Leadership spills, particularly ones involving a Prime Minister, are both inherently silly and deeply concerning.
The politics is silly because in the hysteria of polls, backbiting and ideological spittle, politicians forgot they are public servants, given the responsibility of running the country by we-the-people. What were they thinking when they gave the leadership of their party to someone they later (not by much in this case) deemed unfit for the position?
The media, supposedly the information conduit between politicians and the people, bear some responsibility here too. We are meant to stand back from the divisiveness of partisan politics and provide knowledge and analysis the electorate can use to make informed decisions about their elected representatives. Too often we forget that and become part of the game rather than observers of it.
As I said, it’s both silly and concerning in equal measures.
But now we’re in the post-spill stage of silliness, and we’ve been through enough of these now to be experts in how it goes.
Turnbull’s first Question Time as Prime Minister prompted a slew of commentary on how he’s already failed progressive voters. He hasn’t overturned the government’s position on same sex marriage or climate change, and he signed a coalition agreement with the Nationals, in which he was required to make some promises to them to maintain their party platform. Cue outrage.
This is politics, where deals are done and compromises are made all the time. Did people really think Turnbull was going to ride in on a white horse and slay all the dragons of the right? He’s (now) the leader of a coalition government, and if the sustained silliness of Rudd/Gillard/Rudd/Abbott has taught us anything, it’s that ramming unpopular policy down the throat of the party you lead will backfire spectacularly, for the party and the country.
The best we can hope from a Turnbull Prime Ministership is that he can bring intelligence and nuance back to public debate; that issues like climate change, tax reform, male violence against women, and a sustainable welfare and health system are treated with the gravity they deserve, and debated as policy not politics.
If Labor wins the next election I want them to do it because they were forced to develop considered, costed policies and make their case to the Australian people on their ideas, not because they won the least-worst option competition. If they can’t do that, they shouldn’t win.
I want Turnbull to do exactly what he promised to do: talk to the electorate as intelligent people who care about the well-being of the entire national, not treat them like a bunch of ignorant rednecks lost in a haze of NIMBYism and what-about-my-hip-pocket sloganeering.
If he does that and still can’t convince the country to re-elect his government, then out he goes next year, and we’ll all be better for it.
I want him to put more fierce, intelligent women in Cabinet, and take up Shorten’s demands for a national crisis summit on family violence. I want an informed, considered, bipartisan response from the federal government on the issues that matter to everyone who cares about gender inequality.
I want the federal government to take tax reform seriously, to take a considered approach to growing wealth disparity, the aging population, infrastructure requirement for a global digital economy and Australia’s responsibilities to the millions of displaced people in the world.
I want him to listen to Aboriginal voices and work with Aboriginal people to address the horrific disparity in health, education, imprisonment and wellbeing that has continued as a national disgrace for far, far too long.
And I want an opposition who can present an equally considered alternative, so when it comes time to elect the next government, we-the-people have an actual choice to make about the future we want for our country.
I want all those things, not just for myself and my children, but for everyone who lives in Australia, because all our lives are better when we care about the entire community not just ourselves. And I am far from being alone in wanting those things.
These are the only reasons I am so pleased about Abbott’s downfall, not because I believe Turnbull is a better person or more moral leader, but because Abbott could never have given Australia the opportunity for intelligent debate. Turnbull might.
But he would not have been able to if he had woken up the day after the spill, overturned every contentions government policy, and smashed the coalition agreement. That would have done nothing but ramp up the silliness to an utterly unmanageable level.
If Turnbull is going to fulfil the promise most Australians seem to think he has, he must take – and be given – time. He must consult, compromise, discuss and persuade. He has to bring his government and the nation with him and he has to ensure they’ve had time to understand what he’s planning and resolve doubts about what those plans are. He has to give the Opposition and the Greens the opportunity to make their case, debate them on their merits, and give everyone a chance to recover from the wreckage politics of the last decade.
If he doesn’t, then he’s just a more suave version of Abbott, and we’re left with nothing but the least-worst option competition again.
And everyone loses in that battle.