Tuesday, 2 August 2011


In the marketing world, people jump ship all the time. The CEO of a company, having for years demanded unconditional loyalty from his team, will suddenly join his firm’s most hated rival. Struggling brands will poach their competitor’s Creative Director in order to re-build themselves. Betrayal? Of course not. It’s called "doing business." And nobody bats an eyelid.
Is Malcolm Turnbull about to jump ship? Could he do business with Labor?
Last week’s Virginia Chadwick Memorial speech, where Malcolm passionately embraced Kevin Rudd's sentiments about climate change being "the greatest moral challenge of our time" is revealing. Taken by most as a piece of mischief designed to keep Tony Abbott on his toes, the timing and oddness of the speech suggest an ulterior motive.
Malcolm is coyly fluttering his eyelashes across the chamber at an increasingly jumpy Labor Party and saying "I'm over here if you want me, boys! Shall we dance?”
Minority governments play strange tricks on the mind. In Europe, individuals whom the public had always assumed loathe each other frequently hop into bed together. Nick Clegg enjoyed a naughty weekend’s flirtation with Gordon Brown before abruptly deciding to offer his virtue to David Cameron. From a business angle, it made more sense. Nick, a classic latte-sipping lefty, is now deputy PM of Thatcher's old party. Are Dave and Nick happy together? Apart from a few petty domestic squabbles, the romance is going gangbusters.
The climate change issue and its troublesome offspring the carbon tax are strangling the life out of Labor. Gillard's "damned if I do and damned if I don't" quandary was only ever going to be resolved if she could persuade people that the tax would genuinely tackle climate change. She failed. By panicking and throwing other issues into the mix (wealth redistribution, who-gets-what-compensation, renewables) the "sell" became confused; with voters being offered a mish-mash of reasons why they should buy her product. Like a show-bag thrust in your face crammed with junk you don't really want, the majority of punters are responding "not today, thanks."     
But "not today" doesn't mean "not ever." With the same polls that tell us Gillard and her tax are floundering also telling us that climate change remains an issue of popular concern, the opportunity is ripe for a credible and inspiring Labor leader to re-shape the issue. Someone not beholden to the Greens, someone with solid business acumen untarnished by the BER and pink batts fiascos, and someone who can attract votes from the “wet” Liberals who by nature are uncomfortable with Tony Abbott’s brutal skepticism.
Someone, for example, who could convincingly tie opposition to the carbon tax into Labor’s beloved class struggle. Like this: “There has been a very effective campaign against the science of climate change by those opposed to taking action to cut emissions – many because it is not in their own financial interests – and that this has played into the carbon tax debate.” Beautifully put, Malcolm. Labor hardheads would sell their grandmas to have such an efficient and eloquent communicator on their team.
Malcolm remains high in the opinion polls as preferred leader of the opposition. Polls are the gold-standard by which Labor judges success. Julia is bankrupt. Malcolm is loaded. Moreover, Malcolm's Labor credentials, as pointed out recently by the ever-perceptive Bob Ellis, are impeccable. Malcolm fought valiantly for the Republic, is as passionate a climate change believer as you will find this side of Newtown, and despite his staggering wealth boasts a strong working class pedigree. Labor, as Ellis makes clear, would have no problem taking him on board.
But would Malcolm want to? Funnily enough, it would probably be easier for him to hop into bed with Labor than to try and claw back the Liberal leadership. The more Malcolm shows of his own true colours, the more the right of the Liberal party rail against him; with the Menzies House website labeling his speech ''The return of treacherous Turnbull.” Not a lot of love there.
“Let me say straight up that the question of whether or to what extent human activity is causing global warming is not a matter of ideology… or of belief.  The matter is simply one of risk management,” he continued, cunningly conflating his own renowned business skills with advocacy for the carbon tax. This wasn’t a speech aimed at confused Liberals. This was a message to the soul and brain of Labor. A message that says loud and clear: “Got a carbon tax to sell, guys? I’m your man.”
If Malcolm were to jump ship, many problems would simultaneously be solved. First and foremost, the prime-ministership would be back within his grasp, which is, after all, his sole ambition. Deliciously, it would also put him in a position to savagely attack Tony Abbott, an opportunity he is clearly salivating for. And above all, it would allow Malcolm to sleep at night over the one issue that genuinely seems to trouble his conscience.
And for Labor? The opportunity to re-take the moral high ground on climate change, re-jig its emissions scheme, shrug the Green monkey off its back, consolidate the Independents (Rob Oakeshott was gushing over Malcolm's speech), give Kevin Rudd the finger, and put Julia back where she is best suited (running kindergartens). Oh, and it would also give them a pretty good crack at winning the next election.
Sounds like a sound business decision to me.

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