Lauren Gross determines whether a change in leadership will result in real change for Australia.
When Tony Abbott was ousted in a lib-spill last month and replaced by Malcolm Turnbull, some comments on social media were elated at Abbott’s booting. Others were indifferent and claimed that Turnbull, another Liberal, was just more of the same and nothing would actually change.
Like Abbott, Turnbull is a Catholic, but he is not ultra conservative. In the past he has supported legislation to relax restrictions on women obtaining the abortion pill RU486, a strong indication that he believes in women’s rights. Abbott, on the other hand, once described abortion as a ‘national tragedy’ and ‘the easy way out’.
Turnbull has also voiced his concerns about climate change and supported Kevin Rudd’s emission trading scheme. This is in sharp contrast to Abbott who once described climate change as ‘absolute crap’ and warned against the health risks of wind turbines (despite there being no actual evidence of such risks). Perhaps most importantly, Turnbull believes that same sex couples should have the same basic right as heterosexual couples to marry. Contrarily, Abbott once described homosexuality as a ‘fad’ that he was “a little bit threatened by“. Turnbull has also supported legislation on other crazy, 21st century things, like therapeutic cloning.
If the polls are anything to go by, these more modern views have seemed to earn Turnbull the support of the Australian public. But they have also made the more conservative members of the Liberal party weary of him. To gain the support he needed to overthrow Abbott, Turnbull promised his Liberal colleagues that he would follow the party line. This means that he will not pursue an emissions trading scheme and is committed to a plebiscite on same-sex marriage.
So will these more progressive views actually result in change, if Turnbull has sold he soul to the Liberals?
Well he’s already made a significant change to the cabinet. The number of women have grown from an embarrassing two, to a more acceptable five. For the first time in Australia’s history a women is the Minister for Defence. Gone are die-hard conservatives Kevin Andrews and Eric Abetz, and younger MPs like Kelly O’Dwyer, Josh Frydenberg and Simon Birmingham are in. There are more supporters of marriage equality in the cabinet than there was when Abbott was in the top job.
But there are still ultra-conservatives in the party room and Turnbull has promised that all policies will go through the usual party room and cabinet processes.
While any huge, immediate change is unlikely, at least the man running the country is more ‘in sync’ with what the 2015 Australian community wants, instead of a man who appeared to still be living in the 1920s. We have now got someone who can string two coherent sentences together during a press conference, doesn’t reply in the ‘we stopped the boats, the carbon tax is gone’ slogan, and who has thus far, not thought it was a great idea to tuck into an onion in public. Turnbull has also said that policies will continually be up for review, which could mean anything, but with a more progressive cabinet at the helm, there is a much greater chance that the resulting discussion will represent Australia’s views more accurately. The cabinet is the first step in the right direction, and with more support, who knows what Turnbull can achieve. He is certainly better than that other guy.