21/09/2015 - 06:01

Another political reboot

21/09/2015 - 06:01


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Malcolm Turnbull faces high expectations from a public fed up with political inertia and infighting.

Last week’s shock removal of Tony Abbott as Australia’s prime minister offers two potentially different outcomes for business.

The first, more pessimistic, view is that the newly installed leader, Malcolm Turnbull, has grasped the prime ministership without overcoming one his predecessor’s greatest failings – the lack of a cohesive plan that can work in a hostile political environment.

That would be the worst outcome for business because it means another year or more of destabilisation followed, most likely, by Labor’s Bill Shorten whose pro-union policies are unlikely to help industry adapt to global change.

The optimistic alternative, presumably the one Mr Turnbull and his plotters believe can be achieved, is that a new leader can win over the tricky federal Senate to deliver policies that are welcomed by the vast majority of hard-working Australians.

That could lead to a new less volatile era in which the Liberal Party remains in office for at least another term and Mr Shorten is replaced.

Most business will be hoping for the latter.

Hopefully Mr Turnbull can draw from history the lessons he needs to ensure the optimist’s view is the correct one.

Arguably, in 2010, Julia Gillard had the same opportunity. As much as her political opponents highlight her holding a bloodied knife, the truth is she removed prime minister Kevin Rudd to take the top job because his leadership was flawed and he had overstretched his government with a host of poorly thought out policy failures. Electoral loss was imminent.

Ms Gillard did not have the time to make her case to the public and, as a result, won unconvincingly at the poll held a couple of months after the coup to overthrow Mr Rudd.

After that, and here Mr Turnbull must note, she had her chance to stamp her authority on the position albeit from a position of weakness and having done a deal with the Greens.

Ms Gillard’s period as prime minister was every bit as much a disaster as her predecessor’s and, to a lesser extent, that of Mr Abbott, who was her real successor.

Again, for Mr Turnbull to succeed he has to have learned from those that went before him – and his own actions when he was opposition leader.

Business, like the public, wants sensible economic policy that gives the nation options and flexibility as it deals with global technological and demographic change. They don’t want to have surprises sprung on them, one after the other.

Business, too, wants to see a government in step with the people.

Mr Abbott’s awarding of a knighthood to Prince Phillip might be an overworked example of his poor political radar, but it is almost impossible to find anyone who thought that was a good idea. That is a not a leader in tune with people.

The remarkable thing is that it jarred with the public more than Mr Shorten’s alignment to the union movement, a narrow centre of political views that are as anachronistic as anything the extreme right could offer.

Mr Turnbull has the benefit of sitting in the political middle, hopefully representing more than the minority views of Mr Abbott or Mr Shorten.

In Western Australia, this might be represented in backing innovation that will best place the state to negotiate the tricky pathway out of a collapsing boom.

In infrastructure terms, this may include removing the bias on roads in favour of an outcomes-focused strategy that looks at all the transport options available.

From a business perspective, this must mean removing things impediments that make it too hard for entrepreneurs to start, grow and develop thriving businesses. The newspaper views such things as inflexible working conditions, clunky tax regimes and ponderous restrictions on post-resources-boom industries such as food production.


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