Want to know what Brexit means for Australia? Looking for a bit of leadership from the Prime Minister in response to Britain’s latest financial and economic crisis? Worried Britain will drag us all into a global recession? Don’t ask Malcolm Turnbull. He’s just the Prime Minister.
Tony Jones made the leadership mistake on Q&A when he asked Turnbull why he was soft on same-sex marriage. Why was he pushing ahead with a plebiscite even though he personally favoured a conscience vote?
Turnbull said he was “sticking by the decision the Coalition party room made under Tony Abbott.”
The PM neglected to mention that the party room was augmented with a rump of National Party members herded in at the last minute. His capitulation endorses a flaky evasion. Abbott’s move was nothing more than a cynical stalling tactic.
No update either for viewers that neogitations are currently under way to ensure that members of Turnbull’s government, should it be returned, will be able to vote against their electorates on marriage equality. Senators Eric Abetz and Cory Bernardi have already said they will do this.
As Penny Wong puts it “Malcolm Turnbull didn’t give supporters of marriage equality a free vote before the election, but will give opponents of marriage equality a free vote after the election.
What came next is the most amazing concession of the campaign so far. Turnbull is the type of leader to lead from behind. He’s only the boss. “I am the PM but I’m not the dictator,” he said.
“Some people like the idea of prime ministers that ignore their colleagues. I don’t agree with that. I’m a strong believer in traditional cabinet government and that means compromise.”
Now it’s Leigh Sales turn to make the same mistake on Friday’s 7:30 Report. Not that she’s really interested. It is, after all, another opportunity for the PM to campaign. And in the end it’s all about the show. She asks him what it means. Means? He fetches up one fence-sitting word, “uncertainty.”
The U-word has bolted before he realises, to his horror, he mustn’t frighten the horses. Quickly he claims uncertainty as a virtue – and the high moral ground. Who knows where he’s headed? Give him a minute or thirty and he’ll give you the full Heisenberg uncertainty principle.
“ Uncertainty …” he begins, lifting an unequivocal bottom jaw.
Sales looks worried.
It is a vintage Turnbull display. Patronise. Preach. Change gear. Hasn’t he told us to “embrace uncertainty?” he chides, smugly, channelling entrepreneur-Mal, his inner shill, hopelessly addicted to start-up technobabble and all manner of other 21st Century con-artist jargon?
We are being told off for not being quite with it. He’s gazumped us. Everyone can see how embracing his inner uncertainty has worked for Malcolm, the ditherer. Not that he is letting Ms Sales speak. She does try to get to the heart of the nonsense about embracing change by spelling out some of the changes in terms of jobs lost to technology, EU migrant workers and open markets.
I just wonder if that message that you’re making perhaps scares and alienates people?
Turnbull seizes the opportunity to riff on the word immigration in what Sales is saying.
The EU Schengen agreement permitting passport free travel is in his sights. It reminds him to sound like a toddler potty training manual,
“…how really important it is for the Government to be seen to control its borders.”
Borders secure, he’s straight off up the garden path of how his government offers stability, a brilliant economic plan of bribing rich people with tax cuts and its Liberal psychic powers.
“I think we could be looking at a period of some uncertainty. And it’s a reminder, Leigh, of a point I often make: that we are living in a period of rapid economic change, we’re living in a period of volatility and we have to embrace that. We have to recognise that we’ve got to make sure that we have stable leadership, an economic plan, stable government, so that we are able to deal with the unforeseen.
Luckily Leigh is not up to challenging him. Turnbull’s government is one big factional in-fight. And it shows. In three years our economy has gone from best performing in the world to about fifteenth place now as a result of internal conflict and utter confusion over ideology and economic policy.
Abbott outsourced most Liberal policy to the IPA leaving himself an incoherent bag of Trump-style US clichés about small government being good for you, a dash of flag-waving rabid nationalism, authoritarianism and the dog-whistling politics of division. Malcolm Turnbull has done his best to pick up all of these but hasn’t quite got them all in the bag. Nor will he ever while Abbott survives.
If Fizza Turnbull were to win the election, on current predictions, his is unlikely to be a big enough victory to give him the authority to command the stability which he claims to offer. Abbott’s already got his dibs on a return to cabinet as Minister of Defence. But wait, there’s more – of course.
Turnbull bangs on about his economic plan. His government’s economic plan is neither economic nor a plan but rather a magic pudding mix that serves up a rich and tasty tax cut for wealthy supporters which somehow trickles down to feed the rest of the nation by boosting productivity and prosperity in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
The evidence for stability is just as weak. Since John Howard’s shrewd brew of nationalism, neoliberalism – once called economic rationalism and social liberalism was spoilt by WorkChoices, the Liberal Party at both state and federal level is beset by an existential crisis. Tony Abbott’s false promises to keep Labor’s social program added untrustworthy into whatever the Liberals stand for.
In federal politics, the Liberal Party has given the nation two prime ministers in three years, fifteen changes in the cabinet and a smorgasbord of funding scandals. Right now the word is that the party is struggling to find the cash to fund its last furious final volley of TV attack ads. They could save their money. People will be watching the Brexit fall-out news.
None of this is followed up. Mr Stability Turnbull is left to dip into his usual grab bag of vapid platitudes, Mal-splaining and some special name-dropping for the occasion.
OK, he says, he did contact David Cameron to “console” the British PM ahead of his resignation. But he’s not prepared to share with viewers anything that might have been said. This is a pity. Both have a fair bit in common in terms of their capture by the right wing of their divided parties.
The PM’s message is “nothing to see here,” just as his deputy, Julie Bishop has earlier advised Australians to “keep calm and carry on.” Whistle a happy tune. Don’t mention the class war.
To be fair Sales does not exactly press the Prime Minister for answers. That’s not her job. Her show’s more of a foot-rub and back-scratch than a quest for information. Hold her guest to account for his promises, his evasions and lies? She can and does ask the odd good question but these tend to be batted away and never followed up. Or Turnbull bloviates and then answers his own question.
Friday he gets away with murder. Turnbull crows that her show had revealed Shorten to be a liar about Coalition moves to privatise Medicare. It is a ScoMo moment, a cheap and demeaning gotcha that does nothing but lower the tone and the PM’s credibity – and insult the intelligence of her audience. Does he imagine we don’t know that he set up a 20-member, $5 million privatisation taskforce which he was forced to cancel at the 11th hour.
And despite his strenuous denials, the outsourcing of Medicare payments went to federal Cabinet.
Turnbull bags Shorten for not putting his hand on his heart, a stunt Sales dredged up in the previous night’s programme and straight out of the Ray Hadley 2GB playbook. It proves nothing but the depths to which political debate has fallen. Sales doesn’t seem to mind to be used in this way. It’s as if she’s happy to be an accomplice in Turnbull’s long-practised evasion of leadership and truth.
Now interviews don’t have to be combative. To help the ABC here are a few of the many questions remaining unasked which could help Turnbull to lead; act like a Prime Minister.
How could the pundits get it so wrong? Is Brexit part of some more deep-seated popular protest against conservative politics; a rebellion against the politics of division, exclusion and increasing social and economic inequality? To Rafael Behr, Brexit sounds,
“…more like a howl of rage and frustration by one half of the country against the system of power, wealth and privilege perceived to be controlled by an elite residing, well, elsewhere.”
Are there parallels in Australia? Brexit is the repudiation of its ruling political and economic elite, by half the British nation. Similarly marginalised by a rapidly diminishing share of the nation’s prosperity and excluded or alienated from real political decision-making, manipulated by a conservative mass media could Australian voters be about to make a similar protest?
In the post-truth era style of political interview we will even phrase the questions to help our PM.
Surely we don’t have workers who have lost their jobs, their futures, their feeling of self-worth because of our politicians’ relentless, mindless march towards globalisation and free trade?
Surely we don’t live inside a housing bubble so inflated by our banks that it is impossible for average voters to own their own homes?
Surely we don’t have politicians who are so addicted to neoliberal dogma that the concept of the people has become replaced by that of the consumer?
Surely no politician would claim that the politics of economic austerity will solve everything, while tax cuts for the wealthy and the business classes will ensure that prosperity trickles upward?
Surely none of these are true, Malcolm Turnbull wants us to reassure us. He’s calling Brexit a message of “optimism.”
“In this age of technological change, in this age of the internet, in this age of globalism, why would we remain part of Europe for no reason other than geographic proximity at a time when technology has abolished geography?”
Whatever desperate, far-fetched spin our PM may choose to employ to fend off reality, there is an inescapable sense that the writing is on the wall for neoliberal governments everywhere. What is clear is that the free trade agreements and treaties which underpin the now diminished European Community have been tried and found wanting in Britain and that other nations may well follow.
What is certain, despite everything that our PM has left unsaid, is that Brexit puts the skids under the global financial system. Expect instability, it is true but don’t expect leadership from him. There is no point in his evading responsibility and everything to be gained by taking us into his confidence. But that would require a capacity to take command and an as yet unseen capacity to communicate.
Brexit will prove the measure of Turnbull, the would-be elected Prime Minister.