There has been some talk about putting together a book-length collection of my essays/op-eds/articles/blog posts from the last decade or more, so I’ve started collating them. I’m also a bit concerned that now that The Drum has closed down, they will not maintain the archive of articles collected there. So I’m starting to move my pieces from there over to this site as, one, a way of preserving them, and two, a way of organising them for a possible collection. There isn’t a lot of system to this process at the moment, and beginning with this piece is pretty arbitrary. Anyway, I’m going to tag them all as “collectionX” so I can keep track of them. Some of them hold up pretty well and I actually think potentially say something useful about the world as we begin the first four years of the Trump Presidency. Feel free to comment, share, annotate as you see fit, but just keep in mind, they were all written at an earlier point in time.
The post-traumatic moment in Australian politics
Malcolm Turnbull is riding the tidal wave of relief that is washing across the country, and at this stage the polls are showing nothing more than the fact that he isn’t Tony Abbott, writes Tim Dunlop.
The latest Fairfax-Ipsos poll has the Turnbull Government on two-party preferred lead of 53–47 against Labor.
Most of the pundits have pitched this result as “bad news for Labor” and as further proof of Malcolm Turnbull’s innate wonderfulness.
Many on the left are in despair wondering why, when so few of the fundamentals of policy have changed, people are suddenly giving their polling support to what is still, essentially, the party of Abbott.
Oh dear, they mourn: are people blind?
There is a simple and much more basic explanation for what is happening: the country is still breathing a huge sigh of relief that Tony Abbott is gone.
In fact, I think many are severely underestimating just how deep that sigh of relief has needed to be.
What we are going through is less a honeymoon for Mr Turnbull than the sort of psychic relief that comes from waking up alive in intensive care after a particularly horrific car crash.
Tony Abbott was damaging our collective soul, making us feel bad about ourselves, hitting us between the eyes with the bullet we dodged by not electing Mark Latham.
We are scarred and bruised and in need of ongoing care, but all our limbs are intact and our organs are functioning. We are still in recovery, sipping through a straw.
This is why Labor’s attacks on the new Prime Minister have been so misjudged and have fallen so flat, especially amongst their own supporters.
First Labor tried to tell us that nothing had changed when in fact a huge thing had changed: we were suddenly living under King Aragorn rather than King Joffrey.
Then they tried to rile us up by pointing out that Mr Turnbull is rich, which was sort of like complaining that the car of the guy who drove us to the hospital after the accident was too nice.
I mean, who cares?
Mr Abbott was damaging our collective soul, making us feel bad about ourselves, hitting us between the eyes with the bullet we dodged by not electing Mark Latham.
Nearly everything Mr Abbott did left people in despair: his first budget; his onion eating; his reintroduction of knighthoods, and then giving one of them to Prince Philip; his winking; his endless broken promises; his hyper-masculine attitude; his craven use of national security; his national-flag orgy every time he had a press conference; his instinct to treat opponents as enemies; his instinct to divide the nation; his flicking tongue; his inability to articulate anything remotely like a vision for the country.
And let’s not forget: all this came after two-terms of Labor nonsense as well.
We were already pretty much over most of what the political class were throwing at us, to the extent that Mr Abbott — who as opposition leader was really no different to how he was as prime minister — looked to many like the better choice.
The great promise that Mr Abbott made and broke was that he would restore calm, that he would settle things down, that he would see to it that we had an adult government of “no surprises”.
It was a promise no leader could ever keep, but we believed him enough to give him a chance. When he not only failed to deliver but turned out to be probably the worst, most embarrassing and dishonest prime minister in recent memory, it was insult upon injury.
We were suddenly being ruled by an incompetent, having been assured by the media — who are meant to be on top of these things — that he was the best option.
No wonder we were traumatised.
And I don’t think traumatised is too strong a word. Mr Abbott brought out something ugly in certain sections of the community — and that part of the media that continued to shill for him — and to the majority who only pay peripheral attention to such matters, his behaviour and his policies were a genuine shock.
So my guess is that the support showing up for the Coalition in the polls now is an inch deep and a mile wide. It will retreat, not least because the new PM himself is a brittle personality — as his previous tenure as Liberal leader showed — but because his leadership is built on the fragile alliance of party factions that are at heart incommensurate.
Labor’s best response — if they are capable — is to get their own house in order, present a genuine alternative, and gently assist the internal contradictions within the Coalition to assert themselves. Full-frontal attacks on Mr Turnbull himself are unlikely to be effective for the time being.
But all this stuff is cosmetic.
To read the media at the moment is to be lulled into a sense that Mr Turnbull’s leadership has returned us to “normal” politics, that somehow we are back in the time of Hawke and Howard rather than that of Rudd and Gillard and Abbott. It is based on the idea that somehow the right leader can pull everyone into line and square all circles, and that Mr Turnbull is that leader.
But leadership alone is not the issue. His popularity might be enough to get the Coalition safely through the next election, but Australia, like most Western democracies, is riven with structural democratic problems that cannot simply be smoothed over.
The underlying support for the major parties is weak; globalisation — think the Trans-Pacific Partnership — continues to undermine the ability of parties to formulate policy that reflects the will of the electorate rather than that of an increasingly internationalised business sector and political class; and ongoing issues around everything from equal marriage to immigration, to climate change, to an aging population in a time of technological upheaval are throwing up issues that are simply beyond the capabilities of “normal” politics.
The bottom line is this: Malcolm Turnbull is riding the tidal wave of relief that is washing across the country, and at this stage the polls are showing nothing more than the fact that he isn’t Tony Abbott. For things to really improve, we are going to need more fundamental change than that.