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Monday 26 October 2015

The King is dead, long live the King!

"The King is dead"! A declaration not quite appropriate for the successful coup that saw our PM Tony Abbott replaced by Malcolm Turnbull just a few short weeks ago. In days of yore, the death of a monarch saw power transferred instantaneously to his or her heir with the declaration "The King is dead, long live the King". While this is literally true only for monarchs, the imperative to have no gap in leadership is just as true for all forms of government. So it was that a party room ballot saw Abbot replaced by Turnbull; one leader gone, another anointed immediately in his place.

The various aspects of the demise of TA and indeed my view of it have been covered not only by my multiple posts on the subject, ( see  More Media Musings , Media are part of the problemSome media accepting some blame ) but also by virtually every single political commentator.

So why revisit this?

Yes "the King is dead", but is it time to declare the "Long live the King"?

It was an unseemly end

Like many Right-leaning voters I have been an Abbott supporter. He was a strong, capable and successful opposition leader who guided the LNP from the wilderness of opposition to win the 2013 election.

Despite this success we cannot dispute that he has failed as a Prime Minister. Successful Prime Ministers last more than one term, let alone 2/3 of a term with their own party dispatching them, and to the general acclaim of much of the electorate.  No doubt he has been responsible for many significant successes which will benefit Australia for decades to come, but a fair assessment must conclude he has failed as a Prime minister.

Failed for a number of reasons; some within his control and some not.

He made some serious errors of judgement such as; -
  • failure to adjust to the reality of a hostile senate which required real-negotiation and compromise to ensure the government could govern,
  • failure to replace poor performers; Hockey should have gone after his failed first budget, Bronwyn Bishop should never have been appointed as speaker, but even afterwards she should have been jettisoned much earlier,
  • failures of reading and aligning with his own supporters; who could fathom his re-introduction of knights and dames, or his sticking to Peta Credlin in the face of direct and indirect feedback from his front and backbench.
Others were not within his control; -
  • a hostile media that would attack and ridicule him personally and find fault with any of his policies while ignoring his successes. Think, 'winks' and 'flags' for example.
  • internal dissent from nervous back-benchers and ministers in the face of poor polls,
  • an undercover adversary vying for his job, working with a team of supporters undermining from within, back-grounding journalists and leaking cabinet discussion, all actively encouraged by a partisan media.

So it came to pass...

The coup when it came was quick and brutal.

Despite the rhetoric of many LNP MPs and of course Abbott when attacking the Labour party for their disposal of multiple leaders in their first term, the unthinkable had happened. The LNP had done what it claimed it would never do. The undercover-adversary, the person who had most to gain, and had been most active in undermining Abbot was elected the leader by 10 votes.

A bruised party remains

But all that is now history. Turnbull has taken the throne to the resounding acclaim of his own supporters, the general acclaim of the media, the cautious acclaim of the Labour party, and the somewhat measured acceptance by LNP supporters.

Abbott supporters are bruised and shaken. Dismayed that their party could not have engineered a transfer of leadership without the secret, underhand deals, the white-anting, the conspiracy. In short, in a more respectable way. I guess that is more my view, as some LNP supporters who happened to support Turnbull feel it doesn't matter how it was done as long as we now have a savior. Mmm. Often it is those who like the outcome who ignore the ethics of the means.

Many are waiting to see

I am one of those who are waiting to see how this pans out. I have been unashamedly concerned both about the means by which the change was orchestrated and of the man who has been chosen to lead.

Without doubt Turnbull is a slick and smooth operator. With an affable smile and a relaxed communication style, he has the intellect and ability to explain complex policy positions. He presents as an inclusive professional leader who at least seems to represent everybody. In short he presents as a great 'package', he looks the part of a modern Prime Minister.

However, I also recall that the last time he was leader of the LNP, he lost the support of his party's colleagues. He tried to move them into policy directions without acknowledging their positions. When he could not convince by argument alone he became assertive and aggressive and tried to bully opponents to conform to his views. His policy positions were not supported by his own party which among other things led to his replacement.

The man looks the same as last time, but with the experience of his unsuccessful term as opposition leader and the passing of 5 years has the leopard changed its spots?

The early signs are not bad

Despite the manner in which he gained his position, it is hard to see where PM Turnbull has made other than minor errors. No doubt the fawning media has helped. Given their hard work in getting him selected the media is providing an extended honeymoon period to ensure their protege succeeds Long overdue they have turned their attention to the ALP whose leader is coming up short; short of policies, short of the communication skills required in a leader and perhaps by the testimonies in the TURC also short of ethical standards.

These have no doubt helped Turnbull which by all accounts is still his honeymoon period, but it has not been all without some tests;-
  • he has faced the press and explain the reasons for the change in leaders. This was a major problem for Julia Gillard and tainted her Prime Ministership. Turnbull has successfully avoided the gossipy internal questions by simply not engaging them and the press has, for the time being at least,  moved onto other pastures. 
  • he has addressed the Climate Change issue, where the electorate knows his personal views are out of step with the policies of his government. Yet he defended the government's policies with aplomb, indeed far better than he did when he was only a minister (hrrrumph!)
  • he has managed the passing of the stalled ChFTA by negotiating a deal with the ALP conceding some compromises getting agreement and passing this important legislation
  • on terrorism he has initiated a new path, with closer engagement with the Muslim Leadership. This is still early days but we have seen some in the community taking a public stance against the terrorists. This was not a faultless performance however. His earlier announcements were very wishy-washy, but he came back quite well in clarifying the country's position.  (I think not well enough really - but I will leave that commentary to another time)
  • On same sex marriage, he has waved away the trap by Warren Entsch to etch away at the current government policy and managed to keep re-state the existing policy of his government for a plebiscite after the next election with legislation to follow thereafter.
Most importantly he has resisted distinguishing his policies/government from that of Abbott. On the contrary he has defended them far more effectively than he had when he was 'just' a minister in the Abbott government... that's a sobering reflection and a reminder of how he attained his position.

Still Turnbull argues he is a changed man having learned much from his loss of leadership in 2010, and that now he is a more inclusive leader.

I guess we will all see, these are still early days. 

Some visions of the future

The leader has changed. The media are holding off. Even the ABC is seemingly more balanced with pieces on heretofore taboo subjects such as terrorism, corrupt Unions and ALP leadership. The polls have improved. Turnbull's personal popularity is sky high especially when compared to Shorten, who remains very unpopular. Even more importantly the two party preferred has the LNP ahead for the first time in almost 2 years. Without doubt the political mood has changed.

Turnbull has taken to the airwaves with confidence. His vision for economic growth through innovation has been widely reported He is slowly, purposefully, engaging all interest groups, opening up dialogue and inviting involvement. This has the potential to initiate a new era in Australia's advancement.

In his recent article (The Australian, Oct 24, 15 Malcolm Turnbull’s positivity can transform Australian politics ) Paul Kelly suggests Turnbull's four rules of new politics; -
  • Be flexible and willing to change any policy that has failed.
  • Avoid setting policy straight-jackets which limit your future decisions. Do not fall into the traps set by journalists with their rule-in, rule out questions. 
  • Do not confuse the ends with the means. Focus on the ends and adjust the means when necessary.
  • Accept the limitations of what governments can do. Government acts as a catalyst for enabling and motivating the nations resources to achieve common goals.
We are yet to see how this pans out, but it is an inviting future, and if achieved, well worthy of the declaration; "Long Live the King!".

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