Malcolm Turnbull’s Thoroughly Liberal Blasphemies

Malcolm Turnbull’s Thoroughly Liberal Blasphemies

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What’s been obvious to anyone outside the Canberra bubble for the last six months might finally have dawned upon Malcolm Turnbull and his ministers. The Coalition can win the next federal election – if it wants to. And of course the issue it can win on is cheap and reliable electricity.

The public like renewable energy, but only in theory. And the public are not dumb. They know this country’s near-obsession with renewable energy is not only forcing Australia’s households to pay among the highest prices in the world for their electricity, it is also de-industrialising the economy.

There’s a reason Labor politicians don’t talk anymore about the need for Australia to make things. That’s because to make things at a price the rest of the world will pay requires cheap energy.

The point of the polls is that despite the length of time the Coalition has trailed Labor, the Coalition is not actually that far behind, and the federal election could be more than a year away.

The catch, though, is that for Turnbull to give himself a fighting chance of beating Labor he’ll have to ditch his infamous claim from 2009 – “I will not lead lead a party that is not as committed to effective action on climate change as I am”.

Abandoning a commitment like that shouldn’t be too hard given the Prime Minister’s track record.

Distant memory

The idea that, in his own words, Turnbull would lead a “thoroughly Liberal government” is but a fond and distant memory. Under Turnbull taxes are up, government spending is up, and red tape has increased. With things like the bank tax, retrospective superannuation taxes, and telling energy companies who they can sell their gas to and for how long they must keep their plants operating, the Coalition is making the arbitrary administration of policy an art form.

Just this week the Turnbull government helpfully provided two more examples of how hollow is any claim it’s being “thoroughly Liberal”.

The Coalition’s media reforms are good policy and long overdue. But the price the Coalition paid to Nick Xenophon to get the legislation through the Parliament is too high – and should never even have been contemplated. The Turnbull government will pay taxpayer-funded subsidies to private media organisations on the condition they engage in “civic and public-interest journalism”.

The trouble is that if the government funds something eventually the government will control it.

Then there’s the Marriage Law Survey (Additional Safeguards) Act 2017 which attempts to regulate the conduct of the same-sex marriage survey. Never has such a draconian legislation been passed by the Commonwealth Parliament in such haste and with so little scrutiny. The law was literally made in less than 24 hours. The text of the legislation was made public on Wednesday, with the support of both the Coalition and Labor it passed both houses of Parliament that day, and came into effect on Thursday. This tawdry process makes a mockery of the major parties’ claims they support accountability and transparency in law-making.

Blasphemy law

Section 15(1)(c) of the Act makes it unlawful to “vilify” another person because of their “religious conviction”, with the penalty a fine of $12,600. This section establishes for the first time in Australian history a federal blasphemy law. As it’s drafted the law doesn’t only apply to vilification occurring during the holding of the marriage survey – it applies to religious vilification in any context. While the law has a sunset clause and is scheduled to expire at the conclusion of the survey, a precedent for the operation of a federal blasphemy law has been set – and it’s been set by Malcolm Turnbull’s Coalition government.

As Senator Cory Bernardi said, the law is “18C on steroids”.

The Act also overturns the rule of law. Under section 19(3) of the Act legal action against someone accused of religious vilification can only be undertaken with the consent of the Attorney-General. In a free country the government doesn’t get to decide when a law is applied and when it isn’t.

If the Coalition does come to its senses on energy policy and somehow does get re-elected it will have the opportunity to repair some of the damage it’s done.

(Image: The Australian Financial Review 2017, Andrew Meares)

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