People will accept unpopular decisions if they understand the need: Turnbull

Prime Minister Tony Abbott listens to Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull. AAP/Alan Porritt

Leaders must be “explainers and advocates, unravelling complex issues in clear language”, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said, outlining a strategy for selling hard economic messages.

Turnbull also said it was vital, for reasons of both social justice and political reality, that structural changes were seen as being “fair across the board”.

“That means not only must tough decisions be justified, but that the burden of adjustment is not borne disproportionately by one part of the community.”

The key here was not simple wealth redistribution, but “ensuring that good jobs are available to as many as can work”.

Turnbull was delivering the keynote speech on assessing the future of the Asia-Pacific at the US-Australia dialogue in Los Angeles.

One of the Abbott government’s notable problems has been selling its economic message, with critics homing in especially on the issue of fairness.

Turnbull said that across the entire Asia-Pacific, cross-border flows of goods, services and capital were not only increasing, but becoming ever more free. This brought specific challenges for our developed economies and “a new role for political leaders in unravelling complexity”.

“How do countries like Australia and the US maintain our wage levels, our social safety nets, our first-world economies?”

The first challenge was to get across the message that globalisation, convergence and rapid technological change were not going to go away or be able to be resisted.

Governments must remain relentlessly focused on maintaining economic prosperity and competitiveness. That meant acknowledging if popular programs were unsustainable or undermined economic objectives.

“Many would add it means taking unpopular decisions. I would rephrase that by saying it means taking decisions which may not be popular but will be accepted because the public understands why they have to be taken.

"Leaders must be decision-makers, but they must also be, above all, explainers and advocates, unravelling complex issues in clear language that explains why things have to change and why the government cannot solve every problem,” Turnbull said.

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