CANBERRA OBSERVED: News Weekly
Turnbull heading a frayed and fractured Opposition
, December 20, 2008
Malcolm Turnbull's leadership, which promised so much, is turning out to be a fizzer after only a few months.Kevin Rudd's fortunes have ended the year virtually where they started - a position of near total domination over an increasingly frayed and rudderless Opposition.
According to the polls, the trend of voter intentions may mean he could be in an even better position going into his second year in office.
Malcolm Turnbull's leadership, which promised so much, is turning out to be a fizzer after only a few months.
The "Coalition" in recent weeks has been fracturing around the personality of Queensland Senator Barnaby Joyce, who has emerged as the symbolic last hope for the Nationals as a stand-alone federal party.
The dwindling numbers of Nationals MPs in the Federal Parliament are going to have to decide soon whether to finally differentiate themselves on policy and chart their own destiny, or fold completely and merge with the Liberal Party. There are now no other alternatives for the Nationals.Irony
The irony of the global financial crisis, which Mr Rudd quickly and cleverly labelled "the GFC", is that (initially at least) it looks to be helping Labor. Voters tend to rally to an incumbent government in a time of crisis.
Kevin Rudd's first year can be divided into the pre- and post-GFC periods.
Pre-GFC was largely a trail of symbolic feel-good gestures of varying degrees of longevity.
Some might argue that the apology to Australia's indigenous peoples or even the 2020 Summit might have had some residual benefits, but signing up to the Kyoto Protocol has had none.
In the meantime, the Government fought a quixotic battle against the then "inflation dragon", cutting back on spending and encouraging the Reserve Bank to jack up interest rates.
The fight against inflation has now been abandoned. Instead the fallout from the US sub-prime cataclysm, the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the consequential near implosion of the world's financial system, allowed Mr Rudd to seize the "opportunity" and re-invent the Government's thin agenda.
Mr Rudd has also managed to lasso Mr Turnbull into backing every aspect of his "Economic Security Strategy". In other words, once Mr Turnbull was locked in, the Government could challenge him every time he differed or remonstrated on "the strategy".
Mr Turnbull appears content to quibble on whether Australia should introduce an emissions-trading scheme (ETS) in 2012 rather than 2011, but not to challenge the Government on any substantive matter.
The former merchant banker correctly found flaws in the Government's sovereign bank guarantee, but had to support it in principle.
After cutting down Dr Brendan Nelson to become federal Opposition leader, Turnbull promised a more dynamic, vigorous and aggressive approach.
However, Turnbull's energetic winner-take-all style masked the flaws in his personality that are now becoming apparent.
Turnbull is the epitome of a modern self-made man. He is a non-conformist, an individualist, with a powerful and unwavering sense of self-belief.
These are good qualities to have in business; but in the political sphere, leadership requires working with people of lesser ability and intelligence.
It requires compromise and an ability to carry the team with you.
During the last session of Parliament, Mr Turnbull displayed a contempt for his colleagues in the Senate, which backfired on him.
The tactic included creating the illusion of fierce opposition to various government proposals in the House of Representatives, but then ordering the Opposition in the Senate to let the bills pass.Saved
This way, Turnbull figured, members could tell their constituents they had "fought the good fight", but he would be saved from accusations he was holding up Parliament and being an obstructionist Opposition leader.
The tactic, however, was too smart by half, and eventually the Nationals in the Senate in particular were not prepared to acquiesce any longer.
Senator Joyce has now assumed a leadership position in the Senate, but has refused Turnbull's offer to take a frontbench position because he knows this would mean he would have to toe the Coalition line.
Some Nationals may resent Senator Joyce's maverick ways, but many are coming to realise his strategy is their last hope of survival.
Meanwhile, Mr Turnbull has to rethink his own strategy over the coming Christmas/New Year break, including reviewing parliamentary tactics and whether he wants to be a proper Opposition leader or win minor debating points.