‘There’s never been a more exciting time to be an Australian’, a hot and bothered
Malcolm Turnbull confides. Whatever he means to tell us, at least he reveals how he’s feeling. He’s picking up the good vibrations. We’re giving him the excitations. The PM is enjoying the longest political honeymoon since our love-fest with Kevin07. Malcolmania sweeps the nation.
Opinion polls rank him the most popular PM in more than five years. But can he do the job?
Besotted by our good-looking, sweet-talking new PM, nothing else seems to matter to us. Assad’s ally Russia fires 26 medium-range cruise missiles into Syria from ships nearly 1,000 miles away attacking anti-Assad insurgents and allowing ISIS to advance to 2km outside Aleppo. Twenty-two staff and patients, including women and children are killed in a US attack on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz while the West’s strategy in Afghanistan if not across central Asia is revealed to be a failure.
Nauru liberates all asylum seekers into ‘open detention’ with life-guards, saying it plans to process the lot in a week, a week in which the High Court hears legal challenges to offshore detention itself, only to withdraw its promise later. Doctors at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne refuse to release child patients back into detention. 400 sign a petition demanding the release of all children detained on Nauru and Manus Island, a stand backed by state Health Minister, Jill Hennessy, a move to which Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has no sensible response, although it is possible to make out the word ‘drowning’.
Australia is drowning by numbers. The IMF produces growth projections contradicting Hockey’s gonzo optimism and indicating steep economic challenges await us. A fifteen-year old shoots police employee Curtis Cheng, at Parramatta Police Station. None of this, however, puts comeback king Turnbull off his toe-tapping, show-stopping razzle-dazzle.
Oozing charisma and class, Turnbull is a born entertainer; an accomplished showman. He raps. He dances. He speaks in sentences. Can there be no end to his talents? The nation goes wild.
Mark Kenny is smitten. Oldies fall back in love with the coalition, swelling its primary vote by 7% mainly at the expense of The Greens in a series of recent opinion polls. Things look crook for Labor which announces a ‘concrete bank’, which is a new plan to finance public works such as Tasmania’s Midland Highway. It is clever and is modelled on the CEFC but it is an ugly baby. It will be concrete boots for Shorten if the PM’s stocks continue to turn bullish.
Turnbull has a vision. He has seen the future and he is in it; ‘The Australia of the future has to be a nation that is agile … innovative … and … creative’, he raps. His all-female backing group, the Show Ponies led by Marise Payne and Kelly O’Dwyer, share his microphone: Innovation- e-Nation.-Job creation! E-lation!
There is no Coalition plan, however, to raise female pay rates, set quotas or targets to improve women’s participation in the workforce. Funding of measures to address a national epidemic of violence against women receives one hundred million back of a three million cut. It is a creative accountancy trick which fools no-one. The Turnbull cabinet may have a few more women in it but his government is as far away from gender equality as its predecessor.
In the crush of the national mosh-pit, moreover, Turnbull’s future clichés are mistaken for a type of benediction or prophecy rather than a warning based on our historical flat-footedness in responding to change. Ever suggestible, unused to criticism, we readily mistake reproach for flattery. Most of us miss the irony in Donald Horne’s The Lucky Country. If we were an agile, creative, innovative nation, we would not still be beholden to dying extractive industries for our income. We would understand that inequality is both morally wrong and economically counterproductive and address it. We would invest massively in renewables.
Luckily, our new PM has a silver tongue. Sweet Custard Bun, as our dragon-bone divinating PM is known in China, is delighted to woo us with his platitudes and beatitudes. He is happier than ever with himself. Betraying less small l Liberal than messiah complex, his mission is to reset the Australian zeitgeist from Nope to Hope, reinventing himself as a model of consensus and bearer of glad tidings. Bun is the one chosen to lead his people into a new dreamtime. He will save us from ourselves. Best of all, Bun is not Abbott.
We feel better already. ‘Relief’ is felt by twenty five thousand readers currently polled by The Age on their ‘reactions to Malcolm Turnbull becoming Prime Minister’. Relief is four times more powerful than ‘Hope’ which earns a respectable second ranking. There has never been a more exciting time not to be Tony Abbott. The possibilities are positively intoxicating. Even the dinosaur of the Liberal party room appears eager to seize the day.
Mark Kenny detects an Oz-Glasnost as MPs rattle off new ideas and ‘think outside the box’, freed from the iron hand of Peta Kremlin’s PMO. Fortress Abbott is under demolition. An invisible Liberal MP, David Coleman, has an idea. Business ‘start-ups’ could be encouraged by exempting their initial costs from capital gains tax liabilities they might otherwise incur. On Tuesday, moreover, Liberal backbenchers chorus for a review of weekend penalty rates.
This is heady stuff. Perestroika must surely follow. Yet a few bum notes mar the orchestration of the Turnbull New World Symphony.
Toadying to the NSW Liberal Party State Council in Sydney on Saturday, Turnbull is clearly rattled when his audience laughs at his claim that the Liberal party is not run by factions. Nor are we run by big business, he says with a straight face. Liberal circles continue to be in denial about their very real factions and Abbott’s dismissal still rankles, especially with the Liberal hard right. Turnbull ends up looking like a tosser. Despite his threats, however, Cory Bernardi has yet to found his own party.
Bernardi cannot find a new party which would have him as its founder. He bounces back like a dud cheque with ‘colourful’ international Islamophobe Geert Wilders in tow. Scott Morrison proposes to privatise hospitals and schools, a bad old idea whose time has come and gone.
Unclean! Unclean! The ubiquitous Kate Carnell rings another cracked bell with her delusion that leprous penalty rates will destroy all private enterprise as we know it. Brian Loughnane, husband of Peta Credlin, the man the Liberals call Federal Director resigns with a parting shot at the PM’s crowd-pulling, crowd pleasing shtick.
‘We see Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders in the US and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK and I don’t think Australia should think we’re immune to these trends,’ he says in a predictably petty swipe at Turnbull’s popularity.
All this is water off a toad’s back to the all-singing, all-dancing PM who belts out the retro Minder theme song. ‘I could be so good for you’ when rabid fellow admirer Victorian Liberal Director, ‘Dollar Sweetie’, Michael Kroger meets him Thursday. You could win us five Victorian seats, just by not being Tony Abbott, blowhard Kroger sucks up to his new idol.
‘I know what Tony is going through, Michael,’ grins Turnbull, revealing dentition the envy of a Patagonian tooth-fish. He savours the budgie-smuggler’s suffering. PM Bun is engorged with a transcendent optimism. He is buoyed by the omnipotence and superiority known to every narcissist when a plum job falls at last into his lap.
Turnbull’s leadership plum is all the sweeter for having been so painfully surrendered by his detested nemesis, Tony Abbott darling of all right-wing nut-jobs everywhere and Rupert Murdoch’s stooge, the man who beat him for leader five years ago by one vote. Even more satisfying, Abbott is a sore loser, suggesting he was taken by surprise. The Manly skeghead continues to give interviews which reveal his bewilderment, vitriol and a bit of surfer’s rash. He is suffering. There has never been a better time to be Malcolm Turnbull.
A gifted orator and former Communications Minister, Sweet Custard Bun tells 3AW’s Neil Mitchell Tuesday that he has not spoken to Abbott since deposing him. Will he and Abbott ever make up? The Godfather Turnbull replies, ‘There’s nothing personal, just business.’ At a NSW Liberal function on Saturday, however, he gushes such patently insincere, fulsome praise of Abbott that not even Abbott could take him at face value. It is their first public meeting together since the coup and from the body language argues against any rapprochement.
‘Tony Abbott has held firm to those Liberal values throughout his career and public life. He held true to them as an opposition leader, he held true to them as prime minister…He took us out of the wilderness of opposition and took us back into government and achieved great things, great reforms, great commitments.’
‘Seize the day’, is the best Liberal value our opportunistic PM cum National Cheer-leader can muster. He busts his promise not to sloganeer. Pundits puzzle the conundrum. A slogan is kosher when it is a Latin tag, or when it popularises privilege, elitism and fascism, as in Dead Poets Society? When it is his captain’s call? Keating’s young acolytes might have marched to the beat of a different drum in Dead Poet’s Society but it was Keating’s drum.
‘We need advocacy, not slogans. We need to respect the intelligence of the Australian people.’
‘Seize the day’ suggests we should not expect Bun to take too far the need to respect his audience’s intelligence. Or respect its interests. ‘Always back self-interest in the race of life’, Jack Lang said- ‘at least with self-interest, you know it is trying’.
Enthused by the excitement of his own ascendancy, Bun is happy to resort to spin to win over others. He embraces the newly signed TPP, describing it as a ‘giant foundation stone of our future prosperity’ when it is a mill-stone. The secret treaty cedes our sovereignty to US-based multinational corporations, allowing foreign firms to use ISDS to sue our government if we change our laws and diminish their profits.
Not only will the TPP undermine our environmental protection, it will restrict how we address climate change. Above all, for a nation which has to be agile and creative, the treaty crushes innovation by transforming intellectual property into a way of protecting big corporations’ investment in culture, advertising and medicine. There has never been a more exciting time to be a US-based multinational in Australia.
In essence the TPP is less about free trade than US power. Confronted by the rise of China the US has created a twelve-nation trading bloc to boost its waning international authority and to provide access for US-based multi-national corporations to raw materials at the lowest possible cost.
Given that even bilateral trade has seldom if ever been a success to both parties, the chances of a workable twelve-nation agreement are not high. Even if it were to sail through the US Congress, it is likely to prove an expensive source of frustration to its smaller members than any instant passport to prosperity. Our own Productivity Commission reports
‘The increase in national income from preferential agreements is likely to be modest. The Commission has received little evidence from business to indicate that bilateral agreements to date have provided substantial commercial benefits.’
A TPP which truly aimed at improving its members’ prosperity instead of US security would include China. Indeed, the exclusion of China puts the lie to the snake-oil salesmen who are promoting the deal as a way to promote growth, improve living standards or any other economic benefit. So far, however, Sweet Custard Bun has failed to live up to his promise to respect the nation’s intelligence.
If there is any advocacy being exercised by our PM in the TPP fiasco it is all on behalf of the multi-nationals and our great and powerful friend the US. Although the TPP was a good eight years in the making, a done deal when he came to power, Turnbull will be remembered as the PM who sold Australia into multi-national corporate servitude. Unless, of course, the US Congress fails to ratify the TPP. Or our Senate remembers that it is never a good plan to buy anything, not even a recycled, replacement, remade PM, sight unseen. Nor embrace one in too much of a hurry. Caveat Emptor not Carpe Diem, works better for our nation, regardless of what’s best for you, Mr Turnbull.
Malcolm Turnbull struck a positive note when he contacted Muslim leaders after the shooting in Parramatta. There is every reason to believe he understands complexity and respects other cultural perspectives. In style, he is a totally different performer to his abrasive, fear-mongering sloganeering predecessor. Yet beyond his superior performance values there is very little yet to suggest that the Sweet Custard Bun is any more nourishing or sustaining to a nation hungry for real leadership in a time of unprecedented international and domestic challenges than the budgie smuggler junkyard dog.