‘Before I was part of Team Turnbull…’ said Tony Abbott, letting the moment hang in the air with a mischievous grin, as Malcolm Turnbull and several ministers watched on and the room tittered in nervous anticipation, ‘… I was a member of Team Howard.’ It was a good gag and the crowd loved it. The event was drinks at Sydney’s Four Seasons Hotel last week to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the Howard Government and – despite the throngs blocking the streets for the Vivid festival – tout Sydney was in attendance. Well, tout Liberal Sydney that is.
It’s a shame the punters and the TV cameras weren’t in attendance as well. In reasonably quick succession, Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull and John Howard all spoke passionately and convincingly about the need to re-elect the Turnbull government. Most notable was the absence of any awkwardness between the three men. Indeed, you could almost claim the chemistry between Mr Turnbull and Mr Abbott bordered on the convivial. ‘Tony and I this’ and ‘Tony and I that’ peppered the Prime Minister’s speech, whilst Mr Abbott was effusive in his support for the man who only nine months ago robbed him of his job. His pitch was, in classic Abbott style, direct and unambivalent:
‘By electing the Turnbull government we will give Australia what it needs: a company tax cut to boost investment, jobs and prosperity; a middle income tax cut because they’re the people who are having a go. Elect a Turnbull government and the boats will stay stopped, and that’s the only way to keep the boats stopped, and elect a Turnbull government and we will throw the book at dodgy union officials who have done so much damage to this country.’
Mr Turnbull, too, managed to shed the awkwardness and semantic torpor that has plagued this campaign. Indeed, it is a shame that the fiery, passionate Malcolm Turnbull on display at the Four Seasons appeared to go walkabout before his debate with Bill Shorten and Chris Uhlmann the following Sunday night.
Which brings us to the election campaign. A lacklustre and clumsy four weeks behind us, and another wearying four weeks to go. No wonder the public have switched off in droves, literally as well as figuratively.
In a nutshell, the Greens have disgraced themselves via the hypocrisy of their anti-capitalist leader who runs around exploiting his own nannies – whilst calling for a ludicrous increase in immigration. Labor have performed above expectations, but two fundamental flaws in their pitch render them unworthy of holding office: the in-fighting on boats and the fact-defying pretense that excessive government spending somehow creates wealth and prosperity (copyright K. Marx, V. Lenin, L. Trotsky, M. Tung etc).
This week, to celebrate the mid-point in this interminable march to the re-election of the Turnbull government, we have asked a cross-section of critical Independents, Liberal and Labor candidates to pen notes on their campaigns.
With the idiocy that the government has repeatedly displayed on superannuation since Budget Night, there is every likelihood that three of these – Pauline Hanson, Derryn Hinch and David Leyonhjelm – will indeed attract a decent swag of disaffected conservatives, particularly those heading towards, or already in, their Transition to Retirement. Read them closely: they may end up holding the balance of power in the new Senate.
This magazine has repeatedly opined that the government’s success in stopping the boats and controlling immigration is the single biggest factor that will ensure the Turnbull government is re-elected. If so, Mr Turnbull will owe a huge debt to Tony Abbott, whose loyalty deserves to be rewarded with a cabinet post. However, if the Coalition loses, the superannuation changes will be the main culprit, along with Mr Turnbull’s and Mr Morrison’s joint failure in crafting a credible economic narrative. No conservative or self-funded retiree could have listened to or watched the Julie Bishop ‘train wreck’ interview with 3AW’s Neil Mitchell last week without a sense of profound anger, dismay and betrayal. It was clear that the Foreign Minister/Deputy PM had not the faintest idea what ‘transition to retirement’ actually entails, let alone how the government’s changes have upset so many voters. And why should she? The downgrading of her retirement plans is not anything she will ever have to worry about. The gap between the cosseted public sector and politicians and those who actually generate the nation’s wealth could not have been made starker.
At this midway point, there have been very few inspiring moments from any party on the campaign trail. Let us hope that improves. But if John Howard’s drinks were anything to go by, the Coalition should be making greater use of one its best double acts: Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull on the same stage actually make a very convincing team.
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