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Federal Opposition finding its feet

17 November 2008 886 views No Comment

IN a democracy, losing an election often makes the losing side feel like dropping its bundle, which of course it shouldn’t.

Being in Opposition comes with its own set of expectations and responsibilities. A strong Opposition is a vital counterpoint to any government and if it isn’t constantly probing, even attacking, it can allow a government to become weak, inefficient and out of touch. Consider the case of NSW. Would Labor still be in power there if the conservative coalition had spent more time in the past decade fighting it, rather than each other?

And on the federal scene, in the short time that Malcolm Turnbull has led the Coalition, is the Rudd Labor Government being held to greater account than it was under Brendan Nelson?

True, voters seem to be rallying around the Rudd Government in the face of an international and domestic financial crisis, but Turnbull’s standing as preferred prime minister in Newspoll, and his approval rating as Opposition Leader, is high. The comparison between Labor and the Coalition is little changed, although improving. The opinion polls tell us something of what’s going on, but we need to look deeper to determine how the Coalition is actually travelling.

In three areas at least – economic, education and the handling of a future emissions trading scheme – the Opposition can take heart from its performance. Although Opposition Treasury spokeswoman Julie Bishop formally leads the Opposition’s economic team, it is really dominated by Turnbull’s intellect, contacts and experience.

In education, the attack on the Rudd Government is led by the talented education, apprenticeships and training spokesman Christopher Pyne.

The Opposition’s response to the Government’s emissions trading scheme proposal is in the hands of the climate change, environment and water spokesman Greg Hunt.

These members of Turnbull’s team are performing well and, at times, have been unsettling the Government. For example, in the short time that he has been shadowing Julia Gillard, the politically smart Pyne has managed to get the complex issues of education reform on to the national agenda.

Pyne has highlighted the failure of the much anticipated computers-in-schools policy.

The Government’s $1.2 billion allocation to that policy does not in fact cover the services and infrastructure required to sustain it in the schools themselves and all state governments are struggling to implement the program.

Pyne has also dragged the political Left’s traditional antipathy to the non-government schools sector into the limelight, by exposing flaws in Gillard’s Schools Assistance Bill, which delivers $28 billion in funding to the non-government school sector over the next four years.

One of the brightest lights of the federal coalition, Hunt, is showing that the Opposition can both be in favour of an ETS and tackling climate change and, at the same time be economically sensible. Rather than placing jobs and Australia’s standard of living at risk by starting an ETS too soon and without having all the information available, Hunt is suggesting Australia make its final decisions about an ETS after the climate change conference in Copenhagen in December 2009. That conference should tell us what the large emitters are prepared to do about their emissions in the future.

So in three key areas the Coalition is offering sensible policy differentiation, holding the Government accountable and operating as an effective Opposition should.

The danger for Turnbull is that he may start to enjoy small victories, with accompanying smugness, when the Opposition’s main task is to come up with policies that can budge voters away from a government still rating highly in the polls.

Ultimately the economic crisis may favour Turnbull’s team, but to capitalise on that, they’ll have to advance solid fiscal and economic ideas of their own, and soon, to convince a sceptical electorate that the Opposition can do any better than the Government in what are universally rough seas.

November 17, 2008

Article from: The Australian

IN a democracy, losing an election often makes the losing side feel like dropping its bundle, which of course it shouldn’t.

Being in Opposition comes with its own set of expectations and responsibilities. A strong Opposition is a vital counterpoint to any government and if it isn’t constantly probing, even attacking, it can allow a government to become weak, inefficient and out of touch. Consider the case of NSW. Would Labor still be in power there if the conservative coalition had spent more time in the past decade fighting it, rather than each other?

And on the federal scene, in the short time that Malcolm Turnbull has led the Coalition, is the Rudd Labor Government being held to greater account than it was under Brendan Nelson?

True, voters seem to be rallying around the Rudd Government in the face of an international and domestic financial crisis, but Turnbull’s standing as preferred prime minister in Newspoll, and his approval rating as Opposition Leader, is high. The comparison between Labor and the Coalition is little changed, although improving. The opinion polls tell us something of what’s going on, but we need to look deeper to determine how the Coalition is actually travelling.

In three areas at least – economic, education and the handling of a future emissions trading scheme – the Opposition can take heart from its performance. Although Opposition Treasury spokeswoman Julie Bishop formally leads the Opposition’s economic team, it is really dominated by Turnbull’s intellect, contacts and experience.

In education, the attack on the Rudd Government is led by the talented education, apprenticeships and training spokesman Christopher Pyne.

The Opposition’s response to the Government’s emissions trading scheme proposal is in the hands of the climate change, environment and water spokesman Greg Hunt.

These members of Turnbull’s team are performing well and, at times, have been unsettling the Government. For example, in the short time that he has been shadowing Julia Gillard, the politically smart Pyne has managed to get the complex issues of education reform on to the national agenda.

Pyne has highlighted the failure of the much anticipated computers-in-schools policy.

The Government’s $1.2 billion allocation to that policy does not in fact cover the services and infrastructure required to sustain it in the schools themselves and all state governments are struggling to implement the program.

Pyne has also dragged the political Left’s traditional antipathy to the non-government schools sector into the limelight, by exposing flaws in Gillard’s Schools Assistance Bill, which delivers $28 billion in funding to the non-government school sector over the next four years.

One of the brightest lights of the federal coalition, Hunt, is showing that the Opposition can both be in favour of an ETS and tackling climate change and, at the same time be economically sensible. Rather than placing jobs and Australia’s standard of living at risk by starting an ETS too soon and without having all the information available, Hunt is suggesting Australia make its final decisions about an ETS after the climate change conference in Copenhagen in December 2009. That conference should tell us what the large emitters are prepared to do about their emissions in the future.

So in three key areas the Coalition is offering sensible policy differentiation, holding the Government accountable and operating as an effective Opposition should.

The danger for Turnbull is that he may start to enjoy small victories, with accompanying smugness, when the Opposition’s main task is to come up with policies that can budge voters away from a government still rating highly in the polls.

Ultimately the economic crisis may favour Turnbull’s team, but to capitalise on that, they’ll have to advance solid fiscal and economic ideas of their own, and soon, to convince a sceptical electorate that the Opposition can do any better than the Government in what are universally rough seas.