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OPINION: Canberra, The Coup Capital

OPINION: Canberra, The Coup Capital
From left: Newly Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Australian Deputy Prime Minister Julie Bishop.
September 17
12:46 2015

On the finest Spring evening, the people of Australia went to bed with one prime minister; they woke up with another. Malcolm Turnbull had ousted Tony Abbott in a late night Liberal Party coup-ballot.

And became the 29th prime minister of the Commonwealth of Australia.

The night of the long knives was over; or so many would have us believe.

The next week or months will further unravel the internecine and visceral difficulties of the Liberal Party. Tony Abbott ‘Stopped the BOATS’ but not the VOTES against himself.

As a Catholic, the former PM would have some conception of the notion of nemesis. He was not visible anywhere until the afternoon of the next day.

The real survivor is really Julie Bishop, the Deputy leader—she trounced her rival, Kevin Richards, the current defence minister, by 70 votes to 30; Malcolm got 54 to Tony’s 44.

The one short-term beneficiary may be Bill Shorten, the Labor Leader, under some heavy cloud recently but Turnbull will challenge him in people’s popularity.

How Bill measures up against the new Prime Minister would determine his future prospects as a political leader of ALP.

 

Four Prime Ministers

Within 26 months, Australia has had four prime ministers; five in five years. Abbott who won the last election with an overwhelming majority, decimating the ALP, has not lasted even two years as the PM.

He served exactly 1 year, 361 days and might even miss his prime ministerial pension—for which a minimum of 2 years is required.

The media headlined that a ‘coup’ had taken place in the Parliament of Australia, while most  Australians  slept.

As the Liberals voted for their new leader and effectively for Australia’s new PM, not a single person from the public was seen near the Parliament House, except of course the ‘febrile’ media circus.

Malcolm Turnbull will be more popular than Tony Abbott: he represents the more progressive elements among the conservatives. He’s a small ‘l’ liberal with some very forward-looking social policies.

He lost his party’s leadership to Tony Abbott on climate change by a single vote in a leadership spill a few years ago.

Mr Turnbull’s real challenge is to get rid of the Abbott baggage on some of the most critical issues affecting Australians.

So far there are indications that the style is changed but not the substance of some extremely regressive policies—Malcolm wears better suits, and different colored ties. But the Liberal Party needs to change the package and not only the salesman.

Turnbull’s immediate challenges are quite a few: re-defining climate change policies; violence against women—every week in Australia two women are killed in domestic violence; equality of same sex marriage; the widening gap between the have and have-nots, especially single mothers and the unemployed.

Abbott was not the most popular minister for women. His vicious attack on Julia Gillard tarnished his image irretrievably among the young.

 

Different style of leadership

Turnbull has promised a more consultative, collaborative style of traditional cabinet governing: the power of persuasion rather than flexing a pugilist’s muscle.

With bedfellows like the National Party as part of the Coalition, it’s doubtful if he’ll succeed in any significant way.

He’s former banker and a republican. His elevation augurs well for the Republican movement in Australia.

One hopes after the longest serving monarch is graciously gone, this archaic symbol would be consign to history, certainly  in the Australian landscape.

Mr Turnbull has laid his inaugural emphasis on the Economy—they all do: ‘It’s the Economy, stupid’, is a kind of mantra in the free market economy that so dominates the world politics and the thinking of business-class travelling economists.

This means Jo Hockey will be replaced—he can go and play rugby ; Tony can join the Tour de France—he’s a good cyclist.

Turnbull sees the times are most exciting for Australia to embrace the technological challenges of the global economy and the opportunities they create for a modern society. His vision is essentially economic. He brings a new optimism into the Australian political life.

We’ve to be ‘agile, innovative, and creative’; he exhorted his colleagues and Australians.

The place is open for business but with the wobbly Chinese economy, with prices of ores falling, and the cost of war rising, the new prime minister’s optimism may evaporate in the summer that is threatening to engulf parts of a very volatile, vulnerable landscape.

 

Greatest challenge

His greatest challenge I think will be what Australia does at the Paris meeting on Climate change.

If he can join the call for genuinely radical commitment to this most vital concern for our region and beyond, he may yet win global respect and improve the prospect of winning the next election due around this time next year.

He may also win a few friends in our region—with greater sensitivity than displayed by Tony Abbott and his immigration minister, Peter Dutton.

For this he must change his front bench—more women and more new faces. Australia with its vast talent has produced some of the most mediocre cabinet ministers in a major democracy.

It’s generally been the exaltation of the average. And this has permeated in universities and media which often reflect the health of the intellectual life of the nation. The universities have become so dependent on government funding that they have become His Masters voices for their grants, rewards and awards.

Of course there are a few honorable exceptions in 25 million Australians but they are too few and too far between.

But by and large, the mediocrity of the society is most painfully reflected among its thinkers—after all, what does one do with so much freedom: how long can one survive on rugby, cricket and AFL?

There’s only one global game—soccer—and there we aren’t doing too well. The last I heard was the national team had beaten Bangladesh!

 

Bigger vision

Australia needs a bigger vision– as big as the country itself. Sending refugees and asylum seekers to Nauru and Manus island has diminished the nation’s image world-wide.

The government has spent around AUD50 million in Cambodia to resettle refugees from PNG—so far only four refugees have been settled in that god-forsaken place.

It seems to me that there’s a spiritual dimension and political morality lacking in the society.

Barack Obama, with all his difficulties, often projects an image of something larger as integral to the American Dream. That is his deepest strength and charismatic appeal.

What changes Malcolm brings to his understanding of the region will depend on his Deputy.

Ms Julie Bishop will continue to be the capable foreign minister. She also has the potential to be the leader, should the new PM falter in his vision and fail to lead.Economic development, without a genuine social vision, is fatal in an educated democracy.

Both the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Barack Obama have amply demonstrated the qualities of leadership necessary in a modern state.

However, the most notable change in recent world politics is the election of Jeremy Corbyn, the left-wing Labour leader of the British Labour Party. He won the leadership vote by 60 per cent of the votes cast.

 

Corbynomics model

The Corbynomics seems to be gaining ascendancy in the UK, with support from around 50 eminent economists.

His emphasis on growth and prosperity is underpinned by the challenge of serious redistribution of the nation’s wealth and resources.

Crony capitalism is a kind of sophisticated corruption that needs to be uprooted even if it is supported by corporate media and very, very big business. This is the current bane of India, despite Mr Modi’s good intentions.

Can a banker-business man like Mr Turnbull turn the tide for the benefit of millions in his society? That is his challenge—freedom he said will be his key word: freedom of individual and free market. Can the y co-exist? The lamb and the lion sleeping together?

Will a banker like Mr Turnbull be prepared to give his privileged position to serve the people.

Being a good business man and manager in a free market economy is one thing; being a leader of a free people is quite another.

This is the new prime minister’s fundamental challenge in the Australia of today– an Australia poll-driven and increasingly poverty-stricken in ideas.  Ideology is no substitute for ideas; and refugee boats do not add up to crucial leadership or electoral votes.

Returning to Canberra, after weeks of travel, I was happy to see that Ms Bronwyn Bishop had resigned from the Speaker’s Chair —she had come to be known as the Brian Lara of the Parliament with over 400 ejections of MPs in less than two years. (Brian Lara, the West Indian  cricketer, holds the world record for scoring more than 400 runs—Lara’s theme!) In Madame Speaker’s rulings it wasn’t parliamentary democracy in action—it was a Speaker’s prejudices—of the 400 elections in two years around 390 were Opposition MPs.

But she got her come-uppence soon enough for a helicopter ride: She fell from a great height, one might say.

Spring is very much in the air in Canberra: pink flowers and wide buds are beginning to bloom on leafless trees. And golden wattles are blooming from every native bush. A spring sun rises every morning.

A good time for change in leadership and the weather—both rather unreliable in the best of seasons.

Feedback: jyotip@fijisun.com.fj

 

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