July 16th 2016

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY 2016 election: Malcolm makes allies malcontents

CANBERRA OBSERVED Electorate shock: PM touches reality's live wire

WA BUSHFIRE INQUIRY Ferguson report a beauty, but now the fight begins

AGRICULTURE Sweet success for farmers in Queensland sugar market


ECONOMICS Ignore scaremongers; Britannia rules apply

PUBLIC POLICY WA Meth Strategy 2016 a most welcome first step

EUTHANASIA Measure of success of Dutch tests will be death

HIGHER EDUCATION Trigger warnings: an infantile tyranny

FREE SPEECH From disagreement to discrimination: section 18C, Part 2

AUSTRALIAN HISTORY Middle Kingdom brings eternal Now down under

MUSIC Weighing up sounds and silence in John Tavener

CINEMA Memory, self and family: Finding Dory

BOOK REVIEW Mao Maoing a culture

ERICH VON MANSTEIN: Hitler's Master Strategist

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Electorate shock: PM touches reality's live wire

News Weekly, July 16, 2016

The aftershocks from the 2016 election are likely to reverberate for months, and extend the instability that has plagued Australian politics for close to a decade, almost since the global financial crisis (GFC) shook the Western world.


Turnbull shocked: he accentuated

the positive but ignored the negative.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has been badly wounded, his reputation as a vote winner shattered, as well as any hope for an extended period of strong government that could get on with the job of reform.


There is no guarantee that Mr Turnbull will survive the coming term.

The scale of the disaster for the Coalition cannot be underestimated. Parliament will be inherently unstable, whether we have a minority Coalition government or a Coalition with the narrowest of majorities; and a full three-year term is an unlikely prospect.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten is already calling for another election and, having had a hand in cutting down two Labor prime ministers and orchestrating the most dishonest scare campaign in modern Australian politics, he will not take one step backwards in trying to bring down Mr Turnbull’s government as well.

Far from securing stable government, voters have decided to elect instead a Parliament of competing and ad hoc interests, from an anti-halal Pauline Hanson, to a protectionist and parochial Nick Xenophon, through to anti-pedophile campaigner Derryn Hinch.

The Brexit vote, which many commentators interpreted as likely to help the Coalition’s plea for stability and good economic management, probably had the opposite effect. Voters who were disenchanted by the major parties decided to exert their power through the ballot box and vote for minor parties in unprecedented numbers.

Mr Turnbull went into the election seeking authority and vindication for the tearing down of Tony Abbott, and the Australian people gave him what was, at best, a lukewarm endorsement.

Labor’s spurious Medicare scare campaign worked spectacularly and the Coalition was either unable to counter or it (or worse, was so complacent that it thought it could still win comfortably without needing to kill it off).

Mr Turnbull also personally sought a double-dissolution election – the first in 29 years – to clean out the Senate of the troublemakers and single-issue parties. But the voters dished him up even more of them.

Reports after the election were very critical of Mr Turnbull’s campaign strategy. He chose, for example, to avoid any issues that remotely resembled Tony Abbott’s pet issues. Mr Turnbull played down national security, border control, and militant unionism during the campaign.

This was despite two major international terrorist attacks – in Orlando, Florida, and Ankara, Turkey – and an astonishing union power grab in Victoria that upset tens of thousands of the state’s finest volunteers, who put their lives on the line every summer.

Instead Mr Turnbull’s campaign studiously avoided negative campaigning, and avoided a serious full frontal attack on Mr Shorten.


In Mr Turnbull’s defence, the key message of his campaign was that Australia had to pursue a course to grow the national economy in order to create jobs and the tax base that would afford the benefits and services that the government provides its citizens.


Mr Turnbull at least conceded that economic times had changed, that the mining boom had ended, and that Australia had to find innovative ways forward if it wanted its prosperity to continue. It was a positive and optimistic message in response to a deteriorating and unstable world economy.

By contrast Labor just promised more spending, bigger deficits and no plan for the future, and their “all gain no pain” message was accepted.

There are several lessons from the election. First, barring a crisis, it is now extremely difficult for any government to pull back entitlements and services. Every serious commentator concedes that the budget is not sustainable, but even sensible reforms seem extremely difficult in the non-bipartisan environment. Outsourcing Medicare’s outdated back-office computer system did not remotely equate to privatisation; but, no matter, thanks to Labor Medicare will have to run on a decrepit computer system in perpetuity.

Second, no political leader will go into any election for a long time as Malcolm Turnbull did without a negative campaign. The next election will be horrible.

Third, unstable government is becoming the norm in Australia. In the first decade of the Commonwealth, there were regular changes of government before the country settled into a two-party system, and there have been other periods of instability.

Mr Turnbull will require every skill at his disposal to pull himself out of the mess he finds himself in. If he makes one serious mistake, his nemesis Tony Abbott is still in the Parliament, ready to step into his shoes.

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