Nov 8, 2017

Turnbull, May and the politics of incompetence

Theresa May and Malcolm Turnbull share many of the same problems -- and same flaws.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

In July, Malcolm Turnbull, who enjoyed a one-seat majority in parliament after a near-disastrous 2016 election in which he had been expected to romp to victory and cement his authority, visited the UK to meet Theresa May, who was in minority government after a near-disastrous 2017 election in which she had been expected to romp to victory and cement her authority. The Australian prime minister advised his UK counterpart to govern with confidence, as if she had a 100-seat majority (coincidentally, the majority some pundits had forecast she would actually achieve).

Within months, it became clear that the challenge for both leaders was to govern at all, let alone confidently, as scandals, blunders, destabilisation and ideological obsessives turned their governments into shambles and encouraged regular speculation that they would be replaced.

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31 thoughts on “Turnbull, May and the politics of incompetence

  1. Paul

    All of this is true but it also ignores the basic fact that Turnbull is intellectually lazy, amazingly arrogant (even for a Liberal politician) and totally out of his depth when it comes to complex social challenges eg health, education, science, environment, welfare and the economy.

    Few business people have the necessary skill set to be successful politicians because they have only a narrow view and relatively simple challenges when compared to running a country or even a political party.

    Turnbull also lacks a core belief system, few people now believe he is the small l liberal, his appalling treatment of the poor, disadvantaged, refugees show no sympathy at all and his favoring of the wealthy at the expense of even the average income earner is an indication of a reactionary neo liberal libertarian rather then an actual liberal. If more proof is required his continuing attacks on transparency, charities, environmental movements and the rule of law surely demonstrate an extremist rather than a moderate. He regularly appoints rent seekers, reactionaries and extremists to influential committees to ensure he gets the advise he wants and he disbands independent sources of evidence if he disagrees with them.

    His issue with climate demonstrates a total surrender to the fossil fuel lobby rather than a rear guard action against extremists.

    So feel sorry for him if you wish, but the public are turning against him because of his policies and politics not circumstances beyond his control.

    1. leon knight

      Brilliant Paul….nailed him nicely.

      1. [email protected]

        Nicely done Paul, but its not a matter of ‘circumstances beyond his control’ or his policies & politics’ but rather both, bcos the latter are partly effects of the former

        As for Theresa & big Mal, she clearly doesn’t fancy her rhetorical skills

    2. lykurgus

      True enough.
      But just to clarify, are you saying that this departs from the AI-glitching sex-robot colloquially designated as the “Theresa May” unit?
      As Minister for Women and Equality, she opposed adoption rights for gays, and the Equality Act itself. Until she got asked about both those things on BBC.
      As Home Secretary, she made deportation decisions worthy of Peter Dutton (up to and including contempt of court); tried to rip up the Human Rights Act when it got in her way; sacked 20,000 cops; and shut 40 fire depots.

    3. Woopwoop

      Spot on, ( apart from misspelling of advice).

    4. Gregory Bailey

      Very well said, Paul. I have been trying to persuade people for years that Turnbull is a right wing reactionary, whose principle driving force is ambition, laced with a Goldman-Sachsian kind of ideology. I remain very deeply concerned that he is pushing our society into a form of right-wing authoritarianism along the lines of the collapse of the Weimar Republic in 1933. The desire to detain “terrorists” for 14 days without charge, the raid on the AWU, and the continuation of concentration camps on Manus Island bespeak a very disturbing undercurrent in the politics of this country. By and large journalists tend only to be lukewarm in their criticism of these things (and never join the dots together) and seem still to be hanging onto the hope that after all Turnbull is a small l-liberal, whatever that means now. He is not! Paul’s assessment is undoubtedly correct and one can only hope that the average voter will recognises this. But is Shorten any better? I suppose we have to ask why it is that neo-liberalism has thrown up such a series of psychopathic leaders, governed by ego above all. Greg Bailey

  2. old greybearded one

    Keating said Turnbull was clever but had no judgement. He was right. Both parties are also troubled by boofheaded private schoolboy bullies. eg Abbot and Boris of Eton and boofheade private school fools as well. Private education?You must be kidding.

    1. The Curmudgeon

      Keating also said that Turnbull was courageous; got that wrong.

      1. Nudiefish

        It takes a certain kind of courage to turn up for work every day after completely screwing up the day before. Perhaps that is what Keating meant?

      2. zut alors

        In fact Turnbull showed courage on one occasion ie: in February 2010 he crossed the floor to vote for Rudd’s ETS. He was the only opposition MP to do so. Unfortunately that effort must’ve used up Malcolm’s entire quota of principles & it was all downhill from there.

      3. klewso

        Sir Humphrey Appleby said it of Jim Hacker too.

      4. Barnes Graham

        May I quote Sir Humphrey Appleby : “Tell him it’s courageous and he’ll run a mile!”

  3. Bill Hilliger

    And the Malfeasance Turnbull legacy: a fucked up NBN, …oh yes I forgot, its da Labor Party fault for starting the NBN as a national infrastructure project with fibre to the premises in the first instance. Then only to see LNP Tony rAbbott with support from Malfeasance change and nobble the project (some say out of spite) to the abysmal level of performance it is today.

    And yes the, Australian voting sheeples voted for the LNP government that gave us this third world class NBN system, not once but twice. We Aussie voting sheeples still love ya Malfeasance Turnbull.

    1. zut alors

      Many more people are now connected to the NBN than at the 2013 & 2016 elections. There are some angry ants out there, plenty who currently have speeds slower than their old broadband. The ALP needs to remind these voters that Rudd/Gillard guaranteed downloads of 100 Mbps, Turnbull is delivering mostly 25 Mbps (at best 50 Mbps) on verdigris-riddled copper wire.

      1. John Hall

        On the NBN – am copping almost as many dropouts as the current citizenship fiasco. Not good enough Mr Turnball. No certainty on NBN availabity nor members of Parliament. Have to say though it would be a delight to see Pauline cut out of the network!

  4. brian crooks

    it does`nt matter how good a captain may perceived to be, if the ship is full of holes and the pumps are`nt much good and the crew is too busy fighting amongst themselves to see the rising water level she`ll sink, and that`s exactly whats happening to captain Malcolm “BLIGH” Turnbull, put on the life jackets and lower the life boats, she`s going down fast.

  5. Graeski

    Another thing in common: both are propped up by a partisan, rabidly right-wing press that deliberately down-plays their failings and lies about their pitifully few successes.

    1. Susan Anderson

      NAILED IT – There is no left wing press in this country

  6. BalexB

    An interesting analysis, thanks BK. the Parallels between the two Anglosphere democracies, as the US sinks ever deeper into a mire of its own filth, are hard to ignore. By focussing on the febrile drama of daily politics or the neurotic failings of personality we miss the system failure of dysfunctional markets, discredited neoliberal ideology, and the death of the social contract on which political legitimacy rests. On the other hand, as you rightly point out BK, there is a causal connection between these system failures and the daily incompetence of politics and personnel. There is one thing I would add to your analysis. Neoliberalism is an ideology of markets and privatisation masquerading as the incarnation of liberty and rights. Historically however, liberal and neoliberal policies have always been premised on distinctions between those deemed capable of freedom, rights and self-government and those deemed incapable. For the latter, liberal and neoliberal alike has been perfectly at ease in recommending and implementing invasive and authoritarian governmental strategies (think segregation, mutual obligation, the NT intervention, penal populism, rising prison populations, security, Border Farce, etc.). As neoliberalism loses its normative and explanatory purchase, the twin requirements for any viable ideology, these authoritarian strategies become salient. As we drift further into the uncharted waters of political decline and incompetence, we can expect more of precisely this kind of development – invasive governmentalism carried out by a clueless political class without legitimacy and prepared to do anything to defend their donors, to entrench vested interest and to cling with the grip of death to power.

    1. Barnes Graham

      If more people read John Ralston Saul’s “The Unconscious Civilisation” rather than Milton Friedman, they would have seen clearly the Rise and Rise of Corporatisation and done something about it.

      1. Dog's Breakfast

        Yes Graham, I have a few JR Saul books and loved this one. Frighteningly, it was written in 1995 and was a collection from his Massey Lectures. 22 years old and it isn’t slightly out of date, just prescient.

        1. AR

          I heard those Massey lectures on ABC, possibly still then 2FC? and felt reassurred that, bad as things were, there situation was understood and well in hand, of fine chaps like him.
          Later, 1999-2005, he was First Bloke to the Canadian G/G Adrienne Clarkson so I was lulled into complacency that more committed folk than I were TCB.
          I thought the same in the mid60s, then again 5 yrs later, then some other time and another scene and….
          Now I awake as a Senior Citizen and find that things didn’t work out as I’d hoped.
          Ho hum.

    2. Dog's Breakfast

      “By focussing on the febrile drama of daily politics or the neurotic failings of personality we miss the system failure of dysfunctional markets, discredited neoliberal ideology, and the death of the social contract on which political legitimacy rests.”

      Well put BalexB. This is actually the larger problem, and although a Labor government with sincere intent would be a much better proposition, these matters will either be solved by decades of reform, or a very short revolution. At the moment, my feeling is that the very short revolution is the more likely. Which country first, or will it be one in all in?

      1. BalexB

        Not sure I see much prospect of revolution on the cards anywhere soon, and if I did I am sure it would not be short one (few revolutions are – taking power might be quick, reckoning with power takes at least a generation). I think a more plausible scenario is the continuation of the present – a long, slow and increasingly chaotic decline.

  7. shea mcduff

    This Oz COALition is not an incompetent government.
    It is relatively successful at achieving its political aims and policies on behalf of its backers.
    Doing quite well.
    The environnment is still being ravaged by mining et al as Gina and Twiggy et al want, the NBN is a disaster, as Rupert wants, King Coal and Adani types are happy with the lack of government sponsored progress on renewables, education and health are still run on an inequitable class basis dichotomy of public and private, religious corporations still carry enormous influence with tax subsidies and support from COALition fanatics, the banks, particularly those in the Cayman Island and associates, think Mal and his mates are doing a good job avoiding any substantive attempts to rein in their extortions, ROC/TURC/ABBC are all cats-paws of anti-union big business, the gutting of the ABC alternative to commercial media continues, wages are static at best despite labour productivity constantly rising, profits and dividends soar, wealth and income inequality is being nicely managed in the interests of the “1%”, un/underemployment, particularly the casual kind, reflects the wants of employers … and so on.
    Standard IPA/BCA/COALition agenda items being achieved, maybe only marginally in some cases but still being achieved, daily.
    Missions accomplished.
    Now if only the plebs would not be so sceptical and noisy Mal’s backers would be highly satisfied

    1. shea mcduff

      Just to give one example that appeared on my Facebook feed 24 minutes ago from Sally McManus:
      “There are five anti-union bills before the Senate at the moment. They should not be voted on when we do not know if many Senators even have a right to sit in the Senate.
      Two bills give more power to Michaelia Cash and the ROC (Registered Organisations Commission that ordered the raids on union offices a few weeks ago) and three give the banks what they want so they can get their hands on industry superannuation.”

  8. klewso

    That’s the trouble with being “the smartest person in the room” – without seeking a second opinion?

  9. klewso

    And I don’t know about “the politics of incompetence” – with their practice, more like “Turnbull, May and the art of incompetence”?

  10. AR

    The mystery of both is that they govern for aims which are (were) anathema to them.
    Curiouser and curiouser.

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