There’s a serial killer stalking our Prime Ministers. But nobody is talking about it.
So just who did kill Malcolm Turnbull?
I wasn’t sure I was going to wade into this one. It’s not like there’s a shortage of digital ink being wasted on the topic.
But that was sort of the thing. A lot of what I was reading was just wasted ink. It was miles off. I’m kind of surprised that nobody really seems to be getting it.
So let’s reopen the case. Just who or what killed Malcolm Turnbull?
There’s a long line of suspects being fingered in the mainstream press. Was it his climate and energy policies? Was it gay marriage? Was it the arch-conservatives and Tony Abbot lobbing bombs from the back bench?
Or was it Rupert Murdoch? (I think it probably isn’t a coincidence that Turnbull gets knifed just weeks after Murdoch lands in the country, but while Ol’ Rupe might be responsible for the timing, I don’t think he’s to blame for the fact.)
Was it GetUp and a conspiracy of Unions?
I would say, leaning against the mantle, lighting a cigarette, it was none of the above.
Da Da daaaa.
I think all this fingering of people and policies just misses the point.
I think what we’re actually looking at here is a structural issue. The Prime Minister is a dead duck – no matter who’s got the top job.
The way I see it, we’ve kind of set up a system that is impossible to sustain. It has no integrity. The centre cannot hold. It’s designed to fall apart.
And I reckon if we don’t figure out how to make it workable, it’s going to take democracy down with it. I give it two to three years tops.
And the serial killer is not Abbott or Dutton or Rupert or any one personality. It’s what I call ‘hyper death triangles’.
Hyper Death Triangles.
(Yup. I’m coining a new phrase there. Pretty sexy right?)
But let me break it down. The first thing we’ve got to get our heads around is what the Prime Minister’s job actually is.
Now, you might think that the PM’s job is to ‘lead the country’. To formulate and deliver the policies that will help us build our wonderful nation.
That’s cute. You could win an all-schools essay writing competition with that.
But that’s not what the PM’s job is.
The PM’s job is to keep the rabble of his party together, raise a sh!t-tonne of money, and then win enough votes to come round and do it again.
There’s three parts hidden in this equation, and I reckon they’ve become impossible to square away. That’s why I call it a death triangle.
So let’s break it down. The MPs are the first point of our ‘death triangle’. Everyone’s focused there right now, so lets begin our analysis there.
It is true that this was a bug-bear for Turnbull. As one of the ‘wetter’ members of the party, he was always going to be at odds with the ‘drys’ – the more conservative wing – and that wing is significant.
That’s always been a challenge for any Prime Minister, but I reckon it has got all the more curly in recent times with the explosion of ‘echo-chamber thinking’.
MPs are like everyone else in society. These days, we just don’t get exposed to opposing views any unless we actively seek them out. We subscribe to news and opinion channels that give us the facts and angles that already align with our existing beliefs.
Yeah, no thanks. We don’t have to suffer the discomfort of being challenged in our beliefs any more.
(Unless you’re reading this blog of course because I am completely unbiased).
Anyway, these echo chambers give us the impression that everyone already agrees with us. It makes alternative views seem completely fringe and left-field.
That then makes us diminish them. ‘Why should I compromise with people who disagree with me? There’s only like four of them.’
As a result, everyone in politics believes they represent the ‘silent majority’. (Watch out for that phrase).
And that means that they’re not going to tolerate a leader who doesn’t embrace their ideas fully. (Cory Bernardi just up and left the party altogether).
So balancing the demands within your own party has become very, very difficult.
(Especially if you believe that some of their more ‘colourful’ views might get you annihilated at the ballot box.)
But that’s not the only balancing act. Because a Prime Minister’s ‘backers’ also includes some very powerful lobby groups and their industry masters.
These money-bag men are the next point in our death triangle.
More than ever, money talks in Canberra. And whether it’s the mining lobby or the pharmaceutical industry, you have to be developing policy that very carefully tends to their interests.
I mean take a recent Price WaterHouse Coopers Liberal Party fundraiser. For just $12,500 a head, you could literally buy time with the politician of your choice, as well as a seat at an ‘intimate’ dinner with the PM and cabinet.
PWC called it ‘The Policy Exchange’.
A stock exchange is a place where you buy stocks. A policy exchange is where you buy policy, apparently.
Anyway, I’m not telling you anything new here, but Turnbull, who was a always a business man more than a politician, did seem to be pretty tangled up in his commitments to his financial backers. To name just a few examples, he found himself hopelessly wedged:
• Between the demands of the east-coast gas cartel and rising electricity prices.
• Between business tax cuts and a population who just couldn’t see the need to give the big banks a hand out.
• Between a religious base and a population who had moved a long way on gay marriage in recent years.
• And between a business lobby keen on massive immigration and population growth, and a population seeing their infrastructure under strain and their standards of living collapsing.
He just couldn’t square these things away. And to be fair, how could he? There’s no middle way here.
There’s just a conflict of interest – between what’s good for the lobbyists and their financial backers, and what is going to win you votes.
And that brings us to the third point in our triangle – the voting public.
The voting public expects that the Prime Minister should be there primarily to serve their interests, which they generally conflate with the interests of the country.
(I know. So entitled.)
But too often they felt themselves come off second best to the interests of the party or the party’s financial backers. Voters have felt increasingly alienated from politics, and rage has been brewing for years.
(Trump pretty much rode it into the White House. Hanson will try and do the same.)
But the voting public has become more energised in their demands recently too. Like politicians, they’re stuck in echo-chambers where they believe that they occupy the ‘sensible centre’ – no matter how fringe their views are.
They’ve also become acclimatised to a ‘customised culture’. If they get a vote on who goes through to the next round of Australian Idol, why shouldn’t they get to choose who is Prime Minister, or what countries we’re doing trade deals with or whatever.
The slow, disenfranchised cycle in politics, where you get one little vote every three to four years, is completely at odds with people’s day to day experiences, where they get to vote for mark of the year, or the classic catch of the season, or the name of the new Sydney Ferry, anytime, anywhere, simply from their phone.
As a result, the slow political cycle is increasingly frustrating.
And so this is what I mean by a Hyper Death Triangle.
The death triangle has always existed. It’s always been a tough gig to manage these demands – the demands of your MPs, your financial backers, and the voting public.
But it has become exponentially harder in recent years. MPs are more uppity because they’re living in personal echo chambers like everybody else, thanks to Facebook and the polarisation of media.
Businesses and financial backers are harder to work with because lobbying has become a highly professional industry, and there’s just a lot more money out there.
And the voting public has also become more intense in their demands, because they’re living in a customised culture where they get to have a say on everything all the time.
And so while we weren’t looking, the Prime Ministers job has actually become impossible. It is just impossible to navigate a hyper death triangle – not just on any one issue, but on all the issues that come across a Prime Minister’s desk.
It’s a flipping swarm of hyper death triangles!
And so when we try to understand what Turnbull did wrong – or what Abbott, Rudd, Gillard etc. did wrong, we’re completely missing the point.
The game has simply changed. It’s a new reality. It just doesn’t matter who’s in the top job – the top job itself has become untenable.
But no, we’ll just keep complaining about the ‘current generation’ of Australia’s political leaders, without ever realising that the system itself is broken.
But what are we going to do? Keep lining politicians up against the wall, until the public gets so sick of the spectacle of firing squads that they rise up in revolution?
I’m serious here. I don’t think we can keep limping along like this. What have we got? Another couple of years at most?
We run the risk of writing ourselves off as a joke – internationally but also to ourselves.
Australian democracy itself is on the line here.
I’m not sure what the solution is, but I’m pretty sure it starts with recognising what the actual problem is. We’ve got to face up to the realities of our system, and think a new way forward.
So yes, Turnbull was disappointing. (I personally had very high hopes). But that wasn’t why he got axed.
The hyper death triangles got him in the end.
(Sexy right? Someone nominate me for a Walkley.)