14 October 2016

The Turnbull Government – two steps forward, one big step back

Written by: Nic Jarvis, Head of Public Affairs at Edelman

Government Affairs, News, Public Affairs

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Down with plebiscites

The decision by the Australian Labor Party to vote against the proposed plebiscite on same sex marriage captures perfectly the position Malcolm Turnbull finds himself in.

The plebiscite is a commitment he reluctantly took to the Australian people at the last election, even though most Australians were against it, but it was a policy of the former Abbott Government that he was forced to follow in return for conservative support in the Liberal and National party rooms. But it was also a policy designed to fail which it ultimately did.

Turnbull himself preferred a vote in Federal Parliament to resolve the matter. The failure of the plebiscite means the question of resolving marriage equality might be years away. And it demonstrates, in a country that preaches tolerance and respect, how politics can play such a wrecking game.

Whether you support marriage equality or not, Australia is now way behind the rest of the world. We call ourselves progressive but despite having the most multicultural country in the world, a relatively simple process to legalise something the majority of the population agree with has failed due to different, competing agendas.

Turnbull won the leadership of the Liberal Party in 2015 with a huge amount of national and internal party goodwill. It was at that point, with a popularity rating approaching 60% that he had the opportunity to govern in his own right and introduce policies in line with his own convictions. But there’s little evidence of the “old Malcolm” now.

Despite the failure of the plebiscite Turnbull could do a Mike Baird-type backflip and allow a parliamentary vote. Although this is probably unlikely, it would at least put the decision in the hands of the elected members of parliament who are there to represent the voting public. The result of the vote would then decide the matter decisively.

Business as usual, or is it?

While the plebiscite has been the main political (and media) focus in Australia, the Coalition Government has been quietly working on major economic measures to kick-start the economy and fulfil its election promises.

Many of the unpopular changes to the superannuation system have been voted through in deals with the ALP, minor parties and independents. And a range of expenditure and revenue raising measures, promised before the election to balance the budget, have also been passed without too much fanfare.

The modus operandi of Turnbull is now quiet negotiation and bridge-building with the new parliament to achieve outcomes. This is a different but in some ways welcome approach in contrast to the previous administration’s “my way or the highway” method that won few friends.

The Prime Minister’s overseas visits to G20 and the US have been viewed successfully. Turnbull is continuing the Abbott Government’s progression on free trade agreements, being one of the first leaders to start negotiations with a post-Brexit United Kingdom and is now advancing an FTA with India. If as expected Hilary Clinton is elected US President in November, Turnbull will need to negotiate the TPP with a new Congress and a President who has expressed reservations about the world’s biggest free trade agreement, especially the impact on American jobs and industry.

The Australian economy, while still suffering from a post-mining boom hangover is showing some green shoots. Infrastructure spending is significant particularly in New South Wales and Victoria and coking coal prices are up, meaning a potential $25 billion boost to GDP.

Another measure currently under debate in Parliament is the Coalition’s significant proposed cuts to company tax. The ALP has opposed cuts for big business but other independent MP’s and Senators are divided. It looks as if, to get passed, tax cuts will flow to the SME sector but not the big end of town.

One of people’s key frustrations seem to be the difference between expectation and reality. Unfortunately for a maverick politician like Turnbull, compromise is now the name of the game. With the next election in 2019, how long this lasts is anyone’s guess.

Image sourced from SMH.com.au.

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