There is an old adage in politics that a Government is only as good as the Opposition. I would like to believe it to be true – but I get the feeling that the Opposition is only as good as the Government allows them to be. That is, if a Government is doing well, then most of us, the media, tend to ignore the Opposition. The exception seems to be if the Opposition is imploding, plotting leadership challenges or doing so badly, they become a curiosity (thank you Brendan Nelson and Simon Crean).
The rise and rise of Kevin Rudd as Opposition leader, for example, seemed to coincide with the decline of the Howard Government. While Howard tried to convince us of his vigour, the curtain was eventually pulled back and he merely looked like the unmasked Wizard of Oz.
With Peter Costello picking up his ball and going home, and Malcolm Turnbull making decent headway in the polls, it is time to assess the quality of the Opposition. While we can look at any number of policy challenges facing the Opposition, let’s focus on three.
The first is Opposition’s response to the budget. It is here that Turnbull has achieved the most traction, confidently reproaching the government for the size of deficit. Turnbull has done well in portraying the Government as irresponsible, but has failed to tell us what is wrong with deficits as a counter-cyclical mechanism.
The second issue has been the response to climate change. While Rudd and Penny Wong have failed to convince anyone that the Emissions Trading Scheme is good for anything, the best that the Opposition has come up with is to wait: but wait for what exactly? Turnbull has allowed the sceptics of his party to undermine any attempt to achieve any structural change and in doing so, failed to promote an alternative policy initiative.
Thirdly, we should not forget Turnbull’s (atrocious) behaviour when he suggested that the Government should bring back ‘Temporary Protection Visas’. At a time when race tensions continue to bubble underneath the surface, such a move shows a distinct lack of moral leadership.
A decent Opposition or a Government losing some shine? Not sure, but Costello’s departure should be used as an opportunity to shake up his party. Otherwise, they might as well have kept John Howard.