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In search of the “sensible centre”

Tim Colebatch writes in Inside Story (2.9.16) about Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s desire to govern from the political ‘centre’, despite a fragmented and finely balanced federal Parliament. The author highlights some of the policy initiatives that might result if the PM can manage to do so.

‘At first sight, it was just what Australia needs. The prime minister appealed to the opposition leader to “meet us in the sensible centre” for a joint initiative to make savings and balance the budget. But he then revealed to journalists that the “sensible centre” simply meant his own policies.

‘A week earlier, the PM had told a business lunch in Melbourne that he was “ready to reach across the aisle” to “work constructively with Labor and the crossbenches.” He went on: “A genuine commitment by Mr Shorten to bipartisan support for a responsible approach to the budget can help deliver positive results for the broader Australian community. We will take him up on that”.

‘But in case anyone was fooled into thinking that he was actually proposing a new departure from policy to fix the deficit in a bipartisan way, the PM slammed Labor five times in the next minute, making it clear that all the talk of seeking bipartisan support was a sham. It’s business as usual, and right now, from both sides, the business of politics seems to include demonstrations of faux bipartisanship.

‘Malcolm Turnbull’s idea of bipartisanship is that Labor will adopt Coalition policies. Bill Shorten’s idea is that the Coalition will adopt Labor policies. Nothing new is happening.

‘But as two opinion polls this week have showed, business as usual is not working in Malcolm Turnbull’s favour. Australians are not happy with their leaders. The PM’s once massive lead over Bill Shorten is now almost gone, and it’s clear that the 50.36 per cent of the two-party vote the Coalition won on election day was a reprieve, not a ringing endorsement – just like the 50.12 per cent Labor won in 2010.’

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