01 April 2016
by Rossleigh

Turnbull The Decisive; Abbott The Divisive; Sinodinos The Memory Sieve

Malcolm Turnbull is proving the most decisive PM we’ve ever had. Every day he makes a decision. Most days it’s a decision not to do what he floated the day before, but it’s a decision nevertheless. Tomorrow I expect that we’ll hear that he’s decided not to give the states income tax powers because they wouldn’t spend the money wisely.

But before I go on to his latest decision – or as some would say “thought bubble” which is rather generous as it implies that some thought has actually been attached to the bubble before it pops – I’d like you to picture the following scenario:

There is a rise in crime statistics. In spite of an increase in funding, violent assaults and robberies are up. So the police minister calls a press conference. He goes to the podium.

“The latest numbers are very disappointing. While there’s been a slight decrease in some areas, it’s clear that the streets aren’t as safe as ten years ago. It’s clear that throwing money at the problem doesn’t help. As everyone knows, crime is reduced by having a good police force. A good police officer doesn’t need fancy equipment. He or she can prevent crime anywhere, so we’re going to freeze funding and concentrate on ensuring that we have the best police force possible by testing them before they graduate.”

Sound ridiculous? Yep. I guess it does. So why whenever some test or other shows that Australia has slipped in the education rankings do politicians respond exactly like that?

Of course, I could point out that rankings are just that. Positions relative to other countries. If they improve then we can slip down without our education system being any worse than before. Just as Jason Day’s improvement means that he’s now the number one golfer in Australia (and the world, for that matter). It doesn’t mean that the number two player in Australia is suddenly playing badly. (No nothing to do with Aaron Baddeley, before someone makes a terrible pun!)

I’ll be the first to agree that there are many, many things in education that need to change, but the idea that money won’t help is one of those things that only applies when we’re talking about public education. Try to remove one dollar from federal grants to the private system and watch the accusations of class warfare and politics of envy come from the Liberals faster than Tony Abbott seizes an opportunity to steal someone’s wave.

So Turnbull’s latest bubble is to give public education back to the states and make them totally responsible for its funding. Of course, the Commonwealth would still fund private schools. Of course. They’re too important to let the states decide on how much funding they deserve. This would give them the great political advantage of being able to say look at how well the schools we fund are doing and don’t blame us that your state government doesn’t see the need for providing the same level of support to the schools that are its responsibility. The only reason that Scotch has a space for three orchestras in their performing arts centre, while the school down the road has classes in the gym is because your state government wastes its money.

End of the blame game! Ha! About as much chance as Abbott saying that he totally understands that the party needed to move to Turnbull because some of the “Captain’s calls” were about as successful as sending the opposition in, only to find them none for 632 at stumps.

Turnbull reportedly said the other day: “Just because the press gallery doesn’t know what I’m doing doesn’t mean that I don’t know what I’m doing”. And, of course, he could have added, “Just because Scott Morrison doesn’t know what I’m doing, it doesn’t follow that I have a memory like Arthur and forgot to tell him, I may have a plan to make him look silly so he can’t plot to replace me after the election when the conservative forces give up on Abbott return to planet earth.”

Of course, I’d add that just because Malcolm Turnbull doesn’t know what I’m doing, it doesn’t necessarily follow that I know what I’m doing. And vice versa.

And just because Arthur Sinodinos has been returned to the front bench, it doesn’t necessarily follow that he knows what he’s doing either. It’s not proven that he can remember if he’s actually attended any Cabinet meetings and, if he did some of these things may have been discussed but he probably wasn’t paying attention because he was trying to remember which house he was living in and where he parked his car.

As for suggestions that the Liberals are in disarray because Abbott is plotting to take over from Malcolm after the election, I’d like to say categorically that it isn’t true. The Liberals have been in disarray for years, and it was mainly thanks to the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd soap opera that nobody noticed.

If there’s one thing that most Liberals have agreed on for the past ten years or so, it’s the idea that somebody else should be Prime Minister. Just before John Howard “powerwalked into the sunset” as one commentator put it, most of them thought that Costello should take over. (The phrase seemed to suggest that he chose to go, ignoring the fact that he was the only Prime Minister in almost a century to lose his seat!) When Rudd was elected, they all thought that it would be better if a Liberal was PM. When Gillard took over, they all argued that it wasn’t right because the people hadn’t voted her in. When she won the support of the Independents and stayed PM after the 2010, most Liberals expressed the view that this was outrageous because they’d gained the most votes. (A concept they never mentioned when Labor under Beasley had more votes!) Of course, while Tony was all right at first, most of them soon decided that he had to go.

So now we have a situation where a large number of them agree that they’d be better off with a new PM. The only problem is that so many of them have the belief that they personally should take over from Malcolm after the election. Morrison, Abbott, Dutton, Bishop (Julie, not Bronwyn…although who knows?), Pyne et al. Probably even Tim Wilson thinks that once he’s been around a couple of weeks and got the hang of the place, then the IPA should be able to manoevre him into that job like they did with the Human Rights Commission.