Turnbull’s pit-bulls off the leash

It is fascinating to see Malcolm Turnbull’s emerging style as leader of the Federal Opposition. As fairly progressive on social issues he is defining his leadership through economics as we would expect from a former merchant banker. However, it is the less the content of his policies on the financial crisis than the tactics he is using to gain some traction in the debate which makes him appear to be stakinga claim to pit-bull status. His endorsement of government responses to the crisis, followed by immediate criticism of the detail is what we want from a credible, functioning opposition.

The bitter attack on individuals and organisations who are expected to act independently of government spin is defining the new Liberal guard. Malcolm and his frontline spokespersons, Andrew Robb, Julie Bishop and Helen Coonan are on dangersous grounds at present. By questioning not only the integrity of both the Federal Treasury and the Reserve Bank but also of key people such as the Treasury Secretary Ken Henry, their tactics are undermining those institutions at a critical time.

Public confidence in the economy is at rock bottom. Turnbull seems willing to destroy any public trust in Treasury and the Reserve Bank for short term political point scoring.

They had better back up their accusations with some tangible evidence. Ken Henry’s address to the National Press Club in an hour’s time is impeccable timing.

Kevin Rennie
Labor View from Bayside


18 Responses

  1. As you state one of Malcolm’s tactics has been to come out and support any policy or position the government raises and then to turn around and attack it, but not in any coherent or structural way, but in daily changing positions in an attempt to find fault of gain traction.

    As several commentators have stated this is Malcolm’s legal background coming to the fore, and though it might be standard and good practice in the courtroom it is bad practice in politics.

    A good example was how Malcolm went about replying tot he government’s ABC Childcare collapse. Malcolm immediately came out and stated he fully supported the government’s position. There were no ifs or buts, no statement about waiting for the details, just unreserved support.

    Then two days later he starts attacking the scant details that had trickled out and then the government’s early action. When the government announced the $22 million support until Christmas for those centres in trouble, Malcolm initially supported the government initiative. Then a few days later he attacked the government’s response and started making demands on what the government has planned long term and what they were going to do about the whole childcare situation.

    As one political reporter stated on ABC News Breakfast on being asked what’s the opposition’s position (paraphrased), “Malcolm Turnbull and the opposition have changed their stance every other day on this so who knows where they stand today, they’ll probably make up their minds sometime this morning and change it tomorrow morning.”

    Malcolm also has another problem within his party where you can have three or four interviews with shadow ministers and each comes out with a different stance, sometimes in total contradiction to Turnbull’s stated position.

    As I have said previously this opposition should sit back for a while, take a few deep breaths, concentrate on attacking the bread and butter important issues the government is not doing well in, and then clean house culling the old Howard ministers, especially the hard line right wingers, then finally start fresh for the next election. In the meantime the government will have either done well or hung themselves, in either case the opposition has little influence over this but can certainly present themselves as a credible alternative. Currently they are so far from being a credible alternative they are aping the State Liberals of the last decade.

  2. I couldn’t agree more.

    Talcum’s performance has been pathetic in recent weeks, as has been Coonan’s. I love what this commenter had to say over at the ABC:


    “Give a kid a toy, and they will play with it for hours, until it breaks, then they sit around looking sad until something else comes along.

    This must be the coalition’s latest toy.”

  3. well said Adrian..

  4. Adrian
    As several commentators have stated this is Malcolm’s legal background coming to the fore, and though it might be standard and good practice in the courtroom it is bad practice in politics

    It’s actually not good courtroom tactics either – in fact, it’s generally a sign of weakness in the defences arguments. The big risk with this sort of defence is that the various positions are often self contradictory. A defence Barrister only has to establish reasonable doubt – if the various positions put forward conflict with each other, it diminishes each positions viability. A good Barrister will push a particular line of defence and maintain it – ion my experience, this tactic is far more successful.

    Also in my experience, it is the poorer barristers who use the scattergun approach. The best one identify the key issues at the outset and plan their defence around that. The scattergun approach is often put together on the run and is pretty shallow in analysis (Sound familiar).

    As a side note, I think Malcolm was more of a commercial lawyer than a Criminal Barrister, but I could be wrong on this.

  5. Just me, but I think that Turnbull has not one single clue about how to handle the situation of being the leader of the opposition. Ever since Howard promoted Turnbull just so as to point the rude finger to Costello, Turnbull has been concentrating on his eventual promotion to his rightful place in the scheme of things. And that’s been it. And now he’s got it, he doesn’t know what to do with it.

    Yes I am certain that Turnbull has been a very clever and cany merchant banker..not that this is much of a claim to fame these days. However he does seem to think that the way to be an ‘opposition’ is to follow the previous government’s defunct formula of being picky-picky-picky, to attack the man. I must say that I am surprised about this as Turnbull’s previous persona was to present ‘the big picture’ such as when as he presented his ‘suggestions’ for reforms to Costello. And so MT where are all your reforms now?

  6. Nice post. The opposition should scrutinse all the details of government policies and point out flaws as it see them. Personally attacking the independent Treasury and Reserve Bank (and the individuals within those organisations) without basis is completely off-colour and doesn’t help anyone.

  7. Ken Henry was more than persuasive at the Press Club. I’d like to see him go head to head with the pit-bulls. He virtually said that they are talking down the economy since confidence is everything at the moment. The MSM haven’t reported or didn’t pick up on this implication of his remarks. Await the transcript or podcast for the exact words.

  8. Kevin

    He was very impressive overall I thought. The review of the Tax system will be quite interesting if his speech today is anything to go by.

  9. I missed the whole thing…I agree that the whole tax act should be reformed but is so complex maybe it would be prudent to start from the base and build on that.

    It’s like renovating to an extent that the house no longer functions.

    A piece by Sam at The Australian.


  10. Another piece by Sam.


    I agree, this gift by the Australian taxpayers is like propping up of a collapsing building…another construction analogy.

  11. It would be good if they could put the information on the ATO website into user-friendly language. He seemed to be suggesting this as part of the way forward with tax. We’ll have to organise some threads for the public consultation he promised.

  12. “It would be good if they could put the information on the ATO website into user-friendly language.”

    Aint possible. At least for the ATO. Look what happened when they tried to simplify the language in the Tax act itself.

  13. Agreed Alastair at 1.18pm. That’s it in a nutshell. As a side issue does anyone else have the feeling that Wayne Swan is a goner. I know for my own self that it’s a relief when responses are provided by Lindsay Tanner (especially) and now Chris Bowen.

  14. Min

    Swan is OS at the moment which is why he isn’t answering questions. He had a meeting with Bernanke today.
    I think Tanner would make a great Treasurer but Swannie is getting better … he should have had the inflation ingures handy though the other day – it was an obvious question.

  15. Min, I believe that Swan is out of the country at the moment and Tanner would be my choice for Treasurer…I don’t see this in the near future as the PM is stoic which is a concern within itself.

  16. Hello fellas. Yes I do know that Swan is out of the country at the moment but I have been getting the feeling that he is struggling in this portfolio. It’s probably just me but he makes me feel uncomfortable and tends to stress in a crisis. Am thinking that Lindsay Tanner could do better. It’s just a thought.

  17. I agree. I think Tanner would be better than Swannie..

  18. Min (16) I’m glad it’s not just me. I always feel a bit sorry for Wayne Swan as he does appear nervous and not very confident.

    Lindsay Tanner is the opposite. He always appears comfortable and comforting in his interviews.

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