THE BLOG

A Vote For Turnbull Could Be A Vote For Abbott

02/05/2016 10:43 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:52 PM AEST
NEW! HIGHLIGHT AND SHARE
Highlight text to share via Facebook and Twitter
Jesse Marlow via Fairfax

Since snatching the Prime Ministership from Tony Abbott approximately seven months ago, Malcolm Turnbull has done little to alter the Abbott Government's policies. This was unexpected given that Turnbull had a wave of public support upon assuming office.

The reason for Turnbull's inaction is that he is captive to his party's right wing.

In order to secure the Prime Ministership, Turnbull apparently pledged that he would not institute a centrist reform agenda in keeping with his political inclinations. The Liberal Party's right wing thus consented to Turnbull's installation as leader for electoral expediency, but at the same time stymied his ability to meaningfully exercise political power.

So what evidence is there to support the thesis of Turnbull's right wing captivity?

On environmental policy, Turnbull has long been known as a climate change progressive. In 2010, not long after Abbott branded the arguments supporting climate change "absolute crap", Turnbull crossed the floor in parliament to vote for an emissions trading scheme. Unquestionably, Turnbull believes Australia should be adopting a more proactive posture to the challenges posed by climate change. His conspicuous inability to institute a signature policy shift in this important area evidences his deal with conservative MPs to secure enough support in the party room to depose Abbott.

A departure from the climate change scepticism and agnosticism of the Liberal Party's immediate past would arguably have improved the government's electoral fortunes by appealing to centrist and progressive voters who view climate change as an important issue. It would also have allowed Turnbull to meaningfully set his mark on the top job, modernise his party's environmental platform, and synchronise his party's policy with his personal convictions.

Turnbull's reticence to make any changes to negative gearing also appears to have been finessed by his party's right wing. In a recent article in The New Daily, prominent Australian economist, Saul Eslake, uncovered a 2005 paper co-authored by Turnbull which described Australia's negative gearing rules as "very generous compared to many other countries."

The Treasurer, Scott Morrison, has also gone on the record earlier this year stating that there were "excesses" in current negative gearing rules. This would indicate that some alterations to negative gearing, especially in an over-inflated metropolitan property market, would form part of the Turnbull Government's policy agenda. Not so apparently.

Prominent right-wing Senators, such as Eric Abetz and Cory Bernardi, have reportedly lobbied against any changes to negative gearing, believing that it would remove an important distinction between the major parties. As of last weekend, this position has now become official Liberal Party policy.

Turnbull also appears beholden to his party's right wing in the wake of controversy over the Safe Schools Coalition ('SSC') anti-bullying policy. The SSC is a national coalition of organisations and schools striving to "create safe and inclusive environments for same sex attracted, intersex and gender diverse students, staff and families". The SSC adopted a policy to address bullying -- a rampant and undesirable phenomenon across all segments of society -- of school students on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Earlier this year, the SSC policy came under sharp attack from conservative MPs who alleged that the program was inculcating school students with LGBT values and promoting the "homosexual agenda". Cory Bernardi, who campaigned for the program's defunding, asserted that it was designed to "indoctrinate children into a Marxist agenda of cultural relativism". Abbott also threw his voice into the debate calling for the policy to be axed.

Turnbull and his formerly supportive Education Minister, Simon Birmingham, buckled under the pressure and announced a review into the policy, which has now been eviscerated. This prompted The Greens' sexuality spokesperson, Senator Robert Simms, to assert that "Turnbull has thrown LGBT young people under the bus... by bowing to the right wing backbench bullies."

The Turnbull Government has also announced the defunding of YEAH, Australia's only youth-led sex education service. This service will be substituted with an online resource. Emeritus La Trobe Professor Anne Mitchell, a prominent expert on sexual health and education, has criticised this move as "ideologically driven" to "kowtow...[to] right wing activists."

Marriage equality is a further example of Turnbull capitulating to his party's right wing. While the Labor Party under Bill Shorten has committed to legislating in favour of marriage equality, Turnbull -- also a supporter of marriage equality -- has instead deferred to a costly and potentially divisive post-election plebiscite.

Evidencing a double standard on fiscal prudence, the Turnbull Government has demonstrated a willingness to spend millions of dollars to give the detractors of marriage equality another platform to demonise the LGBT community while at the same time defunding a sex-education service that employs just four full-time staff members.

Turnbull's trigger for the early double dissolution election -- the Senate's failure to pass the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) bill -- affords another instance of pervasive right wing influence. Turnbull's elevation of "union demonisation" as the catalyst for an early election is ultimately a throwback to Abbott's divisive and politically motivated Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption. Such a controversial double dissolution trigger may have appeased the Liberal Party's right wing, but it also exposes Turnbull to electoral backlash given many fair-minded voters realise union demonisation is ultimately an attack on a key pillar of workers' rights.

If any further examples of the control exerted by the Liberal Party's right wing were needed, there is Turnbull's steadfast refusal to announce a royal commission into the banking and financial services sector. This shows that although a costly royal commission into the construction industry is acceptable, the same principle does not apply in the corporate context where governance and corruption issues are known to be equally, if not more, endemic.

Voters hoping for more centrist or progressive Coalition policies after the next election are bound to be disappointed.

Turnbull's Prime Ministership will likely be even more beholden to his party's right wing after the election if he is returned to government with a reduced majority as current polling suggests.

Abbott's recent mea culpa reported last weekend in most media outlets acknowledged his government made mistakes. Abbott also indicated he would apply the lessons of the past to "his future public life." Abbott's continued high public profile, recent intercession in pre-selection battles, public declarations of his government's achievements and his relative youth, are ominous signs for Turnbull's ability to craft a centrist reform agenda after the election that does not comport with the views of his party's right wing.

In effect, the Turnbull Government is, and is likely to remain, the Abbott Government. If Turnbull is returned with a reduced majority, this will only strengthen -- not decrease -- the influence of the Liberal party's right wing. It may also fuel post-election leadership instability notwithstanding Turnbull's electoral mandate. This is why come July 2, a vote for Turnbull could be a vote for Abbott.

More On This Topic

Advertisement
Advertisement