Malcolm Turnbull: The Faux Conservative

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I cannot think of a more fitting metaphor for the Prime Minister than the leader who pretends to crack down on immigration. What a perfectly piercing dog whistle than yesterday’s nod to the country’s xenophobes and the NLP right faction, pretending to put Australians first by replacing the 457 visa scheme with two others.

In reality, the 457 changes are superficial at best, driving up the cost of importing foreign workers and fattening out the processing periods. Oh, and speak English, will you? And make sure you promise in writing not to support domestic violence, genital mutilation and forced marriage.

If the private sector really wants to bring in skilled migrants, it will continue to do so. It is still considered cheaper than actually providing training and creating a standard for the country’s skills base. Fear not, our deeply bureaucratic process for immigration will remain complex, frustrating, disorganised and randomly cruel. You can read about that here, here, and here. #ContinuitywithChange

Despite the fact that the government will spend millions to keep things almost the same as they are now, the move is a striking rhetorical shift to the speech delivered by our Prime Minister less than a year ago, to the Lowy Institute in which he claimed his government “works hard to promote inclusion and mutual respect, ensuring that all communities and all faiths feel part of ours, the most successful multicultural society in the world.”

“We are an immigrant nation”, he said, just last month when he amended the country’s multicultural statement.

“Australians look like every face, every race, every background because we define ourselves and our nation by our commitment to shared political values, democracy, freedom and the rule of law,” he said. “We are as old as our first Australians … and yet we are as young as the baby in the arms of her migrant mother who could have come from any nation, any faith, any race. We are an immigrant nation”.

It is true. You wouldn’t know it from the way the government talks about the economy, but we are an immigrant nation. One of the government’s best kept secrets is that we have immigrants and private debt to thank for keeping the economy out of recession. Thanks, immigrants. No seriously.

But what a fitting metaphor for the Prime Minister than a man who pays lip service to One Nation supporters and the fundamentalist right holding the government hostage, all so he can keep his job.

Why is Malcolm Turnbull Prime Minister? Did he even have a plan for what he wanted to achieve once he took the Prime Ministership from Tony Abbott? Does he have a reason for existing? Or is the job title achievement enough? Because from the way he has conducted himself since taking power, it appears as though he stands for nothing at all. He is a chameleon. A fake progressive in a conservative costume. A man who stands for nothing at all. Except power. And he barely even has that.

What is worse is that he does not seem to realise he is compounding his own failure. Does he not understand that his popularity was based on his reputation as a reformer, a centrist, a man of vision who could unite Australia. A man with the business smarts who promised to steer the sinking ship back to dry land. But every time he pays lip service to the right flank further drives his polling into dangerous territory.

Like Gillard, Turnbull massively under-played his hand. Abbott was a goner. The party was at sea, with Turnbull seemingly the only viable alternative. A person of better judgement would have used the Party’s insecurity as leverage. ‘Do you want to lose at the next election?,’ is what he should have said. ‘Then it’s my way or the highway’. Instead he cut a deal handing power to a handful of the party fringe, enabling leadership by proxy.

The country is waiting for Turnbull to defy his right flank. To call-out the economic hypocrisy of free-market capitalism which treats workers differently based on class, race, culture and creed. The nation is impatient for a unifier that can bring the country together again, to remind the world what it means to be Australian. Every day he doesn’t do this, further drives his popularity into the ground. He doesn’t realise that his predicament is a blessing. His constituency is going to get smaller and smaller. There is no way he can win at the next election courting the country’s xenophobes alone. And the business and start-up community have roundly dismissed him over this 457 nonsense. Eventually he’s going to realise he needs the moderate centre which has largely been ignored for the better part of a decade.  Longer, even.

If Labor had any idea what it was doing, it would exploit this to its benefit. The economic theories we thought would increase prosperity for the greatest number of people forever have failed. Economic insecurity has plunged the globe into chaos: Trump, Brexit and the rise of white-supremacy all feed into this economic insecurity. As one of the few developed nations that has not yet entirely succumbed to its worse instincts, Australia has an opportunity to lead the world in how modern day democracies operate.

But when Pauline Hanson takes credit for your immigration policies, you know there is a problem.

At least Turnbull’s policies have the decency to not really achieve anything, but the cultural damage is permanent. Not to mention, as a business man, I wonder how Turnbull feels about spending millions of dollars to keep things almost entirely the same.

Continuity with change.

A man who stands for nothing thinks we will fall for anything. Turnbull is kidding himself if he thinks anyone is buying this ridiculous charade.

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Claire Connelly is working on her first book, How The World Really Works, a guide to recognising rhetorical red flags and immunising yourself against bullshit. You should definitely buy it when it comes out. A podcast of the same name will also be launching in the coming months.