Democracy Sausage 26/04/20

26 April 2020

SUBJECTS: The impact of Coronavirus on the economy; The Global Financial Crisis; Australia’s economic recovery; Commonwealth-State relations; Industrial relations reform; climate change and energy; Australia’s economy before the Coronavirus crisis; Measuring progress; JobKeeper; JobSeeker; Scott Morrison’s leadership style; Malcolm Turnbull’s book.


SUBJECTS: The impact of Coronavirus on the economy; The Global Financial Crisis; Australia’s economic recovery; Commonwealth-State relations; Industrial relations reform; climate change and energy; Australia’s economy before the Coronavirus crisis; Measuring progress; JobKeeper; JobSeeker; Scott Morrison’s leadership style; Malcolm Turnbull’s book.

MARK KENNY, DEMOCRACY SAUSAGE: Mark Kenny here, and thanks for joining us on this episode of Democracy Sausage Extra. A few days ago we spoke to the ABC's Chief Economics Correspondent Emma Alberici and ANU economist, Professor Bob Breunig, about the COVID crisis and the massive hit to the economy, globally and domestically. Today, I speak to another product of the Australian National University, where he undertook his PhD, Dr Jim Chalmers, who is, of course, the Shadow Treasurer. Jim, welcome to Democracy Sausage.

JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: Thanks for the opportunity, Mark. I'm looking forward to it.

KENNY: Really glad to have you here. It's obviously a very extraordinary time, economically as well as in terms of public health. But before we get to all of that, you're a Queenslander by birth. How did you come to be studying in Canberra at ANU?

CHALMERS: You're right, Mark. I'm a born and bred Queenslander. When I finished some work in the Queensland public service after I'd done some undergraduate study at Griffith University, I thought if I was ever a chance to come back and teach or work at Griffith, then it would be good to have a couple of different universities on my CV. I got some good advice from people I trusted, and they said that the ANU was a really good place to study politics in particular. I was aware of a great guy called John Warhurst, who you know as well. He's a real institution at the ANU, and I had the opportunity to work with John.

KENNY: He's been on this podcast before.

CHALMERS: He is terrific, as you know. He is just one of the greats of that field and I got to work with him and another great guy called John Hart, who was at the ANU for a long time. And also a guy that we unfortunately lost this month, an amazing guy called David Adams, who used to be across the hallway from me. He's just passed away this month, but he's another of the greats of ANU. I got to work with all of them. I had a great time at ANU and had a really good experience there.

KENNY: And when you were at ANU doing that doctoral research, did it occur to you at the time that you'd be spending a lot of your life in Canberra? You went on, of course, to be a political adviser. You worked for Kim Beazley. You worked for Wayne Swan. You were Wayne Swan's Chief of Staff through the GFC, indeed. Of course you're now an MP yourself and Shadow Treasurer; you could end up being this nation's top economic minister. So, a very Canberra-centric career as well.

CHALMERS: I don't necessarily see it that way. Obviously it did cross my mind that I wanted to be involved in national politics in one way or another when I went to the ANU but I had that seed planted in my mind by my modern history teacher, another amazing guy called Norbert Greulich. I thought politics was something that other people got involved in. I thought it was something for the people who had connections or were from the fancy suburbs or something like that. I didn't have any of that. But I had the seed of an idea when I went to the ANU and I didn't know how things would play out, but I always wanted to make some sort of contribution nationally. I don't really see that as Canberra-centric, necessarily. The best thing about this job is you get to do the high-end policy work at the same time as you get to be a form of a social worker, help people out in our local community, speak up for people and stand up for people in my area, an area which has traditionally been pretty disadvantaged.

KENNY: Okay. It's a very good point you make about being Canberra-centric. Obviously, you're an MP and you have a very large constituency to service. Also being a frontbencher, you have to move around the country a lot, presumably as well. So it's not just about being in Canberra, but nonetheless, it is certainly the place where I guess you come to make that difference, to deliver for the people of your electorate and to pursue the policy ideas that that you're committed to.

CHALMERS: Yes, absolutely. If you care about your community enough that you want to serve it and you care about your country enough that you want to change it, then the main game is obviously national politics. I got a sense pretty early on that it's something I wanted to be involved in. I didn't quite envisage how things would play out but I knew I wanted to do something in this general space and I'm really pleased to get the opportunity.

KENNY: I remember being a journalist in the Press Gallery during the Global Financial Crisis, watching the election of the Rudd Government, the very rosy forecasts at that time for the Budget, for the economy. And then the GFC hit and it changed everything. It must have been extraordinary to be a Senior Adviser in that process and to watch that unfold. How do you feel about the fact that within the space of a dozen years you're witnessing two of these enormous ructions, and the second one, the one we're in now, the COVID crisis really dwarfing the earlier GFC?

CHALMERS: Yeah, it is pretty remarkable to have two events of this magnitude within the space of a dozen years. It's extraordinary. Very few people saw the GFC coming. Almost nobody, to this magnitude, saw COVID coming. Yes, it has been a really turbulent time in the economy and in societies more broadly. It's a bit different this time around. I think the main difference is that that was genuine a financial crisis with massive economic consequences right around the world. This time the economic consequences flow from the decisions taken to close down the economy to try and contain the virus for all the right reasons. This time around the Government's got one foot on the accelerator at the same time as they've got the other foot on the brake. They're shutting down the economy at the same time as they're trying to keep it alive. That's what makes this time different and incredibly complex, too.

KENNY: I guess this is inviting you to be quite partisan about it, but nonetheless, I'd be interested to hear your view about it; Labor is obviously providing a great deal of bipartisanship to the Government through this crisis. There's been very little sitting of Parliament. I know Labor wanted to see more sittings of Parliament itself, but you've waived through all three of the stimulus packages. There have been attempts to make some changes and indeed you have negotiated some extra money. But is there a sense in your mind that that wasn't the case during the GFC? There was certainly a more partisan atmosphere about some of the stimulus spending then.

CHALMERS: It's not just the sense, it's a fact that in the worst part of the GFC, in the depths of the of the financial crisis in 2008-09 the then-Opposition, the Liberals and Nationals, voted against most of the stimulus which turned out to be a big factor in getting Australians through the crisis. One of the things that we learned from observing the behaviour of the Opposition then is that we are determined under Anthony's leadership to be more constructive and more responsible. You're right that being constructed doesn't mean being silent. If we think things can be done better, if we think there's a lack of urgency in what they're proposing, then we've made those points, too. But overwhelmingly we've said all along we'll be as supportive as we can of what the Government's proposing to do here. I think there are really high expectations on the political system during a crisis like this that we do try and find common ground. That's what we've been doing. When the history is written of this period and it's compared with the history written about the GFC, one of the main differences this time around will be a more constructive Opposition.

KENNY: Do you think the Opposition as it was then, the Government now, has learnt from that process? Because obviously, as you say, there was a lot of politics played during the GFC and pretty much ever since then the dominant narrative from the Coalition has been that Labor was profligate, that it spent far too much, there was there was waste, there was what Scott Morrison referred to at one stage as a "fiscal hangover". None of that's going to seem like a hill of beans, really, compared to the scale of spending and economic disruption that we're seeing coming out of this crisis. Do you think the Liberal Party will be changed as a result in an ideological sense, and less inclined to be so partisan, or is that just wishful thinking?

CHALMERS: I don't know if they're permanently changed, but they should be chastened. Because what we learned in this crisis is that all of that rubbish over the last 10 or 12 years has been just that. It's not the most important thing, but one of the galling things about this is as you would have seen on Four Corners the other night when David Speers did that show about the Government's response, all the same characters who have been deriding government intervention in the economy, saying that stimulus is a farce, saying that there was a debt and deficit disaster, were all lined up to take credit for the decisions taken during this period. I think that's as good an illustration of any that history is casting its own verdict on how they behaved then in 2009 and how they've behaved since. The most important thing is that they have learned some kind of lesson. We welcome the fact that they've had a change of heart. Clearly, when economies are in crisis and hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Australian jobs are threatened, then that calls for governments to contemplate things that they wouldn't contemplate in normal times. That's the lesson of the GFC. That's the lesson from now as well.

If they've learned the lesson 2009, we want to make sure that they've learned the lesson of 2014 as well. You would have covered that first horror Budget of the then-Abbott-Hockey Government. What they did then was they managed coming out of the crisis badly by asking the most vulnerable people in the community to carry a disproportionate load when it came to paying the debt back. We hope that they've learnt from that as well, and not just from the earlier period.

KENNY: It's a really good point, because they very much justified that on this attack on Labor's GFC spending. You know, that we have to do this rapid budget repair and they used it as an excuse to flout some of the promises they'd made and pursue very tough budget repair mechanisms. Do you think that temptation will be there? I mean, obviously, this time it's them doing the spending and in the first few years, it will be them presumably looking to have a response to that. The question is, what will that response be? At the moment, we seem to hear some fairly encouraging messages from the Government. It's talking about new thinking, about things being back on the table. It's talking about using growth to manage the debt rather than harsh fiscal repair. You've watched the Liberal Party for a long time. Will there be people inside it asking for tough measures to get the budget back into balance?

CHALMERS: Yeah, I think there will, Mark. For a lot of people on that side of politics, that's the reflex reaction. But let's see what they come up with. They've pushed the Budget back to October. They've started sending up the smoke signals about what they want to focus on. If Australians have been asked to make all these sacrifices, we get through it, we deal with the health issues, we come out the other side, then it'll be disappointing for Australians if all of a sudden the Government says, oh look it turns out that all the solutions to the future economy are all the same things that we've been banging on about for the last seven years. I think people will be disappointed in that. I think that the country and certainly the Labor Party are up for a really big conversation about what the country looks like after the Coronavirus wards empty. We've got to make sure that conversation doesn't just focus on the narrow confines of all the old arguments about industrial relations, red tape and the like. We need to have a proper conversation about how we create jobs after the virus is dealt with.

KENNY: Let's take a quick break there. And when we come back, we'll talk about some of those ideas and whether politics and economics have been changed by this or if we'll just to go back to the old tram lines of division we've seen in the past.


KENNY: Welcome back. Jim, you were talking about the temptations that political parties have, I suppose, to revert to type after this. Scott Morrison at a press conference on the day we're recording this, Thursday, was asked about the idea of a national summit, very much reviving something that Bob Hawke did very successfully, and to some extent what Kevin Rudd did as well with his 2020 ideas which led to the Henry Tax Review among other things. His response was interesting. He said they've got a rolling summit happening at the moment, really, by virtue of this national cabinet. There has been talk of this national cabinet continuing on after this crisis has passed, whenever that will be. What's your assessment of the national cabinet, this much more cooperative framework between the feds and the State Governments and what appears to be a new oneness in the federation?

CHALMERS: I think it's important, particularly during a crisis, that you've got a way to manage, transact and process all of these fast moving issues. To that extent I think that group has done a reasonable job, with some exceptions. For those of us who've been long-term believers in the possibilities of Commonwealth-State relations and cooperation, and COAG's agenda and all of that, it's really just another way of saying that COAG matters. The relationship between the feds and the State Governments matter in particular. If the Prime Minister is flagging a recommitment to COAG, which has been diminished a bit over recent years, that's a good thing because some of these things can only be done with Commonwealth-State cooperation. If he recognises that, that's good. There's also an opportunity for a broader conversation beyond just the leaders of the Commonwealth and State Governments. Business has got an important voice and they use it; that's good, but it's not the only voice. Again, we need the labour movement and the community sector involved. We need to recognise that we've seen what it's like to rely more on expert advice, on the institutional side of things. Let's not artificially limit ourselves. Let's have a big, broad conversation about what matters most to us. Let's measure that progress more effectively. Another passion project of mine in the economy is to work out how we build on all the traditional ways that we measure economic progress and include some other ideas as well. Now's a good opportunity for that too. Let's do that. I don't think by nature Morrison is a natural consensus builder, but if this crisis has encouraged him down that path, then then that's a good thing.

KENNY: It'll be really interesting. It's a very acute observation of him, but at the same time, I think we'd all concede that the Prime Minister we saw during the bushfires is not the Prime Minister we've seen during the Coronavirus crisis. Perhaps because of the epic failure of the bushfires, the way he handled that and the political damage that it did to him, he went into this Coronavirus crisis as it unfolded knowing that he couldn't afford to mismanage it in that way. There have been some mistakes but broadly speaking, I think we've seen a side of Scott Morrison that certainly wasn't evident in that early crisis. Would you concede that?

CHALMERS: Not to be unkind about it, but I think he set expectations so low during the bushfire crisis; I am genuinely trying not to be flippant about your very serious question, but I think expectations were pretty low. On the days where he exceeds the expectations that he established during the bushfire crisis, people are prepared to give him marks for that. But I don't think he is by nature or inclination, a very inclusive or consensus-oriented leader. But I say genuinely, if this crisis has encouraged him down that path, then good, because the challenges ahead of us are so great and so substantial that the old binary politics-as-usual won't cut it. If we've got a long tail of unemployment, for example, if we've got hundreds of thousands of Australians who find it really hard to make their way back into the labour market, then these are challenges which should be bigger and more important than who wins the political barney on the six o'clock news.

KENNY: One of those areas in which there clearly could be gains from a greater level of consensus is in the labour market, as you've mentioned. Having unions and the labour movement involved in a more constructive and participatory way would be a marked change from the rhetoric and atmosphere that this Government has set up. It's very much pursued the idea of, unions are run by thugs, and it's Ensuring Integrity Bill was one of the things dredged up from the last term and put back onto the agenda this time. It will be interesting to see whether the Government continues with that in light of Christian Porter's, the Industrial Relations Minister, new and constructive relationship with Sally McManus at the ACTU. There are some signs that the Government is getting that and realises that there may be some gains here in being less antagonistic and more constructive and consultative. Is that your view?

CHALMERS: Clearly there have been more discussions between the Government and the unions than there have been for the rest of the life of this Government and that's a good thing. It shouldn't be remarkable for a Government of either political persuasion to engage with the ACTU and with other peak organisations. Certainly when Labor's in government, we engage with the peak business organisations and the peak union representatives. It shouldn't be remarkable when the Liberals do that in office. What worries me is that the relationship between the ACTU and the Government might become an historical oddity which is all about this crisis and it doesn't carry on. The reason I'm concerned about that or worried that that won't carry on is because all of the old rhetoric is coming back now. They want to have another go at the Integrity Bill, which is essentially a union bashing bill. They pushed through a really sneaky change around agreement-making just last week. All of the talk is about reviving the old IR agenda that they've been keen to revive for some years now.

Take the politics out of it, the reason I think that's troubling is because one of the big things we learned from this crisis is just how precarious people's work lives are. The idea that you would introduce into that mix more flexibility which is code in many cases for insecurity is mad. We've got a massive problem with insecure work and stagnant wages in this economy. The idea that you would tilt the balance even further against millions of Australian workers is just learning precisely the wrong message from what's just.

KENNY: What you're talking about here is the provision they put through, or as you say snuck through, which allows employers to reduce the amount of consultation time they give workers when they're making changes to Enterprise Bargaining Agreements, those that exist outside and above the Award. That's now down to 24 hours and it happens right at a time when, as you say, there's a huge amount of insecurity in the labour market. There are many people who are worried about their jobs, their whole industries, and you're saying that is not a good sign?

CHALMERS: Yeah, absolutely. That change to the agreement-making process was unwarranted. It came out of the blue. You can imagine that for a lot of vulnerable workers, the idea that they can get good advice on an Agreement within a 24 hour period is fanciful. Something you just said then, Mark, you rightly identified that a lot of workers are worried. I think it's so much more than that. People are petrified about their jobs right now for obvious reasons, absolutely petrified. But they're also -

KENNY: Is that what you're picking up as a - sorry to interrupt you there, Jim - but is that what you're picking up as an MP?

CHALMERS: Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah. People in tears. They're petrified. The other thing about that is that's the near-term fear that they have, but they're also really frightened about what the future looks like. They don't want to be written out of the story of the future of Australia, which is written after this crisis subsides. They're frightened about whether they fit in the economy that exists after this crisis. They know it's been a big reset. They know that all of the old certainties in one way or another been blown up. The worried conversations they have in hushed tones after their kids go to bed are about what the future looks like for them. They've got commitments. Household debt was already at record highs before the crisis hit. They've got all kinds of commitments. I think one of the reasons why the onus is on us to come back to some of those earlier questions, to be responsible and constructive, and why the onus is on Scott Morrison to be more inclusive and to seek consensus more genuinely, and to involve the States, is because this in the end isn't actually about a political contest. It's about the story of Australia after that and whether real people in real communities are written into that story. Right now if you talk to enough people, there is enough fear that they're going to miss out, that there's going to be a generation of people who miss out after this. That's the most important thing we have to focus on.

KENNY: What do you think, within that framework, is the key to that? I mean, wages for example. Obviously jobs are important. Going back to the point about changing the consultation time for EBAs. The logic of that was that a lot of industries and employers are facing dramatically reduced demand and difficult circumstances and so might need to make quite quick adjustments to their operations. You know, that's kind of understandable at one level. But what do you think, looking forward, is the key to the recovery? Is it to do something about stagnant wages? And if it is, what is that thing? How do we unlock wages growth, for example?

CHALMERS: The most important thing is you keep as many people attached for the time being, because that impacts on how you recover out of this. You would know from the early 90s recession that a lot of people who lost their jobs then didn't find their way back in the labour market, particularly older male workers. That was a massive, massive problem. So it matters what we do now with that challenge as to what the recovery looks like.

Clearly, you've got to grow the economy in a more inclusive way. That means getting energy policy, right. It means having the preconditions for good manufacturing, for example. The preconditions are not just energy, but research and development, skills; all of those agendas as well. A crisis of this magnitude also means you've got to look at labour market programs. You've got to look at whether the Government has to do more to keep more people attached to the labour market. All of those things will have an impact on wages. At the same time, you've got to guard against the kind of industrial relations changes that'll make it harder for people to get good wage outcomes, and we've dealt with those, too.

KENNY: What about unlocking the freeze on public sector wages growth, for example? I mean, it constitutes a significant part of the economy and it's very rarely spoken about. But we need to do something, don't we, to increase competition in the labour market, increase competition for labour. Surely the public sector holds some of the key there?

CHALMERS: That's one of the interesting points that the Reserve Bank Governor made before the crisis. It surprised a lot of people. It's not a typical position for the Governor of the Reserve Bank to take say perhaps the public sector could lead here on wages growth. That just gives you a sense of the scale of the problem more broadly, that the RBA Governor was saying that we've had historically stagnant wages. Even before this we had record household debt, declining living standards, the economy just wasn't growing strongly enough or in a way to give people the wages growth that they need.

A big part of that story is that even for people who are working, a lot of people are underemployed. They want to work more hours and they can't find the hours that they need. That's why work's been so insecure. One of the most devastating numbers that have been released in the last little while was actually the one from the Reserve Bank Governor earlier this week where he said that he thinks about a fifth of the hours worked in the economy will disappear in the first half of this year. That's just a phenomenally confronting thing to think about. When we already had a problem with underemployment, we've lost about 20 per cent of the hours in the economy. They obviously won't just miraculously return by the end of the year. Another really important thing, I think Mark, is this idea of "snap back" that you've heard Scott Morrison talk about. This assumption that in six months' time you can pull all of the support out of the economy because it would have miraculously snapped back to life. I think it remains to be seen. It would be a good thing if it does happen, but I'm sceptical that that's what we'll see happen. I think this crisis for a lot of people will have a pretty long tail.

KENNY: Yeah, it does look like that earlier talk of snap back just seems increasingly unlikely, maybe even ridiculous now given the scale of this thing and the multiple ways in which the downturn is manifesting, particularly that point you make about fewer hours, for example. Underemployment was a problem already. Some of the assistance, obviously the JobKeeper program, presumably the JobSeeker doubling of the dole, lasts for a set period of time. We don't know at this stage how long this crisis is going to go for. We don't know whether that's going to be adequate. Labor, since the election, has certainly taken the view that the old unemployment benefit, Newstart, was inadequate. The Government has doubled it with this JobSeeker payment. What's Labor's position on it now? Obviously you support that increase, but would you support it becoming permanent now? Is that the declared position of the Opposition?

CHALMERS: We haven't come to a view on a dollar figure, Mark. First of all, the Government needs to stay a bit flexible about when they turn off the support that's in the economy, because as you rightly say, there's a lot of uncertainty about when things will be much better. It matters how you turn off some of this support almost as much as it matters how you turned it on in the first place. If you withdraw the support too quickly, then you stop the recovery in its tracks. That's something that we've been encouraging the Government publicly and privately that to consider. When it comes to the permanent level of -

KENNY: Sorry, it certainly wasn't turned on too quickly, was it?

CHALMERS: No and we had some things to say about what we saw as a lack of urgency in all of that. In terms of the permanent level of what used to be called Newstart, and now is called JobSeeker, we made the case for some time that we thought it was inadequate. We thought it was bad for the economy and bad for the job seeker to be asked to live on $40 a day. Really to come back to what we were saying before about building a consensus in the community, it's really only the Morrison Government who thinks that the old level of Newstart was sufficient. There is an amazing consensus behind a higher level of unemployment benefit. John Howard, and the BCA, the union movement, the Labor Party, ACOSS and other community groups are in that cart. The most broadly supported change in the economic policy suite is that we can do a bit better for people on unemployment benefits. So if they're looking for a consensus, then maybe there's an opportunity there.

KENNY: Especially seeing as they are now going to regrettably constitute a much larger slice of the voting population as well. I mean, perhaps if one was cynical one would say that when the ranks of the unemployed rapidly swelled as this crisis unfolded, when they became numerically and electorally important by virtue of their number, suddenly had some political clout and got a sudden doubling. Until then it felt like there were no votes in the unemployed and they were languishing on $40 a day.

Look, we've only got a few minutes left and there are two other things, perhaps more optimistic, that we can go to. One of them is something you mentioned before; the new respect for expertise, which we're seeing out of this. Many people obviously make the comparison with the somewhat more hostile relationship between policy and expertise in the climate space. But governments, State and Federal, have been very strongly guided by medical expertise, scientific expertise if you will, through this crisis. My sense is that this has actually also reenergised politics, that it's restored some level of faith in politics. Voters want to see their governments enacting evidence-based policy. They don't want to see the kind of theatrics that has dominated politics for so long. I'm wondering whether that at least might be a lesson that everyone across the political class will absorb.

CHALMERS: Yeah, hopefully again, it's not one of those temporary oddities from this period. I think climate change is the most obvious area where the scientific consensus has been diminished and attacked at times in a really quite unedifying way. If this is a lesson to more of the political system and more of the broader community that we can do more to listen to experts then that'd be a really good development.

There are probably five changes that I think this has brought about: it's made people realise how precarious their financial situation and work lives are; maybe temporarily, it's made people have more regard for expert advice and also see that governments can move quickly to address problems - that's been a difference; for a lot of people it's changed the way we work and made us reconsider our work life balance, where we work from and this is an example of that; it's made us reconsider what's essential, not just in our own lives but in our economy and the kind of workers; and the fifth thing which others are engaging with is about whether the drawbridge has come up, because of the closure of the international borders and all of that sort of thing.

If this is a big reset what can we preserve from it that matters to us, and a greater reliance on experts would be a really good thing for us to maintain.

KENNY: Yes, it's an excellent point. Can I just get your reaction finally on "A Bigger Picture", Malcolm Turnbull's book? I'm not sure whether you've had a chance to wade through it yet. We had an earlier discussion where you were making the point that you were quite moved by his account of his, I guess, his mental health deterioration after he lost the leadership as Leader of the Opposition back in 2009. What what's your reaction? What are your thoughts about this prime ministerial memoir?

CHALMERS: Yeah, I haven't read it from start to finish. I've been picking at it in the areas that interest me. Clearly the most fascinating bit from my point of view, the most moving bit, was just to understand how low he got after he lost the leadership the first time. I found that really moving in and listening to him talk about it in interviews, particularly the one with Leigh Sales the other night, I found that confronting because the reality is that this political life is a really rugged, difficult, emotional existence. We don't want people to get the violins out, we choose this life and there's a massive upside; we get to make a contribution. But every once in a while somebody says something or writes something which makes you think about just what a rugged existence it is, particularly for Prime Ministers who are more-or-less permanently in the public spotlight. I also read the parts about climate change and energy. There are policy passions of mine. I was interested in these reflections on the various false starts on all of that. I haven't read every bit of it. I probably will get around to reading it from start to finish. I think it's good that that politicians from all sides give people an insight into their thinking. Whether you like them or not, whether you think they are a success or not, whether they're from your side of politics or your inclination politically or not, I've always tried to immerse myself in those kind of biographies and autobiographies because you learn a lot from them.

KENNY: Yes, it's really interesting. I was also moved by his account of how depressed he got. It was obviously a very dark place that he went to there. To me it indicated a judgement I'd written about at the time, that he brought to the Prime Ministership in 2015 when he took over from Tony Abbott, a degree of emotional scarring from his previous stint as leader and from the violent, I suppose in political terms, circumstances with which that job was ripped off him and which led to that great period of despair.

I think that was probably under-appreciated because the big thing that defined Malcolm Turnbull's time as Prime Minister in many people's minds was his failure to live up to what people thought Malcolm Turnbull stood for. He was a very well recognised figure, perhaps one of the best-known figures to come to the job, in terms of a profile outside of politics. Bob Hawke was in that category, but most of the others have made their profile in Parliament itself. He was known as a republican. He was known for his liberal position on same-sex marriage. He was known as a big backer on emissions trading and of the climate change case. And yet all of those things he traded away and then governed like he was, there's no polite way of putting this, like he was shit scared of his party room welling up on him again. It led really to in the end the very failure, which was the loss of the job, that he seemed to be frightened that he would bring about.

CHALMERS: Yeah, I think that's a really good insight, Mark, because if you think about the kind of disappointment that his supporters had in his prime ministership, I think it's really a function of him having perhaps overlearned the lessons from that first period as leader. Leadership is always a balancing act between leading from the front and making sure that people are following you. In his first iteration of Malcolm, Malcolm 1.0, he was perhaps unable to bring people along. And in Malcolm 2.0, perhaps he wasn't displaying sufficient conviction, particularly on those policy areas where a lot of people were counting on him, whether it's climate change and energy or other areas. I think there was a bit of disappointment that he seems to have over-learned from that first period. It's a bloody hard job, obviously. Everyone does their best and history will cast their judgments on Prime Ministers, but I think that is an important insight. It makes me think of this; I know you're a basketball guy as well, Mark, so you'll appreciate a LeBron James reference, but I read this article once. It was about LeBron James, maybe Tiger Woods and a couple of other athletes. They said what made them great was their capacity to underreact. When there is a massive thing going on, for LeBron James the pulse kind of slows. Michael Jordan would've been the same and others. I think in politics we're not very good collectively at under-reacting. Maybe the absence of that in the second incarnation of Malcolm explains the sort of difficulties that he had.

KENNY: Yeah, that's a terrific comparison to make, actually. I was thinking of the NEG, for example. He actually was proud of saying that he got it through the party room twice, but he still blinked when it came time to take it to the floor because he was told that Abbott and Craig Kelly and a few others might cross the floor. He probably would have had the support of the Opposition at the time -

CHALMERS: Yes, he would have. He would have. It was pretty obvious that he would have had probably 90, nine-zero, per cent of the Parliament which doesn't happen on the really big stuff that often. Clearly you'd have to ask him, but I suspect he'd do things differently. The other thing is that the architect of that was the now-Treasurer. Malcolm shouldn't carry the can on his own for that. There's enough blame for energy uncertainty to go around. Certainly when I was picking the eyes out of the book, because I haven't had time to read the whole thing yet, I think that his personal reflections on after he lost the leadership, and also the reflections on the various missteps in energy policy and climate policy are worth reading.

KENNY: Jim, it's been terrific having you on Democracy Sausage. I hope we can do so again at some stage. It's obviously an extremely interesting and challenging time for the making of economic policy and for the functioning of politics. We're going to see how all of these things play out. I'm sure there'll be good cause to talk with you again. It's great also to have you as an ANU alumnus talking on this ANU-based podcast. Thanks for your time, Jim. It's been terrific.

CHALMERS: Thanks, Mark. It would be good to talk again.

KENNY: And thank you for listening to Democracy Sausage Extra. Stay tuned, I guess, for our regular podcast that comes out on Monday of each week and we'll talk to you again then. Bye for now.