The more time passes, the more the Turnbull government resembles that of its nemesis, John Howard. It is rumoured that when, in 2009, Tony Abbott defeated Malcolm Turnbull to take over the leadership of the Federal Coalition, Abbott’s narrow margin included support from Howard loyalists, the ‘anyone but Turnbull’ camp.
Now the wheel has turned again and Turnbull is allegedly the leader, not only of a deeply divided party, but of a country riven with divisions. Abbott has been consigned to a role which perennially confirms his peculiar relationship with promises and the truth, sniping, wrecking and undermining, with the assistance of fellow travellers in the echo chamber of the Murdoch press.
Australians could be forgiven for being perplexed, should an alien land and ask to be taken to our leader.
Turnbull presents as the antithesis of leadership, buffeted on the whims of the fringe of his own party, unwilling or unable to stare down the less rational elements in the ‘broad church’ of the Coalition. He looks, these days, like a caricature of himself, despondently reciting sound bites, which he clearly does not believe.
Increasingly desperate, Turnbull has now stooped to the use of Howard’s dog-whistle, whipping up fear and loathing in time-honoured fashion, imposing a pointless ‘citizenship test’ and bleating about ‘Australian values’.
This is not the real Malcolm standing up. This lurch to the right confirms the extent to which the incumbent is recumbent.
Precisely what values are supposedly ‘Australian’ is a matter of contention. Reading down Turnbull’s list, they appear to be aspirational, rather than rooted in current reality. The ‘fair go’ can hardly be said to exist where Coalition policies have increased the divide between the rich and poor to a yawning chasm, where housing is unaffordable, wages are being cut and where each of the major parties has raced to outdo one another in being cruel to refugees.
There is something sadly ironic in the idea of a person seeking Australian citizenship on the basis of humanitarian grounds being made to sit a test where they must identify ‘respect for the freedom and dignity of the individual’ as being a core value of the nation which has detained them arbitrarily for years.
We have seen this movie before, watching an individual politician struggle against the bonds created by the Faustian pact that delivered them the leadership.
Even if this latest move were not a sop to the Hansonites both within and without the Coalition, it would be a disgraceful distraction from the many pressing issues that require real leadership in this country.