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Moving on after two unhappy years


The Australian headline 'Turnbull's Triumph'Now is an exciting moment for Australia, after all the low points of the past two years.

The Government showed little real interest in responsible economic management, and it seemed there was little understanding of the damage caused by the various three-word slogans and the Treasurer's weakness.

Business confidence and economic prospects suffered from policy confusion and lack of resolution. The effects of the end of the mining boom were exacerbated by the crippling of the comparatively healthy Australian car industry, which took down the South Australian economy as a whole.

There were the road blocks put in the way of Australia moving towards a cleaner, safer, renewables-based economy, and a sneaky attempt to give the submarines contract to Japan for dubious foreign policy reasons. Young unemployed were constantly under attack. Economic policy had become destructive, poll-driven, content-free and desperately opportunistic.

Australia's sophisticated business community was rightly appalled and angry. Economic confidence sagged. Something had to be done, and on Monday it was.

I was surprised at the lightning speed with which things came together. The new PM's timing and tactics were impeccable. He waited, keeping schtumm, until it became clear over the weekend that this tide had to be taken at the flood, or he might miss it altogether. He would have been mindful of Costello's fatal lack of nerve to challenge Howard in time.

And yet it was such a close thing in the end, just five unreliable votes took him over the line. The vote showed just how far the Liberal Party has forsaken true liberalism. Ignorant Tea Party attitudes and prejudices now seem rampant.

What is in store now for Australia under this new Prime Minister? We can look forward to a real return to greater civil discourse and intellectual integrity in politics. Australians of all parties will welcome this. I expect people like Bill Shorten, Tanya Plibersek, Tony Burke, to play their part as exemplars in restoring a decent political culture. It will be good if they can set aside the negative energy that was brought to the Parliament. They are naturally polite and better than this. Politics, I hope, will return to an informed contest of ideas. There is much to debate.

In his acceptance speech, Turnbull emphasised his hopes for better, more reasoned economic policy discussion. This makes sense. The only way he can deal with his right wing is by getting economic runs on the board, and quickly. Improving business confidence and raising the Coalition's low polls will go together, though it means Labor polling must sag in the short run. If he can quickly reassure the Australian business community of better times ahead, business confidence and employment will begin to recover. As Keynes knew, it is all about animal spirits.

He was notably silent on climate change, national security and foreign policy. Yet, coming from the sophisticated Sydney electorate of Wentworth, he understands how badly community harmony in a multicultural, environmentally responsible Australia has been wounded over the past two years. He will work quietly, over time, to step back from these ill-judged policy disasters.

But he will first have to focus on getting economic confidence right, and he will not be quick to goad his right wing in these policy areas. Labor will press hard on them, as it should. Things like labour market employment safeguards under ChAFTA need a strong Labour voice now. We cannot allow closed foreign enclave investment economies to develop here while young Australians go without jobs.

Labor needs to cleanse itself of Blairite globalisers and US camp followers. It needs to reflect on the significance of the popularity of Nicola Sturgeon in Scotland and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK. Labor cannot let itself become a party of cynical compradors clinging comfortably to Chinese or American coat-tails: it needs to restore its faith in its own social ideals and its sense of robust Australian nationhood, based on social democracy and a fair go for all Australians.

We can now expect Andrew Hastie to be elected comfortably in Canning, and the new Turnbull Government to run to full term. Let's hope for a civilised but real contest of Australian visions and values in the 2016 election.

Tony KevinTony Kevin is a former diplomat.

Topic tags: Tony Kevin, Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull, Australian politics



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Existing comments

You hope for a significant change in the political climate in Australia, Tony Kevin? As Samuel Johnson (I think) said of second marriage: that would be the triumph of hope over experience.

Marg | 15 September 2015  

I utterly acclaim the tremendously dauntless stand Mr. Abbott took on gay marriage, [part of the platform upon which he was elected]; and, his readiness to take the issue to the people; no doubt assured of their ratification.

Father John George | 15 September 2015  

And yet Marg, there are many second marriages of which it could be said that they are the triumph of experience over ignorance.

Ginger Meggs | 15 September 2015  

This is no triumph. `Greater civil discourse and intellectual integrity`? Time will tell. There is nothing in this or any other coup which helps promote the things conspirators convince themselves justify their actions. Make no mistake - this was a coup made thinkable by the dangerous precedent set by Gillard over against Rudd. We are fortunate these were bloodless...without guns and military involvement. Selfish, deluded politicians who pursue personal advancement under the guise of `best interests of the country/party` whatever it may be, live by deceit and subterfuge and will die by it. This is a disaster for stable, mature, wise government. And the Opposition is in no position to comment. These are concerning times for principled democracy in Australia.

Fiona Winn | 16 September 2015  

" We can look forward to a real return to greater civil discourse and intellectual integrity in politics." Hopefully. When one group fights another, each seeking to advance their own interests, strife results. \when all cooperate for the common good, 'a fair go for all', all benefit. It is the pagans of this world who set their hearts on being one up. 'Set your hearts on the kingdom of God, and all else will be given to you as well.' Peace, Harmony and Happiness.

Robert Liddy | 16 September 2015  


john frawley | 16 September 2015  

I am really glad to see the back of Mr Abbott and wish Mr Turnbull well. Hopefully we are in for a less pugilistic time with effective and mature policy for the good of the whole community rather than a mix of the street-fighter`s aggressiveness, negativity and right-wing prejudices.

Eugene | 16 September 2015  

Praise the Lord! At long last a leader who thinks like a statesman, walks like a statesman and talks like a statesman. Already the level of political debate has risen. Benefit for us is that ALL political parties will now have to lift their game and shrug off the sloth that non-performance from leadership had lulled them into. God bless the new leaders and God bless Australia

Roy Fanthome | 16 September 2015  

thanks for comments. my essay enjoyed good company on this topic with the two andrews. i especially enjoyed Roy Fantholme's crisp summation.

tony kevin | 16 September 2015  

Maybe now Police in all States and Territories will be in a position to execute those outstanding arrest warrants on Abbott for repeatedly impersonating tradesmen over the past two and more years.

David | 16 September 2015  

Fionna Winn’s comments are well made. Whilst the Gillard knifing of Rudd set a precedent, it was not a good one. If anything, it was something that should not have been repeated. Alas, it has. All this call for politicians to set aside selfish interests and place the greater public good ahead of it sounds hollow and naive, considering that what we have just seen is a prime example of selfishness coming to the fore. What we saw demonstrated on Monday is that when it matters, loyalty is not a prized virtue. Regardless of how the apologists for the coup may rationalise the ousting of Abbott, there is no denying that those 55 Liberals who voted to oust Abbott did not consider that loyalty was important. Loyalty is a matter of moral choice. Self preservation is driven by instinct. Clearly, those 55 Liberals found the dictates of instinct more compelling.

Osmund | 16 September 2015  

I wonder how many Australian bishops are pondering the idea of integrity, moral coherence and loyalty as they might reflect on what happened to Bishop Bill Morris and what they did about it in another unsavoury episode of 'better that one man die instead of the whole people?'

David Timbs | 17 September 2015  

Those who get their knickers in a knot over the 'knifing' of leaders 'elected by the people' miss two important points. In a parliamentary system like ours, (1) the PM is elected by her/his parliamentary party, not by the people, and (2) the PM only leads with the consent of the led. Once that consent is withdrawn, s/he is no longer the leader. Ours is not a presidential system like that in the US.

Ginger Meggs | 17 September 2015  

Yes! The civility may improve but let's not take policy change on face value! Turnbull is wedged by his own party already on climate, budget, and education policy ie Gonski, not Universities> I fear we are so relieved we won't see the danger!

angela | 24 September 2015  

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