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Can Turnbull pull off his latest soft-shoe shuffle?

What some wanted to see as a crisis, the PM typically saw as an opportunity.

Malcolm Turnbull's need for a reshuffle had some people pronouncing the whole scenario as a crisis of some sort for the government. It obviously riled​ some in the media that Turnbull didn't rush to reshuffle immediately after the Jamie Briggs departure and the standing aside of Mal Brough. But wisely, the PM waited until finding out the intentions of Warren Truss.

In the interim, of course, Stuart Robert got entangled. It's no big deal because hardly any of us knew anything about him.

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Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announces the results of a ministerial reshuffle, to feature six women in cabinet, in the wake of several retirements and resignations. Courtesy ABC News 24.

With Truss's announcement and the new National Party leadership settled, the deck was clear. Andrew Robb, surprisingly, also pulled the plug.

Far from the need for a reshuffle being a crisis I think it was an opportunity. Turnbull saw it coming and maximised the benefit.

Illustration: Jim Pavlidis.
Illustration: Jim Pavlidis. 

In my time Truss was a good minister and team player. He's seen a lot of water under the bridge since then and no doubt that experience was valuable. The attempt to win over a dumped Liberal in order to inflate National Party numbers and thus places in cabinet was however a bad miscalculation. Trust between him and the PM must have been damaged, so that, combined with the constant need for new blood, it was probably time to go.

It's  refreshing that the National Party, once seen as the last bastion of an old world, has elected Fiona Nash as their deputy. They won't be sorry.

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How will Barnaby Joyce handle his new role? If he makes it all about him it will be a mess.  Being your own man is one thing, holding the future of others in your hand brings different obligations and responsibilities.

An effective Coalition is vital to good government. It's hard for the junior partner to wield influence without stepping into dangerous  territory. The old "we get what we want or else" scenario is just crude blackmail and reveals an incapacity to negotiate effectively. Speaking from experience, I can say that that tactic and the swagger that comes with its occasional success breeds contempt.

The new firm: Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce.
The new firm: Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce. Photo: Andrew Meares

Thinking ahead will be important for Joyce. His remarks seemingly in support of Stuart Robert exhibited neither insight nor forethought, let alone nuance or finesse. He can't afford to be seen to lack those skills. Only time will tell.

Turnbull now has a fresh bunch of newly promoted people who will be grateful for the chance they have been given. One might expect they'd be fiercely loyal to boot. It will mean an enthusiastic start to the year. A good lead-in to Turnbull's and Scott Morrison's first budget.

The new Nationals: Barnaby Joyce and deputy leader Fiona Nash.
The new Nationals: Barnaby Joyce and deputy leader Fiona Nash. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Speaking of which, the PM said everything would be looked at. Good. No rush. Actually I find the PM's refusal to play the daily "here I am at the centre of the universe" game quite refreshing. I don't want an announcement a day, I want good government. Pressing problems are not solved by daily announcements.

Equally, a PM pretending to be one of the boys as Kevin Rudd was wont to do is a bit ridiculous – or one wanting to be action man eating onions, like Tony Abbott – is disconcerting. Thank heavens Turnbull appears to simply want to do the job.

Some foolish people are out there trying to tag Turnbull as the 'do nothing PM' – all silver tongue and no shovel. Well, I might start collecting those articles so as to be able to send appropriate notes to the authors in due course.

Some foolish people are out there trying to tag Turnbull as the "do nothing PM" – all silver tongue and no shovel. Well, I might start collecting those articles so as to be able to send appropriate notes to the authors in due course.

We say we want good government, where all options are considered. We say we don't want the narrow-minded, short-term fix. I for one am delighted to not be assaulted everyday with all that stuff. Delighted and relieved. When decisions and announcements are made we will all get our chance to decide whether the worker bees have done a good job. I will do so with gratitude that they haven't been buzzing in my ear throughout the process.

The old guard: Tony Abbott flanked by Warren Truss and Andrew Robb.
The old guard: Tony Abbott flanked by Warren Truss and Andrew Robb. Photo: Andrew Meares

Turnbull may understand more than a number of his predecessors. Australians grumble at going to the polls; many of us just want the pollies to get on with the job and then front up in three years when we decide if they've done a good job. Not everybody wants in-your-face politics every day. I think there is a palpable sense of relief that all that flim​ flam, look-at-me stuff is off the agenda.

The May budget will be a good sign of just how much work has been going on behind the scenes. We will see just how much shovelling the PM is up to.

Stuart Robert: "hardly any of us knew anything about him".
Stuart Robert: "hardly any of us knew anything about him". Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Increasing the GST seems to be off the agenda. Personally I think that's a mistake, but for different reasons than the premiers who are so keen on it. They want the Commonwealth to "sell" an increased tax to the people while they just sit back and clip the ticket so they can continue to spend.

If the states want more money there is another way to do it. Simply let them nominate a rate of personal income tax. The Commonwealth would be the collector but the states would have to sell to their constituents why they need to get the extra dollars. They would have to defend their decision to take more money. Making the premiers more responsible to us, the people, would be a good thing.

We can all talk about how our debt isn't as bad as nearly everyone else's, but we'd be wasting our time. Better to look at outward projections as to what happens unless we rein in spending or dramatically increase revenues. It's not attractive. There's easy publicity for doomsayers, but they are not all crackpots.

If there were another global financial crisis, Australia is not as well placed as we were before. That will not be the time to rein in debt. We will not want to spend as madly or badly as Rudd did, but we will have to spend. Unlike the Rudd years, Turnbull will not start debt free. Trusting your luck that the world economy will tick over nicely seems frivolous. It's just not the sort of risk prudent people take. So we have to start getting stuck into that debt.

We can cut spending, we can raise revenue and we can be smarter in how we spend. You can be sure that Morrison and Turnbull are poring over every option they can find to put Australia in a better place. The trick will be to shovel the right options into the budget bag.

Amanda Vanstone is a columnist with The Age and was a minister in the Howard government.

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