Editor’s Note

Editor’s Note April 2016

Prime Minister Turnbull’s announcement last week certainly set the political class abuzz. Parliament would be prorogued, paving the way for a double-dissolution election. It was a stroke of genius.

To the Australian public, harder to impress these days, the prospect of another election was less exciting. Was the reinstatement of a special regulatory body for the building industry really worth calling the governor-general over?

Perhaps it was tactical genius. However, within just a few days cold reality had reasserted itself. Turnbull’s foes are gathering their strength: an ALP that is unusually coherent and organised; a scorned crossbench; a Greens leadership keen to prove that they’re not in league with the government; a union movement on whom war has been declared; and a slew of restless backbenchers, including natural pugilist Tony Abbott.

When Greens senator Scott Ludlam was contesting Western Australia’s half-Senate election re-run in early 2014, he famously invited Abbott to “spend as much time as you can spare in Western Australia, [because] every time you open your mouth the Green vote goes up”. Ludlam, profiled in this issue by Sam Vincent, will probably soon return to the campaign trail for the third time in as many years – highly unusual, given Senate terms usually last six years. We expect his invitation still stands.

In the meantime, the Coalition must deliver a budget. “To say that Turnbull is between a rock and a hard place doesn’t even come close,” writes Richard Denniss in this issue. “He is boxed in, by a slow economy, a rising deficit, an agitated backbench and a looming election.”

“Turnbull’s most likely options now are tinkering and off-budget accounting tricks, and dressing them up as serious reform,” he adds. In recent days, Turnbull has floated a new proposal to give state governments control of a share of income tax to pay for health and education, replacing commonwealth grants. It’s still unclear whether this will be tinkering or serious reform, if it happens at all, or indeed whether it’s just a nifty piece of buck-passing. But at first glance it seems the opposite of the “lower, simpler and fairer” tax principles touted by his colleagues.

Fortunately (and unlike Abbott), Turnbull understands the political virtue of hope. On this front, he could do worse than point Australians to the prospect of a dining boom, a “high-value, high-employment alternative to the busted minerals and energy bonanza”, as Hamish McDonald describes it. With Asia’s middle classes growing, the demand for our dairy products, wine, beef, vitamins, seafood and honey is on the rise.

If that, and all else, fails, Liberal strategists might hope that football, and the inevitable latest player scandal, will dominate the national conversation until election day. It was Collingwood players most recently, but readers of Martin McKenzie-Murray’s essay about the West Coast Eagles team of 2005–06 will recognise recurring elements, not least in the excuses made for the players’ behaviour. “Boys will be boys,” goes the refrain, as if that is an adequate response. Denialism is something of a national trait. True leadership is much harder to locate.

Nick Feik

Nick Feik is the editor of The Monthly.

@nickfeik

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