So long, and thanks for all the memes!

by Alec Downs

Last night, Australia’s Prime Minister Toby Abbott, he of the infamous ‘budgie smugglers’ (NSFW), onion-botherer and international laughing-stock was firmly ousted in a leadership spill  by communications minister Malcolm Turnbull. Turnbull won the ballot 54-44, securing his position as leader of the Liberal Party and the country.

Abbott and Turnbull have long been rivals; Abbott snatched leadership of the party from Turnbull by a single vote in 2009.  A spill motion was tabled in a Liberal Party meeting earlier this year, but did not pass.  Speculation about a coup has been rife this year, and it was no secret that Turnbull has had his eyes on the top job.

Given the history between the two men, one can’t help but wonder if Turnbull’s internal monologue was far less gracious than what he said out loud when he paid tribute to Abbott:

“I want to say at the outset what a great debt the nation owes and the party owes, the Government owes to Tony Abbott and of course, to his family Margie and their daughters…

..The burden of leadership is a very heavy one. Tony has discharged that as leader of the party and, of course, as prime minister over many years now and the achievements of the Government that he has led have been formidable.”

Achievements, hmm?  Can’t think of many.  Anyone? Bueller?

Instead what we got from one of the most polarising PMs in recent times was an astonishing back-flip on election promises and an overarching theme of screwing over the people who could least afford it.  Abbott used his first budget to – among other things – introduce new taxes, cut funding to hospitals, pensions and the national broadcasters ABC and SBS.

The website Tracking Abbott’s Wreckage systematically documents his myriad misdeeds.

The consensus among my cohorts is that Abbott’s term in office feels much longer than it actually was, and that he will not be missed.  Abbott has done a great deal to damage Australia’s international reputation, not least in the area of climate change, where our climate policy did not extend beyond 2020, and Abbott actively moved to prevent investment in renewable energy.

So, off Tony goes into the night, with his massive pension.  Good riddance.  Not that we’ve had a change in government, merely prime minister.  Malcolm Turnbull is a stalwart of the Liberal Party, albeit of a more libertarian bent, so while his reign promises to be more reasonable than the far-right Abbott, I predict we’ll see much of the same, policy-wise.

Turnbull is a former lawyer, investment banker and internet entrepreneur.  He is very much more popular with the electorate than Abbot ever was, and while he paid lip service to bipartisanship on certain issues in the past, it remains to be seen if he can shift the LNP away from the perennial opposition mode of the past few years.

Personally I abhor Turnbull for his destruction of the visionary National Broadband Network, Australia’s largest-ever infrastructure project, designed to bring Fibre To The Home (FTTH) to 93% of Australians.  Rather than admit that the Labor government did the right thing to improve our woeful broadband, Turnbull installed cronies of his onto the board of NBNCo, the government business enterprise (similar to a Quango in the UK) and used them to change course towards a so-called ‘Multi-Technology Mix’ or MTM, which utilises our decades-old rotting copper to provide a marginal speed improvement at massive cost ($56bn+).  The NBN/MTM is a topic I could go on about for days, and I will probably make it the subject of future articles.  It’s a classic example of Liberal opposition to nation-building projects and neatly illustrates how the LNP are bereft of vision or ideas.  We saw the same objection to the rollout of telephone wires 100 years ago, or to the Snowy Mountains hydro-electric scheme.

The inevitable cabinet reshuffle will be announced on Thursday, and it promises to oust Abbott’s strongest supporters such as Treasurer Joe Hockey and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann.  Speculation abounds as to who will get what ministerial posts.  One thing is for sure – Turnbull is going to have a job on his hands to make the LNP re-electable. After months of horrendous polling, many commentators are predicting a landslide towards Labor in the 2016 election.  Let’s see if we make it there without another change of PM!

Here’s a choice pic of Turnbull in his younger days.  It’s sure to be an interesting ride!