Carlo's Corner: Malcolm Turnbull is just Tony Abbott without the onions

September 18, 2015
Asides from Abbott, the only others likely to be upset at his demise is the onion lobby.

Somewhere wandering aimlessly through the hard streets of Sydney's North Shore, is a dishevelled man in a crumpled suit and a few days’ growth telling concerned passers-by, “I'm not crying, it's just the onion” as he bites into his umpteenth bulb since Monday night, eyes red and flakes of onion skin around his mouth and down his front.

Yes, we've had a change in Overlord and Tony Abbott is now just the guy who was the worst prime minister this nation has ever seen. Apart from Abbott, the only people likely to be upset are those in the onion industry, because it is surprisingly hard for the onion lobby’s voice to be heard in the media or halls of power — and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull looks more like a truffle man.

Abbott managed to combine hated anti-poor policies with 12th century social views and a competency level that would see him sacked as a supermarket trolley collector, probably for winking lewdly at pensioners or throwing lumps of coal at the English backpackers trying to fleece people's cash for Greenpeace.

His replacement, however, is basically the exact same thing with a smoother smile and a nicer suit. He is not so much a shill for the corporate elite as an actual direct member of the mega-rich.

The richest man in parliament, former merchant banker Turnbull is evidence that absolutely anyone can make it in this country, even those who own it.

The guy you can't help feeling sorry for in all this is Bill Shorten — he's had to just stand there and watch that smug bastard Turnbull nick his whole “not being Tony Abbott” strategy for winning the next election. There he was, the only leader of the two major parties who was not Tony Abbott, reaping the poll rewards of not being Tony Abbott, when up jumps Turnbull to steal his act.

But superficial differences notwithstanding, Turnbull is as committed as Abbott to the class war. Turnbull's only real difference, beyond his ability to complete a coherent sentence, is holding less backward social views.

Then again, there are confused time travellers from the Dark Ages with more progressive views than the former prime minister. Anyway, Turnbull agreed to drop any commitment to the 21st century so he could secure the votes of the Liberal's hard right to knock off Abbott.

The Great Barrier Reef is not going to be destroyed any less quickly by the Abbot Point coal port and rising sea temperatures because of Turnbull's slick turn of phrase. Pacific Islands aren't going to become uninhabited any less by Turnbull's presumed ability to refrain from laughing at their predicament in public.

Asylum seekers jailed in isolated prison camps aren't going to be filled with any less despair because the prime minister will explain his government's commitment to abusing the rights of desperate people with more than an endlessly repeated three-word slogan.

No one will find a job because Turnbull knows better than to threaten a foreign leader with a “shirtfronting”. And pensioners, disabled people, single parents and anyone else whose poverty-level payments are being cut aren't going to find it any easier to pay their skyrocketing rents by Turnbull's willingness to appear on Q&A and trade jokes with Tony Jones.

There is some angst in the media and the business sector about the “instability” in Australian politics, with four prime ministers in five years — three as a result of backroom knifings.

But Abbott's removal was because he was unable to sell hated policies. The leadership change is the symptom of a deeper problem — pushing measures that shift even more wealth and power to the corporations while living standards slide further is just not popular.

A version of the same phenomena is the rise of one-term state governments. No amount of blaming “fickle” voters or “poll-driven panic” is going to make the shit sandwiches sold by both major parties appear more appetising.

There is angst among progressives who fear that Labor won't beat a Coalition lead by a man with great skill at selling pro-rich policies.

But that is desperate thinking. After all, the uselessness of Labor was the only way a hard right, racist, sexist, homophobic incompetent like Abbott could become PM in the first place. Depending on the likes of Labor leader Bill Shorten to save you from the Liberals is as reliable a strategy as betting on Turnbull to make it through an entire interview without looking smug.

It is far better to accept that expecting Shorten or any other Labor hack to save us from the Liberals cruel austerity is hopeless. We have to support and build the many struggles breaking out — against cruel treatment of refugees, environmental struggles, against the ongoing genocide of Aboriginal people and the attempt by bosses to screw their workforce.

[Carlo Sands will be part of mourning at Abbott's demise at Green Left Weekly's fundraising comedy debate “That Team Australia Should Be Disqualified” in Sydney on October 17. You can book tickets here.]

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