Abbott is right

The LNP, with Turnbull as frontman, will be campaigning on the Abbott government’s record and policies. Apart from a few symbolic and rhetorical shifts (the re-abolition of Knights and Dames, for example), Turnbull has neither deviated from, nor added to, Abbott’s policy program.

There’s a notion being pushed in the media that a big win for the LNP would constitute a mandate to “let Malcolm be Malcolm”. This is nonsense. A mandate isn’t a free pass. It is, literally, a command, to implement the policies on which you have campaigned [1]

Turnbull can’t campaign on Abbott’s policies, then say he has been commanded to implement his own (whatever they might be). So, unless he breaks with Abbott before the election, he might as hand back the job to someone who really believes in the program he is proposing.

Update 25/3 Turnbull has obviously been stung by Abbott’s attack, and is spinning some minor course adjustments (explicitly dumping some policies from which Abbott had already resiled) as a major break

fn1. The mandate idea is most powerful in a bicameral system with an unelected or highly unrepresentative upper house. In Australia, the unrepresentative aspects of the Senate (equal state representation and long terms) are matched by the spurious lower house majority produced by single-member constituencies. So, senators have just as much a mandate to block legislation they have campaigned against as the government has to push it forward. The Double Dissolution is, of course, the way we can resolve this.

45 thoughts on “Abbott is right

  1. I’m thinking that even if Turnbull wins he will soon be rolled by the right who will figure that his usefulness is over.

  2. Turnbull can’t campaign on Abbott’s policies, then say he has been commanded to implement his own (whatever they might be). So, unless he breaks with Abbott before the election, he might as hand back the job to someone who really believes in the program he is proposing.

    Sure he can, Prof Q. He’s a politician, they all go back on promises to the people, especially after winning elections.The key is whether the post-election caucus is a lot more Turnbull-friendly than the current one. Turnbull made promises to LNP factions he has to keep, though… unless those factions are significantly weakened. If Windsor knocks off Barnaby, and the Andrews/Abetz faction loses some soldiers, Turnbull will have a much freer hand. So the real election is not the one on June 2 or whenever, it’s the LNP preselections in safe seats.

  3. The mandate idea might be the most powerful in a bicameral system, but the very idea that the party that wins an election has a mandate to implement all of its policies is really nonsense. It is rare that a party will have a set of policies with which anyone would agree wholeheartedly, even rarer that the policies will be provided in sufficient detail to make a firm decision on them and rarer still that they are enunciated in reasonable time prior to an election to be properly considered by the electorate. In every election except one I have voted for a different party in the senate because I want any policies being implemented to be properly reviewed and the brakes put on if necessary. I suspect many people engage in a similar voting strategy.

    It will be interesting in the coming weeks to see what policies are put out there prior to the election and in what detail. At the moment I cannot see a single policy of any substance that is fundamentally different from the Abbott government. There has been a difference in the rhetoric but this has yet to be translated into anything meaningful.

  4. Your obvious agenda, John, is to see Labor re-elected and fair enough I suppose. Turnbull faces obvious problems in his party given the “right’s” devotion to Abbott. Moving meaningfully away from the Abbott position requires guile and patience if it is to be something more than a purposeless gesture that reinstates Abbott and delivers government to Labor.

    Turnbull does not run the Liberal Party though he can affect outcomes within it longer-term.

  5. @hc

    Actually, hc, if Turnbull had delivered on his initial promise, I would have been relaxed about his winning re-election. But he hasn’t, and I’m not.

  6. The big media assumption of recent years is that the electorate has moved permanently rightward since Howard. I’m not sure that’s the case now. Turnbull was welcomed so strongly by the electorate because he promised a return to truly liberal government with a strong social safety net. He simply can’t deliver that vision because his party doesn’t believe in it. Labor, if it is smart, needs to stop reading the Daily Tele and tap in instead to the rapidly gathering resentment against the sellout of the Commonwealth to multinational miners, the banking cartel and Rupert Murdoch. A reckoning is coming.

  7. “Turnbull can’t campaign on Abbott’s policies, then say he has been commanded to implement his own (whatever they might be). So, unless he breaks with Abbott before the election, he might as hand back the job to someone who really believes in the program he is proposing.”

    Here, we see the tension between platform politics and personality politics. Theoretically, a party has a platform which is more than just the whim or even manifesto of its current leader. A worthwhile party would develop its platform from the grassroots out of its membership and the wider community. Theoretically, a leader is rated on the ability to implement the general party platform. That involves party discipline, communication in the party, communication to the public and finally political tactics and strategy.

    But in any case, I think leaders are overrated. They do less and achieve less than we commonly imagine.

  8. hc :
    Turnbull does not run the Liberal Party though he can affect outcomes within it longer-term.

    I think that’s unlikely if the Liberal Party keeps endorsing IPA types such as Wilson and Patterson (sp ?)

  9. A party elected into government can really have only a mandate to govern, not a mandate to implement any particular policy. Policy is too complex and election campaigns too multi-sided for it to be any other way. Occasionally where a single issue dominates a campaign, it may justify the successful government’s claiming a mandate. A recent case that I think is in that category is East West Link in Victoria. Even the Prime Minister publicly claimed that the election result would be a judgement on East West Link (although he changed his mind when the result didn’t turn out the way he expected).

    Of course, the party elected should always attempt to implement its promises, but it should not use the so-called mandate to justify careful consideration after the election of the range of opinions that will be put to it and careful analysis by the public service. The so-called mandate does not justify overruling prudence, community opposition, expert opinion or civic conventions.

  10. Have a look at those in safe seats and those in marginals. The hard right are entrenched in the safest of seats, as a rule.

    Turnbull has to win big to control the party. A small victory – which is the most likely result – results in increased consevative power within the Liberals, it won’t give Turnbull any of this magic ‘Authority’ the press gallery say it will.

    Good luck to him being able to keep a lid on that, let alone introduce more progressive policy.

  11. This will be an interesting election. So far the LNP don’t have much to campaign on – their real agenda – the one they try and sneak in inbetween elections remains deeply unpopular. Labor has a real opportunity to campaign on tax fairness, a fix to the NBN debacle, school funding reform, action on climate change and protecting medicare.

  12. There has never been a more exciting time to be an Australian watching a (would be) OK Liberal PM pander to the unrepresentative views of the extreme conservatives in the partry…..

  13. There’s no point of talking of a mandate for more liberal policies unless that talk can convince Tony Abbott, and it won’t, because he will look at the results and say, depending on the outcome, “Our vote dropped because Malcolm deviated from some of my my policies” or “Our vote rose because Malcolm kept most of my policies”.

  14. It does appear that Turnbull might be about to make a true break with the Abbott faction on climate change, and it will be interesting to see their reaction.
    Personally, I can’t see the Liberals as a party re-gaining intellectual credibility until there’s a purge of the climate change deniers/ do-nothings, of which there remains a huge proportion in Parliament. Adding to their ranks members from the IPA does nothing to achieve that, unless Wilson and Paterson are secretly harbouring views that were verboten to be expressed while in the IPA.

  15. Even if PM Malcolm Turnbull undoes some of the inflicted damage upon the previous governments’s policies for addressing anthropogenic global warming (i.e. AGW), the damage was done by that party he is a member of, and we shouldn’t forget it. They aren’t deserving of our trust, just because they gave the PM slot a makeover, and papering over some mighty big chasms in climate science defunding isn’t an action of consequence. Australia is poorly placed should the anticipated changes to climate be larger than the IPCC projections; we inhabit the coastal regions in overwhelming numbers, and much of our agriculture is conducted in barely arable areas, reliant on massive dams, water rights, or nature supplying seasonal rains at the right time of the year. If people like Jim Hansen are right, and there are additional (negative) factors at play, ones that aren’t appropriately modelled (yet) in the IPCC reports, then our risk exposure multiplies. We didn’t need a government that would ignore all that and act as an agency of threat multiplication all by themselves, but that’s what we got at the last election.

    This government has done a great deal of damage to STEM subjects and research, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed by the international research communities.

    I see no point in awarding brownie points to PM Malcolm Turnbull for placing a bandaid across the bloody stump his predecessor amputated. I don’t see where a mandate comes into it.

  16. The clean energy announcement (which as far as I can tell, announces that some money already earmarked for renewable energy R&D will be reallocated to… renewable energy R&D) appears to be calculated principally to reassure the Liberal party’s lunar right that nothing will substantially change on the renewable energy front. Malcolm Turnbull will have to go a lot further than that if he wants to distance himself from Abbott-era environmental policy.

  17. If Peter Martin is correct and the Abbott government introduces 30 year infrastructure bonds (most of which will finance rail), and if there is an increase in the tobacco and wine taxes, and if some superannuation loopholes are shut off, and if there is some increase in hospital funding grants, and if there is some funding for Gonski, and if there is more funding for research, then the Turnbull Government will be different to the Abbott Government. But there are an awful lot of ‘ifs’ in that sentence, so at this stage we don’t know. Only after the budget is handed down will we be able to make a judgement. Schrodinger’s box is not yet open, so we don’t know whether the cat is dead or alive.

  18. Yes, I take it that it’s not new money going into supporting renewables, but it’s still far from the Abbott desired outcome.
    As for other matters that will in contention for the election: I’m concerned that Labor’s negative gearing policy is too easy a target for the Liberal scare campaign, and this might already be reflected in a small swing back to the Coalition in some polling this week. On the other hand, nearly everyone expects the budget to have a reduction in company tax but no personal tax changes – and this is not likely to be popular either. It’s promising to be a rather interesting election campaign.

  19. In an odd way I am perversely enjoying this thread. Last night I revisited John Urquart “putting himself about” as they repeated the original House of Cards on commercial telly and methodically ticked boxes on a long list of unhelpful similarities.

    My point being?

    Not sure, you may draw your own conclusions, I couldn’t possibly comment.

  20. Turnbull is a modern day Machiavelli, in that he knows the power game and how to wield the ultimate sanction. The way to beat all political opponents is to not let them see you coming. Turnbull pretended to be indecisive and was in fact manipulating the Senate and the Greens. His only problem is that members of his party lack any intellectual rigidity. Morrison is the worst person to be Treasurer and some other ministers are in over their heads. It will take all of Turnbull’s intelligence to steer this rabble through a long election campaign. By keeping his policy initiatives as closely guarded secrets, Turnbull is able to ambush his political enemies from outside the party and from within. He is keeping his friends close and his enemies even closer. you have to admire his political cunning.

  21. Greg, “Turnbull … you have to admire his cunning.” You must be joking! Turnbull has: actually been indecisive; taken longer than he promised to announce tax reform proposals (still waiting and we know key proposals have now been ruled out due the ALP outmaneuvering and a rebellious Abbott backing backbench); failed to shift key unpopular Abbott Government policies; has failed to present a forward looking policy agenda; to the extent he has policies they are the unpopular Abbott Government ones; he has failed to unite the Liberal Party behind him. Your praise sounds like praise for the Black Knight in the Monty Python and Holy Grail movie, after he has had his arms cut off – he is so cunning to pretend to be wounded and in trouble – he’ll surprise everyone any time now. The DD trigger is a clear sign of desperation – the least worst option given the dire circumstances. How does signalling for a month a DD then announcing one become a decisive act?
    Prof Quiggin is spot on – there will be no mandate for different policies unless he articulates those before the election – and now he can’t really – because if he does he risks further outspoken rebellions from the Abbott backers during the election campaign. The question is whether enough people will snap out of their wishful thinking that Turnbull will change the Government, rather than the demonstrated and observed fact of the reverse.

  22. So politically cunning that Howard killed him on the Republic and Abbott toppled him after Grech.

    More Baldrick than Adder.

  23. On Turnbull funding renewables, offshore energy and biofuels got a mention. Which is code for saying that they still hate land based wind turbines and there will be pork barrelling for farmers.

    It looks really insincere to me.

    And I note that the sitting Liberal member for Durack, Melissa Price, is being challenged for preselection by David Archibald, a climate denier of some note. The hard right are shameless and feral. It will take some sort of DLP like split to heal the Libs.

  24. The Coalition and renewables work like this. When they want to appeal to voters they make positive sounding noises about forms of renewable energy that are not yet ready to be deployed on Australia. But as soon as a form of renewable energy is cost effective enough to be deployed on a large scale they act to block it. They have done this with both rooftop solar and wind, having more success with wind because of the greater public support for rooftop solar. As soon as utility scale solar falls in cost enough to be a threat to the coal industry and incumbent generators, the Coal-ition will act to block it and they will do the same if offshore wind becomes cheap enough. Unless they are no longer powerful enough to do so at that point, in which case they might just go back to picking on gay kids or something.

  25. The limited data I have looked at indicate that offshore wind power is about twice as expensive as onshore wind power. I am not sure why Australia, with ample land and ample coastal onshore wind power sites, would be the slightest bit interested in offshore wind power. I mean other than wind assisted ships which would make sense.

  26. Ikonoclast, your are definitely not wrong about offshore wind. It makes no sense at all in Australia given its cost and that high quality wind resources are available over a vast area on land. Any politician suggesting that Australia should develop offshore wind either doesn’t know what they are talking about, or is just lying in order to appear concerned about the environment while having no intention of ever deploying off shore wind.

    Or both. That can’t be ruled out.

  27. john – Good point. One of the reasons I don’t think Turnbull has a prayer is that I have never seen a Prime Minister go to the polls seeking a mandate to stamp his authority on his OWN party. The whole concept is ridiculous. You vote for a parties policies, not to give a PM the upper hand in the civil war that will break out in his party after the election. Not that the electorate would give him the upper hand anyway. Tony and the Right won’t give a fig about what the electorate says. The moment the election is over, Turnbull is dead meat, win lose or draw.
    I’m pretty sure that on 18 April the Senate will adjourn to 10 May and then stonewall the government (maybe debating the Marriage Equality Bill) so that Malcolm doesn’t get the interim supply he needs if he wants a 2 July election (forget about the ABCC Bill – he’ll get that trigger). When it’s seen that despite his “Machiavellian” brilliance, he couldn’t even organise a DD, he’ll get whacked by his own party.

  28. GREG – You’re dreaming if you think Turnbull is cunning. Turnbull has charged headlong into a trap. The Senate will give him the ABCC trigger and delay (not even debate) the interim supply he needs before 12 May if he wants a 2 July election. So his political “masterstroke” (recalling the Senate) will end in abject humiliation, because he won’t get a DD. Don’t be misled by the fact that his psychotically greedy, selfish, aggressive and arrogant man has made a lot of money. He’s a nong.

  29. @FREDDO

    You are right about Turnbull trying to stamp his authority on his own party – and he has no chance of doing that. Even if he wins the election, it will be with a reduced majority, and the hard right nutters opposed to Turnbull tend to be in the safer seats, so they will wield more power after the election.

    I’m disappointed in the press. If the ALP was in power and had a seemingly dysfunctional relationship between the PM and the Treasurer, a disgruntled ex-leader firing shots, an inability to actually do anything, a lack of policy, the likes of Bronwyn Bishop refusing to quite for the good of the party, and a mob of recalcitrant nutters standing in the way of anything moderate, they would be absolutely crucified by the press.

    But so far its pretty muted criticism, and even praise for the “bold” double dissolution.

  30. Of course, on 18 April, the Senate could just adjourn to 12 May 2016 (the day after a DD had to be called) without even having received an interim supply bill from the House. It’s just a question of how the ALP/Greens/Cross-benchers want to twist the knife in Turnbull’s gut: decisions, decisions, decisions …

  31. I suspect that the elevation of Malcolm Turnbull to the role of Prime Minister has also resulted in the Liberal Party theo-neo-cons playing hardball at the ground level of preselection of candidates. If they can’t win in the cabinet, then they win at the root level. There are a number of harder than Flint ultra-right candidates now, essentially an extremely narrow white Christian, wealthy, self entitled and well-connected class that find ways of putting their own kind into political power. If not directly via being a candidate for election, then as a political staffer, or on a government board or two, or a stint in the diplomatic corp, helicoptered into the media for a regular slot as an self-opinionating head, and so on. This group are in ascension here, as well as elsewhere.

    Witness the USA with Donald Trump as the least right wing of the Republican runners, something that would have been laughable if it were 20 years ago, and yet here we are, Trump strangely the least extreme of the contenders, despite his racially inflammatory remarks and behaviour. How could Trump be the “voice of reason” among the contenders? We may laugh and deride the GOP for this development, but we Australians have a very similar slow-moving train crash happening in the Liberal Party. Even as Australia becomes a richly diverse country, a thinner pool of political wannabes are being helped into the Liberal Party by like-minded individuals of a very narrow kind.

    If Turnbull lasts long enough for the LNP to be re-elected, I doubt he’ll hold onto the PM job for too much longer after that. There will simply be too many Abbott robots by then.

  32. If you search “Bernardi risks Liberal split” you’ll see that the feral right are getting more strident, and threatening to take the bat and ball and go home if Malcolm fails to be uphold the “distinctly conservative” character of the party.

    This is starting to become fun.

  33. @FREDDO

    I do not think Labor will support with-holding supply in these circumstances.

    The gain for the ALP is not worth the risk – particularly as this could result in nothing but a delay.

    Supply should never be blocked except for extremely dire circumstances.

  34. When a party starts ignoring basic reality such as what actually causes climate change and what actually helps an economy to function, it’s not surprising that they also eventually become a bit detached from what actually gets votes and what actually gets them reelected.

  35. IVOR – Labor would not be blocking supply. Supply isn’t usually voted on until about 26 June. It is fully entitled to say around 11 May that it wants to debate the bill (or debate something else, like the Marriage Equality Bill). It doesn’t have to jump through hoops to satisfy Turnbull’s DD agenda. It could, for instance, say that it is very happy to debate (and pass) the bill on 12 May.
    There is no big downside for Labor. There is a massive one for turnbull. He’s told the public that unless the ABCC bill is passed there will be a double DD. He will suffer a shocking humiliation if he can’t even achieve that. The electorate will not be happy with Turnbull when they find out they’re going to have to wait until August.

  36. @FREDDO

    I do not thibk that Labor will support any tricks or games over supply irrespective of the words used to describe them.

    Time will tell.

  37. Ian Verrender (ABC Drum, 29/3) on the economic record of the Howard government attempts to makes the point:

    We’ve just emerged from a once-in-history resources boom, with virtually nothing to show for it.

    Well not according to the hoi polloi, the common people, because it ended it up in extraordinary real-estate prices, Moranbah and Port Hedland being the most egregious examples, but Sydney and Melbourne being the primary beneficiaries.
    How do you handle the deflation of a mining boom? Call a depression or do something really different. Fat chance.

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