By ASHLEIGH PISANI
Malcolm Turnbull has taken the keys to the Lodge and seemingly the nation’s heart with opinion polls suggesting that for 70 per cent of voters he is their preferred Prime Minister.
Australian progressives rejoiced on Monday night at the downfall of the ultra-conservative Tony Abbott and welcomed the elevation of his small l liberal replacement.
But in reality, nothing of any substance has changed.
Sure, Australia now has a more likeable and articulate leader and one who is
unlikely to eat a raw onion or threaten to shirtfront a world leader but there are no actual policy differences between him and Tony Abbott.
In his speech announcing his leadership challenge, Turnbull stated he’d been provoked into action not to go against Abbott’s policies but to give them better “advocacy”.
In fact he is on the record declaring that he supported every element of Abbott’s wildly unpopular 2014 budget which included measures such as the deregulation of university fees, a $7 co-payment to visit the GP and the $80 billion dollars worth of cuts to schools and hospitals.
As Communications Minister he also presided over the $250 million cut to the ABC and SBS.
While he has in the past expressed more progressive social views than the former Prime Minister, Turnbull is ultimately a pragmatist who is beholden to the Liberal right.
He lost the Liberal leadership in 2009 because he supported Labor’s plan for an emissions trading scheme. He knows that to rock the boat and push for a more progressive policy platform is to jeopardise his hold on the Prime Ministership.
Hence, Turnbull has already said he supports the Liberal’s current emissions reduction targets which are considered by many to be insufficient and that there will be no change to the party’s position on marriage equality, which is currently to hold a public vote (a plebiscite) rather than allow a conscience vote in the Parliament which could see the legislation immediately passed.
He also has to appease both the National Party, who are not supporters of Turnbull and to whom he had to hand over the coveted water portfolio in order to get them to agree to remain in Coalition with the Liberal Party, and the Liberal’s backbench who were motivated in part to call for a leadership spill because of Tony Abbott’s lack of consultation and predilection for ‘captain’s calls’.
A mistake his successor is unlikely to make. In his first speech as Prime Minister, he promised his leadership would be “thoroughly consultative” and would unite the broad church of views that exist in the Liberal Party.
Most of those views are firmly on the conservative side.
Meaning that anyone who was hoping the ascension of Malcolm Turnbull to the Prime Minister’s office would usher in a new progressive era of the Liberal Government is likely to be very disappointed.
So I can’t share in the excitement of Turnbull replacing Abbott.
The Liberals now just have a more charismatic and intelligent salesman to pursue their agenda.