“Mirror, mirror, on the wall…”

Turnbull Mirror

Malcolm Turnbull is not a leader. He is a lone wolf.

He has always tended to celebrate his own magnificence, and has done well – for himself and his family – out of it. But the fact remains that while he may be in a team, he is not a team leader. No political team he has ever led has done well. Urbane and sophisticated doesn’t seem to cut it in the snakepit of politics.

Bill Shorten (as I am getting tired of writing, but it has to be repeated) has kept Labor together without the usual rancour and restlessness from the peanut gallery of Labor machine men, time servers and influence peddlers that usually cruels the ground for an Opposition leader from the Left.

Before he was in parliament Shorten led a major union successfully into the 21st century. No wonder the conservatives attempted to pillory him for it at the TURC. It was one of the strongest indications that he was a genuine leader. It seems obvious now that the aim of TURC was to show him up as just another grubby self-server, out for the personal perks.

The TURC failed, and had to exonerate him.

Weak attempts to keep the “Bill Shorten has questions to be answered” issue alive have withered into the mists of time. Who now thinks there’s going to be a “Union Corruption” election campaign? Life’s too short for shit like that.

Abbott and Hockey – the supposed foundation pillars of the new Liberal government are both gone. Was Bill out and about waving him arms and trying-on the 3-word slogans, Tony-style for the two years it took their party to wake up?

No. He judged that it would be better to just block them where they could do real harm, and then to let their petulant overreactions and their thinly disguised ideological obsessions, ever more rabid as time passed, do the rest.

And it worked. The first two years of the Coalition government have gone up in a puff of smoke, exposed as a shallow, policy-free fraud. Even their own people are now pointing this out, if only to take some of the heat off themselves: members of the Abbott government, but strangely not connected to any of its mistakes… in their own estimation, of course. The fact remains that they are equally responsible for the two years of Abbott mayhem as Abbott is himself. God help them if the punters make the connection.

Meanwhile, Bill Shorten has avoided the opportunity to gloat, heckle and kick heads from the sidelines. Instead he got his team working, knowing that schadenfreude is one thing, planning and substance are another.

His calmness and patience got him into a lot of trouble. There was the mockery about zingers. Then the accusations of being bland and uninteresting. There were even taunts from the very people who refused to listen to him that no-one was listening to him! Nice try. Because Shorten wasn’t a thug like Abbott, driven by vindictiveness and destructiveness, and he wasn’t a clown like Hockey, Abbott’s Toltoy punching bag, he was written off as “No Fun”, the human Dad Joke.

A lot of ostensible “Labor” supporters fell for this too. They believed that unless you were a vaudeville showman like Abbott, making noise all the time, you couldn’t “cut through”. Retail politics was what it was all about. There had to be an “announceable” every day, and lots of stunts, or the Opposition leader should go, to be replaced by someone who could cut it. Round up the usual suspects.

Then there were the polls which, if looked at honestly, only snapshotted the political situation as it should have been: a rump of an Opposition, exhausted by past internal ructions, decimated at the last election, barely able to get out of bed each day and fight the good fight in the Parliament and hustings. 53-47 against, post-September, looked pretty close to normal in that situation. The polling excesses of the Abbott years were the exception. The 2013-2015 polls were a bloody miracle for Labor, when you think about it. But they gave Labor confidence, but some of its supporters too much confidence. They forgot that the electoral cycle is three years, not the two weeks between Newspolls, owned and operated by one of Shorten’s (and Labor’s) greatest enemies.

As Churchill said about “ends of the beginning”, so it’s true for Labor. The fight’s not over.It’s hardly begun. The CPG can become just as bored with Bill Shorten again as they seem to be with Malcolm Turnbull at present.

But for the moment they’re seeing Shorten in a new light (for them). Funny how they’ve only just twigged, isn’t it? The new light is an illumination that many here have seen for quite some time. But it can be switched off as suddenly as it was switched on. Don’t rely on the journos for anything that resembles deep thought: they’re still trying to run the line that Malcolm Turnbull making a May 11 DD announcement is sensible, or certain, or even a guaranteed winner with no political blowback. That’s how dumb they are. Kids with toys. Camp followers. Their own echo chamber. Only ever tangential to the curve of history, but not part of it.

Turnbull has been lazy, thinking he has all the time in the world to fiddle while Canberra and Australia burn. It’s an investor’s laziness. Investors put up the capital, and then let others do the work for them.

The problem is that, as Prime Minister, it’s now Turnbull’s job to roll up his own sleeves, and to lead. I don’t think he’s got that in him. Malcolm employs people to do that. Unfortunately, the buck has now stopped rolling and is stuck in crevice: jammed right up the Prime Minister’s fundamental orifice.

It’s Turnbull who has to get himself and his party out of trouble. Don’t expect Bill Shorten to help by attracting too much attention to himself, yet.

Shorten’s strategy is to do what you can do, within your capabilities, while the enemy fritters away their resources preening before the mirror they are trapped inside of, one that tells them, “You are the fairest one of all”.

Until you’re not.

Shit, or get off the pot, Malcolm.

Turnbull potty Complete with Text

Bolt today:

“Turnbull must virtually start all over again, but not just with a new team.

Now, with just three months to go before his first Budget and only eight or so until the election, he must find a new economic plan.”

Yes… well… uhm… d’errr.

The amazing thing about the public is that it has given Turnbull the Big Tick because they want to believe that a new captain – with virtually the same old team – can turn the side around from wooden-spooners to premiers in the space of a couple of months’ brainstorming.

It happens in schlok Hollywood baseball movies about baseball and gridiron – the new man, now off the booze, inspires a gaggle of numpties and misfits etc. – or every now and again in, say, an ice skating race – where you’re so far behind that when the rest of the competitors fall over each other you’ve got enough time to coast around them and win gold.

Not so often in real life.

Of course we are not addicted to real life. We are addicted to Reality Life, which is different.

In real life you work hard to achieve your goal. You genuinely innovate, “do the math”, “work the problem”, “science the shit out of” your predicament.

In Reality Life, your little brother dies, you write a song about the poor little blighter, go onto to Australia’s Got Talent and wow the judges (who look about as un-real as can be managed, which means they are “Reality Real”). You can’t write. You can’t sing. You can’t dance. But the promos for the show make out you aced it, all the way to the semis and then the finals. All it needed was a bit of a tragedy, mixed-in emotion and a modicum of good looks. And the inspiration to believe you could do it. It’s All Australia’s “Must See” episode.

I used to write here that Australia lacked confidence. Years of pre-Treasury Joe Hockey droning on about “debt and deficit disasters” and “School Hall” waste finally convinced the punters that we could have survived the GFC simply by simply inspiring ourselves to do it. His (and his cronies’) “relentless negativity”, as PMJG put it, got the idea into the voters’ minds that there probably hadn’t been been a GFC and, if there was, it was in the Northern Hemisphere. It didn’t have anything to do with us. Labor just liked racking up debt and spending our money for its own sake. As a result the nation lost confidence in its economic management (which had, in fact been the envy of the world).

Come Tony Abbott, with Hockey his John the Baptist hailing the advent of a Three-Word Messiah, and we made-believe that it was Muslim boat-people, Pink Batts and shoe malfunctions that caused our woes and the reversal of these would restore confidence. With an economy that was ready to boom with mining money and China’s insatiable urge to Buy Australian, all we needed was the confidence thing.

“Now there’s yer problem!”: now we have too much confidence.

Turns out the Chinese fascination with all-things-Oz was waning, their economy was finally levelling out, permanent growth was exposed as an impossibility and we found ourselves with a lot of holes in the ground that other people were making money out of… but only because they didn’t pay their taxes.

The Coalition’s Surplus fetish (and Labor’s half-hearted participation in it during a precariously hung parliament), borne of a classic tail-wags-dog belief that the government’s over-taxing of the people and under-management of their basic services brought prosperity for all (and votes for the government) just made things worse.

Enter Sir Galahad, Malcolm Turnbull. The Turnbull Renaissance was at hand. His witty insouciance, his urbane but cruisey style got the punters to thinking that all they needed to put the mix together was a businessman who could cut red tape, beat unwilling heads of slow thinkers together and Go For Growth via Ideas.

Unfortunately this was the bloke who had shed ideas and ideals like a snake with sunburn: the Republic, a decent NBN, gay marriage, Climate Change and many more. There wasn’t a Turnbull passion that couldn’t be discarded in the pursuit of office. But we – and I use “we” with obvious exceptions – loved him for it, or at least became infatuated. Here was another Easy Way Out: we’d charm our way back to prosperity… even better… Malcolm Turnbull could do it for us.

No need to work, or really innovate. Just talk about it and it would be so. Someone else, anyone else could take care of the details.

What no-one twigged to was that “innovation” is not an innovative idea. Innovation is “core”. It’s basic. You have to have it or you may as well not get out of bed in the morning. Talk of innovation being the new “thing” shows how much of a failure the Coalition’s time in office had been. But let’s hang onto it. Maybe something will happen, something new like innovation.

We had the confidence at last, but where was the other bit? Don’t know what I mean? It’s the Economy, stupid. The Coalition’s negativity finally bore fruit: they went out of their way to fuck the economy by talking it down. and they succeeded, just in time for them to win office.

The solution was easy: just talk it up again. All their mates were in on the scam. It was like the annual Lurk Merchants and Sleeve Tuggers’ Convention.

Good one Liberals! Good one Nationals! All hail the troglodytes! The village was destroyed in order to save it. Their recovery plan? Flog everything off. Reward their mates and party donors. Re-establish the old order. Telstra’s on top. Rupert’s still in charge. Miners are ripping squillions out of our earth. Transurban’s putting up its tolls and having a bumper year. Tony Abbott still lurks. What’s not to love about any of that?

But digging holes for one-time sales of dirt, building toll-roads to nowhere, selling off The Farm, applying duct tape to Foxtel cracks only puts off the inevitable crunch. Even the well-worn observation that we were “starting again” – two years into a government that said it had all the ideas ready to go in 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 – but which had systematically cut the country off at the knees as a favour to vested interests in fields as far apart as media, communications and even the education industry – should have rung hollow.

“Can’t bat. Can’t bowl.”

Sadly, to a nation addicted to the quick fix, the easy solution, the Grand Scheme where the other bloke has a go while you coast along doing the same thing you’ve always done, the appeal of Malcolm Turnbull was irresistable. Our national torpor could be maintained, and we could afford to wait for another miracle. Someone else had come along to save us. No wonder we gave him the Audience Vote. He let us believe it was just a matter of snapping our fingers and telling ourselves destiny was on our side again. An innovative new idea: “Innovation”.

I’m surprised the Stump-Jump Plough wasn’t trotted out. Or the Hills Hoist. Instead we got how wonderful the CSIRO was in detecting gravitational waves… omitting to mention that the branch that helped do was was sacked en masse years ago. Tomorrow it’s the Climate Change’s mob’s turn to join the Centre Link queue.

Where to now? Looks like Waffles’ polls are going off the boil, and the cavemen thirsting for revenge in his own party will be salivating. A bloke that was good at kicking helpless boat people around in secret isn’t exactly shining when it comes to sophisticated economic management in public. The commentators are getting bored (it was going to be so exciting). The ministry’s in a shambles. The nation’s going nowhere, with no plan and no leadership. All that excitement for nothing. As we enter the cold months ahead, there’s not even a Budget plan on the horizon. The back benchers must be restless. They’ve seen all this before. And they don’t like it.

Sure, Bill Shorten’s always good for a “question that must be answered”. “Labor waste” will be produced. Newspaper editorials will still give Turnbull the benefit of the doubt, but there’ll be less “benefit” and more “doubt”. Our Messiah, in that hesitant, “I-could-say-so-much-but-I’ll keep-it-simple-for-you-little-people” way he has of talking, will continue to pretend it’s all part of The Plan. Let’s have a Union Bashing recovery.

There’s a firey red Federal Police car parked on the corner outside the Turnbull residence in Point Piper. Who’s it there to protect him from?

Malcolm, there are so many threats, and so little time. Please shit, or get off the pot.

 

It won’t wash, Malcolm. It never has.

With the release of the TURC report Turnbull and Heydon are trying to sell the idea that unions are systemically corrupt, even perhaps that they can’t be anything else but corrupt, because the rules of their governance are so slack. Turnbull has seen this as his chance to out-Abbott Abbott, brilliantly taking Abbott’s Royal Commission and using it as a way of both protecting his back and further ingratiating himself with an adoring public. The Turnbull Enlightenment has never been so optimistic.

In effect, the entire union movement, and anyone associated with them has been collectively smeared. No partisanship here. Move along please.

 

Predictably, the media – who have been running a slightly snarky, hipster line in the background on the Commission’s relevance and reliability – have cast aside all doubts and are now calling for Reform!

The SMH editorial yesterday was a particularly perfect example of this. It had two-bob each way: criticise the conduct of the Commission, but accept wholeheartedly its findings, as if the two can be neatly considered separately. What was unofficial yesterday is official today. Like Dyson Heydon or not, now we must “Do Something”. In telling us Labor and the union movement have been a giant con job foisted on the public since they took workplace issues into politics, the SMH, nowadays more obsessed with trivia, young gels in trouble from texting too much, airline horror stories, and celebrity click bait, got a bad attack of Teh Serious, and told us:

The great Labor-union con job exposed

The Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption began hearings 20 months ago when the Herald, like so many others, felt angry and cheated by unions and their Labor Party mates. The royal commission’s damning final report released on Wednesday will only inflame that anger and entrench a sense that the broader community has been conned.

The con has been committed not just by what federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten calls “a small number” of union leaders. It has been part of what commissioner Dyson Heydon calls “an enormous iceberg” of misconduct in a movement which allows room for “louts, thugs, bullies, thieves, perjurers, those who threaten violence, errant fiduciaries and organisers of boycotts”.

How union corruption figures in the next election depends solely on Mr Shorten. To win voter trust and survive as Labor leader, he needs to ditch the party’s rhetoric that this royal commission was only a political witch-hunt. True, the conflict of interest revealed by Justice Heydon in agreeing to give a Liberal-linked speech has forever diminished the standing of his findings. And the commissioner’s language at the start of the final report is remarkably strong for an otherwise reserved former High Court judge…

But no amount of criticism of Justice Heydon’s personal views can overcome the mountain of evidence against the labour movement.

Ah yes, the TURC was rotten, but Bill Shorten has-questions-to-answer and needs-to-do-certain-things. Is anybody frightened by this self-serving thunder? Once again a Fairfax paper has reverted to type, just like the glory days of the masthead, when old Sir Warwick would pontificate from his Darling Point mansion by the Harbour, railing against communists, Labor politicians and union thugs.

After over a year of “investigation” and the expenditure of $80 million dollars, with jobs-for-the-boys a plenty (Jeremy Stoljar is Dyson’s protege and chambers mate) Heydon managed to cobble together a few examples – most of them involving retired union reps settling old scores going back years (or even decades) – mixed in with some sensationalist celebrity victimization (Gillard, Shorten), to attempt to sell the idea of “systemic failure”. Then he extrapolated these few incidents out (most of which are yet to involve arrests, much less convictions) to claim that unionists are simply rotten human beings: “thugs, liars, perjurers”, even “louts”. What’s a “lout”? A minister who puts the hard word on junior female staffers in Hong Kong bars? Someone who stands under a sign that says “Bob Brown’s Bitch”? A Treasurer who smokes a Cuban cigar to celebrate breaking every election promise he ever made? I dunno. If being a lout is now a crime, then we’re going to need more courtrooms to handle the tsunami of accusations about to arrive.

At one point Heydon even said that some of this bad behaviour was so obvious it didn’t need evidence. As my old Dad used to say, “It’s ‘known’, son. It’s just ‘known'”, when I asked him a particularly ticklish question he didn’t have an answer for.

Sorry Dyson, it DOES need to be proved. You can’t extrapolate in such matters. People’s livelihoods and reputations are at stake. We saw what “assumptions” did to Julia Gillard and Bill Shorten, to name just two. Even though they have been completely exonerated, the media is predictably telling their readers and viewers that they STILL have questions to answer. When it gets to court, “It’s just… y’know…  the vibe, Your Honour” won’t wash.

Disappointingly, Turnbull has latched onto this “extrapolation” scam and is now claiming that he wants to improve unionism. How long until he claims that unionism has “no greater fried than Malcolm Turnbull”? I thought Tony Abbott wore that one out.

Some unions are too militant and some are not militant enough for Heydon’s liking. It seems that scoring high paying jobs for members, protecting their physical health, ensuring projects are finished on time and profitably isn’t enough nowadays. Bill Shorten should have taken the AWU out on strike and killed the freeway. He should have let the workers at the mushroom farm continue to cripple themselves with repetitive hand injuries. Would THAT have satisfied Heydon? I’m not sure, but it might have sated his fetish about nasty unions doing nasty things.

There is a body of thought that believes unions should be treated no differently than corporations. It started with the victimization of the Tolpuddle Martyrs and has festered until today. It will continue to fester. People who hold this belief think that because unions are societies that gather together to exert pressure on their employers, therein lie the seeds of “conspiracy”. A corporate competitor can do pretty-well what they like to harm their competition to advantage themselves, but the workers just need to cop it sweet, to slavishly accept whatever the bosses dole out to them… or go to jail. Heydon and his pals want to turn unions into friendly societies, not advocates for safety in the workplace and for decent pay and conditions. I’ve met a million like Heydon. He was the perfect choice: an academic lawyer who’s never had to do a real day’s work in his life, telling others how to organize their working lives.

It won’t wash, in my opinion. The TURC findings might seem important now, but they are not. In a sensation-deprived Xmas holiday period, the Report is what passes for “news”… as if an RC into union corruption was going to find anything other than unions are “corrupt”… that would have justified the $80 million, wouldn’t it? The more corrupt the better, in Heydon’s twisted logic. More bang for the buck.

There are plenty of other vital issues at stake in Australia: penalty rates, the GST, superannuation, mass unemployment, fair taxation. And who’s going to be foremost among those fighting these issues? The unions of course, and Labor. We need them, and the punters, in their hearts of hearts, know it. No-one has a job today, with the pay and conditions they take for granted, without a union at some stage being behind it, and fighting for it. After all, Labor’s decency and the fight the unions have fought are (ironically) part of why Turnbull is so successful in the polls. The punters love the glamour of Turnbull, but they know they can only afford to love it because Labor is there to protect them from his and his cronies’ excesses. Part of me wishes Labor would let some of the Coalition’s horrors through parliament, or even threaten to, to show the punters what they really voted for.

Every few years the Tories think that this time they’re going to get rid of the unions. Work Choices shows how wrong they were and continue to be. But salivating right-wingers, believing that they will finally be rid of pesky industrial advocacy in 2016, will be receiving a reality check. You can’t save a country that’s shedding jobs, pay and conditions, by getting rid of the very people who fight to preserve them.

Events will overwhelm this tacky union bashing exercise. Time will erode its potency. “Fixing the unions” will recede into the background noise like most of the other agenda items the Liberals try to run. Running an election on this basis – the extrapolation by an old patrician hack of the conduct of a few into the systemic nature of a whole movement – will fail again, as it always has. The case is too flimsy to maintain. There is evidence, but of what? That some union leaders take advantage of their positions? Who knew?

Shorten has weathered the storm. Like our ancient gerbil-like mammalian ancestors he does the wise thing. He hides under a rock until the fire and the ash from the asteroid have blown away (and with it the dinosaurs and all they stood for) and thinks. He plans. And then he comes out from hiding to prosper. When the odds are against you there’s no point sacrificing yourself. Shorten fights the battles he can win. He doesn’t throw his political life away by dying a glorious, but pointless death. Shorten has always played a long game.

Turnbull is making sure the old Liberal Party script is being re-run. Bash the unions. Challenge Labor to betray their origins. Extrapolate the sins of a few to the many. Protect your mates. Do deals. Survive until the next annual general meeting. Collect your bonus in the meantime.

His statement yesterday was out of kilter with the caring, sharing Turnbull the public thought they had purchased. It had shades of Godwin Grech about it. It was a typical Turnbull shortcut. If in doubt, go for the scandal: the Snakes and Ladders theory of politics. It was a sign of his weakness and his poor judgement.

Unsure of what he wants to do about the GST, penalty rates, superannuation, taxation of large corporations, education, innovation, science, Global Warming, surpluses, the Republic, gay marriage, Turnbull is nevertheless absolutely sure of what he wants to do about unions. At last he’s found something he can stand for, and something that might please Tony Abbott and his apostles. Sounds like “Win-Win”… but only to Malcolm Turnbull and a few in the media, dazzled by his brilliance. But we are seeing Malcolm Turnbulls true colors at last: indecisive, phoney and shallow, a Tory chancer who can’t resist going the biff to make himself look tough. Not a leader, more a barrister with a brief, in love with the sound of his own voice.

It won’t wash, Malcolm. It never has.