be even more toxic.

        We will likely have to endure serial one term governments as we lurch from crisis to crisis.

      • If we are not in crisis by the end of this Government we certainly will be after Labor’s had another go at the controls. Mediscare Bill and the Spendometers will crash the economy bigtime.

      • Xo….

        The economy is a mess because your camp did not need evidence in formulating policy…. it was gifted to you by your stripes astrologers.

        Disheveled Marsupial…. I mean the whole AGW thingy should point this out in neon lights…. look I understand stuff was done to fight the ev’bal dawgless commies, but, come on, your not supposed to actually drink it…. that was for the unwashed…

        PS. fun fact… Unwashed dates back to antiquarian Egypt… check it out… so whats you part in the ritual – ????? – oh yeah…..

    • tonydd,

      Yes, that is the core of the problem.

      The LNP policy recipe is designed to concentrate wealth and the mechanism is by boosting the value of certain classes of assets. For a long time this was very successful electorally because one of the key asset classes getting a boost was land and about 60-70 % of the population have a direct interest in land. Lots of voters with an interest in assets thought this was wonderful.

      “They are making me rich and I just sit back and smile and eat smashed avocado”

      It was so successful as a political strategy that the ALP jumped on board and the Greens did not say a word.

      No one had the wit to point out that this magic pudding style of economics depended on mortgages rates and other credit rates being driven down with trainloads of exchange rate bloating unproductive capital inflows. Perhaps it was not wit as even now few make this point.

      Unfortunately, magic puddings are not real and magic pudding economics must come to an end. That is what we are starting to see.

      Slowly people are talking about the consequences of these policy choices even if they are not yet connecting the dots and explicitly connecting low interest rates, asset price pumping, household debt, foreign debt, taxpayer guarantees, bloated exchange rate and a sick hollowed out economy.

      The LNP however are determined to stick to the recipe that once worked so well and just try to ignore that the magic pudding is now just a smear on the plate.

      That is why they are:

      1. Running immigration flat out to keep housing demand running hot.

      2. Only talking about ‘supply’ as the problem – it will remain so while immigration is out of control.

      3. Running from a Banking and Monetary system royal commission

      4. Refusing to talk about our exploding foreign debt

      5. Ignoring that the unproductive capital flow bloated exchange rate is killing off local production like car making

      6. Applauding the fastest sell off of assets offshore by every level of government.

      This is not just incompetence, this is a desperate attempt to preserve their political bacon by throwing the economic future of the country under the bus. They must be stopped. The question is, by who?

      • 4. Refusing to talk about our exploding foreign debt –

        “Ours” – ???? – or the big 4

        On another note one of the big building mobs has 1.4B of stuff on its books for this year and almost 2x for the next.

        Disheveled Marsupial…. after an 8 years hiatus out of the ‘commodity’ pool I think I’ll make some hay whilst the sun shines…

      • Ultimately ours – a larrikin always pays his debts……..and likely those of his TBTF domestic banks as well. Yes I am mostly referring to privately owed foreign debt – though Mr Morrison has been shifting plenty of units of the public variety to foreign control.

      • ” even if they are not yet connecting the dots and explicitly connecting low interest rates, asset price pumping, household debt, foreign debt, taxpayer guarantees, bloated exchange rate and a sick hollowed out economy.”

        Whoa! Great brief statement of what is!!! As per Rinse the blood of my Toga “Can I have that one”

      • They must be stopped. The question is, by who?

        Ultimately they’ll be stopped by “the market” they so cherish.

        Problem is many of them are too dumb or ignorant to realise what has been going on for the last 16 or so years isn’t a market at all, thanks to government intervention as covered by MB and predecessor blogs for years now.

      • Tourchwood….

        “thanks to government intervention”

        What part about the dominate mainstream economic paradigm over decades and various industry lobbyists informing policy escapes some.

        Not to mention the dominance by one side of the political spectrum, which imo is assisted by the the rightward march of its opposite.

        Disheveled Marsupial…… Chortle…… Hillary is the Democratic nominee with clear ties to industries before voters….

    • Whereas the wholly owned Labor party seeks to rip off the public via the efforts of its owners – union corporations. A fine alternative.
      Have to go, got to put the dogs in the limo…

      • My pleasure Tonydd
        I assume the evidence of the recent Royal Commission is sufficient proof of the nature of the major union. Now, of course I need to make a reasonable case that the Labor party is in effect, nothing but a union mouthpiece.
        Union membership among the general work force has fallen by more than 50% in the last 25 years, and now only applies to some 17% of the general work force. Notwithstanding this, about 45% of Labor MPs in the Lower House & 70% of ALP senators are trade union officials. Obviously a gross misrepresentation. How can this be?
        Well, it is, of course, due to the pre-selection process.. No better guide can be found than Crikey

        Now, of course, the LNP has it’s own equivalent, resulting in different factions. The essential difference is, on the LNP side the movers & shakers are effectively from the mill owning classes, whereas, on the ALP side, the movers & shakers are from what are now effectively mafias acting if not outside the law, then completely immorally. A fine example is the process of forcing large businesses to do union deals that negatively affect their workers. This is a matter of public knowledge.

        Now, bearing in mind the outcome of the Royal Commission, what is the reason for Labor to vote en bloc against the re-establishment of the ABCC? Can it be that they all believe the commission was rigged? Or, have they no respect for law? Or, should we look at the internal pressure they would be under (from the factions of course) if they voted with their conscience? I can’t prove it, but I suspect the latter is by far the most likely solution. Privately, I suspect, Labor MPs (the ones who aren’t Craig Thomos) may have a very different view to the one they have to adopt in the chamber.
        In the end, we have to choose between the mill owners & the mafia. Well, at least the mill offers us jobs, albeit we need to ensure (through our political classes) that it’s not a case of children down the mines. The mafia on the other hand offers us a chance to enrich our lives through unlimited public spending, albeit that there are no more mills to generate the cash.

        My advice? Get out & earn as many dollars as you can and don’t rely on helicopter hirers, Grange swillers and dog chauffeur hirers (at your expense) to help you. To earn dollars you need some sort of industry, thus, for me, it’s the mill owners by a short head…

      • Mining BoganMEMBER

        Eh? The only thing that came out of that RC was that Kathy Jackson is crooked. Something that I had been pointing out for years on this blog but she had Liberal Party protection to keep her safe until she thought she was home free. Dobbed herself in.

        Hey, that Heydon clown isn’t working now. Brandis is looking for someone dodgy to work with. A perfect fit.

      • Appalling attitude that it was, at least the helicopter hirer eventually paid for it herself.

        Not so the wedding freeloaders.

      • Obviously a gross misrepresentation.

        So which party is not a gross misrepresentation? At least most people are employees at some point in their lives.

    • How about the milk carton.
      I’ve copied that scene by scene, for a poster.
      That FD is very clever work.

    • Oh man. Thanks for that MB, one of the best political cartoons I’ve ever seen!! 🙂

      “…they are all rubbish, throw yourselves into the sea”. Best advice ever for the LNP.

      • Woo Hoo, I sent that cartoon around my mailing list,and some, many are not amused. Seems there is some sort of operation to revamp the LNP and the throw your selves into the sea was particularly disliked.
        For me, FD is exactly correct. Ditch the lot and put ON in. the time for mucking around is well over.
        Wait till I get the A1 sized poster up on the wall.

      • @WW. Humorless bastards who are obviously too far up themselves to recognise the truth.

        The LNP *should* collectively throw itself into the sea. It would be the best thing for them and the country. Really, it’s the only way their souls will ever find peace.

  2. Hearing MT at interview is excruciating. Vascillating, burocratic verbose…grasping for any answer that gets him off the hock the
    palpable sense of relief when he stumbles on a line that he thinks is plausible and avoids offending people. Tries to be everything to everyone and ends up being nothing to nobody. And meanwhile the Great Barrier Reef dies.

  3. In the Australian context, the term “successful government” might well be called an oxymoron.

  4. Terror Australis

    It has been noted by social media that Turnbulls Net Approval Rating is even lower than Trumps!

    That is a shocking indictment.

  5. TailorTrashMEMBER

    I love this story for its symbolism ………I’ve heard of selling the furniture ………but when the nation considers selling its artwork to pay its debts then its soul is surely gone …….

  6. It’s like he’s decided the best course of action is to just give up, do nothing, stay quiet and hope something turns up. Rather like the country as a whole…

  7. It’s funny how our current PM is a staunch republican who fully embraces the Westminster tradition of cabinet government (first amongst equals and all that) whereas our last PM was a staunch conservative who acted like he was the President.

  8. Hewson, bitter, sniping, white-anter.

    But yeah, the collegiate Everyman style of governance is sorely in need of a strongman.

  9. defend it, setting out a clear strategy to deliver it, I believe that, in time, the electorate would cut him considerable slack

    That’s all very well but the problem is that slack from the electorate and slack from his loud mouth backbenchers are two entirely different things. e.g. what slack did he get from his backbenchers on superannuation tax for the rich? Practically nothing.