View from The Hill: Malcolm Turnbull delivers the unpalatable truth to Scott Morrison on climate and energy


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Sometimes birthdays are best let pass quietly. The Liberals are finding the 75th anniversary of their founding another occasion for the blood sport they thought they’d put behind them.

Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull are out of parliament – for which Scott Morrison is much thankful – but their passions are unabated. Each has let fly in interviews with The Australian’s Troy Bramston to mark the anniversary.

Abbott repeated that it was Turnbull’s undermining which did him in (only the partial truth) and indicated he wouldn’t mind returning to parliament but didn’t think the Liberal party would ask him (absolutely true).

Turnbull’s was the more pertinent and, from where the government stands, pointed interview because it fed very directly into central issues of the moment, climate change and energy policy.

“The Liberal Party has just proved itself incapable of dealing with the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in any sort of systematic way,” Turnbull said.

“The consequence … is without question that we are paying higher prices for electricity and having higher emissions.”




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He knows what he’s talking about. These issues were critical (though not the only factor) in Turnbull losing the leadership twice – first in opposition and then in government. And that was despite doing deals and trade offs to try to satisfy the right in his party.

He still frets about the battles which cost him so much for so little gain. He told the Australian, amid boasts about what his government had done, that his biggest regret as PM was not settling a new energy policy.

What Scott Morrison really thinks on the climate challenge, or what he would do if he were just driven by policy concerns without regard to party considerations or electoral judgements are in that category of known unknowns.

In few areas can Morrison’s beliefs be divined free of political context.

But we do know two things.

Firstly, we don’t have a satisfactory energy policy: emissions are rising; power prices are too high; investment is being discouraged. An analysis released by the Grattan Institute this week was damning about how federal government policies were discouraging investment including by “bashing big companies” (the so-called “big stick” legislation, allowing for divestment when an energy company is recalcitrant, is still before parliament).

Secondly, climate change is again resonating strongly in the community.




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Critics dismiss the attention young activist Greta Thunberg has received internationally, and this week’s “Extinction Rebellion” demonstrations, and many in the government would point to the election result to note that climate change did not carry the day with the “quiet Australians”.

The Morrison win, however, doesn’t mean the issue lacks cut through, or won’t have potency in the future. And although the Liberals like to talk about the miracle victory, it should be remembered the win was by a sliver, not by 30 seats. What made it so notable was that it defied expectations.

Turnbull said in his interview the Liberal party had been influenced by a group that was denialist and reactionary on climate change.

It still is, but this group is not giving trouble at the moment because Morrison, unlike his predecessor, is not provoking them.

The problem for Morrison is that keeping his party calm doesn’t solve the policy problem. Unless that is more effectively tackled, it could come back to bite him, regardless of the positive tale he tries to spin, such as in his United Nations speech.

Turnbull also said in his interview that, among much else, in government he had been “very focused on innovation” which, as we remember, was his catch cry in his early days as PM.

And, if we take information from the Harvard Kennedy School’s Center for International Development, reported in Tuesday’s Australian Financial Review, Australia needs innovation to be a much higher priority.

Australia fell from 57th to 93rd between 1995 and 2017 on the index of economic complexity, which measures the diversity and sophistication of countries’ exports. Our wealth comes from the minerals and energy that form the bulk of our exports but “Australia⁩ is ⁨less complex than expected⁩ for its income level. As a result, its economy is projected to grow ⁨slowly.⁩ The Growth Lab’s ⁨2027⁩ Growth Projections foresee growth in ⁨Australia⁩ of ⁨2.2%⁩ annually over the coming decade, ranking in the ⁨bottom half⁩ of countries globally,” the data says.

“Economic growth is driven by diversification into new products that are incrementally more complex. … ⁨⁨Australia⁩ has diversified into too few products to contribute to substantial income growth.⁩”




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Turnbull’s talk of innovation, agility, and the like was seen by many in his ranks, particularly in hindsight, as too high falutin’. It certainly went down badly in regional areas, which is why in 2016 the Nationals sharply differentiated themselves in the election campaign.

The Harvard work suggests Turnbull’s innovation ambition was on the right track. But the political evidence showed he was a bad salesman for this (and a lot else).

Morrison is a good marketing man. But the test of his prime ministership will be whether he can use his marketing skills to sell policies that the country needs, rather just what he thinks will go over easily with his constituency.

The most effective leaders (and that excludes both Abbott and Turnbull) can both identify what the nation requires and persuade enough of the voters to embrace it, even when it’s difficult. They operate not on the principle of the lowest common electoral denominator, or simplistic descriptions of their supporters – rather they pursue the highest achievable goals.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

If Dutton had defeated Turnbull, could the governor-general have stopped him becoming prime minister?


Had Peter Dutton won the 2018 leadership ballot and become prime minister, the governor-general may have had some tricky legal arguments on his hands.
AAP/Ellen Smith

Anne Twomey, University of Sydney

Who decides who is to be prime minister?

When Malcom Turnbull was challenged by Peter Dutton in August 2018 for the leadership of the Liberal Party, and ultimately the prime ministership, Turnbull apparently asserted that the governor-general would not appoint a person whose eligibility to hold the office was in doubt.




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His attorney-general, Christian Porter, reportedly replied that Turnbull was “wrong in law” and that the governor-general could only have regard to issues of confidence.

Who was right, and what might have happened if Dutton had been chosen as leader of the Liberal Party?

Not a choice between Dutton and Turnbull

The governor-general can only act to fill a vacancy in the prime ministership if there is one. If Dutton had defeated Turnbull in a leadership challenge, this would not itself have vacated the office of prime minister. Turnbull would have continued as prime minister until he resigned (or in extreme circumstances, was dismissed). So the governor-general would not have faced the question of whether or not to appoint Dutton as prime minister until Turnbull had indicated he was going to resign.

The choice would then have been between Dutton and whoever else the governor-general considered was most likely to hold the confidence of the house. It would be unlikely that the governor-general would seek to reappoint the prime minister who had just resigned, unless he was the only person who could hold the confidence of the lower house.

This would seem most unlikely in the circumstances.

What if Turnbull had advised the governor-general to appoint someone else?

The more plausible scenario would have been that Turnbull resigned as prime minister but advised the governor-general to appoint someone other than Dutton, such as Julie Bishop, due to concerns about Dutton’s possible disqualification under section 44 of the Constitution. This raises the question of whether the advice of an outgoing prime minister about who should be his or her successor is conventionally binding on the governor-general.

Ordinarily, the principle of responsible government requires the governor-general to act on the advice of ministers who are responsible for that advice to parliament, and through parliament to the people.

But that principle only works when the minister continues to be responsible for that advice. An outgoing prime minister necessarily ceases to be responsible to parliament for advice about his or her successor. The governor-general is instead obliged, by convention, to appoint as prime minister the person who is most likely to command the confidence of the lower house, regardless of what the outgoing prime minister advises.

While this is the orthodox constitutional position, there is still some controversy about it. When Kevin Rudd defeated Julia Gillard for the leadership of the Labor Party in 2013, it was not clear whether the crossbenchers who supported the minority Gillard government would support Rudd.

The then governor-general, Quentin Bryce, sought advice from the acting solicitor-general as to whether to appoint Rudd as prime minister on the basis of Gillard’s advice. The acting solicitor-general advised that the governor-general should do so, and appeared to take the view that the outgoing prime minister’s advice was conventionally binding.

He did not advise the governor-general that her sole consideration should be who held the confidence of the house.

Who advises the governor-general on legal issues?

If, in 2018, the governor-general had sought legal advice about his powers and the conventions that govern them, two questions would have arisen. First, who should provide the advice? Should it be the solicitor-general, the attorney-general, or the even the prime minister?

In 1975, when the governor-general asked for legal advice, the prime minister, Gough Whitlam, said it could only come through him. The attorney-general and the solicitor-general prepared a joint draft advice, but it was not provided promptly.

When a frustrated governor-general, Sir John Kerr, called in the attorney-general to get the advice, he was presented with a draft that the attorney-general apparently said he had not carefully read and did not necessarily reflect his views. Kerr later, controversially, sought the advice of the chief justice, Sir Garfield Barwick.

In more recent times, the solicitor-general has provided advice to the governor-general, as occurred in 2013. Even then, that advice was controversial, as it addressed how the governor-general “should” act, rather than simply advising on the powers and conventions that applied and leaving the governor-general to decide how to apply them.

There is currently no clear position in Australia on who should provide legal advice to the governor-general and the constraints upon the type of advice that should be given. This needs to be addressed in the future.

What happens when advice conflicts?

The second question is how the governor-general should deal with conflicting advice, which in 2018 was a real possibility.

For example, the solicitor-general could have taken the same view as the previous acting solicitor-general – that the advice of the outgoing prime minister is binding. The attorney-general, Christian Porter, apparently took the view that it was not binding, and that the governor-general should only consider who held the confidence of the house.

The prime minister is likely to have taken the view that the governor-general was bound to act on his advice not to appoint Dutton as prime minister, or that if the governor-general had a discretion, he should take into account the doubts about legal eligibility and refuse to appoint a person who might be disqualified from parliament.

There is no rule book that tells the governor-general how to deal with conflicting legal and ministerial advice. Ultimately, in this case, it was a reserve power that was in question and the discretion was a matter for the governor-general to exercise.

Confidence and eligibility when appointing a prime minister

Assuming the governor-general accepted the orthodox view that the appointment of a prime minister is a reserve power governed by the convention that the prime minister should hold the confidence of the lower house, what should he have done in this scenario?

The first issue is one of confidence. It is not certain that even if Dutton had been appointed leader of the Liberal Party, he would have held the confidence of the house. There may well have been defections that altered the balance of power.




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Hence the governor-general, as occurred in 2013, could have required an assurance to be given by the prospective prime minister that he would immediately face the house to allow it to determine confidence.

The second issue concerns eligibility. The governor-general is obliged to obey the Constitution. If the Constitution plainly prohibits action, such as appointing a prime minister in certain circumstances, the governor-general is obliged to obey it.

But where the legal question is contestable, it is not up to the governor-general to determine it. In this case, the Constitution and the law confer the power on the relevant house, or the High Court acting as the Court of Disputed Returns, to determine disqualification from parliament.

Further, the Constitution allows a person to be a minister, without holding a seat in parliament, for up to three months. So the governor-general could legally have appointed Dutton as prime minister, but might first have required his assurance that he would ensure his eligibility was resolved by a reference to the High Court.

In this way, the governor-general would have protected the Constitution and the rule of law while still complying with the principle of responsible government. Of course, he may have had some difficulty persuading Dutton to give those assurances. But this is precisely why we appoint as governor-general people with the authority and gravitas to ensure that the Constitution is respected and upheld.The Conversation

Anne Twomey, Professor of Constitutional Law, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Turnbull slams Porter for “nonsense” advice


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Malcolm Turnbull has accused Attorney-General Christian Porter of providing advice to him that was constitutional “nonsense”, as the divisive events around the former prime minister’s removal are revisited.

Turnbull launched his acerbic Twitter attack following reports that the day before he was deposed last August, he clashed with Porter over trying to involve Governor-General Peter Cosgrove in the leadership crisis. Turnbull was seeking to ensure Peter Dutton did not become prime minister if he won the leadership.

Meantime, Dutton has revealed that before the May election he removed himself from involvement in a family trust – an involvement that last term had raised doubts about his eligibility to sit in parliament. The trust received money from his wife’s child care business, and child care receives government subsidy.

Dutton always maintained he was on safe constitutional ground and his spokeswoman on Thursday reaffirmed that he had had legal opinions saying he was not in breach of section 44. During the leadership crisis the Solicitor-General provided advice, taking the view Dutton was eligible, though he left some doubt.

“Nonetheless, to silence those who are politically motivated and continue to raise this; prior to the minister’s nomination at the May election, he formally renounced any interest in the trust in question,” she said.




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Accounts of the contretemps between Turnbull and Porter were published in Thursday’s Australian and by Nine newspapers.

Turnbull argued Cosgrove should refuse to commission Dutton, if he won the leadership, on the grounds he might be constitutionally ineligible to sit in parliament.

Porter insisted Turnbull’s suggested course would be “wrong in law” – that the eligibility issue was not a matter for the governor-general – and threatened to repudiate Turnbull’s position if he advanced it publicly at an imminent news conference.

The Attorney-General had a letter of resignation with him, in case he needed to provide it.




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The events of last year will be extensively raked over in coming weeks in books by journalists Niki Savva and David Crowe. They featured in a Sky documentary this week.

Turnbull refought his battle with Porter on Thursday, tweeting: “The discretion to swear in a person as PM is vested in the Governor General. The proposition advanced by Mr Porter that it is none of the GG’s business whether the would be PM is constitutionally eligible is nonsense. The GG is not a constitutional cypher.

“During the week of 24 August 2018 there was advice from leading constitutional lawyers Bret Walker that Dutton was ineligible to sit in the Parliament and thus ineligible to be a Minister, let alone Prime Minister. I ensured we sought the advice of the Solicitor General.

“I took the responsible course of action, obtained the necessary advice, published it and the Party Room was informed when it made its decision to elect Mr Morrison, rather than Mr Dutton, as leader.”

Porter, speaking on radio on Thursday, confirmed the accuracy of the media reports, including the tense nature of the meeting. “Sometimes meetings in government aren’t all potpourri and roses,” he said.

Porter said an attorney-general’s role was to provide advice they considered accurate and legally correct.

“Sometimes that advice is not always what people want to hear. But I’ve always taken very seriously the role and the fact that the role requires to give advice to the best of your legal knowledge and ability you think is accurate and correct.

“And that’s what I’ve always tried to do, that’s what I did during the course of that very difficult week.”The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: Malcolm Turnbull’s home truths on the NEG help Labor in the climate wars


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

An Easter weekend in an election campaign might be a bit of a challenge for a pair of leaders who were atheists. But fortunately for Scott Morrison and Bill Shorten, declared believers, it wasn’t a problem.

Both attended church services during the so-called campaign cease-fire that the main parties had proclaimed for two of the four days.

Morrison on Sunday was pictured in full voice with raised arm at his Horizon Pentacostal church in The Shire, where the media were invited in. On Friday he’d been at a Maronite Catholic service in Sydney.

Sunday morning saw Shorten at an Anglican service in Brisbane, his family including mother-in-law Quentin Bryce, former governor-general.

Neither leader was hiding his light under a bushel.

Church, chocolate and penalty rates

Sunday was an opportunity to wheel out the kids, chasing Easter eggs (Shorten) or on the Rock Star ride at Sydney’s Royal Easter Show (Morrison). This was campaigning when you’re not (exactly) campaigning.

The minor players weren’t into the pretend game. For them, the relative restraint on the part of the majors presented rare opportunity. Usually Centre Alliance senator Rex Patrick would have little chance of being the feature interview on the ABC’s Insiders.

But while Friday and Sunday were lay days for the major parties Saturday was not (and Monday won’t be either).

For Labor, Easter has meshed nicely with one of the key planks of its wages policy – restoration of penalty rate cuts by the Fair Work Commission. Even on Sunday, Shorten pointedly thanked “everyone who’s working this weekend”.

It was the start of Labor’s campaign focus turning from health to wages this week, when it will cast the election as a “referendum on wages”.

Turnbull resurrects the NEG

The weekend standout, however, was the intervention of Malcolm Turnbull, who launched a series of pointed tweets about the National Energy Guarantee (NEG).

Turnbull was set off by a reference from journalist David Speers to “Malcolm Turnbull’s NEG”.

“In fact the NEG had the support of the entire Cabinet, including and especially the current PM and Treasurer. It was approved by the Party Room on several occasions”, the former prime minister tweeted.



“It had the support of the business community and energy sector in a way that no previous energy policy had. However a right wing minority in the Party Room refused to accept the majority position and threatened to cross the floor and defeat their own government”.

“That is the only reason it has been abandoned by the Government. The consequence is no integration of energy and climate policy, uncertainty continues to discourage investment with the consequence, as I have often warned, of both higher emissions and higher electricity prices.”

He wasn’t finished.



“And before anyone suggests the previous tweet is some kind of revelation – all of the economic ministers, including myself, @ScottMorrisonMP, @JoshFrydenberg spent months arguing for the NEG on the basis that it would reduce electricity prices and enable us to lower our emissions.”

And then:

“I see the @australian has already described the tweets above as attacking the Coalition. That’s rubbish. I am simply stating the truth: the NEG was designed & demonstrated to reduce electricity prices. So dumping it means prices will be higher than if it had been retained. QED”

“The @australian claims I ‘dropped the NEG’. False. When it was clear a number of LNP MPs were going to cross the floor the Cabinet resolved to not present the Bill at that time but maintain the policy as @ScottMorrisonMP, @JoshFrydenberg& I confirmed on 20 August.”



(Frydenberg, incidentally, has lost out every which way on the NEG. As energy minister he tried his hardest to get it up, only to see it fall over. Now he is subject to a big campaign against him in Kooyong on climate change, including from high-profile candidates and GetUp.)

Turnbull might justify the intervention as just reminding people of the history. But it is damaging for the government and an Easter gift for Labor – which is under pressure over how much its ambitious emissions reduction policy would cost the economy. It also feeds into Labor’s constant referencing of the coup against Turnbull.

Turnbull’s Easter tweets are a reminder

  • the Coalition sacrificed a coherent policy on energy and climate for a hotchpotch with adverse consequences for prices;

  • it dumped that policy simply because of internal bloodymindedness, and

  • the now-PM and treasurer were backers of the NEG, which had wide support from business.

Shorten has strengthened his commitment on the NEG, indicating on Saturday he’d pursue it in government even without bipartisan support.

“We’ll use some of the Turnbull, Morrison, Frydenberg architecture, and we will work with that structure,” he said.

Given the hole it has left in the government’s energy policy, pressing Morrison on the economic cost of walking away from the NEG is as legitimate as asking Shorten about the economic impact of his policy.




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The Conversation


Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

What will the Coalition be remembered for on tax? Tinkering, blunders and lost opportunities


Robert Breunig, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University and Kristen Sobeck, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

This article is part of a series examining the Coalition government’s record on key issues while in power and what Labor is promising if it wins the 2019 federal election.


Politicians often invoke the word “reform” to convey the significance, or gravitas, of a particular policy change they are proposing.

However, the tax policies implemented over the six years of the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government should be more aptly described as: no reform, lots of tinkering, two blunders and some lost opportunities.

To be fair to the leaders of the Coalition, both Abbott and Turnbull began their prime ministerships professing a large appetite for tax reform.

In opposition Abbott and his treasury spokesman Joe Hockey had promised a major inquiry. Hockey said it would pick up where Labor’s Henry Tax Review left off:

We thought the Henry Tax Review was going to be a proper process. Now, that has obviously been an abject failure. We’ve said – Tony Abbott announced
in Budget and reply speech – we will have a proper process for proper tax reform, and whatever comes out of that process, which will be a white paper, we will take to a subsequent election, seeking the mandate of the
Australian people – their approval.

Treasury’s Re:think tax discussion paper, which is as far as the tax white paper process got.
Source: Commonwealth Treasury

It got as far as a discussion paper, seeking submissions.

When Turnbull assumed the leadership, the draft white paper, which would have followed the discussion paper, was scuttled, and the process ended.

Tinkering…

Instead what resulted were marginal changes to personal income tax. One of the brackets was expanded and a new low and middle income tax offset was added.

Marginal changes to superannuation tax further added to the complexity of the tax system as a whole. The current superannuation system disproportionately rewards higher income earners because most contributions are taxed at the same low rate (15%) regardless of the taxpayers’ income tax rate.

The Coalition’s response was to apply a 30% tax on contributions for those earning $250,000 or more (down from the previous threshold of $300,000) and to cut the cap on concessional contributions from $30,000 ($35,000 for those aged 49 and over) to $25,000. And it capped at $1.6 million the amount that could be transferred into the “retirement phase” where fund earnings in retirement were exempt from tax.

It made the system much more complex, and it could have been done more simply, perhaps by reimposing tax on super earnings in retirement (at a low rate) or by taxing by contributions at a standard discount to taxpayers at a marginal rate, as recommended by the 2009 Henry Tax Review.

Alongside these marginal changes, there was also a failed attempt to cut the company tax rate (only the tax rates for small companies were cut) and a muddled discussion about the progressivity of the income tax system.

All in all, many a tinker, but no reform.

Blunders…

Human-induced climate change is compromising the sustainability of our planet. The only way to solve it is by changing incentives using the economic toolkit at our disposal. The Carbon Tax was a good tax. It shifted the costs of pollution onto those who created it, instead of subsidising processes that damaged the environment.

No solution to climate change is possible without corrective taxes.

At some point we’ll have to climb that mountain again, assuming the mountain is not underwater before politicians come to their senses.

The repeal of the Minerals Resource Rent Tax was also a step backwards. By taxing rents (excess profits) instead of profits, it avoided the disincentives created by traditional company taxes. And, it was a good example of the kind of taxes that could eventually replace or supplement company tax.

…and lost opportunities

Changing the GST could have ensured at least one significant contribution to overall tax reform. At 10%, the rate is relatively low by international standards and applies to a shrinking share of spending, as more and more of our money is spent in places or on goods that aren’t taxed.


Value-added (GST) tax rates in OECD and selected Asian countries.
Re:think, Treasury tax discussion paper, March 2015

These factors, combined with the fact that GST is difficult to evade and less costly to administer, suggest that broadening the base is low hanging fruit on the tax reform tree, ripe for picking.

Instead, it may as well be forbidden fruit from the Garden of Eden. We’ve gone in the wrong direction by adding even more exemptions and cutting short talk of increasing the rate.

The failed debate on company tax cuts was another missed opportunity.

What remains is a system that applies different rates to different company sizes, one of few remaining dividend imputation systems in the world, and no discussion about the sustainability of corporate income tax revenue in the future.

All up, the government’s approach over the past six years has largely been piecemeal. It also managed to dismantle two of the most significant tax reforms that could have contributed to a more sustainable tax base in the long run.

Would Labor be better?

It remains to be seen whether a Labor government will be able to achieve more. Some of the party’s proposed changes, such as the treatment of capital gains, head in the right direction, but what it is offering falls short of comprehensive reform.

At the same time, many of its proposed changes will add additional complexity, fail to account for interactions within the entire tax system and use tax exemptions to reach goals that could be better achieved with payments.

Many an international tax reform was engendered by crisis, so there’s hope, of a sort. The opportunity still remains to get in early before weaknesses inherent in the current system become grossly apparent.

What we’ve got is unfair and its complexity rewards those with the resources to pay to understand and exploit it. It is overly reliant on income and company tax in place of indirect taxes, like consumption tax, and it tries to achieve too many disparate objectives, without consideration for the workings of the family and social security payments system.

There is much scope to improve things. What we need most are fearless leaders, from all sides of the political spectrum, who treat comprehensive tax reform as important and can work together to achieve it.




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What will the Turnbull-Morrison government be remembered for?


The Conversation


Robert Breunig, Professor of Economics and Director, Tax and Transfer Policy Institute, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University and Kristen Sobeck, Senior Research Officer, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Grattan on Friday: In this campaign, Morrison won’t be wearing gloves like Turnbull did in 2016


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Wall Street Journal carried the announcement of Australia’s May 18 poll with the rather cruel headline “Australia to Pick Its Next Leader—With an Election”.

It was a sharp reminder (if anyone needed one) of how appalling federal politics has been – and what it looks like to outsiders, as well as to the local voters who will soon register their judgement.

This election is Bill Shorten’s to lose, if you take the long trend of opinion polls, and what the public predict when asked who’ll win.

But the campaign over the coming weeks can be crucial, and Scott Morrison is a ferocious and desperate fighter.




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Bill Shorten starts in a strong position. The Coalition has been a shambles through much of the parliamentary term. The Liberals executed a prime minister; a Nationals leader executed himself. The government has few significant achievements except same-sex marriage, to which it was dragged.

Labor has a coherent narrative and an extensive suite of well-developed policies.

But those policies – including on negative gearing, franking credits, and climate change – are Labor’s weakness too. They leave it wide open to the scaremongering that will be relentless (and often dishonest, if the electric car debate is a guide).

Government and opposition begin this contest with nearly equal numbers. After the redistribution, the Coalition has a notional 73 House of Representative seats and Labor 72, with six crossbenchers; 76 seats are required to win government in the new 151-member house.

The closeness of the numbers means the Coalition (in minority government when the term ended) must win seats to survive.

It has hopes in a scattered handful of Labor seats – including Herbert in Queensland and Lindsay in NSW.

join The Conversation in Melbourne

The Liberals may win back Malcolm Turnbull’s old seat of Wentworth – which independent Kerryn Phelps took in the byelection – if former Liberal voters have got over their fury at the coup and look to a potential future high-flyer in Liberal candidate Dave Sharma.

Another possible Coalition gain could be Indi, where independent Cathy McGowan’s bid to pass her mantle to an independent successor may be too ambitious.

But against the government’s few prospects, its outlook in Victoria is bleak and it has many marginals in Queensland. Several Liberal seats are at risk in Western Australia. The Nationals seat of Cowper could go to a recycled independent, former MP Rob Oakeshott.

If the Coalition pulled this election out of the fire, its victory would surely be narrow, even a hung parliament, not a prospect many voters would relish.

Morrison is framing the battle as centrally about economic management, recalling Labor’s deficits, casting forward to ALP tax hikes.

He has drawn on John Howard 2004 “trust” pitch, asking “who do you trust to deliver that strong economy which your essential services rely on?”

But how will Morrison rate compared with Shorten on the empathy meter? His reply, when asked on Thursday about Labor’s “fairness” theme, that “under a Liberal Nationals government, we will always be backing in those Australians who are looking to make a contribution not take one” was jarring (and reminiscent of Joe Hockey’s lifters and leaners).

Morrison will persistently exploit Shorten’s unpopularity. “If you vote for me, you’ll get me. You vote for Bill Shorten and you’ll get Bill Shorten”. Labor sources claim people’s reservations about Shorten are already factored into the vote. Shorten says: “It’s not about me and it’s not about him” – which of course it is.

Shorten is tapping into a rich vein of grievances, over flat wages and the high cost of living. His mantras are fairness, a united team, and the contrast between looking to the future “versus being stuck in the past”. He has made Labor’s pitch on health, its traditional strength, very personal for people with his big-ticket promise to slash costs for cancer sufferers.

Compared with 2016 this will be a short campaign, 38 days to 56 days. And it will be rougher, as the Coalition runs heavily negative and reaches for every weapon. Unlike Turnbull in 2016, Morrison will not be wearing gloves.

On the other side, Labor will benefit from the freneticism of GetUp, which has many government MPs in its sights and a target of making a million phone calls. And the unions have money and manpower.

Turnbull campaigned badly, and the government was lucky to survive last election. The former prime minister’s hyped language – “innovation”, “agile”, “ideas boom”, “age of excitement” – was attuned to the future but a turn off in many parts of the country.

Morrison has to be wary of falling into the opposite trap – sounding old-fashioned, out of sync with public opinion and the rush of technology.

The scepticism of sections of the Coalition about renewables has damaged the government. The misrepresentation and demonisation of Labor’s target of having electric cars form 50% of new car sales by 2030 is likely to be counterproductive. “Bill Shorten wants to end the weekend […] where you’ve got Australians who love being out there in their four wheel drives,” Morrison said last Sunday. After the airing of past quotes from ministers praising electric cars (and maybe some focus groups) the attacks shifted gear slightly.

Australians love renewables and believe electric cars are the way of the future – that it’s just a matter of when they become cheap enough. The Coalition will get nowhere by appearing to stand in the way of progress.

Both sides are struggling with the imperatives of geography in this election. Adani epitomises the dilemma.

This week the Morrison government signed off on another approval stage of the proposed coal mine – a good message to central and north Queensland, a bad one to Victorian Liberal seats where climate change resonates. Likewise, Labor has its own problem dancing along the Adani tightrope. The controversial project will stalk the campaign.




Read more:
Morrison government approves next step towards Adani coal mine


In announcing the May 18 date on Thursday, Morrison spoke in his prime ministerial courtyard. A few hours later Shorten made his opening statement from the home “of an everyday Australian family” in the Melbourne suburb of Mitcham.

Courtyard versus backyard – the competing images at the election’s kickoff. A beginning that will be long forgotten when the campaign reaches its exhausted end after five weeks of trench warfare.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

What will the Turnbull-Morrison government be remembered for?


Rob Manwaring, Flinders University

This article is part of a series examining the Coalition government’s record on key issues while in power and what Labor is promising if it wins the 2019 federal election.


When the “mighty Roman” Gough Whitlam died, Indigenous leader Noel Pearson delivered a memorable eulogy. Channelling Monty Python, Pearson asked what had Whitlam ever done for Australia? Pearson then reeled off a long list of achievements, including Medibank, no-fault divorce, needs-based schools funding, the Racial Discrimination Act and many more. This was a blistering set of reforms by a truly radical and activist government.

After close to four years of the Turnbull and Morrison Coalition government, we might well ask: “What has the Coalition done for us?”

It is hard to think of a single notable achievement for which the government will be credited or remembered. If we take another government as ideologically driven as Whitlam’s – albeit from a different vantage point – in this case John Howard’s, we can still recall a significant range of policies and changes. Chief among these was gun control.

In contrast, we are hardly likely to remember the Turnbull-Morrison governments.




Read more:
Grattan on Friday: Scott Morrison struggles to straddle the south-north divide


In 2016, if we vaguely recall, there was a double-dissolution election – but could many voters even remember why? Ah, the trigger was the ill-fated Australian Building and Construction Commission, which did not even feature during the election campaign.

Since then, what have been the major policy achievements?

The National Energy Guarantee? If the government is likely to be remembered at all, it will be for the deep-seated divisions that meant Malcolm Turnbull was entirely unable to deliver a clear and coherent energy and climate policy. This was, after all, a government that chose to ignore Chief Scientist Alan Finkel’s call for a Clean Energy Target.

Tony Abbott’s reversal on withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement (under Turnbull), but then arguing Australia should stay in (especially with Angus Taylor’s masterful handling of the data on emissions) reflected a policy agenda dogged by internal divisions and incoherence.

Scott Morrison’s major contribution to the debate was to bring a piece of coal into the parliament.




Read more:
What kind of prime minister will Scott Morrison be?


Perhaps immigration? Turnbull was forced to rescue a deal initially brokered with the Obama administration, after new President Donald Trump mocked the deal as “stupid”. With the government wedded to a “tough” border policy, including re-opening the detention facility on Christmas Island, it even lost the vote on “medevac” legislation to ensure medical treatment for suffering refugees.

Any lasting achievements that seem to have happened were only because the government was either forced to, or reluctantly accepted it needed to, make changes. On the banking royal commission, Morrison – a political leader resolutely wedded to remain on the wrong side of history – had initially described it as a “populist whinge”. Any systemic changes to the banking sector will emerge, in spite of, rather than because of the government’s actions.

Turnbull will point to legislating for same-sex marriage as one of his government’s signature policy achievements, following the plebiscite. Yet Morrison will hardly be trumpeting this achievement, given that he voted against it.

Yes, same-sex marriage should be a lasting and welcome change, but again, the Coalition did much to resist it.

In stark contrast, German Chancellor Angela Merkel enabled a parliamentary vote but then voted against it – a more principled position than the unnecessary plebiscite. This was a government that consistently showed it was behind public opinion on a range of issues.

There is a case that underneath the general political and policy mess of the Turnbull-Morrison era, the government notched up some quiet achievements. These include a free-trade deal with Indonesia, entering the fourth phase of the bipartisan national plan to reduce family violence, and trying to embed the Gonski 2.0 schools funding.

Many public servants across a range of portfolios were busily, professionally carrying out a range of important policies and programs out of the media glare. This reflects a long-standing view of government as policy incrementalism – carrying out the everyday, important, but unglamorous work of running the country.

Perhaps the greatest missed opportunity of the Turnbull-Morrison era has been a consistent failure to adequately represent the concerns and issues of the centre-right of Australian politics. Neither Turnbull or Morrison understood the promise of Burkean conservatism or even John Stuart Mill’s liberalism.

Worse still, in the case of the Nationals, there was an almost wilful inability to offer a coherent and reasoned case on behalf of regional Australia. As Coalition MPs scratch their heads and wonder where it all went so horribly wrong, they might well look at South Australia and now New South Wales to remind themselves what a “liberal” government looks like.

Indeed, if we needed a lasting image of the Nationals’ mishandling of the water portfolio, then the dead fish of the Menindee will suffice.

As Scott Morrison most likely exits the prime ministership, a different kind of Roman to Whitlam, his only comfort might be that he is not Theresa May.The Conversation

Rob Manwaring, Senior Lecturer, Politics and Public Policy, Flinders University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Grattan on Friday: 2018, the year of governing badly


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Looking back on the federal politics of 2018, voters can conclude
they’ve been given a rough trot.

What’s been dubbed “the permanent election campaign” to which we are
subjected these days is a curse. Too often it encourages expedient
rather than sound decisions and ugly behaviour dominated by noise and
stunts.

Added to that, we’ve had from the Coalition this year an extraordinary
series of leadership, policy and individual meltdowns. A government
that started 2018 with a one-seat majority ends it in a minority,
after the loss of a byelection and a defection to the crossbench.

This has indeed been the year of governing badly.

As the Coalition struggles towards Christmas it has been buffeted this
week by a sex scandal involving an obscure Nationals MP and an attack
from its own side over its energy policy.

The cavorting of Andrew Broad in “sugar baby” land has left the
Nationals looking for a candidate for the Victorian seat of Mallee,
safe in normal circumstances, but not to be taken for granted in these
days of community independents and when the incumbent has been
disgraced. (Broad will be around until the election –
there is no byelection.)

Senior Nationals want a woman to run. The party’s deputy leader,
Senator Bridget McKenzie, is not ruling out seeking preselection but
has no connection with the area. One government source says “it would
be pretty late for her to be carpetbagging” into the seat. A strong
local would seem better.

Whether the Liberals will make it a three-cornered contest is an open
question (though they probably wouldn’t field a candidate if McKenzie
ran).

In 2016 the Nationals contested Murray after a Liberal retired, and won the seat; the Liberals might think they could
benefit in this contest from any backlash against the Nationals over
Broad’s conduct. On the other hand, would they want to spend money on this seat in an election when dollars will be tight?

The Nationals have often been a steady and stabilising force within
the Coalition. Coming out of this year they look like a chaotic rump,
unable to manage their personal and political lives.

Barnaby Joyce destroyed his leadership with an affair and has been
undermining his party as he attempts to get it back. McCormack is a trier
facing a job that often looks beyond him. He’ll last to the election
(well, presumably) but probably not after that.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is the ultimate trier, believing the
only possible salvation for the government is constant activity. For a
very short time, he looked reasonably effective. But then all the
freneticism started to appear contrived and fake.

One big challenge Morrison has not been able to handle is the
Coalition’s “woman problem”. Minimal female representation in both
Coalition parties, claims of bullying in the Liberals, and the
defection to the crossbench of Liberal MP Julia Banks will inevitably
put off female voters. The Broad scandal feeds into the negative
narrative.

Morrison himself has a “blokey” image that might turn away some female
voters although Liberal sources dispute this.

It’s ironic that neither Coalition party will embrace quotas but
Morrison wanted a female candidate in Wentworth (only to be rebuffed
by the preselectors) and now Nationals president Larry Anthony urges a woman for Mallee.

Women are thought to be useful in desperate circumstances, it seems.

Amid all the year’s bedlam in conservative politics, one major policy
issue remains a complete muddle – or more precisely it is the intersection of
two issues, energy and climate.

The bitter battle within the Liberals over energy didn’t just bring
down Malcolm Turnbull – it stopped the formulation of the sort of
viable policy business pleads for, to give certainty to investors.

This week the Berejiklian government called out its federal
counterpart; state energy minister Don Harwin declared it “out of
touch” on energy and climate policy, saying “it’s time for them to
change course”. But at a testy meeting of the COAG energy council
federal minister Angus Taylor was defiantly unmoved.

Also this week came criticism from the Energy Security Board, which
says in its 2018 Health of the Electricity Market report that when
investment is needed “it is not helpful for the Commonwealth
government to be threatening powers of divestment, price setting and
discretionary asset write-downs.”

Energy policy both symbolises the deep ideological divide in the
Liberal party and is at the core of it. The party won’t be credible on
policy until it can formulate a broad position that is acceptable to
stakeholders and the community. If it goes into opposition next year,
doing so should be a top policy priority.

Its plan for a National Energy Guarantee was scuttled by the
government itself during those crazy coup days in August. But this was
not before devising the scheme had given then energy minister Josh
Frydenberg a chance to show his credentials, as a policy formulator
and a negotiator.

Frydenberg lost the NEG but won his colleagues’ respect. He received
an overwhelming vote for Liberal deputy; as things stand, he’s well
placed to lead his party at some future point.

Now treasurer, Frydenberg is one of the few senior Liberals who has
looked half way impressive this year. His next test will be the April
2 budget, although naturally ownership of that will lie as much or
more with Morrison.

The timetable for a May election is now set. The government wants to
maximise the period it has to try to regroup.

When parliament rose there was speculation the government might not
want it to return in February because the Coalition faced a House
defeat on a amendment to facilitate medical transfers from Manus and
Nauru. This might make a March election more attractive, so the
argument went.

But the government doesn’t seem so concerned about that vote now,
believing some of the crossbenchers will drop off the amendment or
want to weaken it.

Looking to 2019: the betting is firmly on an ALP victory, in the
absence of a surprising turn of events. A win by either side would at
least bring an end to the revolving prime ministerships, thanks to
rule changes.

Assuming Labor won a solid majority, hopefully the voters might also
get a little respite before the continuous campaigning started up
again.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: Malcolm Turnbull and his NEG continue to haunt the government



File 20181204 34148 17lkcuy.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
The former PM via twitter effectively inserted himself into Question Time – in real time.
Dan Himbrechts/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

If anyone needs further evidence of the self-defeating weird places
the Liberals seem to find themselves in, consider what happened on
Tuesday.

Malcolm Turnbull made another intervention in the political debate,
this time talking about the National Energy Guarantee, when he spoke
at an energy conference on Tuesday morning.

“I’ve strongly encouraged my colleagues to work together to revive the
National Energy Guarantee. It was a vital piece of economic policy and
had strong support, and none stronger I might say, than that of the
current Prime Minister and the current Treasurer,” he said.

This and the rest of Turnbull’s observations on energy policy provided
abundant material for a question time attack by a Labor party bloated
from dining on the unending manna that’s been flowing its way from
some political heaven.

As Scott Morrison sought to counter this latest attack by concentrating on
Labor’s substantial emissions reduction target (45% on 2005 levels by
2030), suddenly a tweet appeared from Turnbull.

“I have not endorsed “Labor’s energy policy”. They have adopted the
NEG mechanism,“ Turnbull said – adding a tick of approval – “but have
not demonstrated that their 45% emissions reduction target will not
push up prices. I encouraged all parties to stick with Coalition’s NEG
which retains wide community support.”

Here was the former PM effectively inserting himself into Question
Time – in real time.

Morrison quickly quoted from the tweet, but it couldn’t repair the
damage done by Turnbull’s earlier comments.

All round, it was another difficult day for the government on the energy front.

The Coalition parties meeting discussed its controversial plan
providing for divestiture when energy companies misuse market power,
with conduct that is “fraudulent, dishonest or in bad faith” in the wholesale market.

The government has put more constraints on its plan than originally
envisaged. Notably, rather than a divestiture decision resting with
the treasurer, it would lie with the federal court (although precisely what this would mean is somewhat unclear).

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told a news conference: “This power will be on the advice
of the ACCC [the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission] to
the Treasurer, and then the Treasurer will make a referral to the
Federal Court. The Federal Court will then be empowered to make that
judicial order.”

There had already been backbench criticisms of the divestiture proposal expressed to Frydenberg last week; the changes dealt with some of these.

But the plan is still leaving some in Coalition ranks uneasy.

According to the official government version, in the party room 18
speakers had a say, with 14 supporting (though a couple of them were
concerned about the interventionism involved) and four expressing
varying degrees of reservation. No one threatened to cross the floor.

Backbench sources said the strongest critics were Jason Falinski,
Russell Broadbent, Tim Wilson and former deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop,
while milder criticisms came from Craig Laundy, Scott Ryan and Jane
Prentice.

There were two main worries about the measure – the potential negative
impact on business investment and its inconsistency with Liberal party
free market principles.

Bishop – who, it might be recalled, was recently saying there should
be a bipartisan deal with Labor on the NEG – highlighted the
investment implications and the issue of sovereign risk.

She said: “This is not orthodox Liberal policy. We need to do more
consultation with the industry and we need to be cautious of
unintended consequences of forced divestiture”.

Addressing the concerns, Morrison told the party room that a variety
of principles were at play.

The energy sector was not “a free market nirvana” but rather “a
bastardised market,” he said. The law was targeted at situations where
sweetheart deals came at the expense of consumers.

Energy minister Angus Taylor said governments of the centre-right,
including the Menzies and the Thatcher governments, had acted to
ensure markets operated for consumers.

Taylor invoked an example of the beer drinkers against the brewers,
when Thatcher had been on the side of the beers drinkers.

Frydenberg produced a quote from Menzies’ “Forgotten People”
broadcasts about the need to balance the requirements of industry with
social responsibilities.

The legislation, which is opposed by Labor even with the changes, is
being introduced this week. But there is no guarantee that it can be
passed by the time of the election – not least because there are so
few sitting days next year.

So the most controversial part of the government’s “big stick”, which
has caused so much angst with business, may never become a reality.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Grattan on Friday: Hokey-pokey politics as the government is shaken all about


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

In the topsy turvy Liberal universe, just when the right is trying to
tighten its grip on the throat of the party, the government is haring
off to the left, with this week’s legislation to allow it to break up
recalcitrant energy companies.

As former deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop – who as a backbencher
has become very forthright – said in the Coalition party room on
Tuesday, “this is not orthodox Liberal policy”. Bishop canvassed the
danger of sovereign risk.

To find a rationale for a frolic into what in other circumstances the
Liberals would no doubt denounce as “socialism”, one might see it as
driven by the veto of the so-called conservatives.

Those on the right (led by Tony Abbott and his band) have long stopped
the government putting forward a sound energy policy, despite the
strong pleas from stakeholders across the board.

Instead, trying to respond to the pressing electoral issue of high
electricity prices, the government has reached for its “big stick”
including the threat of divestiture – a policy that’s being attacked
by Labor as well as business.

Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen was correct on Thursday when he said:
“this is what we see when a government’s policy agenda falls apart”.

Having to defend this draconian policy, first from critical Coalition
backbenchers (who won some changes) and then in parliament, the
government found itself tied in knots.

Given this is such a radical proposal, it was also in an enormous rush with the legislation, introducing it on Wednesday and wanting the House of Representatives to pass it by Thursday.

But that timetable was stymied by Labor. Passage through the House
will have to wait until February.

Meanwhile there will be a Senate inquiry, reporting in March. This
puts off a Senate vote until budget week in April – ensuring a lot
of noise about this controversial measure just when the government
will want all the attention on a budget crafted to appeal to voters
for a May election.

Even if the divestiture legislation gets through the Senate next year,
a likely Labor election victory would mean we’ll probably never see
this particular “big stick” wielded. It’s highly doubtful the threat
will have been worth the angst, or the trashing of Liberal principles.

The final parliamentary fortnight of 2018 coincided with the first
fortnight of the hung parliament.

For Scott Morrison, it has been an excruciating two weeks, with the
backlash from the Liberals’ trouncing in Victoria, Julia Banks’
defection to the crossbench, Malcolm Turnbull’s provocative
interventions, and an impasse with Labor over the plan to protect LGBT
students.

The government’s stress culminated in Thursday’s extraordinary battle
to prevent a defeat on the floor of the House.

This test of strength was over amendments, based on a proposal
originally coming from new Wentworth member Kerryn Phelps, that would
make it easier to transfer people needing medical treatment from Nauru
and Manus to Australia.

As both sides played the tactics, a remarkable thing happened in the
House of Representatives. Behaviour improved one hundred percent, with
none of the usual screaming and exchanges of insults. This pleasing
development was, unsurprisingly, driven by self-interest – neither
government nor opposition could afford to have anyone thrown out ahead
of the possible crucial vote.

Earlier, Morrison had shown anything but restraint when at his news
conference he described Bill Shorten as “a clear and present threat to
Australia’s safety”. Once that would have been taken as a serious
claim, which a prime minister would have been called on to justify. In
these days, it’s seen as a passing comment.

In what was a highly aggressive performance, Morrison gave us another
foretaste of what he’ll be like on the hustings.

In the end, by its delaying tactics in the Senate, the government
prevented the amendments reaching the House before it adjourned, and
so avoided a test of the numbers.

Defeat in the House would not have equalled a no confidence vote, but
it would have been a serious blow for Morrison. Looking for a
precedent, the House of Representatives’ clerks office went back to
votes lost in 1929 (which led to an election) and on the 1941 budget
(which brought down the Fadden government).

But the government may have just put off, rather than prevented, the
reckoning. Phelps said on Sky, “I am sad that we didn’t get this
through today … because I believe it would have gone through on the numbers … But you know if we have to wait until February, at least I believe that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Dodging this vote meant that legislation to give authorities better
access to encrypted messages to help in the fight against terrorism
looked like it would be delayed. Once the House had adjourned, any
Labor amendments the Senate might pass couldn’t go back there until
February.

The government had declared the encryption measure was urgent, and the
blame game started in anticipation of a hold up. Then, mid-debate in
the Senate, Labor abandoned its attempt to amend the bill, which
glided through. In an agreement which may mean something or nothing,
the government undertook to consider the ALP amendments in the new
year.

Shorten didn’t want to be open to the government’s accusations of impeding legislation the security agencies said would help prevent terrorist
acts. “I couldn’t go home and leave Australians over Christmas without
some of the protections which we all agree are necessary,” he said.

The events of this week show why the government decided to have
the minimum of sitting days before the election next year.

The new parliamentary session will open with a deadlock on the
protection of gay students, the divestiture plan up in the air, and
the Nauru-Manus vote hanging over the government.

And by that time Scott Morrison will have had his first and probably
his last Christmas at Kirribilli.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.