There’s a store in my home state of South Australia called Mr Bankrupt, which ran some quite memorable TV commercials when I was a kid, “selling out fast, it’s all gotta go!”
I haven’t seen the ads for a while, and I mean no insult to the store, but in many ways the catchy jingle reminds me of our Prime Minister – ‘justice for refugees, marriage equality, action on climate change… it’s all gotta go!’ Whatever the principle, it has to be junked so that Malcolm Turnbull can hold onto his job. He really is the Mr Bankrupt of Australian politics but while he might be selling out fast, voters turned out long ago.
In the days following the Coalition’s latest brain snap on marriage equality, many commentators have predicted that the Liberals’ conservative wing are sharpening the knives for Malcolm Turnbull. This is hardly surprising. In his 18 months in the Lodge, Turnbull has been exposed as politically incompetent. From the spectacular own goal of a Double-Dissolution which resuscitated One Nation, to his embarrassing inability to deal with marriage equality, Turnbull has been torn down by self-inflicted wounds. But it would be a mistake to simply view his failure as a failure of political management. Changing the leader won’t change the Liberals’ fortunes, it’s their policies that are the problem. Their platform is as bereft as their captain.
Turnbull’s appeal has always been based on the mirage of his ‘progressivism.’ The perfect alternative to the arch conservative Abbott, he positioned himself as someone more in tune with the Australian mainstream. A modern leader who would lead the nation with a different style of politics. As Prime Minister however, he has engaged in more contortions than an Olympic acrobat.
Politics in Australia like that in all Western democracies, is becoming increasingly complex. Voters are disillusioned with spin and are craving genuine, authentic people who stand for something and are willing to fight for it. Witness the rise of Corbyn and Sanders. Part of this has been a growing recognition that establishment politics and the economic system it rigorously defends has failed to deliver positive changes in people’s lives. Indeed, despite the great promise of the 1980s, neo-liberalism has only served to widen the gap between rich and poor.
This has also exposed divisions within the Liberals’ own constituency and under Turnbull the party has proven unable to appeal to a broad cross-section of the community. Rather than tackling inequality, the Government has chosen to enshrine it further with cuts to penalty rates and corporate tax cuts. Resorting to the cynical and ugly politics of racism and homophobia has only further divided this government from the people it purports to represent.
In many ways, Turnbull is a symbol of a failed political and economic system. A rich businessman, turned politician, he is the ultimate symbol of establishment power and influence. He chops and changes his position based on his audience and will say or do anything to get ahead. He has no ideology and no values. For him, politics is purely transactional. His only purpose is to stay in office, whatever the price. The spectre of him casually trading human beings over telephone with the deplorable Donlad Trump, only reinforces this image.
While a fish rots from its head, it will take more than removing Turnbull to rid the Liberals of the stink that permeates their party. A very long time in opposition would be a good start!