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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Listening with a tin ear

Our latest Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, has pledged he will be listening to the people. He wants to “get on with it” and talk about the sorts of things concerning Australians.

One might cynically ask, “isn’t that the job description anyway for our elected governments?” It certainly suggests that the one we elected in 2016 hasn’t been listening well enough. Why else would Turnbull have been dumped?

The theory is, if a party wants to be elected as the majority party of government it should form policies the people want. On the other hand, leadership also requires convincing the electorate that the policies it is pursuing are in their best interests. We are lucky in Australia that we have a contestability of ideas. By that, I mean one party puts something up and the other party can and often does argue that it is a bad idea. We then get to choose. Either party, however, has to be broadly in touch.

Even though Scott Morrison can’t say it, a majority of the Liberal Party room judged the direction Malcolm Turnbull was taking the government was “out of touch”. But there is strong evidence that Turnbull was out of touch not with a majority of Australians but with the hard-line conservatives in his midst.

The best example is marriage equality. Always a proponent of it, Turnbull was stymied by Tony Abbott’s Liberal and Nationals allies. One of the leading conservatives, Peter Dutton, suggested the voluntary plebiscite as a way of killing off gay marriage. In the end the “yes” vote was highest in some of the most “conservative” electorates in the country including Abbott’s.

Then there was the humiliating rejection by these same internal forces of every attempt Turnbull made to come up with an energy policy that would deliver reliability, affordability and emission reductions; a policy that takes doing something about climate change seriously while dealing with the other human-induced crisis – a privatised energy market gouging consumers.

Last week, two more opinion surveys found close to 70% of Australians wanted the government to deal with climate change by reducing emissions. Rather than listen to what mainstream Australia wants, the Morrison Government has completely caved in to the denialist lobby in its midst.

This utterly baffles former Liberal leader John Hewson. He told ABC radio: “In politics, if you get a broad base, say a majority community support for a policy, you grab it by both hands and move as fast as you can to implement it.”

This failure to listen is also evident in the Liberal Party’s “boys’ club” image as it denies women greater representation in parliament. And then there’s the shameful treatment of refugees on Manus and Nauru.

Is it little wonder that the independent candidate for Turnbull’s old seat of Wentworth, Dr Kerryn Phelps, is standing on his thwarted platform? She says she is going for the “sensible centre”.

Scott Morrison should turn up his hearing aid and do the same.

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