After 2016, one of the most lacklustre, uneventful and stagnant years in Australian political history, there is every reason to suspect, and to hope, that 2017 will be a very different kettle of fish. Where this last year was essentially all about one thing only – keeping Malcolm Turnbull, Scott Morrison and Julie Bishop in their ill-gotten jobs – this coming year the chooks are destined to come home to roost.
And what chooks. The economy, rocketing debt, tax cuts, climate change, Islam and immigration, all of which have been allowed to fester under this water-treading government, will likely become major political issues that will shape, or even re-shape, our politics for years to come.
The twin seismic shifts of 2016 – both heralded and supported within these pages – were, of course, Brexit and Trump. The aftershocks from both events are still being felt across the globe, and will continue to rock major elections in Europe and elsewhere throughout 2017. In Australia, politicians of all hues have attempted to lay claim to vestiges of Trumpism, with both Bill Shorten and Malcolm Turnbull cheekily pretending that Trump’s victory validates their own approaches in some way or other. This is despite the fact that both men were utterly dismissive of Mr Trump’s electoral chances; Mr Shorten describing him as ‘barking mad’, and Mr Turnbull not even bothering to contact Mr Trump during his September visit to New York.
Yet three political figures can genuinely claim to be sprinkled with a touch of the Trump gold dust. Pauline Hanson is the most obvious. Her bravery and refusal to bow to political correctness, despite the savage sneering of the political/media classes, on issues such as climate change, Islam and immigration not only saw her resurrect a career that many (including, again, Mr Turnbull) flatly refused to countenance, but has seen her re-emerge amongst the new batch of politicians as a confidant, rational and (so far) principled voice. Whether she can hold it all together during what will be a tumultuous year remains to be seen, but the chances are reasonable.
Following hard on Ms Hanson’s heels is Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi. More than any other political figure, Mr Bernardi has gone all out to seize the Trump mantle, including borrowing everything from data-capturing technology to hashtags and slogans. Although they are very different beasts, Mr Bernardi does have one thing strikingly in common with Mr Trump: his absolute, unwavering ability to go to the bottom line with direct, often graphic language, on key conservative issues where most ‘bed-wetting’ politicians prefer to hide behind obfuscation and weasel words.
As the year came to an end, Mr Bernardi continued his tantalising ‘dance of the seven veils’ towards establishing his own political party, Australian Conservatives (or Majority), out of what is already an impressive ‘movement’ and website.
Should he finally leave the Liberals, Mr Bernardi will obviously upset the political equation within the nation. A Conservative party, aligned philosophically with many Nationals, dry Liberals, One Nation, and even old-fashioned Labor voters would probably offer a more accurate reflection of where mainstream Australian values currently lie than we see with the Coalition under Malcolm Turnbull, or the modern Labor party. Whether that would translate into electoral success is a much tougher ask.
Yet here’s where Donald Trump’s actions over the next 12 months are so critical. Assuming Mr Trump does indeed ‘tear up the Paris Agreement’, dramatically lowers business taxes and thereby re-energise the American economy, it will not be possible for the Coalition to continue ‘business as usual’. The strategy of pandering to climate change mythology will be untenable if the American economy surges ahead on cheap energy, no RETs and low taxes, whilst we succumb to blackouts, spiralling bills and job losses. The choice will be stark. Either Team Turnbull will swim upstream against the Trump tide to certain electoral oblivion, or will do a dramatic about-turn and follow in the US’s slipstream: scrap Paris, slash taxes, drive the cost of energy downwards, reward investment in cheap energy production and punish those States vandalising it.
The third person with a touch of the Trumps is, of course, Tony Abbott. During his brief time in power Mr Abbott’s single-minded success in ‘stopping the boats’ was a clear inspiration for Mr Trump’s ‘build a wall’ promises. And Mr Abbott was the first world leader to recognise, as Mr Trump does, the need for the West to focus on ‘eradicating’ Islamism. Both refuse to kowtow to the ‘religion of peace’ nonsense. Although his climate policies were in certain instances flawed, Mr Abbott’s natural instincts towards climate change were correct: the job is all about reducing pollution without jacking up electricity prices, and the ideology-driven, hysteria-mongering, faux-science of the IPCC and green activists is, as he once put it, ‘crap’.
2017 beckons, with all its kettles and chooks. It should be quite a ride.
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