Vacuums are good for many things – including boiling water at zero degrees. What they are terrible for is selling a message.
Prime Minister Turnbull came to the leadership of the nation in September last year, loosing the hounds of national expectation. Understandably he did nothing to dampen those expectations that had fairly, or otherwise, been hitched to his wagon.
Six months is a long-time in most things; even longer in politics.
The national commentary now associated with his leadership will no doubt provide sobering reading for him and his advisors.
Upon considered reflection, it is the opinion of this business that our PM is guilty of failing to manage the conversation, which in turn has resulted a massive decline in his personal standing and a 50:50 split in the most recent newspoll.
So what happened?
The only conclusion that can be drawn is that the government instigated a conversation that it was not yet ready for. It kicked it off following the tried and true method of flying kites and selected leaks. All good so far; everything was on the table.
Australians could expect that complex and difficult reform would be calmly and rationally explained, and that the government would pursue the ‘right’ path as opposed to the politically expedient one.
It’s at this point in time some folks in the back office must have started to feel pretty uncomfortable. Increasing the GST was going to hurt too much (read: scare campaign on the horizon), and changes to super and negative gearing began tearing at the heart of a core constituency (read: conservative backbenchers).
Then there was silence.
Then the Opposition put out a policy.
Before the government knew it, it had lost control of a debate that it had should have had well within its grasp with plenty of good will and political capital to expend on driving it to the conclusion that the ‘nation needed.’
Simply put, the government appears to have been carried away with its potential to tackle a politically difficult problem and rushed into it without a clear pathway to explaining (and achieving) that task. En route, it ceded control of the discussion by creating a vacuum and allowing it to be filled by others with a somewhat different agenda to theirs.
Put another way, they went sailing without coordinates for the destination or the waypoints that they should have travelled by.
If we take a moment to compare and contrast here with one Donald Trump the difference is illuminating. Trump is so busy dropping bombs that none of his opponents (nor the media) have an opportunity to really lay a glove on him. He is leading a merry dance at an unprecedented tempo that does not permit anyone to get settled and really take him on. As an organisation, we do not advocate such a scatter-gun approach; it is however instructive to examine the techniques used across the political spectrum to maintain the initiative.
Ultimately the salient point is that if you are leading, you must know where you are going. There is never any reason, or excuse, to begin a journey before you are ready.
In the Australian context it is an opportunity lost for the nation. The saddest element of which is that it will likely take some kind of economic shock before tax-reform is meaningfully tackled again in the future.
To quote William Blake:
Not with a bang, but a whimper.