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Leaving the dance with the one who brought you

Turnbull’s Liberals have forgotten a wise old adage

30 April 2016

9:00 AM

30 April 2016

9:00 AM

Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, a Tory, got some things right during his tenure in office. He fought an all-or-nothing election campaign on free trade with the United States and, with the polls uncertain, he won. Today Canada is part of the North American Free Trade Association because of that election win, and Canada is considerably wealthier because of it. No subsequent left wing Prime Minister or Party has even thought about leaving this free trade grouping.

On the other hand Mulroney got some big things wrong. After that huge free trade election win he opted to bring in a GST without going to the voters first. This was, to put it mildly, very, very unpopular – though no party has seriously considered removing it either. And if you ever wondered why it is that in Canada prices in stores are listed before the GST tax is added at the cash register, it’s because this was an attempted sop to the voters, one that no party will now touch. The later Harper Tory government did, though, lower the GST tax twice. They are the only government on the planet to lower a GST as far as I know.

Anyway, things got so bad for Mulroney towards the end of his nine years as Prime Minister that he resigned from office just months before an upcoming election. His successor was put in an impossible position. In 1993 the Tories were completely and totally crushed. As I said, Mulroney’s was a mixed record, though one that looks a bit better in retrospect.

I mention this Canadian Conservative Prime Minister because he coined the political adage ‘you dance with the one that brought you’. In less colourful terms Mulroney meant that a Prime Minister should ‘never, ever ignore his party’s base’. They brought you to the dance and ultimately you gotta dance with them or you’re stuffed.

Now clearly, despite being the father of Canada’s free trade agreement with the US and Canada’s GST, Mulroney had a mixed record in terms of electoral success. So maybe the ‘dance with the one that brought you’ attitude is an error. Maybe he had it all wrong, Mr Mulroney, in suggesting you aim to bring in policies that your supporters favour – as opposed to those demanded by your opponents.

I make that suggestion because our current Liberal Party seems to me to be running an experiment to see how far it can push an anti-Mulroney approach in this upcoming election. Rather than dancing with the ones that brought it into office, it prefers to spend more time dancing with others and leaving the one that brought it languishing against the dance floor wall, looking dejected. This amounts to the Mark Textor reply to Mulroney, with the Liberal Party now adopting the adage that ‘the one that brought you is irrelevant, dance instead with Gillian Triggs, Mark Scott, the anti-free speech ethnic lobby, the renewables rent-seekers, the high tax crowd, with maybe a place or two on your dance card for the one that brought you, if you’re not getting lucky with the others’.

Consider the list. Last election the Libs won the free speech vote on an explicit promise to repeal 18C. The denizens of ‘our’ (read ‘their’) ABC didn’t like that. Nor did the ethnic lobby. So the Libs opted to dance with someone else.

Then there’s the fact that the Liberal Party base feels that the ABC is biased. There’s not a single, solitary right-of-centre presenter or producer on any of their television current affairs shows. No attempt is made to fix this. Mark Scott makes himself look moronic pretending that you can have wall-to-wall lefties making all the editorial calls – including which people to appoint to a laughable review into bias – and that all is okay because they promise to look inside themselves and be balanced. Really, they do. (Try that with a scenario of wall-to-wall male presenters who promise to give you the female perspective, or wall-to-wall Caucasians, and ask yourself how long the ABC Board or Herr Scott would trot out this patently lame line. Or do nothing to fix it.) Under Abbott at least there was a smidgeon of pressure on the ABC. Under Turnbull, well, the Libs are now dancing with someone quite different from those that brought them to the dance.

Again, the same goes with the President of the Human Rights Commission, Gillian Triggs. I think her behaviour has clearly fallen below the basic ‘no appearance of political bias’ threshold needed to stay in office. She should go. At the very least the government should say it has no confidence in her. Alas, the new Turnbull incarnation of the Liberal Party quite fancies a slow dance or two with Professor Triggs. The party faithful can go stand against the wall and keep quiet; their views are irrelevant.

What about the hard working savers out there, the people who put money aside and save for their retirement, embodying the Protestant work ethic? Sorry my friends. Too bad if you voted Liberal at the last election. Now if you happen to have a defined benefit pension, the way many politicos do, and judges do, and a fair few civil servants do, well we won’t touch that. But if you have a defined contribution pension, and (horrors of horrors) you make over $180,000 per year (actually it can be a lot less than that), we are likely to raise your taxes. Thrift, shmift is the new Lib attitude. Talking about cutting spending to get elected is one thing, but we Libs really want to dance with those hot chicks who raise our revenue. Sorry former dance partner.

Now of course the new Textorite Liberal Party is not without a scintilla of residual feelings for the one that brought it to the dance. So it better do something about fixing up labour relations in this country. After all, Australia has one of the world’s highest minimum wages and a truly bizarre nineteenth-century regime of third party wage overseers that went out of fashion everywhere else on the planet eons ago. Will the Libs go hard on this one? Of course not. With labour relations problems galore the ‘Stayin’ Alive’ Libs will focus on the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC). In the greater scheme of our problems this is as peripheral as it gets, but you gotta throw at least one double dissolution polka in the direction of the one that brought you. Right?

This upcoming election can be seen through all sorts of different prisms. One of those is whether the Mulroney adage ‘dance with the one that brought you’ is right, or massively over-sold. Time will tell. Turnbull is betting the house against Mulroney.

P.S. Mulroney himself ended up dragging the Conservatives to a massive loss because he forgot his own adage.

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