Soft On Banks, Tough On Terriers: So This Is Turnbull’s Election Plan?


OPINION: Aside from pinching policies from Labor, can the PM pull together a plan to help return his government? It could well depend on whether Angelina and Brad try to smuggle any poodles past Border Force before the election, writes Liam McLoughlin.

Imagine you are the Prime Minister. You lead a government which science says is the worst in our history. You’ve backed away from every progressive position which made you popular and your poll numbers are plummeting. You cling to a dying ideology rapidly losing favour with voters. Your government has no vision and no narrative. Your backbench is revolting in every sense. Your deputy leader is Barnaby Joyce. Your party room spends 17 hours brainstorming election strategies and comes up with three ideas. Which do you choose?

  1. Stop the boats
  2. Axe the tax
  3. Call a high stakes early election and distract everyone with a weird dog-related video starring Amber Heard and Johnny Depp

The ingenious early election/dog video combo might just be Turnbull’s first actual innovation.

Things are going so badly for the PM, you weep for the fallen hero of the centre-left. Then you remember island prison camps, climate destruction and attacks on health, education and workers, and somehow the tears dry up.

Like a couple of celebrity terriers, the government has been scrambling around their policy masters, the Labor Party, in recent weeks. The latest news of $120 million to bolster the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) is designed to counter Labor’s plans for a banking Royal Commission. Ever the comedian, Turnbull says the move is “not a response to anything that has happened recently”. Although that quote is a pretty good summation of neoliberal governance.

All Turnbull is doing is restoring the $120 million Abbott cut from ASIC in 2014. It’s great policy because from memory everything was pretty sorted in the banking sector back in 2014.

Annabel Crabb wrote a piece on Tuesday in the The Drum called Election 2016: Will political discipline be the decider? Perhaps the more salient question is ‘Will this abominable Orwellian government get the punishment it so richly deserves?’

There are three good reasons to think so. Voters care about a government’s record, the team they are electing, and the policy vision on offer. On each count, things are looking pretty grim for the Coalition.

If we actually lived in an electoral meritocracy, the government would currently be trailing The Greens by 50 and Labor by 20. The last three years has seen this government wreak havoc across Australia in every imaginable policy area.

For the duration of Abbott’s two-year stint as PM, ACTU Vice-President Sally McManus followed his trail of destruction and recorded 478 damaging actions by the former Prime Minister. Her blog has disappeared but you can read the list on the Tracking Abbott’s Wreckage Facebook page. As a courtesy to those still suffering PTSD from the Abbott years I will not repeat the details here. Suffice to say the lives of the most vulnerable Australians and the quality of our environment are much, much worse, thanks to Tony “The Big Onion” Abbott.

Labor and The Greens should not let Australians forgive the inventory of terrible injustice inflicted by this government. It’d be great to see that list in pamphlet, email, billboard and fridge magnet form for all Australians with the slogan “Never Forget”.

While some voters base their vote on which party leader has a nicer haircut, the majority evaluate the government’s actions. Just ask Campbell Newman.

To those who distinguish the Turnbull government from the Abbott government, please stop. If Big Brother gets a new host, is it no longer a garbage TV show? If the Minerals Council of Australia gets a new chairman, does it stop plundering the earth? If Starbucks gets a new CEO, does it suddenly become your favourite boutique coffee roaster?

All this brings us to the second aspect of voters’ considerations: the team. The Coalition’s greatest strength is Malcolm Turnbull. That sentence alone should worry government strategists. I’ve written in detail about Turnbull’s policy achievements (lol) here, here and here. Instead let’s focus now on other star performers of the Abbott/Turnbull government.

Treasurer Scott Morrison has many strengths: intimidating refugees, fostering cultures of physical and sexual abuse on island prisons, cracking down on single mums, making fluffy chapatis. You may remember his slip of the tongue back in March 2014 when he referred to “Operation Sovereign Murders”. While not renowned for his transparency, at least his subconscious is honest.

Unfortunately for the nation’s economy, he’s a bit hopeless when it comes to numbers.

Many people think Immigration minister Peter Dutton is too serious, what with his neo-fascist approach to refugees. I’d argue that’s unfair. In my experience he’s always ready with a gag. Check out his killer climate comedy.

You should hear his material on women.

Greg Hunt is the best minister in the world. Everyone from his Mum to Shell to BHP agrees.

George Brandis claims the science of climate change is unsettled, fitting for one of the most unsettling ministers of the government. When he’s not gutting arts funding, reading your text messages or scanning the Internet for luxury bookcases, he’s staying up all night every night, still desperate to understand metadata.

Tony “Loose Unit” Abbott is the Coalition’s ace in the hole, a hole many wish he’d stay buried in. Inspired by the many leaky boats he turned back to Indonesia, the former PM will apply the “leaky boat” strategy to sinking the Coalition’s election hopes. Tony thinks, once in opposition, the party will again call upon him to lead the opposition as the great “suppository of wisdom”.

I’m sorry for the appalling lack of gender balance in this analysis but when it comes to gross incompetence and moral repugnance, Coalition men deserve far more attention.

Ok so maybe the team is a bit of a worry, but you can rest assured the Liberals have some quality candidates hidden in their back pockets, just like they did in 2013.

The third thing voters care about is policy vision. As far as I can tell the Coalition’s plan for Australia’s future looks like this:

  1. ????
  2. ????
  3. ????
  4. More celebrity dog videos
  5. Please see budget for further details, especially regarding dog videos

All in all the Coalition is banking on a dismal record, an incompetent team and a policy vacuum to sweep them to power.

They better hope Brad and Angelina smuggle in some poodles ASAP.

Liam McLoughlin teaches English, politics, and media, and writes a bit. You can find his stuff at Situation Theatre or on Facebook and Twitter. He still can’t decide which quote is more profound: Karl Marx’s “It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness” or Stewart Lee’s “David Cameron and Ed Milliband are about as different as two rats fighting over a courgette that has fallen into a urinal. The main difference being that the David Cameron rat is wearing chinos, in an attempt to win over the youth voter”.