For the New Turnbull Government, a Mantra of Courage and Compromise
Thursday, 14th July 2016 at 10:35 am
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s electoral victory earlier this week heralds another period of weak government, hounded by internal factional jockeying, writes Sara Bice, socio-political commentator from the Melbourne School of Government at the University of Melbourne.
In a victory speech that was more conciliation than crowing, the Prime Minister admonished that, “it is vital that this Parliament work” and promised to work with crossbenchers “consistent with [the Liberal’s] policies”.
Already Wednesday morning, signs of conciliation on all sides are appearing, with Labor set to agree to the Coalition’s superannuation tax changes, pending an independent review.
Meanwhile, the Australian Building and Construction Committee, which triggered the double dissolution election in the first place, also looks likely to pass, with 112 of 114 required votes from the joint houses anticipated to be locked in.
Other policy issues look likely to stalemate. As negotiations continue, pundits suggest the Nationals are unlikely to change positions on a same sex marriage plebiscite and a carbon tax will remain off the agenda.
What do these early moves suggest for other policy issues?
The short and honest answer is, it’s still hard to tell.
A few seats remain outstanding, including the Queensland electorate of Herbert, where incumbent Liberal National Party candidate Ewen Jones appears likely to take the seat as postal vote counts creep in his favour. This one seat would boost the Coalition’s House position to 77, providing the slightest edge and reducing the number of crossbenchers with which the government must negotiate.
Similarly in the Senate, a boost to the Coalition’s numbers to secure 30 seats in the final count would see the prime minister needing to acquire the support of five to six crossbenchers. A smaller but still challenging amount.
So, what can we say about policy expectations and government effectiveness at this stage?
Clearly, it is a numbers game. And it is one which may be a harbinger of a slow but progressive end to major party politics as we have known it.
Ninety-five percent of eligible voters contributed to the 2016 election result, and their votes solidify a trending fragmentation of the voting public away from the major parties. According to University of Melbourne political analyst, Nicholas Reece: “The 45th Parliament will have the biggest and most diverse Senate crossbench since Federation. Recent experience suggests this will make the passage of legislation difficult.”
The government, as it is currently forming, will demand astute negotiation skills. And this requires courage and compromise. The prime minister will need to maintain conviction on divisive policy issues and be staunch about which policy positions are non-negotiable, both from the perspective of his party’s and his personal values.
And what does the government, in its likely form, suggest for Australia’s Not for Profit sector?
There is certainly no one-size-fits-all answer. But in a divided and weak government, it will be the cohesive voices – those which achieve articulate, multi-stakeholder consensus – that will be most effective.
Portions of the NFP sector did this very well in the lead-in to the election campaign, forming coalitions around critical issues. A similar approach and strong, united voice will be necessary to progress policy in a divided government. And it is one we might hope the government will mimic to effect policy. The alternative may be seen as determined, but in many cases, it will simply be cowardly.
About the author: Sara Bice (PhD) is director of research translation, Melbourne School of Government at the University of Melbourne. With a decade of experience assisting private firms, Not for Profits and government agencies to plan and advance their sustainable development agendas, Bice’s career is committed to creating shared value for communities and companies through evidence-based decision-making, risk management and strong stakeholder engagement.
(Photo of Sara Bice is courtesy of Adam Hollingworth.)