Re-visiting an open letter sent to Turnbull just after his narrow victory in 2016. And a suggestion how he may go on contributing to the public purpose.
You have been subject to ghastly treatment in the last two weeks. I find it hard to imagine what you, your colleagues and your family have been going through.
But you really should have been taking heed of well wishers who were offering you sound counsel when you were elected. I have come across an open letter addressed to you, just a week after you were elected in 2016.
It listed three options. The first was to hand over to Bill Shorten and let him deal with hard and divisive issues: I guess you had no intention to do that. But the letter spelled out two other options:
Your second option. Take the reins and lead.
Start with a deal with Labor and the Greens to scrap the plebiscite and legislate for same-sex marriage. OK – Tony Abbott and a couple of Liberal senators will be angry, and the Nationals will go ballistic, but you’ll re-establish your credentials with the electorate.
Then you can get to work on the hard issues. Go for increases in the GST and the Medicare Levy to fund education and health – Labor would have no option but to support you. Bring back a carbon tax. Bring back indexation of capital gains. Rule out tax deductions for “negative gearing”. Tighten the rules for family trusts. Bring back inheritance taxes.
All of that will put the budget back into surplus, and then you can take advantage of our low long-term government bond rate to borrow for transport and communication infrastructure – the investments we should have made during the boom.
Don’t forget broadband – remember when you were a technology enthusiast before the Luddites got to you? And stare down the private health insurers, the coal miners, the tax accountants and other rent-seekers.
If you can forget about party groupings you will find enough people in both the Reps and the Senate to put such a package through (isn’t that what democracy is all about?)
That way you can improve the government balance sheet, strengthen the nation’s economic structure, redirect capital to where it can do something useful, and restore some level of fairness in public finance. Of course, people will find it tough, and those who think they are entitled to evade tax through trusts and negative gearing will be furious, but where are they going to go?
Most people will endure a period of hardship if they understand the reason (you can do a better explanation than “jobs and growth”) and if they think the sacrifice is shared.
You may see the right wing of the Liberal Party split off, and the coalition with the National Party will surely end, but that marriage has been showing strains for years. Your party elders talk of a broad church, but to use the same ecclesiastical metaphor, it’s been like trying to hold together liberation theology Jesuits, batshit crazy Talibans, and creationist Holy Rollers. Let it go and re-group.
That option may result in a short political life, but it will satisfy your need for excitement. More importantly, you will have served your country. Like Gough Whitlam, you will be able to look back satisfied that you have steered the country through a necessary transition.
Then there’s the third option. Appeasement.
Carry on with what you have been doing since you knocked off Abbott last September. Build a dam for Bob Katter, bail out Arrium and the other firms that will come along seeking handouts as the economy turns down, build a few more netball courts in marginal electorates – there are a lot more of them now.
You will be able to claim, to your credit, that you held the Coalition together in its last ever term of office, and will go down in history as a decent bloke who didn’t know how to use power when he had it in his grasp.
I, and my colleagues who had hopes for your time in office, are sorry you took that third option.
But you have come through with your reputation as a decent bloke intact. And you’re of an age and with enough energy to be still offering yourself to public service.
An ideal first president of Australia.
Go for it.
Citizen and voter