Monday, September 14, 2015

The Turnbull doctrine. Telling us the truth

Malcolm Turnbull has promised to tell us the truth.

He says he is offering a new style of leadership that "respects people's intelligence, that explains complex issues and then sets out a course of action".

It'll be "advocacy, not slogans".

And it's easy to see how it will be different.

In July when the Chinese stock market was collapsing and Greece was about to default on its debts, Tony Abbott was asked how it would affect Australia.

He replied by talking about supermarkets.

"Again I get back to the grocery code of conduct," he said. "We have a great supermarket system that rests on the shoulders of great local suppliers and this is about ensuring that we continue to have very strong local suppliers ... and if we do that we will avoid the problems that we see overseas."

It was a slogan (and the wrong one) rather than an answer.

Last week when told by the ABC's Leigh Sales that unemployment had grown, economic growth had slowed and the deficit had ballooned under his watch, he disagreed.

"Well I don't accept that. The boats have stopped. The carbon tax has ..." he began.

"We're talking about the economy," Sales reminded him.

"The boats have stopped, the carbon tax has gone, the mining tax has gone," he continued. "We are now on a path to sustainable surplus and we've got three free trade agreements finalised. If only the Labor Party and the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union weren't trying to sabotage the free trade agreement."

His replies were nothing but slogans.

He was unable, or unwilling, to seriously discuss what was happening...

In his hands the China free trade agreement has morphed into little more than a slogan. It's now apparently an "export agreement," even though the government's own modelling shows it will boost imports the most. And it's all about jobs, even though the government's own modelling shows that after 20 years it will have created only 5434 jobs.

Abbott has told Parliament it will create "178,000 more jobs than otherwise," but the number is an awful mistake, brought about by adding up the total number of jobs to be have been created after each of the next 20 years, rather using the number that will have been created by the 20th year.

A leader with a genuinely inquiring mind who understood numbers and wanted to communicate the real virtues of the agreement wouldn't have undersold it by grasping for slogans.

And he or she wouldn't have shut down discussion about Australia's retirement incomes system and the goods and services tax.

There's every chance that China's economic growth is to be far slower than it admits. There's every chance the much slower growth will slash Australia's income and push us toward recession. Should that happen Australian citizens and businesses will feel more comfortable with a leader that tells them the truth.

Turnbull implied on Monday that the mere act of changing leaders - to him - would boost national confidence. He is probably right.

In The Age and Sydney Morning Herald