Turnbull free to dream in his own cyber world

Do you think Malcolm Turnbull will lead the Liberals again?

ALL politicians are, of course, people of noble mind, high principle and overwhelming dedication to the welfare of their country – which is best served, naturally, by the election of their particular party to power.

Nevertheless, one can’t help but wonder if, somewhere in the darkest recesses of Liberal shadow minister Malcolm Turnbull’s mind, in one of those secret 3am revelations, the thought ever surfaces: wouldn’t it be good if we lost the next election?

Just consider what it would do for him. First, bloodlessly remove Tony Abbott from the leadership. At the moment, with Coalition support running at 54percent in the latest Newspoll, it’s just a personality quirk that three in every five people can’t stand the Liberal leader.

But if their fortunes dropped drastically enough to lose the election, Mr Abbott would be gone before the party recovered from its post-poll hangover. With no nasty stains on the carpet, Mr Turnbull would surely become what the June4 Nielsen poll says 61percent of voters (and 77percent of Labor voters) want him to be: leader of the Liberal Party.

Next, such a loss would clear the decks for a policy ... update? No, not another ‘‘stick on a new name and hope for the best’’ gesture: something more root-and-branch, maybe even an actual platform.

Having shown that ‘‘Just Say No!’’ is no more reliable as a policy than it is as a contraceptive, Mr Turnbull would have an argument to force his troops into actually thinking about their aims as a government – and three years to refine and popularise them.

He might even have enough clout to make the ranks face up to the need for a coherent industrial relations policy. It wouldn’t be hard to improve on the current situation, where shuddering memories force every Coalition statement on the subject to be accompanied by a ‘‘Look, it’s not WorkChoices, OK?’’ disclaimer.

True, the ACTU has already moved to spike Liberal guns on any ‘‘reform the unions’’ campaign, with the recent national congress appointing a hefty panel to look into union democracy. The unions are so determined to get something tangible up and running that the ACTU executive expects an interim report by the end of next month.

Still, even with that ground fenced off, there are other industrial areas where Liberals might be able to replace slogans with actual policies – though the signs aren’t hopeful.

Only last week, conservative strategist and Liberal Party pollster Mark Textor was reported as advising the opposition to use ‘‘the language of aspiration’’ in workplace reform.

For example, instead of presenting WorkChoices as ‘‘no disadvantage’’, the emphasis should have been on ‘‘opportunity to earn more’’ ... yeah, right.

All the same, the agony of losing what’s touted as an unloseable election might wrench the Liberals away from such public relations signage. They might concentrate instead on the public itself.

And that public has a deep seam of ‘‘aspiration’’ that Mr Turnbull is well placed to mine.

Labor has successfully tapped into the nation-building significance of the National Broadband Network, likening it to such massive physical achievements as the Snowy Mountains scheme.

In the Abbott-led Liberal party, Mr Turnbull, as shadow minister for communications and broadband, might have been trapped into denouncing the network itself.

Instead, with know-how from the internet businesses that made him rich, he has been able to focus his party’s complaints on the technical details of cables and roll-out plans.

He has not had to run counter to the desires of business for the NBN’s higher speeds, wider spread and international competitiveness. When a report commissioned by international giant IBM criticised Australia’s ‘‘sceptics’’ and ‘‘nay-sayers’’ last week for the nation’s failure to benefit from the digital economy, Mr Turnbull had no need to lay low.

So a Liberal defeat in 2013 would just let him sit back while Labor took the bruises from steering the NBN through its inevitable early glitches.

While conservative idealogues might push him to campaign aggressively for its privatisation, they could be quietened with two notions: ‘‘cost-effectiveness’’ (a ‘‘maybe later’’ option), and ‘‘polls’’.

Polls? Aha: check out poll analyst Possum Comitatus at crikey.com.au, who has reviewed a number of companies’ findings to try to figure out what Australians actually want from our governments:

‘‘A majority believe that privatising Telstra was bad for Australia, a plurality believe that privatising Qantas and the Commonwealth Bank weren’t exactly crash hot ideas for the country either.’’

Funny, the things that might come to mind at 3am.

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