Malcolm Turnbull : Right Man, Wrong Process

In the last election, it was with a heavy heart that I voted Liberal.

It’s not that I am fundamentally incompatible with an Australian “conservative” agenda, after all liberal is supposed to be pro-business (and I am pro-business) but I also didn’t see the appropriate level of commitment to major issues like climate change and the environment, same-sex marriage and immigration. Anyhow, my general attitude towards the role of government in business is “stay off the pitch” and Australia is a country that is remarkably successful despite decades of mediocre policy around key business drivers like taxation and economic diversification.

As such, a “pro-business” party is a bit of an oxymoron in this country, anyhow…

I never cared much for Abbott. Although not a lightweight by any stretch of the imagination, he just doesn’t epitomise what a modern Australia needs to be vibrant, successful and competitive. But he was a hell of an improvement over the K-Rudd infighting and Labor party shenanigans, and his steady, resolute demeanour at least implied the potential of a period of government stability, free of intra-party political wrangling. Of course, we don’t vote for the “man”, we vote for a government, but I think leadership truly matters. To be clear (in case you forgot) as a country we didn’t vote for the ALP because we felt that Kevin Rudd had established a toxic culture in his party. Therefore to offhandedly dismiss “leadership” and “personality” as disconnected is naïve and frankly incorrect.

I admire Malcolm Turnbull. He’s smart, he’s accomplished. He has a trait that very few senior figures in politics have these days, namely a stellar track record of doing anything other than politics (Mrs. Turnbull is no slouch either). Just about any advanced economy these days suffers from the pervasive mediocrity of the career politician, individuals that have accomplished little of note since they first took office in a student politics club at university. Well, other than perhaps foster their sense of self-importance and entitlement to rule. The formula of a modern politician is that of a nanny bureaucrat, incapable of even remotely envisaging the concept of “nation building” because he/she has never created, built, innovated or produced anything, let alone a vision of how to make a country great.

This is not Turnbull. Not by a mile.

The problem is that in carrying out the latest palace coup, the only possible message the Australian Liberal Party can send to the populace is “we are no better than Labor”. In fact, it is worse than this because it also suggests a particular contempt for voter perception of party political infighting given what we went through during the last election. This latest development just highlights a true lack of recognition in Australian politics that a government is elected to serve the Australian people, not expend its energy on petty political infighting.

So, instead of focusing on the critical issues that face our country, we will have yet another week dominated by intrigue, media attention and one-upmanship. It was always going to be a quiet week in Parliament but with such enormous issues facing our economy and the urgent need to consider Australia’s role in key international issues, this leadership change only illustrates – to Australians and the world – how insular, irrelevant and undemocratic we really are. It also means that instead of directing our resources toward things that matter, we will undoubtedly spend billions more in political machinations that add zero value.

Right man for the job. Wrong process of getting there.

Before the next election, can someone PLEASE teach Abbott basic accounting

I don’t normally blog back-to-back on successive days but I got a lot of Liberal party propaganda emails this morning from friends in response to yesterday’s blog, egging me on to dig a deeper hole for myself … and so I want to appease the fans with a response. I might even eventually post those emails on my blog – they’re really entertaining! (permission pending, of course). I guarantee you’ll be laughing at me, not with me…

I want to make two comments.

Firstly, I will probably vote Liberal in the next election. Shocking news! Not because I believe in the party policy sphere and certainly not because I admire Abbott (though there is talent in the Liberal party) but because Australia needs a change of government. I do, in many ways, admire Julia Gillard and it’s wonderful that the political glass ceiling has been broken in Australia. Unfortunately it’s clear to everyone that the Labour party has lost itself. When a quote from Kevin Rudd even vaguely smacks of gravitas, I know party leadership is in the toilet. By the way, it makes me sad to say this because I genuinely think Rudd is a really bright guy, just a lousy politician. There is no place for public servants that put their own agenda ahead of civic duty- though I do miss fresh YouTube material.

We can be honest with each other and agree that the centrist nature of politics in Australia basically means that there is no ideological difference between parties anyhow – it’s merely “opposition.” It’s not like in America where constitutional and religious stakeholders polarise basic political ideology, or in the UK where it is very constituent-driven (i.e. London/SE England or not). As someone whose political ideologies are slightly left-ish of the centre (read, closet socialist … yeah, I know, odd for a capitalist…) I almost lament the days when we had a Labour Party.

Secondly, Abbott can’t add. If his public statements and sentiments really are reflective of some Excel spreadsheets stashed somewhere in the party file servers, we are in deep poo.

I’ll give you an example.

I watched Abbott’s address to the NSW State Council general meeting last weekend. He was good – actually, he has some talent as an orator-to-the-common-man. He knows how to rile a crowd, for sure. But my jaw dropped when, mid-speech, he started attacking (once again) the Carbon Tax. He said (and I paraphrase) – “If my government is elected, we will drop the carbon tax but keep the incentives in place for ordinary Australians – I want to do this.”

So let me get this straight. We have a budget deficit that we are unlikely to repair before 2016. We see no compelling indications of orderly budget restructuring – indeed, there is bold talk of yet further corporate tax cuts (yes, because it is government policy that should enable competitive businesses to make a profit… sigh…) and then the multi-$Bn incentive structure that was precisely funded by the Carbon Tax, is now going to be kept in place – but with the source of the revenue removed.

Why is the relevant to my last posting?

Well, I was reminded that the Liberal party election platform is based on improving Australian business climate (in a world with no Carbon Tax, please pardon the pun), investing innovation, and beefing up R&D and education – all things that I agree need overhaul if the economy is to continue to perform in the face of Asian slow down. Not all changes will be bad and a psychological reversal in AUD/USD benchmarking is, in my opinion, already happening. There is little doubt that a weaker Australian dollar would be good for just about everyone. Besides, we’ve already purchased our new TVs, laptops and cars (a Jeep is only $25k, drive away!) and Ford is shutting down anyhow… so the dollar is allowed to make imports pricier again.

[ Incidentally – I love those Jeep Cherokee commercials, especially the one where the little kid sombrely says to his friend “Mum bought a jeep” and then his mate jumps up and triumphantly tells the whole playground “Harry’s Mum bought a Jeep.” I also like the one with the polo pony guys speaking in Brasilian or whatever. It’s a great dub. I wish I could read their lips – I’m sure he said “I shagged Silvia last night” not “I bought a jeep” but it’s entertaining anyhow… ]

But what I can’t get my head around is Liberal party mathematics? How are we going to pay for all of it, if we don’t garner revenues from targeted taxation like mining and the Carbon Tax (always in capital letters, please)???

Can someone explain this to me?

Abbott needs to learn to stop using the word “I” and start using the word “We”. He’s got some bright people in his party and maybe when they figure out that he’s out electioneering on promises that they’re all going to have to deliver on, someone will sit him down and explain that if revenues are not greater than expenditures, the hole only gets deeper.

P&L doesn’t stand for “Promises and Lies” – it stands for Profit and Loss, Tony…