December 17th 2016

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Much food for reflection in a single Christmas carol

CANBERRA OBSERVED Coalition limps through year of frustrations

FOREIGN AFFAIRS The left's whitewash of Fidel Castro

THE MEDIA Greed, ideology generate burst of fake news online

WA LEGISLATION Foetal homicide reform a very small step forward

SOCIETY A proposal to assist the victims of sexual abuse

AUSTRALIAN DEVELOPMENT The financial and social costs of cramming ourselves into just five coastal cities

MUSIC What Ellington heard: Allan Zavod, RIP


CINEMA Capra on the Common Man: Meet John Doe

BOOK APPRAISAL Religious incredulity: a most modern virtue

BOOK REVIEW A continuing analysis

Books promotion page

Coalition limps through year of frustrations

News Weekly, December 17, 2016

The Turnbull Government ends 2016 in a hopeful but precarious position, managing to make the most of a dysfunctional Parliament but uncertain about how it will manage the rest of its term.

Malcolm Turnbull’s great political gamble earlier this year – holding an historic double-dissolution election to clear out the Senate and gain a working majority in the House of Representatives – failed spectacularly.

He merely managed to swap one group of rogue crossbench senators for another, and reduce his majority in the house to a sliver. The result has meant serious policy and legislative changes are near impossible while Parliament devotes enormous heat and energy on minor issues.

We all wish Mr Turnbull well.


Former Treasurer Joe Hockey clearly miscalculated by deciding to make the Australian Taxation Office enforce a 39 per cent tax rate on foreign workers, and the Government worked to find a compromise of 19 per cent. Yet the horse trading in the Senate when the issue finally came before Parliament was absurd, with furious debates about 10.5 per cent, 13 per cent and 15 per cent being proposed.

In the end the Government was forced to do a deal with the Greens, who extracted an additional $100 million for a pet project for agreeing to back a 15 per cent tax.

New Victorian Senator Derryn Hinch in particular was swept up in the drama of the debate, and his inexperience was exposed as he changed his mind on the tax several times in a week.

The whole episode exposed the triviality of Parliament because really serious issues, including government debt, the ageing population, and the post-mining boom economy are being neglected.

Mr Turnbull has now a couple of months to go away and consider the future and respond to criticism that his Government lacks an economic and policy narrative.

In fairness to Mr Turnbull, it was never meant to be like this. Had he been able to win the 2016 election with a solid workable majority, and had Labor not embarked on one of the most dishonest scare campaigns in modern political history, over changes to superannuation, things would have been much different.

It is likely that Mr Turnbull will use the Christmas period to draw a political road map for 2017 that includes some more substantive policy proposals.

Further, it is likely that Mr Turnbull will opt for a small reshuffle of his ministry. Though it seems at this stage that a refreshed cabinet will not include his predecessor, Tony Abbott, who has volunteered his services as a cabinet minister.

There is some speculation inside the Coalition about the future of Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion, who has been rumoured for some time to be considering retiring from politics.

If Mr Scullion exits the scene, there would be a clear path for Mr Abbott to make a return in this important but always controversial portfolio and one in which the former PM has a long-term interest.

However, others in the Coalition fear that having Mr Abbott inside cabinet would create instability and a competitive tension that is not present currently.

The only bright spot for Mr Turnbull is that the longer Bill Shorten remains in the job of Opposition Leader, the more his opportunism and recklessness will be recognised. Whereas the crossbenchers are difficult and narrow in their focus, Mr Shorten’s strategy is that of a wrecker – to do damage to the Government wherever and whenever he can.

Eventually, voters will tire of this behaviour because it has been a plague on politics for more than a decade, and there will come a point where people will want to put their country ahead of juvenile politics.

Overall, Mr Turnbull must be glad to be seeing the back of 2016. But with the composition of Parliament largely unchanged and Labor’s intransigence unlikely to let up, there may be no respite in 2017.

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