*Pic: Original image: Serious Cat, Flickr

Early indications from the Turnbull Government

Next week, Malcolm Turnbull will clock up six weeks as Prime Minister. So what’s changed? Has the direction changed, or are the messages just a little more polished. Psychologist and New Matilda columnist Dr Lissa Johnson delves into the ideology behind a government led by an ultra-wealthy former merchant banker.

What lies at the heart of a Turnbull Government agenda?

There have been mixed signals and mixed opinion, and striking similarities as well as differences to the Abbott leadership so far.

Our new PM began by wearing a new heart, humbled by experience, on the new leadership’s sleeve.

Gone was all reference to Team Australia and the Death Cult. Thank goodness for that.

There was even talk of partnership with Islamic leaders, albeit laced with a jibe to accept “Australian values” or leave, which sounded sadly familiar.

Nevertheless, we have more women in cabinet and a female Minister for Women. Our new PM even extended his hand to the women of Australia, saying the very things many women long to hear from the men in their lives.

I’ve learned from my mistakes… I need to listen more… I care what you think… I respect you.

The style of engagement was clearly more intelligent, measured and sophisticated.


On the subject of intelligence, the PM intends to respect ours, men and women alike. He will consult, listen and deliberate before he acts. Amen to that.

Malcolm Turnbull, Lucy Turnbull
Lucy and Malcolm Turnbull, pictured in 2012 at the Sydney premiere of movie A Few Best Men. (IMAGE: Eva Rinaldi, Flickr)

Malcolm Turnbull has also said that he is an activist, but a thoughtful and considered one. He is telling us that he stands for something.


n his first moments as leader he threw us a clue, which we converged upon like seagulls hungry for a scrap of certainty. His government would be ‘thoroughly liberal’.

Liberal in what way?

Progressive ‘small l’ liberal? Climate-change-is-a-moral-issue liberal? Or big L Liberal? We’ll-say-whatever-you-want-until-after-the-election Liberal?

Classical economic liberal? Laissez-faire free market liberal? Or neoliberal? Kill-or-be-killed-capitalism-on-steroids liberal?

But would a ‘small l’ leader have allowed the deportation of Abyan, a woman pregnant from being raped on Nauru, back to Nauru?

Having expressed his concern for people in offshore detention, Turnbull oversaw the return of an ill, frail, vulnerable, traumatised woman, pregnant as a result of rape, back to the lawless scene of her rape, even as she flees lawlessness and rape in her own country. This has variously been described as “grotesque”, “dark”, “inhumane” and “a complete disregard for… the rule of law”.

After just several weeks, the Turnbull Government is ticking quite a few neoliberal boxes.

Two ‘free trade’ deals are poised to take effect. One, the Trans Pacific Partnership, frees multinational corporations from consumer and environmental protections, via freedom to sue governments, in tribunals free from sovereign law. It also provides new freedoms from corporate whistleblowers.

The other, the Chinese Australia Free Trade Agreement, is said to threaten Australian workforces, even after Labor’s safeguards, which have been described as a ‘hollow victory’ that ‘inadequately protects jobs’.

There is widespread agreement among economists and policy experts that neoliberalism makes no economic sense in terms of economic prosperity, and has proved itself a spectacular economic failure all over the world.

Nobel Laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz, for instance, wrote in 2008, “For a quarter-century, there has been a contest among developing countries, and the losers are clear: countries that pursued neo-liberal policies… lost the growth sweepstakes… Neo-liberal market fundamentalism was always a political doctrine serving certain interests. It was never supported by economic theory. Nor, it should now be clear, is it supported by historical experience.”

At the risk of stating the obvious, Stiglitz observes, “Rather than wealth trickling down, it rapidly found its way to the pinnacle of the pyramid”. He explains in his book ‘The Price of Inequality’ that, far from boosting economic performance, government spending cuts, ‘small government’, lower taxes and market deregulation destroy both demand and jobs.

The Abbott leadership couldn’t sell the neoliberal agenda. They kept putting people off.

Enter Malcolm Turnbull.

Turnbull’s close ally in the spill, and fellow Goldman Sachs alumnus Arthur Sinodinos, told Radio National that the Abbott Government’s main failing of economic management had been an inability to ‘till the ground’ sufficiently for the Coalition’s economic agenda. The other failing had been trying to do ‘too much too fast’ in the first budget.

The Sydney Morning Herald also noted that “former executives from Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch and Deutsche Bank hold the top three political leadership posts in Australia and New Zealand”. NSW premier Mike Baird, a former Deutsche Bank executive, “successfully argued the merits of the controversial planned $20 billion selloff of the state’s electricity network in the face of union opposition and won re-election earlier this year”.

Accumulation by dispossession again. Good for short term hits to the government books. Not so good for long term economic prosperity, according to economists.

Perhaps this is one reason the Turnbull Government is helping the wealthiest to keep their financial arrangements secret. Passing legislation that shields companies with annual revenues of over $100 million from tax transparency says a lot about the Government’s priorities. And its take on ‘freedom’, ‘individuals’ and ‘markets’.

In this case, freedom is for wealthy individuals to keep their tax arrangements to themselves. And possibly offshore. So stuff the market.


So was it just talk, all those progressive things that Malcolm said? All those eloquent things about women, climate change, marriage equality and our freedom to remember and forget, unsurveilled?

He might have meant it at the time. But attitudes and behaviour are often out of step. Only strong preferences reliably predict behaviour.

Malcolm Turnbull expressed his leadership’s strong preferences in a three-word non-slogan on day one – “Freedom, the individual and the market” …

Read the full article on New Matilda here, where there are full hyperlinks


*Dr Lissa Johnson is a clinical psychologist interested in the psychology of ideology and politics, and the philosophy and politics of psychology.

SkyNews: Pocock adds weight to coal fight (and though he is not mentioned in this link … Tassie’s Professor Richard Flanagan … which you can read about on the Guardian website HERE

Guardian: Coalition overtakes Labor as Malcolm Turnbull extends lead over Bill Shorten, poll shows

SMH: Tony Abbott urges Europe to adopt boat turnbacks in response to refugee crisis

Max Chalmers, New Matilda: Political Zombie: Tony Abbott Re-emerges Just In Time For Halloween

THURSDAY October 29 …

SMH: Push for Royal Commission into people-smuggler cash scandal Jakarta: Australian officials who paid people smugglers to return a boat of asylum seekers to Indonesia committed a transnational crime and put dozens of lives at risk, according to a damning report that calls for a Royal Commission into the scandal. In its report Amnesty International also calls for an investigation into a second case of possible payments to a crew intercepted by the Australian Navy and Border Force on July 25.k

Guardian: Abyan, pregnant refugee on Nauru, will return to Australia for medical treatment