28 December 2015

From Captain Chaos to Captain Sensible

They say 12 months in politics is a lifetime, and the past year has proven to evidently justify that saying.

2015 started with Tony Abbott at the helm of the good ship Australia and finished with a mutiny that left Tony abandoned by his shipmates, and a new captain - one Malcom Turnbull taking control and steering our ship to hopefully calmer waters.

When I thought about writing this blog, I thought that an apt title for it would be "From Captain Chaos to Captain Sensible".  Because it feels like this has genuinely been the case. It is as if the nation has collectively breathed a sigh of relief since the change of leader.  So what went wrong?  and how come the mood of the nation has changed so quickly since Abbott's demise? 

Let's rewind to the beginning of the year when Tony Abbott made one of his 'Captain's Calls' without consulting his cabinet.  I am of course talking about honouring Prince Phillip with a knighthood.  If you search Prince Phillip on Wikipedia you will find that he already has a plethora of honours from many countries within the Commonwealth and outside of it. To most Australians this award to the Queen's husband just didn't make a lot of sense at all.

In the world of politics you have to be careful as to what you say and how you react.  Two examples of Abbott's gaffes came when he laughed at a joke that Peter Dutton had said in Parliament House over a debate on Syrian refugee intakes. In addition, Abbott referred to Bill Shorten as the "Dr Goebbels of economic policy". Quite clearly both of these examples showed a lack of tact on behalf of the Prime Minister and certainly affected the opinion polls.

Probably the incident that sealed Tony Abbott's fate was that known as "choppergate".  In brief, the Speaker of the House of Representatives had hired a helicopter, at tax payer expense, to fly a short distance from Melbourne to a Liberal Party Fundraiser.  Despite the public ire shown at Bronwyn Bishop, the Speaker, Abbott steadfastly remained loyal to his friend, until it was obvious the mistake was a terminal one and Bishop had to be removed from her role.

Then, of course, there was the fear factor that was being delivered by Abbott in respect to terrorism and the troubles in the Middle East.  This was exemplified by the increasing number of Australian flags being displayed during press conferences on these matters. 

All of this time the opinion polls were moving further south for the government.  Bill Shorten and the Australian Labor Party were so far ahead that a potential whitewash at the next election was looming.  However, there was hope on the horizon for the beleaguered government.

Cometh the hour, cometh the man. In September Malcolm Turnbull challenged Tony Abbott and won convincingly to become the new Prime Minister of Australia.  Tony was sent to the backbench to contemplate his next career move. Immediately Turnbull set about rebuilding the governments reputation and removing the fear factor that had become a common theme during the Abbott tenure.

Turnbull's first speech was a positive one and mentioned that this was the best time to be an Australian and that the future ahead was looking good.  Immediately the polls showed a huge rise in support for the government and a rise in unpopularity of the ALP leader Bill Shorten.  Soon after Turnbull removed the 'knights and dames' policy that Abbott had announced earlier in 2015.  Not long after the much maligned Treasurer, Joe Hockey, quit politics and headed to New York as the Ambassador to the US.

So where are we at the present?  Poll speaking, the government command a huge lead over the ALP and should win a 2016 election quite comfortably.  However, there are a few obstacles that might not make it all that easy to get re-elected.  Firstly, two by-elections have shown large swings against the government in what are traditionally safe seats. Whilst this may not impact greatly at the next election it is something that should be kept in mind.

Secondly, the talk of raising the GST, most likely from 10% to 15%, will cause some derision from the electorate. For the less well off this is something that will not be greeted warmly at all.  Tax revenue has to be increased somehow as government debt has grown at a quicker rate under the Abbott/Turnbull regimes than under the previous Labor government.

Recently, there has been talk of removing penalty rates for workers who work on Sundays. Already there has been a backlash to this from even LNP voters. Turnbull will need to handle this issue delicately if he is to keep voter confidence.

Another issue is within the Coalition itself.  Whilst Turnbull is portrayed as a moderate, the true conservatives within the party are not that happy.  On the one hand they will probably retain government but the policies that Turnbull may want to implement might not be agreeable to the Hard Right of the party.

So 2016 is shaping up to be another crazy year in the world of Australian politics.  One thing is certain though. By the end of 2016 we will know exactly who will be captaining the good ship Australia for another three years. As the saying goes 'time will tell'.

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