Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Today by Sean Kelly

Turnbull, Global Citizen
The PM wins an award, while Abbott keeps making trouble


“Rudd presents award to Turnbull for immigration policies” is the type of headline most of us in the media can only dream of.

Until next week, that is, when that is precisely what is supposed to happen. Sadly, it’s not Australia’s Kevin Rudd who will be shaking the current prime minister’s hand, but the British home secretary, Amber Rudd.

The official invitation for the London event outlines Malcolm Turnbull’s achievements in this area, which we’ll come to, but there was a sentence a little bit later on that caught my eye:

His stance on issues such as same-sex marriage, abortion, and renewable energy targets and emissions intensity schemes have brought him into tension with more conservative-leaning members of his party over the years.

It’s not the type of thing you always see in an invitation – prime ministerial biographies are normally scrubbed, bland and official – but I suppose this tension has been the defining fact of Turnbull’s recent reign, and, in the interests of basic honesty, shouldn’t be avoided.

And it was the defining fact again today, as Tony Abbott strode once more unto the breach.

Last week a leaked tape of a boastful Christopher Pyne set off fireworks. This week, not to be outdone, held a mirror up to last week: we now have a recording of Abbott himself, lamenting the “low ebb” of the Liberal Party. (The recording fell into the hands of Michael Koziol at Fairfax.) Though events were reversed, their results were not. Abbott’s aim is to make trouble for Turnbull, by keeping himself in the public eye, and both recordings achieved that.

While Abbott made the point that he was not talking about a change of “personnel”, his attack on the party was sharp:

“If you listen to senior members of the government, because of the reality – the unfortunate reality – of the Senate, we have had to bring forward a budget which is second best. A taxing and spending budget. Not because we believe in these things, but because the Senate made us do it. Well, a party that has to do what’s second best because the Senate made us do it is a party which needs some help.”

A party which needs some help. Luckily for that party, Abbott is on hand to provide said help.

He went on:

“And if we can’t, because of the Senate, entirely change the direction, at least don’t lose the sense of what the bloody direction should be, for God’s sake. You can’t always determine the speed of the advance, but by God we should be able to determine the direction of the advance. We shouldn’t let the Senate go the wrong way, even if it is trying to stop us from going very far in the right direction.”

Abbott was the definition of concise. In a few pithy phrases he undermined Turnbull’s entire argument for his government – that he is getting things done despite difficulties, that he is a pragmatic leader. What point getting things done, Abbott asks, if they are the wrong things?

Scott Morrison dismissed all this as “background noise” [$]. Unfortunately for Morrison, it’s much more foreground than background.

We should probably add to the mix the fact that the assistant treasurer, Michael Sukkar, is sometimes mentioned [$] as one of the conservatives – along with Peter Dutton and Mathias Cormann – who have Turnbull’s back. Sukkar was the MP who invited Abbott to speak.

Sukkar defended [$] the event as “a longstanding commitment of Tony’s to visit and speak to my electorate conference”. It’s possible Sukkar’s invitation means little, but he should have come up with a better excuse – just how “longstanding” would it have to be to pre-date Abbott’s sniping?

One of Abbott’s specific criticisms of policy seemed to come in the immigration space: “for too long, the good people of our country have been too tolerant of people who do not share some of the fundamental values that have made us who we are”.

This is interesting because Turnbull’s actions in precisely this area – citizenship and immigration – are his main defence against internal claims he has shifted his party too far to the left. Cabinet minister Christian Porter made that argument last week: “You could not possibly describe that as anything other than a traditional conservative common sense approach to something as important as citizenship … The idea that that represents a shift to the left just has no resemblance to the actual reality of the policy in question.”

Abbott is determined to leave Turnbull with no clothes at all.

But it’s also interesting because this is the area in which Turnbull will apparently be honoured next week. The invitation reads:

Prime Minister Turnbull has maintained a strong non-discriminatory immigration programme helping to make Australia a land of opportunity for peoples from all around the world. He has also emphasised the importance of immigrants in Australia integrating successfully into the country’s mainstream – by acknowledging and respecting the predominant values of Australian life and society.

Well, perhaps. But it’s also true that the week Turnbull spent talking about such issues – that started with an announcement on 457 visas and was capped with changes to citizenship – smacked of good old-fashioned dog whistling. Pauline Hanson herself claimed credit for the 457 announcement. There is a reason this is the policy area used to defend Turnbull’s conservative credentials.

There is, then, at least a little bit of irony in the fact that the award in question is the Disraeli Prize, given by the centre-right think tank Policy Exchange “in honour of Britain’s first Prime Minister from a minority background, Benjamin Disraeli”.

Still, whatever the headlines that are dreamed up over the next week, at least they will be focused on Turnbull as he meets with world leaders and foreign dignitaries. Abbott will be pushed aside, briefly relegated to the “background noise” the government so desperately needs him to be.

In other news


Her eloquent heart

Arundhati Roy’s ‘The Ministry of Utmost Happiness’ was worth the 20-year wait

Helen Elliott

“Novel? Well. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is a cavalcade of extraordinary imaginative beauty. It has characters who will remain with you until you are snug in your own grave plot, it has nervous tension and emotional pulse, it shimmers with the myriad nuances of beauty in the physical world – but to call it a novel is limp. It is as sprawling as life itself and exactly as plotless.”  READ ON


A voice of a generation

Briohny Doyle’s ‘Adult Fantasy’ looks at the increasingly blurred definition of adulthood in the 21st century

Marta Skrabacz

“Owning your own home is now considered an adult fantasy. Australia has the third most expensive housing market in the world. And yet Gen Y still aspire to be more than mere renters. ‘To have your own space. To be free of the rent grind. To put nails in the wall and plant a garden. To have a pet,’ writes Briohny Doyle in her new book, Adult Fantasy.”   READ ON

Sean Kelly

Sean Kelly is a columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, and was an adviser to Labor prime ministers Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd.



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