Silver Foxes and Ticking Boxes: How Malcolm Turnbull Succeeds at Doing Nothing
By Cameron Hart
The first time my sister met Malcolm Turnbull, she didn’t know who he was.
Granted, at the time he was but a lowly Federal Minister of Communications, and that, combined with his great resemblance to every other over-privileged, under-whelming conservative white male in Australia, we can’t really blame her for the mix up (kidding, we can and should).
However, six months ago, all that changed. Finally, the haphazard and obnoxious Abbott government was deposed, replaced with Malcolm Turnbull; a sophisticated, eloquent, and small-l-liberal member of the Liberal Party who seemingly held a great interest in reform of taxes and gay marriage, as well as acknowledging the reality of climate change, the humanity of refugees, and the great need for grand-scale social and economic change. Yet despite his grandiose promises of much-needed policy adjustments – and a government that listens and understands – he has since revealed that he is willing to compromise his personal values in order to placate his right-wing party. In doing so, he has become the very thing voters hate most; an opportunistic chameleon, shifting his views to benefit most from his circumstances at any given time. The fact of the matter is that despite the more centrist policy positions that Malcolm may personally hold, the nature of party politics means that he must make decisions based on his party’s consensus – Malcolm is ultimately beholden to the Right faction of his party, which includes the likes of Cory Bernardi and George Christensen, who recently came out guns blazing to criticise the LGBTQIA+ anti-bullying program, “Safe Schools” as indoctrinating children into the gay agenda.
The honeymoon phase is definitely over for our new Prime Minister. Polls show Malcolm’s popularity falling. This has resulted in the alienation and disillusionment of many voters who initially found Turnbull to be charming, relatable, and progressive, a far cry from the bumbling, embarrassing ‘Tone Abet’. After Abbott’s fall from grace many Australians had hoped that the time had come to make nation-bettering reforms, but I didn’t hold my breath, and the reason for this stagnation is more obvious than one would think.
You see, Malcolm’s position holds many powers, but also just as many restraints, though the exact nature of these are often unclear, and fraught with complicated legislative jargon. Essentially, a Prime Minister is only held in the nation’s highest office by the people who put him (or her) there. Thus, to fall foul of either their ideologically-aligned colleagues or constituents would cause them to lose their electorate, their position, or both. At present, there is a division between what politicians and voters want, for example, in terms of same-sex marriage. Turnbull, in this case, is hamstrung by a conservative backbench who would rather see Australia burn that let a lesbian get married.
However, there is an overwhelming pressure from the public to change this legislation, and so, we have the plebiscite. For the price of one easy instalment of $160 million, the plebiscite will decide the fate of same-sex marriage, despite the fact that a plebiscite’s result is not legally enforceable, nor will it break the political deadlock between same-sex marriage’s supporters and opposers within Parliament. The plebiscite, in this case, is an almost-decision, a quasi-action, if you will. By doing something vaguely progressive but not guaranteeing marriage equality, Turnbull appeases both his party and his public, hoping that his popularity and suave will carry him through to the next election. In a way, Malcolm is as powerless as we are, which is both a comfort and a terror for everyone, everywhere. The only small concession we may have is #BetterThanTrump.
Meanwhile, in the background the Labor Party can be heard gently floundering, unwilling to give the Turnbull government the critique it deserves, so that they can use these auspicious circumstances and falling popularity polls to appeal to the Australian public when the next election comes around, because after all, why be the best option, when you can simply be the better one?
If Tony had remained in office, Labor would have seized power with the effortlessness with which our government once again ignores climate change, yet who will win at the coming election is anyone’s guess. Even now, still bemused at my sister’s lack of relevant political know-how, I have to wonder if any of us know Malcolm any better.