Cartier Masthead Final Weeks

What Malcolm really, really wants

Jo Scard

So what the heck is happening?

Malcolm Turnbull has recalled the federal parliament on April 18 notionally to debate and pass the Australian Building and Construction Commission bill designed to restore the union watchdog.

Opposition and crossbench Senators are threatening not to debate anything when they’re recalled and hold things up procedurally for days.

The Prime Minister wants a Double-Dissolution election which he’s flagged will be on July 2 but that’s all dependent on the Senate, and the budget has been pulled forward to 3 May to enable it all to happen.


Basically, governments go to the polls when they think they will win or when they think things may get worse and they may not win if they wait.

That’s the case here. Malcolm Turnbull probably hoped for a nurturing, lengthy honeymoon period. However due to the pressures of social media coverage and an informed and cynical electorate, prime ministers aren’t allowed to luxuriate on honeymoons for very long.

We have Tony Abbott telling us that the election will be fought on the Abbott record. Polls are getting tighter. The popularity of the prime minister is dimming a bit. Some media commentators are telling us that the Turnbull government doesn’t have an agenda. Tax reform seems to have been dumped. There’s no ‘vision thing’.

Oh my.

Meanwhile, field-side, more Coalition fringe voices are sucking up attention.

Take outspoken Queensland backbencher George Christensen who spearheaded a backbench petition to garner changes to the Safe Schools program and claimed the program recommended pornographic content, sex shops, sex clubs, role play and adult communities to schoolchildren.

Malcolm Turnbull, like all incumbent prime ministers, is finding the job harder than it appeared observing his predecessors when it comes to managing his own backbench.

The Safe School debate is a good example of Turnbull putting aside his personal views on social issues and his potential to take a leadership role to cater to conservative voices within his own party.

On Monday night this week I watched a documentary by BBC journalist Louis Theroux, Transgender Kids, which spent time with kids in the US.

In the US kids are transitioning earlier following thorough psychological assessment. Theroux spent time with children from three years old through to teenagers. What was obvious was the challenges trans children face not just with their peers but within their own families.

The campaign from George Christensen and others secured scrapping of federal support for the Safe Schools program in primary schools and significant changes in its delivery at high school level.

Putting George Christensen’s views to one side for a moment, there is certainly a strong case to make our schools a safe place for all children. If there are kids navigating trans issues at three years old then we should be able to help them manage that when they’re at primary school. The delivery of the Safe Schools program would be different but schools do need to be thinking and acting on it. Here in Canberra, the ACT government will continue to fund the program and that’s a good thing.

However the relatively liberal population of the ACT are the least of Malcolm’s worries.

So where does that leave us? Expect a 2 July election, that’s where my money is. That’s the date that the Prime Minister really, really wants.

That’s gives him fifteen-week campaign so expect a lot of argy bargy. But also expect to be disappointed because at this point it’s simply about winning, as it always, inevitably is.

Jo Scard is the Managing Director of Fifty Acres – The Communications Agency and tweets at @scardjo

Feature image courtesy of Andrew Meares, Fairfax. 


Jo Scard

With over 20 years' experience in communications, political advisory roles and journalism, Jo Scard is one of Australia’s leading advisers to corporates, Not-For-Profits, organisations and government. Managing Director of communications agency, Fifty Acres which is HQ'd in Canberra, Jo is a respected former political journalist in the UK and Australia working with ITV, Associated Press, Seven Network, SBS, ABC and Fairfax. A former senior adviser to the Rudd and Gillard governments and a trained lawyer she is on the Boards of the Australian Women Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Hockey ACT and a Member of the NSW Council of the Public Relations Institute of Australia. Jo is an Ambassador for the global entrepreneur magazine Renegade Collective and a member of the Registered Consultancies Group of the Public Relations Institute of Australia. She has spent over a decade advising corporates and Not-For-Profits at CEO and board level across strategic communications, government relations and public relations and co-authored the best-selling book The Working Mother’s Survival Guide with Seven’s Melissa Doyle. More about the Author