Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Today by Sean Kelly

Blue skies ahead, maybe
Malcolm Turnbull is trying to wrap up all his problems in a neat bundle

Source: Mike Smith, Flickr

Rip the bandaid off, they say. It is advice that Malcolm Turnbull seems – finally [$] – about to take.  

I’m talking about the clean energy target (CET), or, more accurately, no clean energy target. Last night, Mark Riley at the Seven Network reported that the government hopes to have its new climate policy – widely expected not to include a CET – through both the cabinet and the party room in the next parliamentary sitting fortnight, which begins next week.

Though the result may not be very good in policy terms, politically it will come as a huge relief for the prime minister, provided he gets the result he wants from both his ministers and his MPs. And you would have to think that he will. At this moment, it seems likely that Turnbull has done what he usually does these days – whatever is necessary to avoid internal stoushes. If you design a policy with that in mind, chances are you’ll achieve it.

If the policy is in fact minimal, then the long and winding road taken to get there will look a little silly. Simon Benson at the Australian makes a good point: that this has become an unfortunate habit [$] of the Turnbull government. It is a useful reminder that not all of Turnbull’s problems can be blamed on Tony Abbott (though a lot of them can).

What is especially interesting is that this will be happening at the same time as the dual citizenship debacle is coming to some kind of ending, and the marriage plebiscite is approaching its conclusion. Perhaps there will also be a final answer on Liddell power station. Maybe George Brandis will wave the parliament farewell, and we’ll get a reshuffle.

In other words, the end of this year will be bloody miserable for Turnbull. But he seems to have recognised that, and is trying to make the best of it, using one misery, or several, to camouflage others. Rather than coming in sequence, thus extending their overall duration, they will all be dealt with simultaneously. In line with this, it’s a safe bet that the PM will attempt to have marriage legislation passed this year (George Brandis has said this before anyway), and that the by-election for Barnaby Joyce’s seat, should the High Court make it necessary, will be held by mid January. If it is at all possible, Turnbull may even seek to get it done by the end of this year.

Parliamentary breaks, such as you get over summer, are important times for prime ministers. They are when MPs hear the unvarnished views of friends and family, over the turkey, or after a few barbeque beers. Those views can be very unvarnished indeed.

Given the year that’s been, what we know already from the polls, and the probable crowded end to the year, the verdict on Turnbull is unlikely to be brilliant. But in tying everything up with a bow – just in time for Christmas! – he will buy himself more time. Often what MPs want, above anything, is a strategy. It should be clear by year’s end that Turnbull plans to come back in the New Year with old problems solved, and new pastures already marked on his map. As they listen to complaints, MPs will be thinking, “Yep, fair enough, but let’s see how he goes in the New Year.”

This makes it all seem simple. It’s not. Each of the issues above comes with its own grenades – marriage with a debate over religious protections, dual citizenship with a possible by-election, a by-election with a swing against the government, a reshuffle with the usual bruised egos, climate policy with Tony Abbott, and Liddell with a probable loss of face. But if Turnbull can find his way through all of that, he might be able to afford to look forward to the relatively blue sky of 2018. 

In other news


Small moments

Jennifer Egan’s dynamic new novel, ‘Manhattan Beach’, will reward all readers

Kevin Rabalais

“If Egan surprised us with each new perspective in A Visit from the Goon Squad, the narrative version of a hall of mirrors, then the leap she makes with Manhattan Beach seems as daring as Kazuo Ishiguro’s hopscotch from The Remains of the Day to The Unconsoled, or David Malouf’s journey from Johnno to An Imaginary Life. It takes a brave writer to cross to opposite poles from one book to the next. Egan achieves these transitions without hijinks. She’s like a great actress who defies recognition with each new role.”read on


He will never stop

Tony Abbott seems determined to wreck the clean energy target

Judith Brett

“Consistency has never been Abbott’s strong point. His major preoccupation has always been product differentiation, drawing up the battlelines between the Liberal Party and its major enemy the Labor Party and winning the fight. From this perspective the main problem with the proposed clean energy target is that it is too similar to Labor’s policy. Abbott believed, he told Paul Kelly in early July, that energy policy was ‘the best hope for the government to win the next election’. Attacking the big fat carbon tax worked in 2013, so why wouldn’t it work again? Peta Credlin, whom Abbott described as the fiercest political warrior he had ever worked with, has since admitted on Sky News that Labor’s climate change policy was never a carbon tax, but that by pursuing ‘brutal retail politics’ the Coalition made it one in the minds of the electorate, replacing fear for the future of the planet with a fight about the hip pocket.” (August, 2017)READ ON

‘Artists in Conversation’

Readers in Victoria can register for free tickets to artist conversations as part of Melbourne Festival, led by the editorial team of The Saturday Paper and the Monthly.

The conversations will feature Melbourne Festival’s artistic director, Jonathan Holloway, and artists from the festival program, to discuss their work and its place in the world. The conversations will take place at the Forum Theatre on Saturdays from 12.30 pm.

To register, simply click any of the two names below and enter your details in the form provided. More details on the conversations and terms and conditions can be found here.

Saturday, 14 October – Across Platforms

Hosted by Martin McKenzie-Murray, chief correspondent of The Saturday Paper, Jonathan Holloway, and artists from Tree of Codes and A Requiem for Cambodia: Bangsokol.

Saturday, 21 October – A Chronicle of Life

Hosted by Nick Feik, editor of the Monthly, Jonathan Holloway, and artists from Germinal and EVER.

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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