A cunning plan – what the ALP could but won’t do next

The ALP leadership has almost reflexively – but probably more in panic – started to attack the new Prime Minister within minutes of him being elected.

However, even if they make a few dents here and there the odds are he will still be more popular among voters than Bill Shorten and the blog hesitates to think about the Shorten debacle that pre-election TV debates between Malcolm and Bill are likely to be. More importantly, instant attacks overlook the reality of the honeymoon period Turnbull will experience partly as a result of the community relief that Abbott has gone.

But if they really wanted to make things difficult for the new PM the Opposition Leader would get up in Parliament, congratulate him on his election and offer to participate in a series of consultations between Government, Opposition, cross-benchers and the States to hammer out some urgent national policies and priorities to address the serious problems Australia faces.

The Opposition could even nominate a range of key issues such as equitable tax reform, retirement incomes, consumer protection from rapacious banks and wealth managers, manufacturing policy, climate change, productivity, education, constitutional reform and infrastructure as starting points. The framing would be: “the public are sick and tired of slogans and political point scoring and they want their leaders to co-operate to solve the nation’s problems and ensure we seize the opportunities we have.”

Everybody else will be jumping in with their wish lists – most of them as boringly predictable as the business community’s immediate demand for tax reform and de-regulation of the labour market with its inevitable sub text of cuts in corporate taxes, increases in indirect taxes which affect the poor and more opportunities for employers to treat workers the same way many employers are treating 457 visa holders and Indian students trying to support themselves while studying (as in the 7 Eleven case). The call for a cross-party approach will sound almost statesperson like compared with all the self-serving bleatings of interest groups we are going to hear in the next few weeks.

Now don’t think the blog has suddenly taken leave of its senses and has suggested something fantastical, naïve and doomed to failure. Instead it could actually be good politics. Malcolm Turnbull has been elected out of desperation with the votes of people who can’t stand him and who disapprove of most of his policies. His greatest threat is not Bill Shorten but is rather one, or a combination of, the probability of backbench dismay if he steers too far to what they think as left; a natural tendency to be impulsive and intolerant of fools (like many of those on his backbench and possibly Cabinet); and, voters who will be disappointed if he panders to the backbench on issues like same sex marriage, the republic and climate change – some of which he seems to be doing already.

So with the blog’s scenario the Opposition looks far-sighted and devoted to the national interest while the PM is hopefully wedged a tad between the public, his temperament and his backbench. He needs to set out a new stall with new offerings but the last things he needs are his backbench getting upset or his narrative being de-railed by an alternative narrative.

The scenario is, of course, probably a fantasy and perhaps one of those Blackadder ‘cunning plans.’ Nevertheless, one can predict fairly confidently that the first few question times will focus on the ALP asking Turnbull about his previous positions on subjects such as climate change and direct action and how he has come to compromise. He will comfortably, but forensically, turn them on their head and probably focus on a statesperson like persona as a contrast to the warrior one of his predecessor. The backbench will be quiescent for a time and the Cabinet re-shuffle and public appearances will drain oxygen from Opposition efforts which will be focussed on a traditional oppositional strategy which won’t work against a confident, articulate politician enjoying a honeymoon. But there could be a better way.

By the way: the blog will be a bit irregular in the next couple of months as the blog is trying , with a co-author, to finish the first draft of a new book.