By Blake Hampton
Malcolm Turnbull’s ascension to the role of Prime Minister appears to be the fork in the road moment the coalition desperately needed to regain the trust of the voting public. Done away with are three-word slogans and divisive rhetoric used by Tony Abbott to govern through opposition. The member for Wentworth is the ideal candidate to switch the Liberal Party from a collection of hard-line social conservatives towards a dynamic government that doesn’t only talk about progressive issues, but acts on them.
The cabinet reshuffle cleared out the Abbott loyalists who remained synced in with his traditional values. While Joe Hockey was the biggest casualty as Treasurer, the departures of Kevin Andrews, Michael Ronaldson, Eric Abetz, Ian Macfarlene and Bruce Billson signified that Turnbull is serious about a “Ministry for the future.”
This collection of right-hand ‘Yes’ men were never going to go away without a final salvo thrown in anger. Defence Minister Andrews particularly embarrassed himself by stating that his removal would be a threat to national security before announcing his own sacking to the press. The whole episode explained very clearly the Liberal Party is divided on philosophical grounds and the bad blood is felt on a personal level in the ministry.
None of this will come as a surprise to Turnbull. The man who made his millions from the OzEmail boom is smart enough to smell an opportunity when it presents itself, if the coup to unseat Abbott wasn’t evidence enough. He immediately identified the unbalanced gender ratio in cabinet as first order of business.
Abbott’s time in office saw more Australian flags at his press conferences than women in positions of authority. Marise Payne made history by becoming the country’s first female Defence Minister while Kelly O’Dwyer came into the Treasury portfolio, and Michaelia Cash to the departments of Employment and Women. A woman as Minister for Women, who would have thought?
A staunch supporter of same-sex marriage, Turnbull identified a point of difference with Bill Shorten. “At the next election, Australians will have a choice,” announced the Prime Minister. “The Labor Party will say vote for us and marriage equality will be dealt with by the politicians in a free vote after the election. And we will say, if we are re-elected to government, every single Australian will have a say.”
A push to a plebiscite on marriage equality taps into the public psyche on the issue. Voters are fed up with their elected officials not representing them in Canberra, despite poll after poll indicating a majority of Australians support the rights of gay people to marry. Ironically this ploy would put the coalition ahead of Labor by handing the decision over to the electorate, an idea that was unthinkable just weeks ago.
Removing Abbott’s mismanaged, adversarial methods helps the boost in popularity polling, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Turnbull frightens Bill Shorten because he can no longer argue the Liberal leader is out of touch. If his first week in office is a sign of things to come, the 2016 election could see the conservatives stay in power with a completely different mandate than they were given in 2013.