September 15, 2015

Horse 1982 - The Change In Prime Minister That No One Saw Coming

The number of people in the media who predicted that Malcolm Turnbull would be Prime Minister today, is nil*. Precisely no-one saw that coming. If they did, they either said nothing or weren't believed because they certainly did not go to press or produce anything for television or radio. People might crow about how they predicted it months ago but the truth is that on Monday 14th of September, no media outlet in the country published anything and here on Tuesday 15th, we have a new Prime Minister.

It is still too early to say what sort of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will be. We can guess that he will be far .ore measured in his approach, probably less engaged with the media and more concerned with the actual governance of the nation than Tony Abbott was. Tony Abbott is a head-kicker and is an excellent politician and those qualities are perfect for the Leader of the Opposition but they do not translate into good governance and are not the best qualities for a Prime Minister to possess. The Prime Minister, be they a leader by autocratic means or more of a first among equals, not only needs to hold their party together but they need to set a path of policy which moves the country along in at least some direction. I just don't know if Abbott as Prime Minister has prosecuted that case well enough. One does not rule a nation on the basis of three word slogans: they are strap lines for adverts; not policy.

Just yesterday morning, I had made mention to my boss that I thought that talk of a cabinet shuffle as predicted by Fairfax and the Sydney Morning Herald was bunk and would amount to nought. News Corp and their Daily Telegraph and Rupert's doyenne The Australian, were both far more circumspect in their assessment but even they thought that if there was a cabinet shuffle, that Abbott would retain his premiership and maybe Scott Morrison as an outside runner would become Treasurer. That was that. Speaking for myself, I thought that all of this was like throwing a bucket of cordial into the ocean and thinking that the people in New Zealand might put their cups in the sea and drink a nice raspberry drink - not very likely at all. I thought that we might even run to the very end of the allowable term of this government with the cabinet completely unchanged on the run up until 14th of January 2017. That is still a distinct possibility for the date of the next Federal election but I think that trying to predict anything at this stage is foolish.

Already on the radio, I've heard commentators who like to shout a lot, ask the question of why nobody saw this coming. Surprisingly, I suspect that this has more to do with the physical structure of Parliament House than anything else.
We tend to have this myopic view that Parliament House is just two chambers where groups of howler monkeys yell and shriek at each other and fling poo at each other, hoping to make some of it stick. Step away from the two pits though and you'll find a fun house of corridors and doors; where there aren't any funny windows but the image is still distorted anyway. Most of the doors in the subterranean maze are closed. The most prized offices to have are those which sit on the corners of corridors and have views down them into infinity. From those positions, the political parties like to install their whips and spies, not only to report on the comings and goings of the enemy but of the factions within. The press is not even remotely allowed down in those regions and so their access is nil.
In the Old Parliament House things were different. It was originally intended to be a library and even by the mid 1950s when there were just over 100 MPs, the place was cramped. Still, even on that most famous of days in Australian political history, the 11th of November 1975, the press still didn't predict the events of that day. The press offices in that building were cramped and everyone in the whole building was virtually in each other's hair but in the new building, that's impossible. The current Parliament House is so vast, that Malcolm Turnbull could have had meetings in the coffee shop which is open to the public near the front entrance to the building and people generally and the press specifically, still would have suspected nothing.

The question that now faces the nation is what sort of policy direction is a Turnbull Government likely to head in? I think that the immediate effect will be less shrill attacks on the ABC and SBS, perhaps a kinder set of foreign policies and probably a more measured approach to welfare and taxation. Whatever happens, I know that we're more likely to get a slower pace of politics and one where the reasons for why things are, should and need to happen, are explained more fully.
I think that if Malcolm Turnbull had won that Liberal Party vote in 2009, then the chaos which ripped through the Labor Party would have punished by the electorate and we would have not ended up with the hung parliament. Had that happened, the Liberal Party might have won by ten seats and I think that as at today, Malcolm Turnbull would have held the premiership for six years instead of less than one day. Rudd, Gillard and Abbott would have probably still fought battles but I think that the net result as at today would have been identical.

Maybe this is a reboot of the Liberal Party, maybe this is just an unfortunate place to be before the electorate changes its mind at the next election but I think that today, the grown ups might actually be in charge and even though at 7:49am at the time of writing this and before anyone has even stepped through the door to work, I think that the country is already better off and that almost nobody saw it coming.

*Obviously those in the party saw it coming and that includes Malcolm Turnbull but they aren't in the media.

No comments: