I have a loathing for the excessive focus on the theatre of politics, especially when it coincides with an exclusion of any examination of the real world impacts of policy positions. (Well I think it’s excessive anyway, which is why I loathe it).
So, apart from one mention on my blog where I asked why people thought Peter Costello was so good, I tried to ignore the endless weeks of stories about Peter Costello’s intentions – all of which amounted to nothing in terms of any impact on the day to day lives of the public.
None the less, an actual ballot on the Liberal Party leadership (as opposed to endless speculation about it) is significant. But in the spirit of downplaying the theatre, I won’t express an opinion about the manoeuvrings around today’s Liberal Party leadership spill, and the contest between Brendan Nelson and Malcolm Turnbull, other than considering what the policy impacts might be and the possible impact in the Senate.
As with any protected drama around leadership, the big policy impact from having the leadership resolved will be that people will actually start focusing on policy, not leadership. It’s bad enough when the media focus on leadership dramas lead them to ignore the impacts of legislation being considered by Parliament. But it’s even worse when the politicians, who actually make the decisions on whether or not that legislation becomes law, are too distracted by leadership dramas to pay enough attention to it either.
With Peter Costello’s book also pretty much out of the way after today, one outcome of the contest should at least be a shift back towards policy issues for a while – unless Brendan Nelson only has a narrow win, in which case there will probably only be a short interim until it all starts up again.
From media reports, the only policy issues Nelson hinted at in announcing he was spilling the leadership were climate change – presumably moving to more strongly oppose emissions trading and any other measures that might make a difference – and recognition of same sex couples – presumably finally matching the Liberal’s action with their words (not to mention their party name) and supporting the removal of this long-standing and unjustifiable form of discrimination.
Actually allowing the same-sex changes through the Senate would be a welcome, albeit very overdue move. It would certainly be sensible for Nelson (or Turnbull) to do this, as I suspect it would be hard to prevent a few Liberals from crossing the floor in the Senate in any case.
Even if Turnbull wins, I doubt there will be major reversals in the Opposition’s positions on any of the Budget Bills they have pledged to oppose in the Senate.
One could speculate about what other sorts of policy changes might occur from a resolution of the leadership uncertainty, but that would only be speculation. It is tempting to assume there might be more fiscal discipline and less short-term populism under a Turnbull leadership, but it is impossible to do more than make assumptions at this stage. The reality of being a first term Opposition with unresolved internal differences still playing themselves out creates pressures which make policy decisions hard to predict.