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Abbott without the attitude

February 5th, 2016

Nearly five months after Malcolm Turnbull became PM, it’s finally possible to get a clear view on the big question of what the change means. Has the shift from Tony Abbott has led to a real change in policy approach, centred on growth and innovation? Or is it merely cosmetic, amounting to the end of the tribalist rhetoric and gesture politics that eventually cost Abbott his job.

Based on recent developments, the case for “merely cosmetic” seems overwhelming. Turnbull’s rhetoric about innovation is starkly at odds with the reality of:

* massive job cuts in CSIRO, focused on climate change. The fact that the new entrepreneurial CEO is flogging the dead horse of coal to diesel adds insult to injury; and

* the $5 billion Northern Australia infrastructure fund, a boondoggle based on mid-20th century rhetoric about “unlocking the North”. It was pushed by Abbott as a sop to the Institute of Public Affairs, who underwent a sudden conversion to the cause of publicly subsidised dam projects a little while ago. The political imperative has gone but the money still flows, it seems.

The picture is just as bad on other issues. Turnbull is going ahead with the $160 millikon plebiscite on equal marriage, even though its leading backers, who only pushed it as a delaying tactic, have announced they won’t be bound by the result. Turnbull should have taken these statements as releasing him from any commitments to the anti-equality right, and allowed a free (in both senses of the word) vote in Parliament instead.

On climate change, the rhetoric in Paris sounded OK, but there has been no action to speak of. Turnbull hasn’t even committed to maintaining the Renewable Energy Target, let alone increasing it as he will need to do in the absence of an effective carbon price.

I imagine the appearance of improvement will last long enough to secure an election win for Turnbull. But, unless he starts delivering some change, the reality will become evident before long.

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  1. I am and will always be Not Trampis
    February 5th, 2016 at 11:48 | #1

    the CEO of the CSIRO is yet another person who does not understand the costs of labour turnover. He said low labour turnover was a bad thing.
    No it aint.
    He lamented the lack of opportunities for some people to rise in the ranks.Huh.

    so he wants regular turnover in senior to middle management to be so so people can be promoted?

    Breathtakingly stupid
    What if said people in the poistions now are quite competent and thus very good at their jobs?

  2. bjb
    February 5th, 2016 at 11:57 | #2

    JQ – you forgot to mention “Mr Innovations” destruction of the original NBN with his half baked MTM nbn. Other countries in our region are set to deploy 10Gbps GPON tech (i.e. 10,000Mbps) while Malcolm thinks 25Mpbs (achievable once in a 24 hour period) qualifies as high speed broadband.

  3. Ikonoclast
    February 5th, 2016 at 12:20 | #3

    Hmm, now we just have to extend our political economy analysis a little further and realise that even a change of government from LNP to ALP is cosmetic. Labor pushes all the same policies basically. Oh, they pretend they don’t but in actuality they do. Name one substantive thing Labor ever did and stuck to re amelioration of climate change. I certainly can’t remember anything.

  4. Newtownian
    February 5th, 2016 at 12:23 | #4

    Yep, he really showed his true colors with the CSIRO cost cutting which I’m told had been known about for a while.

    As to your comment on how to describe the change, I would rather put it using a borrow from Paul Keating’s colourful language. We have replaced a amateur Rugby Jock scumbag with a Professional (Man’s? ) scumbag.

    I hope this doesnt breech your code of conduct too much. But my blood is still boiling over the hypocrisy and bald lies that Turnbull has told and this demonstrates it so clearly (I have left the temptation to modify his name to the obvious double entendre for another time). It also grates because I have been in close proximity to him on a couple of occasions to him when he coherently detailed his detailed climate and environmental beliefs generally and I was taken in by his body language which seemed to say ‘truthseeker’. I now see I was a total fool to trust my reading of this master of deceit.

    ps. Related to this new form of climate change and denial language/policy especially in relation to Paris, Naomi Klein is interviewed on Bill Moyers web site on the bigger picture.

    It makes for depressing but informative reading, especially if you think carbon trading is still promising.

  5. Chris O’Neill
    February 5th, 2016 at 12:23 | #5

    Turnbull now knows that the Party can make him and the Party can break him. So what he wants doesn’t matter, only what the Party (which is controlled by conservatives) wants. Turnbull is just a useful tool for garnering public support.

  6. Chris O’Neill
    February 5th, 2016 at 12:28 | #6

    Name one substantive thing Labor ever did and stuck to re amelioration of climate change.

    Indeed. Labor only did things that lost them the election and had nothing to do with climate change, e.g. the Carbon tax.

  7. MWS
    February 5th, 2016 at 13:28 | #7

    For those familiar with Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop, perhaps referring to Malcolm Turnbull as “Lord Copper” may be appropriate – as well as linking him with the completely bonkers idea of laying NEW copper for the bastardised NBN?

    Considering some of the major revenues of the CSIRO (e.g. wifi) came when they didn’t know the importance of what they were researching, how can any cuts to basic research be justified. There’s no point concentrating on the Development side when there isn’t any money for basic research for future development.

    I wonder how much of this cutback to the CSIRO is payback for their failure (together with the rest of the world) to produce an effective and efficient carbon-capture-and-storage so that Australia can continue to export coal?

    Although I’m pleased to see that the Government (or at least part of it) thinks that the science of man-made climate change is so settled that no more information is required!

  8. Ikonoclast
    February 5th, 2016 at 14:46 | #8

    Chris O’Neill,

    The timeline shows Labor caved in on its commitments. No commitment, no gumption, no morals.


    “April 27, 2010
    Labor shelves ETS

    Prime minister Kevin Rudd puts its emissions trading scheme on hold until at least 2013, after accepting the Senate is unlikely to pass the legislation any time soon. Support for Labor drops in opinion polls.”

    Support for Rudd and Labor dropped when they lost their nerve. Then Gillard did a dirty deal with mining bosses and union bosses to oust Rudd. Labor was back in the mining oligarchs’ pockets.

  9. Ken Fabian
    February 5th, 2016 at 14:50 | #9

    Will climate rate high in the upcoming election? Meaning, will the press gallery and MSM give it a lot of coverage? Will the LNP and Labor try to make it a top tier issue? I doubt it. Will journalists put candidates on the spot and demand they be upfront and clear about their climate views? I doubt it. They never have before and certainly didn’t when Abbott and “The Adults” ran the most see through obfiscation strategy I think I’ve ever witnessed – vague, misleading, contradictory was deemed sufficient in the rare instances any journalist was in a position to ask and actually bothered to do so. Even the Abbott team’s ironic bows to imaginary political correctness – “I accept the science”(wink, wink) – have been passed through unchallenged. The media didn’t ask how their policies will fix appropriate climate responsibility or how they will achieve a transiton to low emissions happening last time and they won’t this time. They won’t ask anyone who matters to reconcile transitory cost savings now, from not addressing the transition to low emission, with the enduring costs that will arise later.

    I don’t expect Labor will really go hard on climate – given their half hearted prior efforts are widely perceived as vote losing and with ongoing confusion within that camp about whether it was the prior effort or the half hearted part that was the problem. They’ll probably be half hearted this time around just to be sure – slotting neatly with the press gallery’s reluctance to make it a top tier issue.

    Mr Turnbull may make more effort to press views in line with all the formal science based advice if his position is solidified by a successful election but as far as I can tell there isn’t a single LNP sitting member now that is prepared to make a stand for strong climate action in public, so I’m not convinced there is any base, let alone a sufficent one, within his own party to support him. Within the LNP not standing up for climate action seems to complement an unwritten rule that they refrain from expressing their strong opposition to it in public ie don’t make it an issue of significance either way. Which benefits a goal of inaction rather than appropriate action.

    Australian business interests remain dominated by those who prefer the short term benefits of avoiding climate responsibility over the long term benefits of avoiding climate consequences and their lobbying efforts to that end should never be underestimated. Like their preferred advocates, the LNP, having Climate as a non issue will suit them better than any serious stoush that might reveal how seriously screwed we will all be by treating it as a non-issue. Even the warming ‘hiatus’ ending in a ‘hockey stick’ hasn’t altered the desire of business, mainstream politics and media to trivialise the climate issue.

  10. Pete Moran
    February 5th, 2016 at 14:58 | #10

    The ALP are sleep walking us into a second LNP term. Both in action and presentation (via Shorten), the ALP are proving to be completely clueless how to differentiate themselves, or perhaps that is the problem.

    Lets hope they develop the realisation that they will have to change to Plibersek or basically anyone else other than Shorten.

  11. Donald Oats
    February 5th, 2016 at 15:12 | #11

    The CSIRO cuts were known (suspected) back in Sep 2013. I made clear my views on what would happen to the climate science research under the new LNP government, and I see no need for revising them.

    Have a look at the bios for the board of CSIRO: there is one person with extensive technical scientific research experience, debatable whether there are more; however all of them have entrepreneurial experience of one form or another, and most have had a bit to do with the mining industry and/or the big consultancy firms. I don’t doubt their competencies, not one bit, but I’d argue they are clearly an unbalanced board for a principal research organisation. Extrapolate away…

  12. Chris O’Neill
    February 5th, 2016 at 19:02 | #12


    The timeline shows Labor caved in on its commitments.

    I agree. That’s obvious from what I said about them only doing things that lost them the election and which had nothing to do with climate change, e.g. the Carbon tax.

  13. wmmbb
    February 6th, 2016 at 01:00 | #13

    @Pete Moran
    I think sheep walking is more apt. Either way, it is a very tragic metaphor. Credit has to be given to Maurice Newman et al, for the excellent job they have done on the CSIRO. Creative destruction is all the rage. If Mal is so keen on innovation, why is he not promoting the Republic. or at the very least, recognition of the original people of the continent in the Constitution. Apology for the process of digression but I think this article may point to the deep cultural divide, tied up with racial archetypes, between the hunter gatherers, with their deep understanding of the ecology and the sheep farmers and wheat growers, who are greatly depend on the scientists at the CSIRO: http://www.filmsforaction.org/articles/the-great-forgetting/

  14. paul walter
    February 6th, 2016 at 06:18 | #14

    It was a surprise this week as a raft of issues suddenly surfaced after the lull. Most was ugly environmental, IR, foreign affairs, civil liberties and neo liberal stuff. Labor again disgraced itself by doing a Tampa/Beazley and lining up with the “kind” federal government to knock back anmesty for those women and kids.

    It is hard to know who to be more frustrated with at this time, as to the larger political formations.

  15. wmmbb
    February 6th, 2016 at 11:05 | #15

    This is a question that needs to be addressed to the Prime Minister. According to Lenore Taylor, Senator Ian Macdonald begs to differ citing the late Professor Bob Carter as an authority. Admittedly, senators are mostly appointed, as indeed are most MHR’s, but what is a clear example of intellectual incompetence is simply not be acceptable.

    I don’t wish to unfairly call into question the integrity of our “representatives” in what has become a fractious and manipulated media environment, in which the few have access to the processes of policy formulation, and the many don’t, but regardless of such circumstances it remains the individual and collective responsibility of democratic citizens to prescriptively elect representatives and hold them to account.

  16. Paul H
    February 6th, 2016 at 13:02 | #16

    @Newtownian Thanks for the link, N.
    Yes, I think we need to see if he’s got an Honorary Degree from NIDA, somewhere in his CV. He has sure had a lot of people fooled; I wouldn’t feel bad about it. The only hope is that after this, (very eventful) week, a few million more catch on. If they don’t, it’s a depressing road ahead.
    That’s assuming Labor might, if they miraculously squeak in, actually reveal the well-hidden alternative policies that are there, of course, aren’t they…

  17. Mpower
    February 8th, 2016 at 11:51 | #17

    The suggestion that the rural sector is dependent on CSIRO is not without irony. Wheels have turned. Decades ago when the Country Party was a serious lobby, they strongly supported a CSIRO push for a greater role in weather and climate research . That happened to such an uneasy extent that the less friended Bureau of Met had to lobby/battle for a greater role in research to support its weather forecasting. Come climate change, parts of CSIRO and the Bureau battled to develop internationally competitive capacity in climate modelling – bit like the car industry?. National collaboration including Universities too increased over the last decade to the point where the penny finally dropped and international collaboration took off. In the meantime CSIRO was giving low priority to rural research. Final irony, they are now low priority on climate too.

  18. wmmbb
    February 10th, 2016 at 18:58 | #18

    The CSIRO might be left as primarily an institution to conduct scientific research. I suspect that raising the profile of innovation, which is not a scientific research undertaking and depends types of people will give rise to internal cultural conflict. An alternative approach might best have been to outsource the commercialization of research to operations, such as UOW Innovation Campus. The economic benefit would flow back to Governments indirectly.

    I suspect the intention is Machiavellian. The reason proposed by the Director is farcical. Malcolm Turnbull’s political calculation are unlikely to be changed by a favourable election outcome. We need to understand that conservative political philosophy does not extend to all institutions equally. That is presumably why Tony Abbott and his conspiratorial colleagues, for example, hold more closely to medieval and feudal institutional remnants than to the value of scientific research. This mental framework Turnbull seeks to accommodate in the narrow church of economic rationalism.

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