It has been just over two weeks ago since Malcolm Turnbull deposed
Joffrey Baratheon Tony Abbott.
After his first day on the job I gave Mr Turnbull an unfavourable report card. Admittedly that may have been quite unfair considering he has barely been in office for 24 hours at that point.
So, what has Malcolm Turnbull done to date to differentiate his government from Tony Abbott’s reign? According to Tony Abbott – nothing.
The government indicated there would be no change to Australia’s existing harsh asylum seekers policy under Malcolm Turnbull.
I hold very strong views about Australia’s boat turn-back, and offshore processing policies – I consider them inhumane, and I am disturbed and disgusted by them.
Malcolm Turnbull would have received an ‘F’ in this respect, had he not expressed what appeared to be genuine concern about recent rape allegations made by asylum seekers held at the Nauru detention centre. Tragically, just the expression of genuine concern already counts as a significant improvement from our previous Prime Minister.
No refuge, ABC 7.30 (28 September 2015)
Our offshore detention centres are a humanitarian crisis, and ‘concerns,’ even genuine ones, are no longer sufficient. We will need to see meaningful action addressing the issue as a matter of urgency.
It was reported an open letter, signed by more than 1,200 people, including Australian of the Year Rosie Batty, is now calling on Malcolm Turnbull to shut down the Manus Island and Nauru detention centres.
Until we see tangible action on this front, a ‘D-‘ will have to suffice.
Climate and the environment
Admittedly, he is under strong duress from the climate change denying, right-wing of the Liberal Party.
The difficulties Malcolm Turnbull is facing on climate change and renewable energy is highlighted by the fact he is being urged by Senate crossbenchers to appoint an ‘expert,’ who compared wind power proponents to Hitler and claims the Australian Medical Association’s support for wind power is ‘corrupt,’ as government adviser on … wind power. One can only hope he will be able to resist such an outrageous appointment.
• The Coalition stays true to form on emissions
• Tony Abbott’s war on renewable energy kicks into high gear
• Tony Abbott vs wind turbines
• ‘I’m not a scientist,’ and other climate change doozies
But, he receives a ‘C-‘ because there have been rays of sunshine from the government over the past couple of weeks in respect of climate change and renewable energy, such as:
- the announcement by newly appointed Minister for Resources, Energy and Northern Australia Josh Frydenberg that renewable energy, including wind farms and solar power, would be a ‘key part’ of the government’s energy platform; and
- the revelation that Tony Abbott’s controversial, climate change denying business adviser, Maurice Newman, would not continue to advise the new government.
Given the climate and environmental track-record of the government under Tony Abbott, these are again changes in the right direction, even if they are small steps to begin with.
Domestic violence and women
On this issue, Malcolm Turnbull stepped up and made his initial mark, by:
- allocating $100 million towards domestic violence prevention and support services; and
- speaking up in very strong terms about the unacceptability of domestic violence – so much so, that for the first time in over two years we saw true Prime Ministerial leadership in action.
Although, if we can find an estimated $2 billion a year for diesel fuel rebates for the mining industry, perhaps we could find a little more money for domestic violence prevention and support.
There is also a question mark hanging over our policies on women, while in our offshore detention centres women and children are subjected to rape, sexual abuse and threats.
But, Malcolm Turnbull is certainly heading in the right direction on this significant cultural and social issue and that deserves some recognition, earning him a ‘B’.
The Liberal Party has always considered itself the superior economic manager over the Labor Party, and even convinced the Australian public of that assertion. I question whether that is so.
During the Howard years the Liberal Party largely wasted a significant opportunity to turn Australia’s economic fortune from the mining boom into major infrastructure investments. An independent International Monetary Fund report, which reviewed 200 years of government financial records across 55 leading economies, found Australia’s most wasteful spending took place under the Howard Coalition government, rather than under the Whitlam, Rudd or Gillard Labor governments.
The Rudd government’s spending during the global financial crisis doesn’t rate as wasteful according to IMF criteria, because it was spending considered necessary to stabilise the economy. That spending saved Australia from plunging into recession with the rest of the world, and resulted in the Liberal Party inheriting an economy in 2013 others envied, regardless what the Liberal Party says, and what the public may ‘believe.’
The last two years under Tony Abbott can only be characterised as economic stagnation, with both business and consumer confidence plummeting. The quarterly GDP figures issued by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in June showed Australia’s growth dropped to 0.2%, kept in positive territory only by government spending.
Leigh Sales challenges Tony Abbott’s economic record on ABC 7.30, a week before he was deposed
Malcolm Turnbull had a relatively strong start on the economy by:
- replacing a much derided treasurer, Joe Hockey; and
- opening a much overdue dialogue between business, the unions and community groups with a view to economic and taxation reform.
Of course he has a long road ahead of him, and transitioning Australia’s economy from mining and resources to innovation and technology will be a mammoth task, especially considering the time successive governments had wasted.
At least he’s off to a good start, with employers, unions and welfare organisation reaching an in-principle agreement with the government about an economic and taxation reform process.
Attempts by Tony Abbott’s government to ‘reform’ the tertiary education sector were met by strong resistance, as many considered them inherently unfair, given it would have made higher education less accessible to young people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.
Christopher Pyne, who was tasked with ushering the reforms through Parliament, didn’t just fail, but became the subject of intense national ridicule over his ham-fisted attempts to get support for the legislation.
David Speers interviews Christopher Pyne on Sky News
That legendary Sky News interview gave birth to one of the funniest political satires of the past few years:
It appears the matter has now been put to rest as Malcolm Turnbull announced this week that the proposed reforms would be shelved and not pursued. That alone earns him a ‘C+’ for now.
On this front nothing has changed from a policy perspective. Malcolm Turnbull continues to support the existing position of holding a plebiscite sometime after the next election.
But, the plebiscite option needs the support of the Senate. Initially, the crossbenchers have all spoken in favour, even introduced a bill to facilitate it. Senator Lazarus, a crossbencher who was one of the sponsors of the plebiscite bill, chaired the consequent inquiry by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee into a popular vote on marriage equality. Senator Lazarus expected the inquiry would conclude a popular vote was a good idea, and endorse his bill.
In an unexpected outcome the Committee’s majority report, supported by Senator Lazarus, rejected the idea of a plebiscite or referendum on marriage equality, and recommended the Parliament pass the required legislation as a matter of urgency.
In light of the strength of the submissions made to the Committee opposing a public vote, Senator Lazarus had changed his mind. If he maintains that position, and his change of heart influences other crossbenchers, the government’s anticipation of Senate support may evaporate creating a perilous situation for Malcolm Turnbull on the issue.
He had an opportunity to stamp his authority on the issue at the outset, but having failed to do so, with events potentially spiralling out of his control, the matter could become even more complicated. That’s a ‘fail’.
This is a mixed report card. But I continue to keep an open mind, encouraged by the small steps of progress so far, and look forward to seeing more of our engaging and intelligent Prime Minister shining through.
Disagree with a grade, or think I overlooked something significant? Let me know in the comments below!