You’ve got to hand it to Malcolm Turnbull, he’s never short of a word. Tragically, it is seldom the right word, the apt word, the word that crystallises meaning. Instead, a fog of words billows forth obscuring or forsaking simple clarity.
On ABC Insiders, Sunday 7 February, for example, Turnbull cosies up to Cuddly Barrie ‘Big Ted’ Cassidy, one of the most forgiving political interviewers in the land. Arm Chair PM Turnbull gushes buckets of gratuitous information, a tepid bath of benign assertions.
Cassidy has cued a voter who has drawn the PM aside in public to tell him not to ‘stuff up’ over increasing the GST. Implied is that he’s got the next election on a plate but for his own, inherent, poor judgement.
Turnbull turns instantly into a justification of his flip-flop by misrepresenting failure of nerve as a concern for fairness and efficacy.
…the issue with any changes to the tax system, particularly a really big one like increasing the GST is that you have to be satisfied that it is actually going to deliver an improvement in GDP growth. In other words, it’s got to drive jobs and growth. And unless you can be satisfied that it’s going to do that, and that it’s going to be fair, of course, which is equally important, then you wouldn’t do it.
How can a GST, a regressive tax be fair? How can it have taken four months to discover that a 50% GST hike would be a slug to productivity as measured, grossly, by GDP? Any fool could tell you higher taxes dampen demand. Why is the PM now recycling ScoMo’s banal slogan, ‘drive jobs and growth’?
He knows Barrie won’t interrupt his flow but he’s prepared to talk over the top of him anyway. His inner bore prompts him to labour every little point. Bully his listener with trivial details. It’s excruciating to listen to, let alone watch. What he doesn’t ever seem to know is how to answer the question. Or care. His mission is to confer legitimacy by misrepresentation and by resorting to generality. He eases up only to labour the bleeding obvious.
So, what we have been doing … what we have been doing, as you can see is looking at this and a number of other tax reform changes or tax changes very, very carefully. They’re very complex and they deserve careful discussion and it’s good that, by not shutting it down, as previous governments have done, in a panic, we’ve allowed a debate to continue.
This is a marvellously fictive rationalisation of indecision and ineffectual leadership and his claim of close scrutiny is outrageous unless he is referring to Liberal Party polling on the GST hike. Yet Barrie looks on like some bemused St Bernard rescue dog as a hapless downhill skier disappears under an avalanche of his own blathering.
Unless his master’s voice admits he’s tried and failed to sell the electorate a pup, how can nod-along Cassidy ever save him? From himself.
Neither a leader born nor made, but a hugely ambitious man with a reputation for wanting his own way at all times, Turnbull pretends that his failed sales pitch has been a process of consultation. Barrie could ask why the Green paper lies abandoned, along with the people’s submissions; why the white paper has been pulled. But he can’t -or won’t- get a word in edgewise.
There’ve been a lot of contributions – there’s been differences of opinion in the Liberal Party, differences of opinion in the Labor Party, differences of opinion in the economic commentariat – and all of that has enabled us to make a very careful and considered analysis of it. Obviously with Treasury doing the analysis with some outside assistance and we are coming to a conclusion. But it will be evidence based. It’s not going to be a political decision. Whatever policies we take as part of our tax reform package, Barrie, will be ones that we are satisfied will deliver the growth and jobs outcome that we want.
Turnbull has no need of any opposition hatchet-job here. He’s damaged his leadership aspirations enough with his own prevarication. There has been no attempt to truly canvass and then discuss options beyond telling us ad nauseum that everything remained ‘on the table’. Nor does he seem to understand that his language betrays his true motivation. Economic sense, it may not make, democratic it may not be but a political decision is guaranteed. His lofty intellectual pose is damaged here by his inability to choose quite the right words.
Not that he is grossly off-key. Bum notes are uncommon. A suppository of wisdom would not pass his lips. But, rather, all his words are a barricade. He can lecture but he can’t talk. Or if he talks, he is not really listening. When he looks as if he’s listening, he’s rehearsing his next wind-bagging evasion and mind-numbing dumbed-down explanation.
Turnbull can pitch any amount of lofty speeches but you can’t dwell in windy generalities forever. You have to be able to come down out of the clouds and answer a question sometime. Time wounds all heels. His ‘I’m not Abbott the barbarian’ silken parachute will not soften his landing.
Turnbull loves to show off what he knows, often alas without knowing enough to bring significant insights to any given issue or situation. And it’s not just his bloviator reading glasses which are irritating. He’s a poseur pretending to be Prime Minister.
After four months’ suffering, it is clear, to any who care to listen that as a speaker, Turnbull has an ear of tin. Even as a show, a divertissement between Abbott and the next Liberal election victory, Malcolm the waffling toff has just about passed his use by date.