September 26th 2015

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Abbott era ends as Liberals oust elected PM

EDITORIAL The future of the Liberals after leadership coup

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Vulnerable GLBT youth pawns in plebiscite game

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Cuts in aid trigger mass migration: more to come?

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Labor campaign to 'get' Dyson Heydon backfires

FOREIGN AFFAIRS China's official media hints at power struggle in Beijing

ASIA Taiwan: no longer the Kingdom of Youth

MILITARY HISTORY Antony Beevor at the Australian War Memorial

LIFE ISSUES Assisted suicide and our society of autonomy

SCIENCE You can trust research papers (we think; we hope)

PUBLIC HEALTH Taxpayer funding offers no immunity from failure

MINING Supreme Court dismisses attack on Qld Land Court

CINEMA Technology and the antisocial network: The Social Network

BOOK REVIEW Hollow Heroes: An Unvarnished Look at the Careers of Churchill, Montgomery and Mountbatten, by Michael Arnold


NATIONAL AFFAIRS Turnbull divides party in Cabinet reshuffle

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The future of the Liberals after leadership coup

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, September 26, 2015

The overthrow of Tony Abbott as Liberal Party leader, and his replacement as prime minister by Malcolm Turnbull, was the culmination of an effective campaign waged by an array of forces which consolidated against him.

Apart from Labor and the Greens, Fairfax Media and the ABC had conducted a long campaign against the Abbott government.

Malcolm Turnbull

Malcolm Turnbull

For Fairfax, this was in consequence of the former prime minister’s strong stance on border protection, against the global warming campaign, in favour of development of the country’s national resources including coal, against same-sex “marriage”, and ex-treasurer Joe Hockey’s pursuit of Fairfax Media over the notorious “Treasurer for sale” attack.

Almost daily, Fairfax relentlessly pursued the Abbott government.

At the same time, a range of radical environmental organisations campaigned against the government’s actions on issues including subsidies for wind and solar power, the abolition of the National Climate Authority led by Tim Flannery, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, and setting mandatory greenhouse-gas targets ahead of the IPCC Climate Conference in Paris in December.

The Abbott government was also attacked by members of the human rights lobby unhappy with its policies on asylum seekers and same-sex “marriage”.

Chorus of criticism

Some business groups joined the chorus of criticism. They complained that the former prime minister had “dropped the ball” on economic reform, citing his failure to cut business taxes, raise the GST rate to 15 per cent, introduce labour market reform – code for cutting employment conditions including casual and penalty pay rates – and the failure to get the budget back into surplus, a consequence of the stalemate between the government and the Senate since the 2013 election.

Some of Australia’s largest companies backed the campaign for same-sex “marriage”.

All these factors meant that the government was unable to get sufficient clear air in which to highlight its undoubted successes, contributing to a succession of negative opinion polls.

To have survived all this, the government would have needed to be extraordinarily cohesive and disciplined. This was not to be.

Over recent months, all this has been compounded by a succession of embarrassing “leaks” highlighting divisions within Cabinet.

The perception that an Abbott-led government could not recover apparently persuaded enough nervous MPs to support Malcolm Turnbull when he threw down the gauntlet to the former PM.

Turnbull’s position on almost all the contested issues is the opposite of Tony Abbott’s.

In the end, Turnbull defeated Mr Abbott by a relatively narrow margin, 54 to 44, in a Liberal Party-room ballot. If National Party MPs, who are part of the government, had voted, the outcome would have been very different.

In his victory speech, Malcolm Turnbull declared that he wanted to reset the government’s economic agenda.

Quite what this means has not been spelled out, but the government’s business critics have called for deregulation of the labour market, increasing the GST, cuts to government spending, and cuts to business taxes.

Malcolm Turnbull has a long history of business involvement, including a successful career as a high-flying corporate lawyer and later as an investment banker that made him a multimillionaire. He headed the Australian arm of global merchant banker Goldman Sachs. In this sense, he is similar to New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, also an economic and social libertarian, who went into politics after a successful career in the finance industry.

Interestingly, Mr Turnbull said there would be no change to the government’s position on climate change, immigration and same-sex “marriage”, despite his well-known differences with the former leader on all these issues. This is a reflection of his desire not to further destabilise coalition ranks.

It may be that those sections of the media that were so implacable towards Abbott will now become neutral towards the Turnbull government. But don’t bet on it.

In relation to Malcolm Turnbull’s well-known libertarian economic agenda, he faces exactly the same parliamentary opposition that Tony Abbott faced. This includes not merely the Labor Party and the Greens, but a number of independents, including ex-members of Clive Palmer’s party, who are most unlikely to sign up for an agenda of tax cuts for business and cuts to social welfare in the run-up to the 2016 federal election.

If Malcolm Turnbull’s new economic policy includes an increase in the GST, and cuts to wage rates and superannuation concessions, he will alienate the large number of blue-collar voters who supported Tony Abbott in 2013, putting Bill Shorten back into calculation to win the 2016 election.

Peter Westmore is national president of the National Civic Council.

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