Malcolm Turnbull’s feel-good assertions are at odds with Coalition reality. Photo: Rob HomerCoalition tensions flare over same-sex marriageHow about an insurgency to aid and Abetz the flat-Earthers?
Malcolm Turnbull’s implicit promise to the Australian people, used to justify his raid on Tony Abbott’s power, was to lead a modern government; less narrow, less defensive, and determined to be truly representative.
“This will be a thoroughly liberal government,” he told reporters within minutes of his party-room coup, “… committed to freedom, the individual and the market.”
The sense of national relief was palpable and the bounce in the polls, gargantuan – from looming disaster to leading the race. Lickety-split.
Yet as his first calendar year begins, promise and reality are straining apart. Labor’s refrain that Turnbull was merely Abbott in a better suit, had glanced off in the heady atmosphere of the time, appearing faintly desperate. “All their policies are the same,” Bill Shorten had protested lamely.
But there was something to this. Turnbull may have replaced nope with hope, but he had expressly traded away his wish to accelerate the same-sex marriage timetable, and had surrendered his signature emissions trading ambitions, in the quest for a conservative majority.
Even within these constraints however, Turnbull somehow managed to cloak his new leadership in the rhetorical garb of optimism. It was as if his reputation as a forward leaner on global warming, marriage equality, the republic, and the internet, cut more ice with voters than the pesky details and squalid compromises necessary to secure the leadership.
As things stand, in January, 2016, support for the government remains high, and for Turnbull, stratospheric. Yet danger looms. Conservative Liberals are on the warpath, hitting back at attempts by moderates to remake their party, and reminding voters that Turnbull’s internal authority, especially in the absence of his own mandate, is a matter of perspective.
Former frontbenchers Eric Abetz and Cory Bernardi have defied their leader, vowing to vote against marriage reform even if a future plebiscite supports change. There will be others. This makes a mockery of Turnbull’s reassurance that of course, the costly and disruptive peoples’ vote would be honoured by the government and the Parliament.
On the republic, Turnbull has retreated too – advising he has no stomach for another honourable loss. Here his words, signalling that the time is not right and that the next attempt must be driven from the ground up, are at least technically defensible.
But the atmosphere of resignation they create is pungent, and antithetical to his broader promise. His feel-good assertion that there’s never been a better time to be an Australian, is being tempered with the acrid reality that there has rarely been a better time to be a monarchist – when even the nation’s chief republican concludes that an historic cross-party consensus, means nothing.
Small-target strategies are more usually the refuge of oppositions.
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