What could Malcolm Turnbull’s Third Party look like?

With Julia Gillard’s collapse in the polls, without something extraordinary happening, it looks as though Tony Abbott will have a clear run to the Prime Ministership. Much of his own party, and the majority of the Australian people do not want this to happen, but in the absence of an acceptable alternative this is what will…

The only way to stop this, is for a third party to emerge, with a charismatic, smart and popular leader, a strong experienced team of technocratic politicians and party men and women behind him, and with it strong backing from the business and general community. Such a leader is Malcolm Turnbull.

With Abbott’s current strength, and the weakness in the Labor Party under Gillard, Turnbull’s ambition to seize the LCP leadership before the election has now evaporated. Many of us thought, that Turnbull was being a loyal party man in anticipation of Gillard gaining in the polls as we move towards the election (which is the historic trend for incumbent governments), and once parity was gained, then the LCP would panic, and turn to him. What other explanation could be proffered for such an intelligent man as Turnbull supporting the incoherent and illthought- out set of  utterances which pass for Abbott’s policies.

Since the ill-conceived Rudd Challenge, after which Gillard’s electoral support has evaporated, Turnbull has been subtly shifting his stance. He negotiated with the party a compromise on the NBN (although in policy terms it is quite ridiculous), and he now in the last week or so, is supporting a revival of the Republican debate. Both policy issues are directly against Abbott’s mantra, and particularly the Republican issue designed to directly challenge his authority (remembering Abbott was the leader of the Royalists in 1999), and he is extraordinarily reverential to both the British Crown and all things British. Turnbull is the opposite.

Could it be that Turnbull is testing the water on a third party, with him as leader.  If so, considering the unprecedented level of disillusionment with federal politics on both sides, and the unprecedented low level of popularity for both leaders of the major parties, isn’t it exactly the right time when a well positioned and led third part might succeed? Certainly, Turnbull has very considerable support with on both sides of politics, and the so called swinging voters.

Let’s for a moment consider what this party might look like. To be successful, it would require competent middle of the road politicians and ex politicians from both sides; it would require for highly skilled party machine men to commit to such a cause; and it would require considerable levels of support from business and community organisations to fund (although i suspect a copy of the Obama popular “man in the street” internet based funding model would be a real winner with lots of people).

So who might these politicians be who would commit to such a cause. Let me reel off some of the more obvious ones:

Lindsay Tanner

Geoff Gallop

Amanda Vanstone

Jeff Kennett

Kristine Keneally

Ted Baillieau

Nick Greiner

Anna Bligh

Penny Wong

Tanya Plibersek

Bob Carr

Jason Clare

Mark Dryfus

Kate Ellis

Tony Windsor

Andrew Wilkie


I’m sure there are many more which other bloggers could identify.

If this list is anything like accurate, then there is a party to be built in record time if it is to prevent Abbott from being PM, and surely that would be a service to all Australians, on all side of politics.

The inevitable shift in Australian politics

In June I predicted that:

  1. Tony Abbott will not lead the LNP to the next election, and the blood letting that will preceed his removal will make the defence of Julia Gillard during Kevin Rudd”s recent challenge look like a walk in the park;
  2. Abbott will be replaced by Turnbull; and
  3. Gillard will be replaced by Bob Carr.

Whilst i am not now as confident about Carr replacing Gillard, the tide has turned against Abbott six months earlier than I expected. Admittedly, Gillard has improved her performance considerably in the last three months, and the inate contradictions of Abbott’s relentless negativity has been exposed so the electorate now seems to be waking up to it.

To me the turning points in this process have been:

  1. Leigh Sales demolition job on Abbott on 7.30 when he simply could no longer get away with the blatant lies he had been peddling during and after the last election campaign;
  2. David Marr’s latest political epistle in the Quarterly Essay, this time on Tony Abbott (Marr has form; his effort before this was on Kevin Rudd and many in the Labor Party see that piece as the event which lead directly to Rudd’s removal);
  3. the non-event which was the introduction of the Carbon Tax. Voters now realise the sky has not fallen in, and the exaggeration which has accompanied Abbott’s campaigning against it has been exposed as a sham. They are now asking how much of the rest of his overall scare campaign is as equally unreliable; and
  4. the squabbling internally has broken out big time in the coalition about economic policy. The dries, lead by Joe Hockey, and the wets lead by the agrarian socialists which is most of the National Party, as well as the DLP rump lead by Abbott are at each other throats on this. This is where I believe Abbott will ultimately lose it. He is almost illiterate when it comes to economics, and when he does act it tends toward protectionism and picking winners. This is the last thing that the more economically literate on both sides of politics want, as well as the vast majority of the business community.  Once the polls turn inevitably more decisively against him, this will be the weakness which undoes him.

Ride on Malcolm Turnbull. If he gets a chance, he will win in a canter, to the great relief of three quarters of the population. We can only hope!

Costello, here we go again….

No matter how many times Costello denies it, hardly anyone believes he didn’t “test the water” about returning to politics. Why wouldn’t he? He would probably be PM by Christmas, as virtually the whole country breathes a sign of relief as we all dodge the bullet of Tony Abbott as Prime Minister. The country, eternally grateful….

The problem is, Costello has form when it comes to this sort of thing. The “will he or won’t he” atmosphere which pervaded the end of the Howard government about the endless speculation about a Costello challenge on Howard. In the end, of course Costello didn’t challenge when he realized the perks he would have to give up as a backbencher. Better to have the easy life as the Treasurer, and quietly exit when they lose office.

Costello’s reputation for laziness exhibits all over the place. To go to the backbench, and continuously campaign for the top job, takes energy and guts. Guts Costello doesn’t have. The precedents are endless: Frazer, Howard, Peacock, Keating, Rudd all spent time on the backbench as they organized a successful second challenge after the failure of the first. All of them, persistent gutsy men – and not lazy.

Even though I think Costello would make a better Prime Minister than either Gillard or Abbott (particularly Abbott), I fear he may not have the drive to make it a real success. Still, by far the best option is Malcolm Turnbull. Could Costello (unwittingly) be Turnbull’s stalking horse?

Gillard’s changed persona..

I know there has been a lot made “of the real Julia” (largely of her own making), but has anyone else noticed that since she has been backed into a corner by the Rudd challenge, she is a different person. Decisive, resolute, strong, articulate and tough – all words that would not have been used to describe any of her primeministership up until now. And it is a change for the better.

With the average in current polls 46 to 54 in Abbott’s favour (ABC Insiders, 26/2/12), it puts the government in a stronger position than the Howard, Keating or Hawke governments at this stage in the election cycle. Given their strong story of legislative achievement in spite of their minority position, and the continued unpopularity of Tony Abbott with a significant section of the Australian community, it is not beyond the possibility that in 18 month’s time Gillard’s government might survive against all odds. If this happens within 12 months, watch for leadership speculation to shift from the ALP to the Liberals. There are a significant number of Liberal politicians and supporters who are as appalled as the rest of us at the prospect of a Tony Abbott government. A Malcolm Turnbull lead LCP sounds a lot more acceptable, which (hopefully) the parliamentary party will come to believe also.

This though depends greatly on Julia continuing to be her new decisive, and resolute self. it remains to be seen…

Gillard’s political deficiencies……

There is no doubt that the Gillard government has been one of the most incompetent federal governments in living memory at the business of politics. Time and time again they seem to be unable to capitalise on their good  government outcomes .

Just take the news over the last couple of weeks on unemployment figures. If you listen to Tony Abbott, and watch him in his magical mystery tour around the factories of the nation, you would think the country is going to hell in a hand basket. This is backed up by what seems to be an almost daily occurrence of announcements of layoffs from a variety of different enterprises in a variety of different industries. But in spite of all this, last week when the latest unemployment figures came out there was in fact a drop in unemployment numbers by 47000. If you add up all the publicly announced layoffs this year, they amount to less than 10,000 job losses nationally. This means there was, a net increase for January 2012 of some 57,000 jobs.

Don’t you think this should have given Gillard and her ministers the opportunity to explain there is nothing wrong with the Australian economy, and what we are going through is a market driven adjustment process where resources are being re-distributed from inefficient to more competitive industries, which protects people wages, and leads to an increase in productivity and wealth in the long run. “What our job is, is to help this adjustment along by providing assistance both to industry and individuals to get this done…..etc etc etc” It is not rocket science in communications terms, and yet the government was almost totally silent on the issue.

They could also use past experience of these types of adjustments where those affected have come out the other side in a so much better position than they were before. One of the most outstanding example is Newcastle on the central coast of NSW. When BHP closed their steelworks there, there was massive outcry and a protest asking for subsidies to keep it open, much like there accompanying so many of these layoff announcements in the present day.

Fortunately the government of the day did no such thing. Today, the smoke-stack industries are gone, but Newcastle has never been so prosperous. Situated as it is as the gateway to the Hunter Valley, with its very fast growing mining and primary industries, it has become a hub for service industries and is one of the more prosperous economies in Australia.

Surely it is not beyond the federal government to get some clever PR company to tell this story as relevant to what is going on at the moment.

The case against Kevin is very compelling

For all Kevin Rudd’s charm in public, there is no doubt he was a dysfunctional Prime Minister. What a pity Julia Gillard and her ministers did not explain this to the Australian people when she came to power. They would not be in the muddle they are in now. I know they wanted to pay due respect to an ex-PM, but there are sometimes when truth is the best policy, even in politics.

It is not as though the knowledge about Rudd was not in the public domain. David Marr in his quarterly essay “Power Trip – the political journey of Kevin Rudd” (http://www.quarterlyessay.com/issue/power-trip-political-journey-kevin-rudd) set it all out in all its dysfunctional glory in June 2010 and he followed it up last week with “Total Candor is the only way to stop him” in the SMH (http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/politics/total-candour-was-only-way-to-stop-him-20120223-1tqs9.html. In fact, as all pollies read the Quarterly Essay, many insiders consider this article so devastating to KRudd, that they believe it to be THE thing that prompted the move for his removal. It is a very interesting article to read in the historical context.

In the Fairfax press this weekend were several devastating articles from insiders, particularly James Button (http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/we-have-to-talk-about-kevin-20100602-wxi0.html) who as well as being the son of John Button, the ex Labor Senator and Industry Minister in the Hawke Government, was also on Rudd’s staff for a year or so. All outline a compelling case against Rudd,, and why he had to go.

Maybe after Monday, the government may, just may, be able to get down to the business of government at last…