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Turnbull's error

By Peter Bowden - posted Wednesday, 13 July 2016

There is one dominant reason why Malcolm Turnbull lost this election that has not been canvassed by the media so far.  That was his continued accommodation of his far right wing, and his support for programs that they wanted. Australia does not hold these beliefs and showed this in the election. Out of the 12 seats lost by the Government so far, eight were held by far right politicians who fought against key issues like climate change and funding for our schools and hospitals. They fought against even fairness in the gathering and allocation of Australia’s tax intake. Of the Coalition’s losses so far, many were hard-right, Abbott-backers, blocking progress on the issues people care about. And the swings were massive – 10.4% against Andrew Nikolic in Bass, 17.6% against Jamie Briggs in Mayo, 6.9% against Louise Markus in Macquarie, 12.6% against Russell Matheson in Macarthur, 5.8% against Peter Dutton in Dickson and 4.5% against George Christensen in Dawson. These are all well above the national average.

The seat of Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, who has threatened us with the horrors of a humane immigration program on more than one occasion, has seen a 5.8% swing against him (that's twice the state average). Some Australians support the far right, as Pauline Hanson and Andrew Bolt  but most of us do not.

Tom Switzer is completely off beam when he describes (Sydney Morning Herald, 11 July) as “hogwash” the belief that Malcolm Turnbull would have won a convincing majority if he had embraced a “progressive” agenda. He also asserted that Tony Abbott should sit in cabinet. The actual voting figures above convincingly demonstrate how wrong Switzer is. This voting reflects national thinking.


Switzer has forgotten….or maybe he never noticed, how much the nation, left and right, breathed a collective sigh of relief when Tony Abbott lost the leadership. It is necessary to remind him of Tony Abbott’s actions on the key social, economic and environmental issues that concerned Australians. Robert Manne set out several in the May 2015 issue of The Monthly:

Abbott sang the praises of coal, as “good for humanity”. When he opened a new coalmine in Queensland, with his characteristically verbal swagger, he called it a “great day for the world”… In the new Senate, which convened in July 2014, Gillard’s carbon-pricing legislation was repealed…. Australia was now not merely the developed world’s leading per capita carbon polluter, it was almost universally acknowledged to be the world’s most recklessly and brazenly irresponsible nation with regard to action on climate change.

 There were many other Abbott gaffes: The rejection of a proposal from the country's most respected Indigenous leaders on how to proceed towards constitutional recognition, saying it could lead to "something akin to a log of claims that is unlikely to receive general support". It is all set out in Andrew Street’s book  The Short and Excruciatingly Embarrassing Reign of Captain Abbott  – the litany of gaffes, blunders and questionable captain's calls that characterised the Abbott government. Stopping the flow of illegal immigrant boats because ‘a country that can't control its borders starts to lose control of itself’; the repeal of the carbon tax that was “socialism masquerading as environmentalism”; budget repair so that within five years, the Australian government will ‘once again be living within its means’.

“I am going to shirt-front Mr Putin. Australians were murdered.’ James Massola wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald on October 14, 2014.  The Russian embassy in Australia warned Abbott at the time that Putin is a professional judo wrestler. Then there was embarrassing leak from within his party, forcing Abbott  to deny a media report that he came up with a plan to unilaterally invade Iraq with a force of more than 3000 Australian troops to confront Islamic State.

The fact that he, Tony Abbott was “sick of being lectured by UN”.

And who could forget the 2014 budget? Budget cuts that hit lowest-income earners hardest, The Australian Treasury told us. It was totally unfair, almost universally rejected except by the hard right.  


Turnbull did not take action on the huge sigh of national relief that accompanied the downfall of Tony Abbott. He should have, To accommodate Abbott and the party’s his right wingnow is a sure way for Turnbull to lose the next election. But most of us do not want to accommodate the right. A fair go for all is a national belief system.

.Australia has long had the reputation of being an egalitarian society. “I am as good as the next man, Jack” is a statement about Australia that I learned in my childhood. It still applies; Australia showed it in the last election. Those of the far right were rejected by the Australian people. Tony Abbott in the blue ribbon Liberal Part seat of Warringah had a 10 per cent swing against him - after claiming he would have run a better campaign than Malcolm Turnbull. If Turnbull wants to govern, even with a hung parliament, he should not try to accommodate Dutton and the Abbott supporters in any way other than sending them to the furthest reaches of the back bench.   And running his own liberal program.   

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About the Author

Peter Bowden is an author, researcher and ethicist. He was formerly Coordinator of the MBA Program at Monash University and Professor of Administrative Studies at Manchester University. He is currently a member of the Australian Business Ethics Network , working on business, institutional, and personal ethics.

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