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double speak

Pub: Sydney Morning Herald

Pubdate: 19-Aug-2010

Edition: First

Section: News and Features

Subsection: Opinion

Page: 19

Wordcount: 846

Look to the fringes if you want principles – just ask Turnbull and Brown



I don’t know about you but I reckon if you put Malcolm Turnbull and Bob Brown together in the same frock you’d have the perfect prime minister – and not because she’d be two-faced.

Quite the contrary. The big question this election is, when does saying one thing and doing another, or saying one thing then saying the opposite, become old-fashioned lying?

There was a time when the various manifestations of political doublespeak appalled us. When the merest prevarication caused a scandal, and the backflip was a hanging offence. Not any more. Now we regularly watch the triple somersault with reverse pike and half twist of lemon – and what do we do? Applaud.

One minute Tony climate-change-is-crap Abbott is a diehard sceptic, grabbing party leadership on that basis. Next he’s promising $3.2 billion for carbon-reduction incentives.

One minute Julia Gillard is insisting on “our carbon pollution reduction scheme” as a “vital part” of “dealing with climate change”. Next she’s undermining the scheme, knifing its architect and removing all such promises from Labor’s policy agenda.

One minute she’s nice, motherly Julia with an interest in school reform; next she’s prime ministerial ruthlessness personified, grabbing power to save the country from losing its way through a pot it later turns out she was stirring. Moments later, she morphs into movie-star Julia, regally airbrushed with soporific slogans, only to revert, five minutes (and as many focus groups) later again, to ‘I’ve decided to run my own race’ Julia.

It’s enough to make your head, well, spin.

Same at state level. One minute Kristina Keneally is all fresh-faced and holier than thou, all papism and forgiveness; the next her government is dangling fat contracts in front of a company connected to her husband, and using an assessment process thickly strewn with Labor former MPs, wannabe MPs and MPs-to-be.

Gillard may pretend to ‘help’ rustbucket NSW by tying public transport promises to Infrastructure Australia’s apron strings, but who’s wearing the apron? Why, Mark Arbib – the same Arbib whose dedication to party over principle drove the Right’s rustbucketing of our state in the first place.

Yet we clap cheerlessly on, accompanied by canned applause and knowing we have little choice. For the armies of duckers and weavers are camped right across the common, having exiled any stubborn clingers-to-principle into the pitiless mulga just as the marauding Angles exiled the Celts to there-be-dragon-lands.

So if it’s principle you want, the bleak political fringes – the Scotland, Ireland and Wales of Australian politics – are the places to look. Stranger still is that, right or left, the principles themselves are scarcely different.

Consider. Statement 1: “In a scenario of strong labour demand, migration is part of the solution not part of the problem.” Statement 2: “The majority of Australians … believe that genuine asylum seekers should be brought into this country and … made productive citizens … and I agree with that majority.”

One of those statements is Bob Brown’s. One is Malcolm Turnbull’s. Can you tell which is which?

On climate change, Turnbull says: “Tony himself has, in just four or five months, publicly advocated the blocking of the ETS, the passing of the ETS, the amending of the ETS and, if the amendments were satisfactory, passing it, and now the blocking of it.”

Brown: “Today both the big parties fell at the first hurdle, which is a carbon price. Julia Gillard has put it off to the never-never and Tony Abbott has said no, not ever. That’s a failure.”

On city density, Turnbull: “If Sydney’s density was that of London, we would be sharing it with close to 58 million people … to increase the density of our city by putting apartments and townhouses into streets that used to be lined with bungalows, then we have to build the infrastructure appropriate for that density.”

Brown: Australia must “develop national urban planning standards that provide for … high-density housing and commercial buildings close to high-capacity public transport, and the clustering of medium-density housing, community facilities and small-scale businesses around neighbourhood shopping centres”.

On the economy, certainly, there may be differences, though not as many or as marked as you might think.

Turnbull: “We must use the transition to a low-carbon future as an opportunity to make our economy stronger.”

Brown: “… a carbon tax that would bring in $10 billion a year to help small business, renewable energy, create jobs in this country, get solar power going, get the grid to go with that and geothermal, and make us a world leader.”

Gillard and Abbott have blurred into one by vying to crowd-please. But Turnbull and Brown’s common ground is intelligent conviction.

Turnbull is way too smart for the Liberal Party, and too rich for Labor; but he and Brown would make good halves of a whole.

Which is why, in a fantasy mix of Priscilla, Wind in the Willows and Hang ‘Em High, I see Brown and Turnbull on the same horse, side-saddle in a violet frock, galloping in from the wilderness to save us from the stoats and ferrets who have pinned star-shaped badges on themselves and taken the town.


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