April 9th 2016

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Euthanasia: A truly counter-cultural perspective from history

CANBERRA OBSERVED Harsh realities a bridge too far for this election

EDITORIAL Malcolm Turnbull's election strategy emerges

FAMILY AND SOCIETY SSCA sets mines to basic building blocks of society

DOMESTIC AND FAMILY VIOLENCE Never mind the issue: this is the agenda

ASIA-PACIFIC AFFAIRS Taiwan, China find rapport over South China Sea

ART AND CULTURE Beauty and the beholder

OPINION Labor's princeling class licks dole plate clean

SEX ABUSE ROYAL COMMISSION Truth takes a back seat: scapegoating Cardinal Pell

POLITICAL HISTORY The Labor Split spillover

MUSIC Minimalism more than the sum of Arvo Pärt

CINEMA More like home than utopia: Zootopia

BOOK REVIEW Retrieving meaning

BOOK REVIEW Midget submarine op

BOOK REVIEW A Jewish view of universal ethics


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Harsh realities a bridge too far for this election

News Weekly, April 9, 2016

The 2016 election, whether it is held in July or later in the year, is likely to be another election milestone that bypasses many of the key issues that affect the nation’s future.

Scott Morrison, left, with the current PM

and across from the past PM.

It has been a long time since federal politicians in Australia seriously leveled with the Australian people. It is not generally a fruitful exercise to do so, and on the occasions it does happen, the backlash from the media and the political class is often brutal. Paul Keating’s warnings that Australia risked becoming “a banana republic” or bequeathing us the “recession we had to have” spring to mind.

For the same reasons Malcolm Turnbull, who needs a strong election win to stamp his authority on the Coalition, is likely to eschew the frank discussion as also a bridge too far.

Australia has had two decades of uninterrupted growth accompanied by extraordinary government largesse, and no leading politician of any major political party is able to say straight up that they have to take the punchbowl from the party.

Mr Turnbull is in a particular predicament, given the build-up of expectations that preceded his leadership challenge to Tony Abbott.

It is worth remembering that Tony Abbott won 90 of the 150 seats in the House of Representatives at the 2013 election through a two-party preferred split of 53.5 per cent of the vote for the Coalition to 46.5 per cent for Labor. Effectively, Mr Abbott won in a landslide and Labor managed to avoid a total wipeout only by sandbagging Labor safe seats towards the end of the campaign.

Repeating a win on that scale will be difficult if not impossible.

General expectations are that a Turnbull-led Coalition will be re-elected comfortably and that this will finally put to rest the concerns of those MPs who thought it was a bad idea for the Liberal party room to ignominiously dump Mr Abbott because he was supposedly “not electable”.

However, if Mr Turnbull instead wins by a narrow margin, some MPs will ask why the political knifing (a term Mr Turnbull chafes at) was necessary. They could argue that Mr Abbott was indeed unpopular, but his relentless campaign discipline might have worked just as effectively a second time.

A feeble victory may leave the PM vulnerable throughout the next term of Parliament.

Furthermore, should there be a double-dissolution election over the proposed Australian Building and Construction Commission, and the Coalition win in the House of Representatives only narrowly, it is possible that there will not be enough numbers (in both the House and the Senate) at a joint sitting to pass the bill, with the result that it would lapse.

In response to this prospect Mr Turnbull is continuing to seek a compromise with the crossbenchers as well as excising issues that Labor might use to mount a traditional scare campaign.

In other words Mr Turnbull has spent the last few months taking contentious issues off the table, including serious tax reform and budget cuts, to the annoyance of Treasurer Scott Morrison.

The result of all this is that the election is likely to be a superficial squabble about the tax mix, namely Labor’s proposed wind-back of negative gearing and its yet to be announced revisitation of a form of carbon tax.

The election therefore will be another event that kicks the can a few inches further along the road.

There will be no real discussion about how to tackle the national debt, or say about water allocation in Australia’s principle food bowl, the Murray-Darling Basin. The same-sex marriage debate – arguably the biggest social change in a generation – will also hardly get a look in.

One could hope that there will be the first steps in major infrastructure spending, but this will be constrained by a lack of imagination in terms of funding.

In his defence, Mr Turnbull has at least begun the conversation with the Australian people about the economy post the mining boom, arguing that Australia must become a more innovative and nimble nation that encourages new creative businesses and risk takers.

The alternative proposition from Labor is totally irresponsible, as it will promise more unfunded government spending on education, health and social welfare. In short: borrow more money for our grandchildren to pay off.

The best possible result of the coming poll for Mr Turnbull will be an emphatic win that gives him internal authority, that gives him the room he needs to implement a proper reform agenda across the economy, and that forces Labor finally to take a hard look at itself.

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