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Feb 4, 2009

Turnbull’s stimulus suicide

Refusing to back the Government’s stimulus package is a truly colossal error by the Opposition, writes Bernard Keane.

At about 10.30 this morning in the House of Representatives the Opposition walked into a baseball bat. It caught them flush across the head. BANG. Then they got up and invited the wielder to swing it again.

The wielder — Kevin Rudd — won’t need to be asked twice.

Refusing to back the Government’s stimulus package, which Malcolm Turnbull announced in the chamber this morning, is a truly colossal — indeed, almost suicidal — error by the Opposition.

The Coalition and much of the media haven’t worked out that politics has for the moment changed completely. A crisis mindset has taken hold and voters are in no mood for anyone getting in the way of it being addressed with urgency. The Press Gallery will obsess about whether the Greens and Xenofielding will support the package. The Greens, displaying common sense that the Opposition clearly lacks, have rapidly moved to deal themselves in. They’ve proposed the Economics committee conduct hearings late this week and that the Senate sits Friday and next Monday (it is scheduled to rise so they can conduct Estimates hearings) to consider the urgent bills. They’re also looking at options for greening up the package, including ensuring the 20,000 new houses to be built under the package are energy efficient. Fielding is for referring the package to committee, as, apparently, is Xenophon. Wishlists might be brought out in discussions with Chris Evans’s office.

But the passage of the bills isn’t the main game.

Kevin Rudd has recently embarked on a strategy of delegitimising the Liberal Party, connecting it with the causes of the financial crisis and painting it as intellectually incapable of understanding it, let alone dealing with it.

This strategy isn’t just a few words here and there at press conferences. Rudd is writing about it, talking about it inside Parliament and out, and so are his senior ministers. It is a comprehensive and determined strategy.

It is also fallacious and deeply partisan. But this morning, Malcolm Turnbull handed the Government compelling proof that it is right.

Rudd’s campaign will now accelerate into a ferocious attack on the Liberal Party. They will be portrayed as extremists who are deliberately, bloody-mindedly preventing the Government from dealing with the crisis because of their ideological extremism. If the Government succeeds in its attacks — and thanks to Malcolm Turnbull, their chances of doing so have risen massively — they could crush the conservative side of politics for the next couple of years, leaving them irrelevant, divided and dispirited. The ALP could obliterate the Coalition in 2010, even amid high unemployment and continuing recession.

A lot of the media will miss this. Rudd is talking over them to voters. They’ll obsess about how the Government will gets its package through the Senate, as though that is the Government’s problem. In fact it’s the problem of the other parties.

Turnbull is saying what he has done isn’t popular, but the right thing to do. Commendable. He actually offered some sensible suggestions this morning for alternatives, particularly in relation to reducing small business costs. But he can’t begin to understand how unpopular this will be, and the way in which it will erode his party’s support among voters. Remember the bollocking Kim Beazley copped when he tried to amend the Howard Government’s tax cuts in 2005? This is like that — multiplied a hundred-fold, because it’s not about handouts so much as economic survival.

You fools. You utter fools.

There’s not even any intellectual rigour to Turnbull’s position. He insists that tax cuts should be brought forward. But in effect they HAVE been brought forward into the next five months via tax bonuses — which in any event exceed the tax cuts. He also claims it’s all about the kids — not leaving future generations to pay the price for our profligacy. Presumably Turnbull hasn’t met too many people who grew up in homes with both parents unemployed, or young adults who couldn’t find a job after leaving school or finishing training. They’ll be paying the price for this recession, very soon. And pity your party doesn’t apply that same logic of generational equity to climate change, Malcolm.

Yesterday in Question Time, when they belatedly got round to asking questions, the Opposition made much of comparing Rudd to Gough Whitlam. The inanity of this tactic was truly staggering. Like John Howard, who to the very end of his political life retained his 1970s view of trade unionists as folkloric ogres that he could scare voters with, the Liberals appear to think Gough Whitlam is some sort of demon, with whom association is an automatic negative. Those with a basic grasp of political history know that Gough ran the most inept government in Australian history (at least until the Iemma/Rees years). But most voters don’t have a basic grasp of political history. Most voters think Gough is some avuncular relic from a quaint era of bad hair and silly political songs. Who on earth is running the Opposition’s tactics committee and thinks this is a good idea?

Overnight and in The Age, backbencher Peter Costello was saying something critical of the Government. Whatever. No one cares about you anymore, Peter. Go away.

Rudd will be delighted with the Opposition’s stupidity. But he won’t be celebrating. Instead, he’ll be flexing his muscles and practising his swing. That mild-mannered, bespectacled bloke will be swinging the baseball bat, hard and without pity. And he’s going to hit the Liberals again, and again, and again, and again, and he’s not going to stop until they’re a bloodied mess.

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58 thoughts on “Turnbull’s stimulus suicide

  1. Jen L

    Turnbull & Co have upended a nation needing direction. The Vaucluse cruiser sounds like Billy McMahon every time he opens his mouth. Artificial and tricky rhetoric is the last thing this nation needs in such a crisis. Yes we’ve got a dysfunctional two-party system that needs fixing after this depression. Meantime can the two major parties call a truce to save a nation or is party credibility their consuming passion?

  2. Graemel

    So sad to see commentators such as yourself Mr Keane, so incapable of reason and common sense. Here we see the men with the credit card going hell for leather to rack up as much debt as their credit ratings will allow, with the simple and single purpose of buying the votes of you BK and all your maddie respondents here. No rhyme or reason for the extremes of the cash splash, the thousands of houses for soldiers, the insulation thingos and so on. The only sensible bit is the school upgrades – only designed to bail out his Labor premiers – but even that is way over the top.

    Hoping for some rational thinking from you Bernard – but when???

  3. Cathy

    Malcolm Turnbull’s reasons for blocking the stimulus package don’t add up. Not one of his objections to this cash splash alluded to ‘we may need to spend more”. In other words he was blocking it because it sounded ‘too much’. All the attempts to justify opposition to the stimulus package tumbled out as simplistic excuses from a smarting Liberal Party desperate to define itself – even at the expense of a nation.

  4. JamesK

    Kevin Rudd is insane.

    Forget about Parliamentary democracy. Rudd’s is a presidential rule and as close to a dictator as Australia has ever had. The Parliamentary Federal Labor Party is not without people of ability. I have absolutely no doubt that their voices are drowned out or simply ignored.

    Adam Schwab and Stephen Mayne point out the insanity of this “package”.

    So should Bernard Keane.

  5. Luke Buckmaster

    Well said Bernard. I am baffled by the Coalition’s idiocy on this matter; perhaps it’s part of a weird new tactic: lure voters by opposing free cash handouts! Seems a little, well, Brendan Nelson esque…

    And your comments re: Whitlam are spot on – they’d connect better if they likened K-Rudd to The Beagle Boys or Drop Dead Fred. At least then the majority of the populace would know who they were talking about.

  6. S. Slamming Sam

    “At least he is trying to do something” – so any excuse will do? How irresponsible.

    We’re talking about $42,000,000,000. An expensive “don’t worry, Uncle Kevin, is Doing Something” exercise.

  7. Venise Alstergren

    #3: despicable, an exercise in total self-interest and subversive. Jes-s I hope you, Malcolm Turnbull, will fall over your own grave.

  8. Bernard Keane

    As I said to a Coalition MP this afternoon, Rudd is out to destroy you as a legitimate political force. And if he succeeds with you, then he’ll turn and do the same to the Greens, and then to whoever else is left who disagrees with him.

    We’ve repeatedly underestimated Rudd. Not even John Howard aimed at destroying his Opposition. He wedged them, and ignored them, and assailed them, and tried to destroy their main source of funds in the union movement, but I’m not sure he ever countenanced wiping them out.

    The bloke is playing for keeps and Turnbull, whom we all thought would be a pro at this sort of thing, looks in deep trouble. The Opposition’s performance in Question Time was abysmal. The Government, even Swan, was virtually toying with them.

    Fans of parliamentary democracy ought to be worried.

  9. Jonathan at Crikey

    Must say Turnbull supporters may not have reassured by the man’s performance just now on 7.30 Report. Pwned I think is the expression. Add to that unconvincing, addled, and absurdly smug and I think you get the photo. It does not appear to have dawned on Malcolm that the other lot won the last election and they make the decisions now. That’s how it rolls.

  10. Tom McLoughlin

    Turnbull is dead right to demand a consultation process over such a huge drawn down on the national wealth.

    The Senate independents and Greens agree. No opposition no senate role.

    I watched Turnbull. It was a poor performance … by Kerry OBrien. He stopped asking questions and starting arguing. He interrupted the answers and spoke longer than the interview subject. That’s not very good work. And I like KO but he did poorly.

    The role of parliamentary scrutiny is being monstered at this critical time as Alan Ramsey suggested back in his piece in October 2008. KO and his 7.30 researchers ought go back and read it.

    Albanese is projecting his own failings referring to the ‘only reason for Opposition would be to play politics’. Coming from the ALP in Marrickivlle/Grayndler, that’s rich. Pure projection.

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