Hewson's View | Judgment defines the man and his government

Judgment is definitive in politics in two ways – our politicians are personally defined by the way they respond to challenges and events, and the electorate passes its judgment on their performance, individually and collectively.

CALLING IT: Malcom Turnbull counting down the minutes until the High Court handed down its October 27 decision on the citizenship question. Photo: AAP/Lukas Coch.

CALLING IT: Malcom Turnbull counting down the minutes until the High Court handed down its October 27 decision on the citizenship question. Photo: AAP/Lukas Coch.

Turnbull is now seen to have displayed particularly poor judgment recently by predicting (if not attempting to influence) the High Court in its consideration of the citizenship debacle, by claiming that the Court “will so hold” that Nationals Joyce and Nash are “qualified to sit in the House”.

Obviously, as a barrister and, indeed, one with direct High Court experience, he should clearly have known better. Yet, this bullish behavior, rushing to judgment without adequate preparation and consideration, has been a defining feature of Turnbull’s political career.

Many will recall the “Utegate” scandal, back in 2009, where Turnbull prematurely rushed to a press conference demanding Rudd’s resignation for improper conduct on behalf of a Queensland car dealer who was seeking financial assistance from a Government Agency, OzCar. This not only allowed Rudd to turn the tables on Turnbull, easily denying any involvement, but also allowed Swan to “escape”, even though he was culpable.

Similarly, in the Godwin Gretch debacle, where it seemed Gretch was in possession of some politically very lush emails, Turnbull again rushed to get a scalp, without doing his homework to establish the authenticity of the emails. Absolute embarrassment was the result.

Indeed, these two misjudgments were fundamental to Turnbull being replaced by Abbott as Leader of the Opposition.

When Turnbull resumed the leadership, becoming Prime Minister, in September 2015, he made some very strong statements about the sort of leadership and government Australia needed. In so doing, he raised the expectations of the electorate but, almost from that day, he has disappointed by failing to deliver.

“It is clear,” he said, “that the government is not successful in providing the economic leadership that we need … leadership that explains (the) challenges and opportunities.. and how to seize the opportunities. A style of leadership that respects the people’s intelligence, that explains these complex issues and then sets a course of action we believe we should take and makes a case for it. We need advocacy and not slogans.”

None of this contemplated a rush to judgement on issues, without consultation or evidence. If he was actually confident of his position on the High Court, presumably on the basis of advice from the solicitor general, he should have begun his case by releasing that advice, and then attempted to explain the complex issue. It was another poor judgement, an indefensible inconsistency, to have Canavan stand down from his ministry, while letting Joyce and Nash continue in their positions. Hardly setting a “clear course of action”. The High Court thought so!

At the time of seizing the Prime Ministership, Turnbull also said, in attacking Abbott: “What we have not succeeded in doing is translating (our) values into the policies and ideas that will excite the Australian people and encourage them to believe and understand that we have a vision for their future… We need to restore traditional Cabinet government. There must be an end to policy on the run and captain’s calls. We need to be truly consultative with colleagues… and the wider public.”

Is it any wonder that Turnbull’s failure to deliver against those expectations has seen him experience a dramatic collapse in his individual poll standing, and the Coalition drift way behind Labor? The electoral take has been chaos, not good, stable and visionary government.