MUNGO MACCALLUM. The Culture Wars continue

Turnbull’s legacy may not be one he will boast about, but it will certainly be remembered.

Malcolm Turnbull’s overweening ego will never admit it, but his legacy as Prime Minister was less than earth-shattering.

Arguably his greatest achievement was to knock off Tony Abbott, a feat for which a majority of the electorate was relieved and grateful.

But after that there was not much to trouble the scorer. His supporters will say he was hamstrung by the delusional conservatives in his party room; his detractors will contend they had to resist his efforts to push their base to a Labor-lite left, and there is truth in both contentions. But the hard fact is that he was unwilling to risk confrontation, and as a result dwindled into impotence and a form of irrelevance and what he did manage to change, his successors have largely undone.

But he has left one memorial, and, ironically, it is one that both sides of the culture wars would now rather he hadn’t: the promise to legislate a religious freedom bill.

At the time it was thought to be a doddle, a sop to the losers on the same sex marriage plebiscite that could be comfortably massaged through in a few week. It would not really break any new ground, just confirm the already extensive privileges the faithful (by which almost everyone assumed meant Christians, and particularly Catholics) already enjoy at the expense of the wider population.

A tweak or two about existing anti-discrimination law would surely be sufficient. But of course it wasn’t. First the Christian lobby grabbed the opportunity to expand its influence, and then it dawned on those of other creeds and none that they too had a stake in the game. Why should the Christians have all the fun?

One in, all in. and within a few months we were embroiled in a new campaign in the ongoing culture wars, one in which just about everyone felt they were missing out on their fair share. The faithful wanted more than a guaranteed against non-discrimination – they wanted a positive bill, affirming what they saw as their unalienable rights and many others saw as unconscionable advantage, an affront to our secular constitution.

The perhaps unfortunately named Christian Porter, as the new Attorney-General, was sent to sort out the mess, and to date, after nearly two long years of bickering and resentment, has signally failed to do so: if anything. the various factions are even further estranged and more adamant over their various positions.

The interventions of high profile evangelists Israel Folau and Margaret Court have not helped, but the divisions are far more deep-seated than can be resolved through quick fixes over disputes around individuals. It seems that Porter has yet again gone back to the drawing board in an effort to produce an acceptable bill, but it is now clear that there quite simply isn’t one; that whatever finally emerges in parliament will merely exacerbate the divisions entrenched not only across the community, but crucially within the joint parties room.

And that means that they will fester on until and beyond the next election. Turnbull’s legacy may not be one he will boast about, but it will certainly be remembered.


Mungo MacCallum is a veteran political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy.

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4 Responses to MUNGO MACCALLUM. The Culture Wars continue

  1. Avatar Jerry Roberts says:

    Section 116 of the Australian Constitution is all we need. It was placed in the Constitution to forestall the sort of legislation discussed here. Together with the banking cash-ban bill now being studied by a Senate committee, the Government is proposing to give power to the two groups of people who have been proved most unfit to exercise power — the bankers and the bishops.

  2. Avatar Allan Kessing says:

    Nice to see them hoist by their own petard.
    The difficulty dealing with Christians bigots will be as nothing compared to other religions wanting a piece of the (non)action.
    Can we not just have a freedom from religion in the public space?
    Keep the beliefs/delusions private.

  3. Avatar Philip Laird says:

    As I recall, Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister did try to implement a National Energy Guarantee scheme in late 2017 to deal with rising energy prices and to assist energy companies to invest in electricity generation with less emissions.
    A more lasting achievement was a better balance between road and urban rail investments. Here, despite the Fraser Government passing legislation in 1978 for federal assistance for urban public transport, Mr Abbott as PM maintained this was not to be an area for federal funding, and had federal funds earmarked for rail diverted to roads.
    By way of contrast, within a week of taking office as PM, Mr Turnbull had found federal funds to help get Stage 2 of the Gold Coast Light Rail started, and completed before the 2018 Commonwealth Games. This was followed with $1.75 billion of federal funds to assist Victoria to undertake a Regional Rail Revival program.

  4. Avatar Stephen Saunders says:

    One can only hope that there’s a backlash from ordinary employers, if this corrupting and divisive Bill becomes law.

    So, you’ve got two job candidates. One is normal and rational. The other is a bit like Scott Morrison, and claims certain rights to make cruel statements or actions towards women and minorities on your staff. Just quietly, which one would you prefer?

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