Nelson out, Turnbull in
Due to the pressures of real life, I haven’t reacted to the change in Liberal leadership with the lightning speed for which the blogosphere is famed. A couple of thoughts on the players and the implications.
For Nelson, this was only a matter of time. He’s a likeable guy (though of course, the job of Opposition leader typically requires some unappealing behavior) and was of fair average quality as a minister in the last government*, but he was not ready for the leadership of a major political party. Costello’s decision to reject the job (while continuing to collect a parliamentary salary for doing nothing except promote his future career plans and book sales) put him up too soon. As leader by default, he’s floundered from one contradiction to the next. On the whole, losing this job is probably a good thing for him, giving him a chance to start again.
As regards Turnbull, he’s obviously one of the more able people Australian politics has seen in my time. I must say, though, that I’ve marked down my estimate of him pretty sharply over the last couple of years. As Environment Minister, although he clearly understood the issues, he achieved nothing in his tenure of the job. In fact, water policy went a long way back thanks to Howard’s National Water Plan, introduced with Turnbull’s acquiescence. And, if he had the capacity to get things done that I expected of him, he would have made the Cabinet see the obvious sense in swallowing its pride and ratifying Kyoto.
As Shadow Treasurer, he’s been similarly unimpressive. He had a good run early while Swan struggled to come to grips with the job, and particularly its Parliamentary aspects. But he hasn’t made any attempt to mount a sustained critique of the government’s approach, let alone offer a constructive alternative. Rather he’s gone along with the generally opportunistic line taken by the Opposition as a whole.
The big question for me is whether Turnbull will bring the Opposition around to supporting legislation for an emissions trading scheme (after extracting various concessions of course). A couple of years ago, I would have been confident of his willingness and ability to do this. Now I doubt it.
* I have to declare a personal interest here. Nelson introduced the Federation Fellowship scheme under which I’m employed.