Eighty per cent of success, says Woody Allen, is showing up, a point lost on hapless caretaker PM Malcom Turnbull who fails to appear at the second Sky leader’s debate last Wednesday, leaving Bill Shorten to engage with the audience and an empty chair. Hosts Paul Murray and News Corp’s moral philosopher Andrew Bolt are furious.
Murray has email proof that Turnbull promised to be there. The brilliant Bolt wonders if Turnbull was “punishing Sky for hiring Peta Credlin.” (Imagine the ruckus if it had been Bill Shorten who had simply failed to turn up. Or had gate-crashed Leigh Sales 7:30 Report soirée instead.)
As it is, Shorten improvises a forum where he answers questions with some success. Sky News reckons 57% of audience members say they are more likely to vote Labor after hearing from Bill; 16% are less likely. 27% are still undecided. The science isn’t settled on Labor yet.
In the meantime on ABC, 7:30 Turnbull is evading Sales’ questions; sloganeering about jobs and growth.
Is it just another bad call? Turnbull’s dud judgement is legendary. His credibility is yet to recover from his 2009 backing of dodgy Treasury mole Godwin Grech who forged a bogus email about a ute in an attempt to discredit the Labor government. More recently, Turnbull’s home video, a special plea to be taken seriously as a leader because of his childhood deprivation is another execrable lapse of judgement.
Perhaps, the PM’s minders tell him that he is in such dire straits in the popularity poll stakes now that a no-show is better than another poor show. Or does his nerve simply fail him? He has access to special party polling. Whatever the cause, it is not a good look even if it continues his downward trajectory.
Malcolm “Soufflé Turnbull, is Australian politics’ incredible shrinking man. After six months of letting down the nation’s expectations, he cannot even show up at Sky to debate Bill Shorten, the least threatening, most neoliberal, bipartisan Labor leader he could hope to encounter. Bipartisan? There’s never been a time when the two parties have agreed not to disagree about more matters of substance.
Just look at defence, one of the Coalition’s costlier vote-buying stunts, part of its politicisation of the military.
Labor, under Shorten, is happy for the Abbott/Turnbull government to squander $12 billion on F-35 jet fighters. It could have at least queried their reliability. Grounded by the Pentagon because of defects 13 times since 2007, the F35 is a plane which Rand analysts say “can’t turn, can’t climb, can’t run.” No wonder they want to sell them to us.
But Shorten’s Labor does not want to look soft on national security. It is the same with our new giant submarines, which are an absolute steal at $50 billion, and rising, to buy votes for a couple of Liberal seats in South Australia.
Labor’s quite OK for Turnbull and co to blow $50 billion on twelve Shortfin Barracuda Block submarines from DCNS which are concepts; little more than a sketch on the back of a Gauloise cigarette packet. And $50 billion is just the purchase price. You can probably triple that over the life of the vessel, to maintain the fleet. No matter that we can’t even crew the six crack Collins class subs we have currently.
The navy has problems crewing its submarines. It’s lucky to be able to put just one in the water in recent times. Consequently, it must pay high wages. A spud-basher on a submarine can command $200,000 per year.
Other personnel are paid more in order to compensate for the drawbacks of a life under the ocean wave. Blokes get to risk their lives buried in a big steel coffin-like tube under thousands of tonnes of water for 80 days with mostly only other fellow-isolates for company, although some crews today may include a few women. In February, RAN submariners were paid a $50,000 bonus just for being on board.
Yet, given poor Liberal polling in a key seat or two in South Australia there’s never been a more exciting time to be a submariner. With a bit of innovative recruiting, or a bit of trickle-down morale boosting, our current three seagoing submarine workforces will magically expand to twelve. An agile, innovative, government could always approach Serco to press-gang a crew or two. Just don’t expect any questions during the election campaign about it.
Perhaps someone in a forum where the PM does show up will ask how many jobs are really likely to flow from our huge investment in the Silent Service. Despite the “Aussie jobs, Aussie steel” rhetoric, about half of a modern submarine’s rig is likely to be built by multinational war profiteers such as Rayethon and Lockheed Martin who will install US weapons systems, to the great benefit of their international shareholders.
Or perhaps someone in government will even make a case for submarines to the electorate. What do they add to our fleet of surface vessels? Why not invest the $50 billion in education and health?
There’s still time, too, for a “prudent and responsible” PM who has told us he is “not going to hand out a fistful of dollars” to go over how the $50 billion contract was won.
French company DCNS is currently under investigation by a French court for bribing Malaysian officials to win their submarine contract in 2002. Here, DCNS employed former Liberal staffer Sean Costello as its CEO for the bid. Mr Costello was chief-of-staff for former Defence Minister David Johnston who was sacked from his position in 2014.
Nothing to see here. Or, at least, Turnbull has nothing to fear from Labor here. Shorten doesn’t want to be an underwater, nanny state wuss. Or soft on massive arms spending binges we can’t afford. No way.
Then there’s Labor’s neoliberal mindset. Shorten’s been sucked in to the local job-destroying vortex of Free Trade. When did you hear him last challenge the Great God Growth? Amen. Bill’s often on about how small government is good and how small business leads the economy. Neither is true but you hear the same spin from the government. No wonder debates descend into quibbling over costings, a black-holier-than-thou finger-pointing.
Turnbull need not fear Labor on asylum seeker issues. Shorten even voted for the Border Force Act 2015 which makes it illegal for doctors and other professionals working in the gulags we call detention centres to report abuse.
Yet there has been a late change. Perhaps Turnbull wimped out on Wednesday because he is afraid to talk border protection now that he has outed himself as a feminist. Questions arise. Just don’t expect Shorten to ask them.
A feminist Malcolm Turnbull has to know that there is a war on women on Nauru. Yet his feminism fails to lead him to act upon this knowledge. Even as a superior economic manager, Turnbull could bring those women home immediately. Close Nauru. Finally, acknowledge that PNG has closed Manus, too. Reduce costs vastly. Help him get us all to live within our means as he so confusingly puts it.
According to last July’s Senate committee hearing it cost $645,726 per asylum seeker during an 11-month period, or almost $2000 a day. Far cheaper to give each asylum seeker free housing, enrol each one in public school. Give each asylum seeker free accommodation on the mainland and save $400. There’d be votes in that – but not from Coalition supporters.
Bill’s even in the race to cut the deficit, or balance the budget, rather than call this stunt for what it is, a ruse invented by Peter Costello, the world’s most profligate treasurer so he could brag about his fiscal prowess, taking all the credit of a mining boom but failing to invest any of it.
Defence, border protection, balancing the books, the two leaders agree on so much it’s not funny. But somehow, Shorten’s got Turnbull running scared.
Granted, Leigh Sale’s 7:30 Report last Wednesday, is no place to hide. His audience is bigger and the questions are tougher – but the net effect is to appear flaky and evasive. Far too much of the hokey personalising; the you and me Lee first name business so much abused by Hawke. It’s overly familiar and just another transgression the PM’s minders would do well to talk him out of – if he ever listens.
What are we to make of this weasel? A man who wants us to elect him PM who simply walks away from a commitment to debate his opponent only to seek out the masochistic pleasure of a public doing over from his favourite ABC interviewer? His performance does nothing to reassure his rapidly dwindling supporters. Or to win any swinging voters.
Unable to explain what his government’s National Economic Plan would mean in real terms to an average family with a policeman and a teacher, our caretaker PM falls back on slogans. It’s an uncanny evocation of the interview with Sales and Abbott where the budgie smuggler who also had nothing to declare, repeated as if he were on some cognitive loop: “We’ve stopped the boats…boats…boats.”
But in Malco’s case it is jobs and growth. What jobs? What growth? Sales allows the PM to blow hard about 300,000 jobs created, as if the government directly creates employment. His dominatrix avoids pointing out that under this government employment has been in steady, steep decline since it took office, measured by hours worked.
Alan Austin notes that hours worked per month for the last six months under Labor averaged 88.55. For the last six months of 2014, the average was 86.91. For the last six months on record, up to January 2016, it was down to 85.56. A shocking result.
Turnbull and co love to claim they are creating employment. It is simply not true. Similarly, someone in a leader’s debate could challenge Turnbull on small business. His slogan is that small business is the engine room of the economy. It is driving employment growth.
Except that it’s not. It’s true that a lot of Australians work for small business employing up to 20 workers. It’s 45% of the private sector workforce. And those voters must be courted at all costs. But in the last six years these small businesses have provided only 5% of the growth in private sector employment.
A real leader’s debate is impossible given that Labour and LNP have agreed on so much already. The important stuff. Of course, you would also need a couple of real leaders. It’s too late now to undo the damage Turnbull has done himself by running away from the second Sky debate; jilting Bolt in favour of a speed date with Leigh Sales.
But it’s never too late to stop the nonsense about jobs and growth in favour of some real answers to some real questions such as how soon can we close our gulags on Nauru and Manus?
How about we cut the reckless spending on supporting multinational arms suppliers and submarine builders and invest the funds where they’ll do some good. Health and education would be a good place to start.
If only we could be assured our PM wouldn’t just cut and run. Again.