October 12, 2009 | Graham

Governing from opposition

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?

Posted by Graham at 7:57 am | Comments (7) |
Filed under: Australian Politics


  1. The way Turnbull is going, Graham, it won’t matter. By the time he’s learned to be an Opposition leader, he’ll be on the back bench …

    Comment by Hughie — October 12, 2009 @ 9:15 am

  2. Is this tricky for you Graham? Malcolm Turnbull would have seemed like the sort of “small L” liberal who critics of the Howard years could have taken to, and who seemed to have the ability to win arguments against the conservatives in the party. At the same time, people like yourself disagree with him on CPRS, which seems to ahve become the de facto fault line between the conservatives and small L liberals at present.
    I personally think better legislation would have come out of active participation by the Liberals in the process, but the situation in there at present is far too chaotic for any coherent negotiating position to emerge, so Rudd is just allowing the pot to slowly boil.

    Comment by Terry — October 12, 2009 @ 9:49 am

  3. Having read Annabel Crabb’s story on Malcolm Turnbull in the Monthly it is easy to see that he is behaving in the way that he always has. Politically this manner has never worked for him. He will be gone soon….but will his replacement do any better ? Probably not.The Libs just do not seem to understand Opposition.

    Comment by Adrian Churchill — October 12, 2009 @ 10:02 am

  4. Did he learn nothing from Rudd? Just say you will fix everything – petrol prices, grocery prices, house prices, old computers in schools, world temperature, nasty immigration laws, the health system, state relations, inflation, interest rates, gay marriage, funding of foreign abortions. People will soon forget all that but the warm fuzzy glow of having a new savior will stay. Just look at the polls how well this is working. You don’t need policy, beliefs or principles Malcolm.

    Comment by Joe — October 12, 2009 @ 10:36 am

  5. Sad to say but with the mindless attitude of the MSM, Joe is right.
    It would be interesting to see if the Libs adopted this all-knowing, all-solving attitude of Rudds whether the MSM would apply the same unquestioning acquiescence.
    I suspect the Libs would need to invent a new catastrophic future scenario similar to AGW to keep their eye off the ball.

    Comment by spangled drongo — October 12, 2009 @ 3:24 pm

  6. Wotcha hafta say for Hewson, even though he snatched defeat from the jaws of victory he did a lot of the dirty spadework on GST.
    That spadework [in reverse] still has to be done with AGW, factual disinterring of the carbon accounting involving domestic animals, crops etc. and probably only the back bench opposition can do it.

    Comment by spangled drongo — October 12, 2009 @ 3:44 pm

  7. Notice that none of our leaders these days have any passion,ie they don’t believe in anything of substance.They just manage crises gererated by,impotence,inepitude and the burden of bureaucracy.
    Soverign nations once had autonomy and the ability to nation build.In this globalised world,there is never enough money for infrastructure or basic services.We like other nations are locked into global banking system that will not allow us to generate our own credit.Hence,all of us including Govt are in pereptual debt.
    All our leaders these days have fatalistic attitude to everything.It can’t be done because we don’t have the money,yet we have unemployment that is growing.It is not the lack of money that is the problem.It is the lack of courage to buck the system and tell the
    Global Reserve Banks that soverign nations can create their own credit and not be shackled by their debt slavery.

    Comment by Arjay — October 16, 2009 @ 5:34 pm

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