October 10th 2015

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Will drought and falling dollar spike food prices?

CANBERRA OBSERVED Nationals extract good deal in Turnbull takeover

EDITORIAL Obama's climate gambit: do as I say, not as I do!

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Senate committee says no to marriage plebiscite

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Turnbull divides party in Cabinet reshuffle

RURAL AFFAIRS FTAs eat away at our food and agriculture surpluses

RELIGION IN RUSSIA Byzantine Catholics driven underground

FINANCE Hidden by a metaphor: the secret life of money

EDUCATION Proliferation of screens making kids no smarter

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Cabinet door must be open to public service

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Child-support program under the microscope

PUBLIC POLICY Prohibition of drugs has the evidence on its side

CINEMA Kids will love pixelated Aussie classic: Blinky Bill: The Movie

BOOK REVIEW Hope for the Land of the Southern Cross

BOOK REVIEW Evaluating arguments against free will


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Nationals extract good deal in Turnbull takeover

News Weekly, October 10, 2015

While Malcolm Turnbull’s elevation to the prime-ministership has been greeted with glee from progressive groups and associated media urgers, the practical reality of governing may turn out to be not quite that obvious.

Nationals Leader Warren Truss, left,

with Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce.

The assumption is that Prime Minister Turnbull will adopt a host of policies that were hitherto out of bounds under Tony Abbott.

Having seen off their nemesis in Mr Abbott, whose principle crime was his unpopularity in the polls, the left-leaning commentariat is now pushing their man (Turnbull) to move post-haste on the introduction of same-sex marriage, on ditching direct-action policies aimed at combating climate change, and on finding a softer treatment of asylum seekers.

Mr Turnbull’s track record on these issues might give them some hope that a “real” change of government has occurred without the inconvenience of having to go the people to seek a mandate.

Incidentally, the left-wing policy push just goes to show that the media’s animosity towards Mr Abbott was more about what he stood for than about the former PM’s poor public image and his seeming inability to connect with the electorate. Nevertheless, the reality is Mr Turnbull is somewhat restricted in what he can do.

The left-wing media have hailed the new Cabinet, with its five-strong contingent of female Cabinet ministers, as a new government.

Certainly, Mr Turnbull’s new Cabinet has seen off the most influential conservative ministers, Kevin Andrews and Eric Abetz.

Neither of these, however, was banished to the backbench for poor performance or incompetence; the opposite being the case with both ministers. They were dumped because they would lead a powerful conservative block against Mr Turnbull in the Cabinet.

But there are still two important handbrakes on Mr Turnbull.

First, there are also a large number, perhaps 40 conservative Liberal MPs (including some who voted for him), who will act as a bulwark against Mr Turnbull taking the ABC/Fairfax/Guardian line too far.

Second, there is the Liberals’ junior coalition partner, the Nationals.

One of the more intriguing aspects of the leadership switch was the “side letter” attached to the conventional Coalition agreement made between the Liberal Party and the Nationals. Normally, this consists of a broad agreement on the divvying up ministries proportionate to seats in the Parliament, as well as the gifting of the Deputy Prime Minister’s job to the Nationals leader.

This time, and for the first time in anyone’s memory, the Nationals insisted on a list of policy guidelines and pledges. The principles of this agreement had been drawn up at a Nationals meeting in Wodonga in February this year in the event of a new Coalition government.

Nationals Leader Warren Truss was given instructions from his party room once the Liberals’ spill happened that the party’s support could not be taken for granted any more. The most significant item was a commitment (since honoured) to move responsibilities for water from the Department of Environment back to its traditional home within the Department of Agriculture.

This was a big win for Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce, who was the Opposition’s water spokesman for three years. Immediately, though, it raised the ire of South Australian MPs, the Labor Party, the Greens, and other environmental groups.

Another important commitment in the agreement included an insistence that the same-sex marriage question be put to the Australian people during the next Parliament, which means that a parliamentary vote (which is the preferred route by the proponents of same-sex marriage) cannot now occur.

And despite the expectations of the global-warming advocates, Australia will not be able unilaterally to jump ahead of other nations (Kevin Rudd style) to introduce a carbon tax or an emissions trading scheme that will cost Australian industry. This came also courtesy of the agreement.

Mr Turnbull knows he needs the Nationals in the current Parliament, and has memories of troubles with Mr Joyce and former senator Ron Boswell burned into his psyche from when he was opposition leader.

The more prosaic analysis of the “new Turnbull Government” is that it will be able to be more flexible in its policies and more able to adjust to changing circumstances. This is a good thing.

In fact, Mr Turnbull can have the best of both worlds. He can build on the successes and hard work of Mr Abbott’s two years as prime minister, but break rank on some of the stubbornly held Abbott-Hockey minor positions as required.

However, there will be no immediate U-turns. That is, if Mr Turnbull has learned some lessons from his five years in the political wilderness.

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