Saturday, October 24, 2015

Saturday Morning Musings - reflections on Malcolm Turnbull

In my first Monday Forum post following my return to Australia (Monday Forum - are we seeing the return of the old left and right?) I asked:
Given that I have been out of the country, I haven't yet formed a view on Mr Turnbull's performance to date, although I have noted the public opinion polls. I wonder what you think? What do you see from the early signs about his political style? It seems to me that this piece by the ABC's Barrie Cassidy captures some key elements.
In this case, I didn't get a response, perhaps because so many were just glad to see the end of Mr Abbott and of his particular rhetoric. Neil Whitfield's post Thank God Tony Abbott’s not running the country captures one element of the response. Neil writes from a particular perspective, left of centre if non-party political, but his views were obviously shared by many in the commentariat. Even among those supporting Mr Abbott, there was a degree of recognition of his failings if this later piece by the Australian's Chis Kenny is any guide.

As an aside, the Kenny piece is a revealing insight into the group think that has dominated thought within the Australian camp. We knew that, nor is the Australian group think alone. However, the piece is still interesting with its emphasis on the need to defend the "conservative" legacy. It ends:
The Coalition agenda is being defended, refined and promoted by former Abbott loyalists such as Frydenberg, Peter Dutton, Mathias Cormann and Christian Porter.
Those at the conservative end of Menzies’ broach church should see that Coalition and national success will be served best by ­supporting and shaping the new regime. Because if Turnbull doesn’t build on what Abbott has achieved, it will be squandered — and play an indolent Labor Party back into contention.
Mr Turnbull has begun unveiling elements in his own thinking. In doing so, he is treading a difficult path, praising Mr Abbott and his achievements while emphasising that he (Turnbull) is his own man with a new perspective. Given this, I thought that I should record my own previous perceptions of Mr Turnbull before developments blur them. That way I provide a clear marker for later review.

I have not been nor am I presently a Turnbull supporter  The reasons are part professional, more personal.

To my mind, Mr Turnbull is a representative of his class and place. His class is successful business man, a man who has made money in the world of modern business and is convinced of his own ability and rightness of judgement. His place is Eastern Suburbs Sydney and, more broadly, the business and intellectual elites that dominate the harbour city. There is nothing wrong with either, but they go to the heart of the cautions I have about Mr Turnbull. I accept that those cautions may say as much if not more about me than Mr Turnbull himself.

My cautions are exemplified by the debate over the National Broadband Network, There Mr Turnbull attacked the Labor model. He did so with an almost divine certainty in his own technological understanding and in the rightness of his position developed through business experience.

In doing so, he specified with absolute certainty just what he thought was the speed most Australians would need. In doing so, he displayed an ignorance of the type of struggle many were already facing in getting good service at the level he was mandating as the maximum presently required. In doing so, he ignored the nature of variation across the country, of the way that technology could balance disadvantage, The solutions he proffered were likely to entrench regional disadvantage.

Mr Tunbull is a man of measurement and markets. He understands where money should be placed to make a profit, he understands the nature of commercial and technological risk. These are strengths. However, it is not clear to me that he understands the nature of variance across the country, of the need to balance the purely rational with the requirement to accommodate different visions, to ensure not just that benefits are maximised, but that benefits are spread.

Many in the National Party are suspicious of him. That is due in part to distrust of his perceived "progressive" values. Yes, many regional people are more conservative and have become uncomfortable at the rate of social change. However, it is more than that. The stereotype of conservative country is just that, a stereotype. Of more importance, is a deep suspicion that at the end of the day, Mr Turnbull will reflect the attitudes and approaches of the metro elites, that at the end of the day country people will again be disadvantaged.

Mr Turnbull clearly understands the Westminster system. His comments on ministerial responsibility show that, as does his emphasis on his role as first among equals. I think that's good. What is less clear is his understanding of our Federal system. Mr Abbott got that, although other elements in his approach worked against, were diametrically opposed, to his Federal ethos.

It strikes me that Mr Turnbull is likely to over-ride the Federation because he regards it as a constraint, not as a fundamental element in the Australian system of government. I don't think on his comments to date that Mr Turnbull has a coherent philosophical position in this area. Mr Abbott's plans for reform of the Federation were never likely to go anywhere because of conflicts with other elements of his beliefs, but at least he had a position. Mr Turnbull does not. Or, at least, not one articulated in a way that I can understand.

One thing that I do think is a plus for Mr Turnbull is that, unlike Mr Rudd, he has learned from experience. Both men were defeated. Whereas Mr Rudd was totally focused on getting back into power, Mr Turnbull has had time to reflect. We don't yet know all the results from that reflection, but the Turnbull now is not quite the same as the defeated Opposition Leader Turnbull.

I think that the unfolding of the new Turnbull will be one of the interesting things to watch. I don't have firm views here. I am waiting to see!      


Interesting response to Mr Turnbull from Peter Munro in the Sydney Morning Herald courtesy of kvd. Quite funny!



Anonymous said...

Jim, I must say it always intrigues me how you manage to be one or two days ahead of the msm in your commentary :)


Jim Belshaw said...

Thanks for the link, kvd. Quite entertaining; I have brought it up in the main post.

I'm not sure that I'm always ahead of the msm, although it would be nice to think so!

Anonymous said...

Just watched Invictus again - maybe 5th time, I forget.

Wanted to say that, although your Rugby posts have not provoked comments, I have enjoyed them, and particularly the pictures.

And I hope there are more to come.


Jim Belshaw said...

Hi kvd and thanks.

I haven't actually seen Invictus. Obviously something I should remedy. I left a flash drive behind in CH at Helen's place with my main photos. Very annoying. However, I do have some trip photos here, as you have seen. H also put a few up, mainly selfies, on FB that I can draw from.

Not sure how best to handle the material, but there wil be more stories.