The Broken Promises of Malcolm Turnbull’s Challenge Speech

12th January, 2017


On the 14th of September 2015, Malcolm Turnbull publicly launched his challenge against Prime Minister Tony Abbott with a press conference.

His major points, including justifications for the coup and promises for his own Prime Ministership, were:

  1. Economic leadership
  2. Explain issues & foster understanding in electorate
  3. Respect the people’s intelligence
  4. No more slogans
  5. Abbott lost 30 Newspolls in a row
  6. Freedom, free enterprise & individual initiative
  7. Traditional cabinet government
  8. End to policy on the run
  9. End ‘captain’s calls’ & be consultative
  10. Open Government

In this article I will explain how every one of these has been contradicted by the Turnbull government.

1. Economic leadership

Gross federal government debt is now over 450 billion dollars and getting higher. The 2015-16 budget deficit was 39.6 billion dollars, which was 4.5 billion dollars higher than that planned by Tony Abbott.

Furthermore, over the current term the Turnbull government plans to increase gross debt by $152 billion. Gross debt will therefore rise from 28.6% of GDP to 31.4%, and the taxpayer will be paying 1.5 billion dollars in monthly interest, much of it to foreign creditors.

Shockingly, we now also have falling GDP.


2. Explain issues & foster understanding in electorate

The 2016 federal election saw the Liberal Party losing many votes as a result of misunderstandings about Medicare. Malcolm Turnbull was unable to explain to significant swathes of the electorate that the Coalition was not privatising Medicare, as the Labor Party was suggesting. Instead of blaming this failure on his own inability to explain the Coalition’s policies, he scapegoated Tony Abbott’s 2014 budget and a Labor SMS campaign.

Many votes were also lost based on Turnbull’s “innovation agenda”, and its accompanying campaign rhetoric (“agile”, “nimble” etc). Turnbull claimed that this “innovation agenda” would create jobs and improve the economy, but people didn’t buy it, and instead panicked about job security.


3. Respect people’s intelligence

At an October 2015 meeting of the NSW Liberal Party State Council, Turnbull got up, in front of television cameras, and stated that the Liberal Party was “not run by factions”. Such a blatant falsehood was this that it triggered a loud and mocking laughter among the crowd and, no doubt, from anyone even mildly knowledgeable about the notorious factionalism of the NSW Liberal Party.


4. No more slogans

In a March 2016 interview with Neil Mitchell on 3AW Turnbull explicitly acknowledged the need for slogans, contradicting his leadership challenge speech.

Neil Mitchell (3AW): “Another thing you promised was no slogans. Will there be no slogans in this election campaign?”

Turnbull: “Well, I’m generally criticised for talking at too much length, so I think, I think quite a few of my critics would prefer if there was a little bit, if just a few slogans would sneak in, rather than the lengthy explanations, yeah.”

Turnbull then proceeded to embrace several slogans, including the infamous “continuity and change“, as well as “jobs and growth”, which he used at least 152 times during the election campaign alone.

One of Turnbull’s slogans that long pre-dates his Prime Ministership is “We are the most successful multicultural nation in the world”. He used this at least 17 times during the election campaign.

Another of Turnbull’s slogans that pre-dates his Prime Ministership is the “exciting time” slogan, which he appears to have started using after the failed February 2015 leadership coup. In fact, this slogan was used in the very same leadership challenge speech that Turnbull used to criticise slogans, and their use by Tony Abbott.


5. Abbott Lost 30 Newspolls in a row

Turnbull stated that Tony Abbott’s 30 consecutive Newspoll losses were grounds for his overthrow, but Turnbull himself has now clearly lost 6 consecutive Newspolls, and his personal ratings are lower than Tony Abbott’s were as Prime Minister.

Turnbull though has now said that he won’t be held to his own benchmark, and claims that polling is not accurate.


6. Freedom, free enterprise & individual initiative

Turnbull has proposed increasing taxes on superannuation to such a level that the Coalition’s superannuation policy has been considered less liberal than Labor’s.

On freedom of speech, Turnbull has stubbornly refused to back changes to section 18 of the Racial Discrimination Act, despite repeated petitions from the public and Liberal backbenchers. The current Act outlaws ‘offending’ and ‘insulting’, and has resulted in several ridiculous and oppressive court cases.

On industrial relations, the Turnbull government has caved to achieve a purely symbolic, political victory on the revival of the Australian Building and Construction Commission. The Australian newspaper’s economics commentator, Dr. Judith Sloan, says:

“The amendments to the ABCC bill are so bad that we would be better off without it.  The concessions are so anti-competitive and onerous that any net benefits that might have been secured are now in the parliamentary waste paper bin.”


7. Traditional cabinet government

In March 2016 it was reported that Turnbull was excluding his own Treasurer, Scott Morrison, from important decisions on the budget and election timing, causing the Treasurer embarrassment in media interviews.

The Australian newspaper’s Political Editor, Dennis Shanahan, wrote:

“No matter what Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison say, this is the quickest souring of a fresh partnership between prime minister and treasurer since at least World War II — before then hardly matters now.”

The Prime Minister and the Treasurer are supposed to be the two most prominent ministers of the government, far exceeding all other ministers. A good working relationship between Treasurer and Prime Minister is more important for a properly functioning government than any other ministerial relationship.

Soon after this episode it is revealed that Turnbull has a secret inner circle of confidants that excludes many cabinet ministers, but includes his wife Lucy.


8. End to policy on the run

In October 2015 Turnbull suddenly floated the idea of an increase to the GST. He sent Treasurer Scott Morrison out to argue the case for it, but soon ruled it out completely, pulling the rug out from under his Treasurer.

And then there was Turnbull’s proposal for state-based income taxes floated on the 30th of March 2016, and scrapped two days later.


9. End ‘captain’s calls’ & be consultative

In April 2016, Turnbull made a decision to rule out a Royal Commission into the banking sector without consulting the party room. He was criticised by Liberal backbencher Warren Entsch, who is usually a Turnbull supporter. Entsch called it a “captain’s call”.


10. Open government

Turnbull’s first act after overthrowing Tony Abbott for the Liberal leadership, was forging a secret agreement with the National Party. An updated version of that secret agreement was signed after the 2016 federal election.

In office, he has not changed the practice of previous Prime Ministers in denying the media access to his official diary, despite repeated FOI requests. The Information Commissioner recently ruled against Turnbull on the matter.

Turnbull has also continued the practice of governments keeping reports secret until a time that is convenient for them. For instance, the completed review of the census debacle was handed to Turnbull on the 14th of October 2016, but was kept secret for over a month, and quietly released with little media attention.

The Turnbull government has also had two secret carbon taxes. One of these has been in operation since July 2016, and another one, planned for the future, was recently outed by Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg.

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