The New Federal Leadership – Performance, Challenges

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By Strategic Partner John Barker

To win and maintain the support of Australian voters a key ingredient for any political party is to attract the ‘middle ground’.

This often requires a significant switch of party attitude if not policy and demands a leader with charismatic qualities.

Bob Hawke did it in 1983.

Malcolm Turnbull has started that process.

There has been an immediate improvement in the polls. They are now in a leading position, for the first time in two and half years. Mr Turnbull’s current dominance as the preferred Prime Minister is not likely to diminish before the next election.

In fact, he is fortunate in that he possesses easily perceived personal qualities, he presents in a very relaxed manner and has strong support within the Liberal party room.

I believe this support is much stronger than the 54-44 vote that elected him Prime Minister suggests, particularly when you consider the 70-30 vote obtained by Julie Bishop defeating Tony Abbott’s running partner.

Clearly many of the former Cabinet ministers who supported Tony Abbott found it very easy to move sides.

Experience suggests however, it is difficult to re-establish harmony within a Parliamentary party quickly. In fact the scars of leadership change are often not fully healed.

There has been much comment on the Liberal’s move from the ‘conservatives’ to the ‘moderates’. Whatever the terminology, it is time for a rethink of their presentation and direction.

While strength of leadership is paramount, it must be portrayed more openly and in a cooperative and consultative manner.

I have regularly railed that this new era of communication and community expectation requires a different approach from that of the older style, harder line pure conservative.

So now the media, social media and the general public, who sit somewhere in the middle, will judge the new Prime Minister.

It is only a few weeks since his election, but already we have seen a significant Cabinet reshuffle. It is pleasing to see women of quality elevated to Cabinet, a reduction in the average age of the Cabinet and some interesting portfolio allocations, particularly Scott Morrison as Treasurer and Marise Payne as Defence Minister, the appointment of Janice Briggs to the Cities and Built Environment portfolio and particularly Arthur Sinodinus’s election to Cabinet Secretary, a key role in the circumstances, leading into an election to be held on or before 14 January 2017.

The reintroduction of the long overdue, much needed debate on taxation reform is welcomed, although it presents possibly his biggest challenge. It has been far too easy, for far too long for opposition parties supported by sectors of the media to dismiss this and indeed other critical economic reforms through fear campaigns.

The Turnbull/Morrison approach to the economy is eagerly anticipated.

The Middle East problems and the associated horrific domestic outcomes is a huge challenge, not only to the new Prime Minister but to all politicians and the public at large. Unity is the key, can that be achieved?

Other more ‘social’ ideals supported by Mr Turnbull, such as marriage equality, are expected to be resolved quickly.

From a Tasmanian perspective, other than Senator Eric Abetz’s exit from Cabinet and Senator Richard Colbeck’s elevation to the ministry, little has changed.

Fortunately the strong support Tasmania received from the former Prime Minister appears set to continue. There has been no negative interference or change to the Tasmanian Freight Equalisation Scheme, the inclusion of exports will commence on 1 January 2016 as planned and Mr Turnbull has confirmed he will continue with and participate in the joint Commonwealth and Tasmanian Economic Group.

The three Tasmanian Liberal-held electorates remain a key plank in the election of a Turnbull Government.

In summary, the new Prime Minister has steadied the ship, has won initial support of the electorate and created an expectation of improved presentation and performance. These days the media and electorate are increasingly demanding. I would expect impatience to emerge relatively quickly if recognisable change is not evident soon.

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