Malcom Turnbull paints himself into a corner - The Good Oil by Rod Brown

The recent federal by-elections have breathed life into Bill Shorten’s Prime Ministerial pursuits. And his continual targeting of Malcom Turnbull’s proposed tax cuts for the banks was instrumental.

Indeed Turnbull had been left wide open by the revelations of banking malpractice at the Royal Commission into the Financial Sector. His longstanding refusal to commission the enquiry has come back to haunt him. Why did he protect the big banks for so long? Who was advising him? Why was he immune to middle Australia’s concerns? Recent footage of him eating a meat pie with a knife and fork certainly reinforced the perception that he’s out of touch with the average person.

And now the by-elections have exposed a deeper flaw, namely middle Australia is not buying the neoliberalist policies of the Turnbull Government. It’s not convinced that the private sector does everything better. It’s not buying the propaganda about deregulation, privatisation and tax cuts to deliver growth and jobs. It sees the disappearance of sick leave, paid holidays and home ownership. It was educated to understand that Australia has boundless energy resources, but sees the elderly going to bed early to avoid crippling energy bills. It sees the environmental and social problems resulting from three-quarters of the nation crowded into the six biggest cities.

Middle Australia decides election outcomes, and it clearly wants a national government that addresses these circumstances. Instead it see a laissez-faire government persisting with policy settings steeped in macroeconomic management. This is where Turnbull has painted himself into a corner.

One example. Turnbull and his Treasurer are espousing the ‘jobs, jobs, jobs’ mantra but that’s as far as it goes – there are no strong industry programs to back it up. The problem is that neoliberalist thinking doesn’t extend to partnerships with industry, the workforce, universities and other levels of government to create the value-adding investments that deliver viable jobs over the medium-term. Such partnerships could be using public procurement to drive small business growth, nurturing design skills to underpin high-value enterprises (like the Swedes and Danes), building competitive advantage at the local level and attracting foreign investment into food processing, biotech etc. (rather than real estate).

This stuff is outside the expertise or interest of the current industry minister, Michaelia Cash, and her advisers. That’s the crunch. Labor, on the other hand, has a track record in some of these fields and they will have a clear run on this stuff ahead of the next election.
The last word goes to one of our Cockatoos, an ex-Treasury official no less. He is pretty steamed up about all of this. He reckons the government needs a new mantra. In Sydney and Melbourne, growth and jobs has simply translated into more congestion, longer travel times and more expensive housing. He says that despite this, immigrants by and large don’t want to go to the Bush.  He also argues that ‘since coming to office the number of unemployed hasn’t budged, meaning that, in effect, all the new jobs have gone to temporary migrants.  So who’s been the beneficiary of the government’s jobs and growth policy? Not your average Aussie for whom life has become more difficult, not better.  No wonder the government is on the nose.’

PM vetoes cruise ship terminal in Sydney Harbour
This isn’t meant to be a ‘Kick Malcolm’ column, because I do think he’s a decent bloke. But reports are surfacing that he made the dreaded Captain’s Call to reject a NSW Government proposal for cruise ships to share the Garden Island dockyard with the Navy.
This is a poor decision. Navy vessels in Sydney Harbour are an accident of history – there are now no defence strategic reasons. Such vessels should be near engineering and logistics facilities viz. Botany Bay, Port Kembla or Newcastle.

But the feds have dictated that the cruise ships must instead go to Botany Bay along with the container port, oil storage facilities, countless trucks etc. What a dreadful first view of Australia for the international tourists we’re endeavouring to lure here. It actually smacks of Defence arrogance rather than a NIMBY effort by Malcolm Turnbull. If it was a Captains Call, he should be held to account. And I get the impression that the NSW Government and the tourism authorities caved in too easily.

Speeding cyclists – any ideas?
The bridge-to-bridge route around Lake Burley Griffin is a beautiful walk past iconic buildings, and visitors to Canberra love it.
A group of us do it every Tuesday morning. We meander along until – whoosh - a lycra-clad cyclist storms past. We’ve sometimes been clipped around the shoulder by these idiots, and someone will soon break a hip or worse.

We invited an ACT Government road safety chap along last week, and the options seem to be better signage (about slowing down), some Smiley Faces that light up when a cyclist travels at less than 15kph, or wider paths. My suggestion was for walking sticks to jam in their spokes, but our government colleague wasn’t amused.
Do you face the same problem? Any ideas on a solution?

Catalytic regional investment
The House of Representatives Select Committee report:  Regions at the Ready – Investing in Australia’s Future was tabled last month. A good read – and it’s on the web.

A key observation was that catalytic investment is important. It attracts further investments and they help create and build on a critical mass in a particular sector. It lures other businesses into a co-location, and should be given greater priority within government decision making. Bravo.  

Rod Brown is a Canberra-based consultant and lobbyist specialising in industry/regional development, investment attraction and clusters, and accessing federal grants. He also runs the Cockatoo Network.
Phone: (02) 6231 7261 or 0412 922 559
Email: apdcockatoo[@]iprimus.com.au