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.

24 thoughts on “Nelson out, Turnbull in

  1. Nelson the Milquetoast gives way to Turnbull the Republican. It’s to be hoped that things more important than a republic dominate Turnbull’s agenda. It would be nice to see our rivers brought back to life, or maybe the business world predators might receive some ‘guidance’. It was a nice touch to see the make-up department paint a tear on Turnbull’s face as he delivered his speech which was peppered with the usual superlatives – Great Honour, Great Party, Great Nation, Brendan the Great. Even the missus and kids got a mention which was unusual

    Are we to accept Nelson’s cloying expressions of loyalty to the party’s new leader? I don’t think so. Nelson will take up residence on the backbench and is sure to machinate with others to let the Banker know that adverse poll figures are enough to unseat him.

  2. as i understand it, most university profs are working for the government, and have a well-founded reason to be polite to pollies.

    the mechanics of parliamentary government make being opp leader after being turfed out a night-watchman role. it’s logically impossible to defend policies which got you fired, yet if you suddenly espouse different ones you are exposed as political con-men. so nelson was a straw man from day 1. it appeared to me that costello went to the backbench to plot world domination when memories had clouded and he could unveil something more palatable to the electorate, or ‘horses’ as they are known here. or sheep…

    clearly he saw a long, long period of opposition and decided to simply make some money.

  3. “as i understand it, most university profs are working for the government, and have a well-founded reason to be polite to pollies.”

    Then your understanding is pretty deficient.

  4. Turnbull did introduce the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Bill (NGER), which is an important first step for a carbon price signal. I find this a bit ironic — Turnbull now is saying that the government’s aim to have the CPRS by 2010 is too early. It is Turnbull’s legislation that will probably mean that the govt will be able to introduce the CPRS by 2010. In fact, I don’t see why we couldn’t introduce a carbon price (possibly $20, Garnaut’s initial starting price) during the next NGER reporting period (2009-2010). We wouldn’t necessarily need to work out some of the long term details, like the trajectory, withing that time. This would also have the advantage that we would have a carbon price when we enter the Copenhagen negotiations.

  5. Turnbull has been spot-on with his criticisms of Swan over Swan talking up an inflation crisis, which, with the media talking it up too, leads to expectations of future price rises.

  6. Teh failure of Turnbull to get an Australian republic through although he worked hard and long to do so, has left an indelible impression on me. I watched his performance on TV and he came across as someone who bullied and talked down to others – an unpleasant and unconvincing person. Perhaps he has learned from the experience but his lack of success in government and opposition suggests not.

  7. “Nelson .. fair average quality as a minister in the last government”

    When he tried to blackmail schools into flying the Australian flag, was that fair or average?

    Amazingly, he was an even worse Defence Minister than he was Education Minister.

    Nelson had an interesting career trajectory in public life. He started as President of the AMA, and he was OK at that. Every job he took on subsequently he did worse than the previous one, culminating as possibly the most ineffectual Opposition Leader in Australian history.

  8. Costello and Nelson on the backbench, waiting for the polls and then Turnbull to implode, so who do you think will be leader and deputy for the next election?

  9. While we’re at it, worse than Latham?

    Downer and Nelson were dumped after a few months and before the electorate was given an opportunity to render its verdict, so yes, worse than Latham.

  10. Jesus, why does Latham get the benefit of his colleagues’ hopeless desperation? He was Plan F when and there was no Plan G. He was the ultimate ALP experiment gone wrong. He was a train-wreck. He wasn’t just as utterly ineffectual as Downer or Nelson were, he was highly destructive. Anyway a proper report card would be:

    Most ineffectual Opposition Leader: tie between Crean and Downer.

    Outright worst Opposition Leader ever: Latham, with Hewson an honourable mention.


  11. Pat, I’m pretty sure Turnbull will be the leader of the Libs at the next election.

    For one thing, Rudd will have a double dissolution trigger shortly and a second Liberal spill would virtually guarantee he’d use it.

    I wonder how long it’d take Kev to draft up a Republic referendum to wedge Turnbull on?

  12. You’re being far too kind to Nelson, John. Those things cited earlier (the flag stuff, political interference in ARC research) might even have been forgivable if done from genuine principle, but in fact they were transparent attempts to suck up to the then boss. Brendan Nelson has always had a reputation of having only one principle – advancing the interests of Brendan Nelson.

    On the evidence of the republic debate Turnbull aint very good at political manoeuvre (though he was up against a superb practitioner of this art). But you get the impression he does, underneath, want to make the world a little better place.

    It won’t help him, though. Either he betrays these principles and surrenders to the Howardites or they will whiteant him. The ETS debate will tell us which.

  13. ian g, please try to be kind.

    how many oz unis are private, is it just bond, in qland?

    all the others funded from tax money? who distributes tax money?

    the connection between a uni prof and the treasurer is not as short as between treasurer and a soldier, but the well is the same, the water tastes like government.

  14. ian g, did i strike a nerve? sorry.

    i was merely pointing out that oz unis, aside from (just?) bond, are taxpayer funded, and politicians in office turn the tap.

  15. It’s not that you “struck a nerve”, it’s that I’ve spent enough time around academics and Ministers to know that if anything the academics go out of their way to antagonise and challenge the Ministers.

    And I can assure you politicians have exactly zero control over funding of specific academics.

  16. Our host’s career over the past decade should be enough to dispel the idea that Australian academics are subject to political control.

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