Sorry, Mr Turnbull. You’re not going to be Prime Minister. Destiny has another task for you.

Back in January, readers will recall, we suggested that Peter Costello should become leader of the opposition. They need someone decent – and Cozzie deserves a better shot at the top job than he’s getting at the moment.

And Turnbull’s reaction to the news of the biggest ever Commonwealth underlying surplus as reported in The Weekend Australian – give it back – convinces us he has a higher calling. He needs to start a party of his own.

The Australian Democrats appeared because the Libs were seen as too extreme – and Labor was unelectable. Nowadays, we have a manipulative populist PM leading a team that’s largely exhausted, captured by their bureaucrats or of the standard of John Cobb or Jim Lloyd – and Labor is unelectable. We need ideas – and pollies prepared to stick their necks out.

Turnbull has the profile, the cash and the contacts – so this is what he’s got to do. Hang onto Wentworth. Easy. He was virtually elected as a Liberal independent, anyway. Then he’s got to recruit some good Senate candidates, get the balance of power and foster and support intelligent reform – from any government.

John Howard always deserves credit for the way in which he helped get Hawke-Keating economic reforms through, even when opposing them would have offered a political fillip. Labor, in contrast, has had a dog in the manager attitude since 1996.

That means reforms have depended on minor parties and independents. The Dems imploded after they took their big punt and will probably be extinct after the next election, so don’t matter. The only major economic changes the Greens are likely to back is the adoption of gum nuts as a unit of currency. And independents, by their very nature, tend to be populists rather than reformers.

So back to Turnbull’s comments from last week. He argues for a flatter tax structure with a top rate of 35 per cent. “Our tax system is neither as efficient nor as equitable as it ought to be,” he said. “All tax carries with it a deadweight cost to the economy. The onus is on governments to ensure the tax system is efficient, with the lowest possible level of compliance costs and red tape, and raises no more revenue than is needed by government.”

He’s right, of course. Governments of all colours cream off taxes and then use them to bribe the special interest groups whose support they need.

So, Malcolm, why not keep the bastards honest?

Peter Fray

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