Liberal Party

Coalition under a cloud

It has been two months since I wrote The Turnbull report, a look at Malcolm Turnbull’s policy directions a couple of weeks after he ceased power from Tony Abbott.

Since then, Turnbull’s popularity continued to soar with the public.

Turnbull now leads the Opposition Leader Bill Shorten as preferred Prime Minister on 64%, versus Shorten’s meagre 15%, and he also lifted the Coalition to a consistent election winning position in the polls.

You would think these numbers would please the members of the Coalition, and provide proof positive the leadership change was necessary to regain electoral credibility.

Especially after 167 consistent polls indicating the Coalition government would have suffered a demoralising loss at the next election under Abbott’s ‘leadership’.

Coalition of the willing, or a civil war by the spurned?

Well, you would be mistaken to think so. Abbott, and his ‘Monkey Pod‘, appear to be plotting against, and white-anting, the Turnbull Coalition government at every turn. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has been a particular target of their ire over the leadership coup, and how it came to fruition.

Abbott, and his supporters, must realise he has no chance of regaining Prime Ministership, given his track record in the top job, and unparalleled unpopularity with the public. Their scheming can only be harmful to the Coalition in the long run. Abbott doesn’t just continue to be a thorn in Turnbull’s side, but also an embarrassment to the country.

The irony of the festering Coalition’s civil war is heightened by the joy they took from Labor’s Rudd-Gillard-Rudd revolving fiasco, just a few years ago.

The icing on the civil war cake was applied by former cabinet minister Ian Macfarlane with the announcement of his defection to the National Party Coalition partners. This defection is a big, but not fatal, blow for Turnbull’s leadership. Unfortunately for Turnbull, the rumour mill is in full swing about a couple more members of the Liberal Party considering defection to the Nationals.

The civil war between the moderate conservatives and the embittered right-wing hardliners of the Coalition is in full swing.

2015 Coalition report card

Setting aside the festering internal conflict between the Abbott and Turnbull camps, the bigger question is whether the change of leadership delivered practical and measurable improvements in the government’s performance.

Asylum seekers

There have been no discernible improvements in the treatment of refugees under Turnbull’s Prime Ministership, and the Abyan Affair, and Peter Dutton’s subsequent conduct as Minister for Immigration, added a significant new black mark against the government when it comes to the ill-treatment of the asylum seekers we shafted to offshore refugee centres.

To add insult to injury, Dutton’s Department of Immigration and Border Protection recently put an end to the Brigidine Asylum Seekers Project provided by a group of Catholic nuns, deeming it inappropriate. The project involved taking groups of children from an immigration detention centre on supervised day trips to places such as playgrounds and the zoo. The program also included occasional supervised day trips for adults held at the centre.

Climate and the environment

Turnbull talks a good game on climate and climate change, but largely continues with the policies of his predecessor.

In the context of the Paris climate talks, his performance and leadership can only be described as a mixed-bag that leaves a lot to be desired.

The United Nations Conference on Climate Change is seen by many as the last chance to avoid the potentially catastrophic consequences of an increase in average global temperature over the 2°C mark above pre-industrial levels. Largely due to ongoing ignorance and inaction by governments, reports indicate that 2015 will likely be the year when the Earth reaches the halfway mark towards that 2°C mark.

The UN had warned already that current proposals by world leaders will fail to keep the average global temperature rise under the 2°C mark, and estimates an inevitable rise of at least 2.7°C on current projections.

On the symbolic upside, Turnbull pledged to ratify the second phase of the Kyoto Protocol. However, that protocol only locks in Australia to meet a mere 5% emissions reduction target below 2000 levels by 2020.

Currently, Australia’s emissions reduction target sits at 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2030, which is widely considered insufficient.

On the practical downside, he rejected signing a pledge calling for the reform of fossil fuel subsidies. Reportedly, the refusal came after heavy lobbying from certain conservative members of the Coalition and the Minerals Council of Australia.

In the meantime, the latest Carbon Emissions Index (CEDEX®) from Pitt & Sherry shows emissions from Australia’s energy sector continue to increase, and have risen 3.5% in the 15 months since the scrapping of the carbon tax by the Coalition government. Australia’s total emissions have risen about 2% since the end of June 2014.

Sadly, Abbott, and his climate change denying colleagues, continue to cast a permanent shadow over Australia’s climate response.

Conduct of Members of Parliament

Turnbull also continues the struggles of his predecessor between loyalty to his colleagues, and keeping them in line with community expectations and the law.

Serious question marks continue to swirl around Mal Brough about his involvement in the Ashby/Slipper scandal, and whether he had engaged in illegal conduct to obtain a copy of Mr Slipper’s diary.

Given his role as Special Minister of State, which makes him responsible for government integrity, these allegations cast a long shadow over his position, and Turnbull’s judgment in appointing him into such a role in the circumstances, while an investigation is ongoing into the scandal.

Accusing 60 Minutes of selectively editing an interview with him was a daft move. In response, the current affairs program immediately released the full transcript, and the unedited footage, which made Brough look not just silly, but downright disingenuous.

In the meantime Julie Bishop had herself a Bronwyn Bishop-esque flight of fancy when it was revealed she chartered a $30,000 flight to get her and her partner from Perth to Canberra.

Admittedly, the flight appears to have been entirely within the relevant entitlements, because (1) she was attending official government business in Perth, (2) she had meetings next morning in Canberra, and (3) there were no commercial flights available.

Nevertheless, this trip again highlights our parliamentarians are utterly out of touch with reality, and have little comprehension of what’s acceptable and proper when it comes to the travel expenses of public office holders. The official event she attended in Perth was a charity dinner. To avoid spending $30,000 on a chartered flight, she could have easily cancelled her dinner appearance, or moved or cancelled the meetings next morning. She may have also heard about these amazing new technologies called videoconferencing, FaceTime, and Skype.

And if she was utterly intent on easing $30,000 out of the public purse, why not give that $30,000 to the charity in question instead? No doubt that would be against the rules …

Turnbull may be flying high on the wings of public popularity, and the Coalition may enjoy a consistent election winning lead in the polls, but the harsh reality is that the change in leadership was largely cosmetic.

The more refined and intellectual approach taken by Turnbull when discussing a range of issues is preferable, but his warm and fuzzy words are not supported by tangible action, nor do they offer a departure from the flawed policies of his failed predecessor.

The polls maybe shining on the Coalition, for now, but clouds are gathering on the horizon with a chance of showers, and the possibility of a storm …

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