Memo to Malcolm Turnbull: you can’t do government from opposition.
Good opposition leaders know it is not their job to produce comprehensive policy. That is the job of government. Not only does government have the resources to research policy properly, and to turn it into legislation, but it is the entity that needs to be held accountable because unlike the opposition it has real power.
This morning I awoke to hear that there is a $3 billion hole in the Opposition’s ETS policy. The government is jubilant.
“[The] figures don’t add up and of course the whole approach of the Liberal Party doesn’t add up either,” Mr Swan said.
“The Opposition has had two years to get a credible, financially responsible proposal together and they have failed miserably.”
It is almost as though the Opposition and Government have swapped places. Instead of Labor being criticised for its lack of action it is the Opposition which is being held to a higher level of accountability than those who ought to be accountable.
The last time the Liberals in Opposition made this type of strategic mistake was when John Hewson was leader and he spent a million dollars commissioning outside consultants to produce his radical economic reform package – Fightback!.
There are a lot of similarities between Hewson and Turnbull, that don’t just stem from them both representing Wentworth. They are both smart, charismatic, wealthy and had little background in politics before entering parliament. They are both technocrats with an impressive grasp of policy. And they were both accelerated into the leadership in despair at the lack of alternatives.
So similar are they, that in echoes of Fightback! Turnbull even commissioned his own tax policy during the last term of the Howard government which was produced by outside consultants.
Paul Keating claimed that Fightback! was the “longest suicide note in history”, and it was. But the real reason that Hewson lost the “unlosable election” was the desire to be positive in Opposition and to be an “alternative government”.
This expressed itself in Fightback, and is expressing itself in this Opposition through strategic mistakes like the alternative ETS scheme.
The phrase that more than any other sank Hewson was “Jobs not GST”. I’ve always credited this to Wayne Swan. So it is no wonder that Swan was quick to pounce on the $3 billion black hole.
The question is: Will history repeat itself or can Turnbull curb his enthusiasm for government and learn to be an opposition leader before it does?