The good news for Malcolm Turnbull is that he was sworn in early Tuesday as Australia’s fourth prime minister in two tumultuous years. The bad news for Malcolm Turnbull is that he was sworn in early Tuesday as Australia’s fourth prime minister in two tumultuous years. And the clock is already ticking on what may too soon become the position’s latest short reign.
The nation has turned its lonely eyes to this 60–year-old former political journalist, Rhodes Scholar, barrister, investment banker and venture capitalist, now that he has ousted Tony Abbott in a leadership challenge that caught many off guard, especially Alan Jones, a prominent right-wing broadcaster who once scolded Turnbull that he had “no hope, ever, of being the leader” and should just “get that into your head.”
But Turnbull has done more than merely join the tail end of a parade of premiers depicted so irreverently by Buzzfeed. He has also positioned himself to be the one to lead Australia out of its economic doldrums. Indeed, perhaps predictably, he said shortly after his election by a 54-44 Liberal Party vote:
I’m filled with optimism, and we will be setting out in the weeks ahead . . . more of those foundations that will ensure our prosperity in the years ahead.
Now, it is key to understand that the Liberals, despite their name, are the more conservative of the nation’s two major parties and that Turnbull is considered a moderate, in large part because of his support of gay marriage, a woman’s right to choose and stem-cell research, all in opposition to both the party and the Catholic Church, to which he is a convert (from Presbyterianism).
The unfortunate fact for Turnbull is that he now leads a country that, as Reuters writes, is just coming to grips with not only the end of a mining boom that had largely sustained it but also with the sort of “backroom machinations and party coups” that have resulted in his own rise to power and eroded corporate confidence in Canberra, the capital.
To get here, Turnbull in effect channeled Bill Clinton’s “it’s the economy, stupid,” tagline, trading in on Abbott’s penchant for sparring with his opponents, rather than focusing on the fiscal crisis, and on his reputation for looking backward when it came to areas with the potential for economic growth.
As befits a man who made millions in the tech industry, Turnbull says he’ll bank on technology, a promise that already has energized the country’s startup and tech entrepreneurs. His advice to his countrymen is to “embrace disruption,” telling Business Insider:
The Australia of the future has to be a nation that is agile, that is innovative, that is creative. We can’t be defensive. We can’t future-proof ourselves. We have to recognize that the disruption that we see driven by technology, the volatility in change, is our friend if we are agile and smart enough to take advantage of it.
Yet, despite such enthusiasm and his undeniable business bona fides, there exists little confidence in some quarters that Turnbull will be able to reverse the country’s fortunes. Time magazine certainly sounded pessimistic when it followed up on the bursting of the mining bubble by writing that China’s faltering economy was having a domino effect:
The Chinese economy — and its demand for Australian iron ore and other commodities — now appears to be slowing faster than expected. The emerging giant has been Australia’s most important export market since 2009. China alone accounted for nearly 80 percent of the value of Australia’s export growth since 2013, a contribution that’s about ten times the size of that from developed market partners like Japan or the United States . . . As China’s reform process slows the country’s growth . . . Australia is already feeling the pain.
Australian business leaders were quick to downplay concerns that China’s problems were disproportionately impacting them and dismissed the weakening of the Chinese economy as a “time of transition.” But many are nonetheless keeping a wary eye on the oft-volatile fluctuations of the world’s second-largest economy.
For even if China were to experience an unexpected boom, it would take time for it to trickle down to Australia, where the jobless rate, according to The Guardian, has held steady at 6 percent even as young Australians – the demographic counted on to drive Turnbull’s “new economy” – find themselves increasingly jobless, unmarried and facing a less than desirable future of moving in with their parents.