Malcolm Turnbull’s ascendency to the Prime Minister’s office has undoubtedly shifted Australian politics for the better. The Liberal Party now has a small-l liberal leader, and his promise of a ‘thoroughly liberal government’ is reassuring.
In the week since Turnbull was sworn in, there has been a noticeable shift in the tone and focus of Australian politics. The circus of personal attacks and tit-for-tat party games is giving way to a battle of ideas, and Australia is better for it!
On the same day Turnbull delivered a refreshing and much overdue call to arms on Australia’s problem with domestic violence, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten announced an extension to the HELP loan to support entrepreneurial students.
After riding on the back of Tony Abbott’s popularity for so long, Shorten will now be forced to articulate a coherent agenda for the future. Short term oppositionist rhetoric is no longer enough. Unlike Abbott, Turnbull does not fear the changing world, but embraces ‘the opportunities’ it brings.
We now have a leader focused on how Australia can drink from the fruits progress, and his rhetoric on living in the most ‘exciting’ era of time is as optimistic as it is inspiring. The voters are listening. The Liberals have not experienced a sugar hit in the polls so much as a liver transplant, bouncing from trailing on a lowly 48 percent 2 party-preferred to a strong 55 percent.
It is early days, to be sure, and Turnbull will need to make a clear case on how the his government’s policies differ from that of his predecessor. This is what his detractors will attack him on, so business as usual will not cut it. Thankfully, the signs are that Turnbull’s leadership is not just a facelift, but a complete makeover.
The $3 Billion in funding originally for the East-West Link has already been unlocked for Victorian rail, ending the needless gridlock after Abbott refused to unlock the money for political reasons. Housing affordability and increasing supply is on Treasurer Scott Morrison’s agenda, and taxation reform finally looks to be given more attention than mere lip service.
It is true that Turnbull is locked in on the plebiscite on Same-Sex Marriage and Direct Action on Climate Change, but both policies are not without merit. Promising a plebiscite on same-sex marriage after the 2016 election hands the issue over to the people, and such a position is fair from a political perspective – particularly for keeping the peace within his own party.
Direct Action might have its detractors, and while it is not the most ideal policy, it’s defensible in the sense that it does not interfere with Australia’s economic market while the rest of the world drags its feet. Until there is a worldwide consensus on a market solution to climate change, the government can, with some justification, stand by what is, in essence, an interim scheme.
However, Turnbull will need to refocus the government’s commitment to renewable energy, which had previously been pilloried under Abbott and Hockey’s stewardship. Kate Thornton, Chief Executive of the Clean Energy Council, has already passed comment on how Turnbull’s leadership is cause for renewed optimism in the sector.
That is the key word: optimism. There is a strong sense, even from those people that will never vote Liberal, that Australia is somehow more hopeful under Prime Minister Turnbull. Perhaps that is not so much from his own merit, but more a reflection on Tony Abbott.
Abbott’s legacy will render him as a wrecking ball in Australian politics. Short term opportunism, oppositionist rhetoric and a divisive Left-Right dichotomy were the hallmarks of his leadership of the party and the country. Yet he was merely a product of Canberra’s insularism that Australians have grown increasingly tired of over the past decade. Conventional wisdom treated long term reform as too difficult in a poll driven environment, and it was easier to play short term political games than articulate an agenda. Both major parties are responsible.
Turnbull is also a product of Australian politics, yet his situation is markedly different. His embrace of free market capitalism married to social liberalism is a welcome representation of Australian policy convergence over the past thirty years. The old paradigm of Left-Right politics has never been less relevant, and our current Prime Minister’s view of the world is testament to that. There is genuine hope that his leadership can take us somewhere new.