Australian voters will remember the secret national meeting we all held on election eve. You know, the one where we decided to stick it to the major parties by voting for a hung parliament.
What? You missed it? So did I. In fact, the hung parliament option did not even appear on my ballot paper! Along with an overwhelming 82 per cent of voters, I cast a vote for either the Coalition or the Labor Party.
That’s why I’m slightly puzzled by the emerging orthodoxy of Australia’s political commentators, not to mention the newly empowered Independents, that the electorate voted against “old politics” and the major parties. Nonsense. The fact that the two parties ended up with a similar seat count gives rise to only one story: that an incompetent government has been given the greatest electoral rebuke of any first term government since the Great Depression.
It’s lucky our political journalists are not on the sports pages, or a surprise tie in the Grand Final would be reported as a vote against traditional football.
Unfortunately, much of the commentary seems to have gone to the heads of the three country Independents, each of whom appears to believe he has been elected as President of Australia. Instead of engaging in reasonable discussions over forming government, they have demanded that we revolutionise the Australian political system which has served our nation well since Federation. That does not sound to me like a recipe for “stable government”.
I assumed Robert Oakeshott was joking when he suggested including Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull in an Abbott or Gillard Cabinet as a recipe for stability, but it appears he was not. When I hear “consensus government”, I reach for my wallet - it means I’ll have to pay for all the crazy ideas instead of just half of them. Australia made it though World War II without a government of national unity. I imagine we can survive a hung parliament without one.
Meanwhile, our self-proclaimed masters have requested access to confidential Treasury costings on the policies of both sides - although even an incoming Prime Minister would not receive this privilege! But Bob Katter assures us that he is “used to power” as he comes “from a family that's had a lot of power over five generations in Australia”. Pardon my impudence and let me kowtow before our Independent feudal overlords.
The most disturbing element of our new political situation is not the extravagant demands of the Independents, but the craven appeasement with which Julia Gillard has met them.
The public service prepares separate briefings for incoming Labor and Coalition governments. These briefings include costings of the respective sides’ policy announcements. When the election is decided, the loser’s briefing is destroyed.
There is good reason for this convention. It ensures that the public service can provide frank and fearless advice to the incoming government without fear that their briefings will be used for political attacks.
Now the Independents would like to transform our public service from advisers to the government and alternative government into adjudicators of each side’s claim to economic supremacy. They even want briefings from senior public servants on the implications of the major parties’ policies. It is obvious that such a role would hopelessly compromise the perception and reality of an apolitical public service.
Tony Abbott has never looked more Prime Ministerial than when he rebuffed the men who hold his future in their hands. Julia Gillard has never looked less like a leader than when she declared her predisposition to sacrifice our political institutions for her career. She is not negotiating; she is capitulating.
Her attempt to grovel her way into power may well succeed, if the Independents conclude they would prefer a doormat to a Prime Minister, but at what price to the country? If the Real Julia cannot stand up to a handful of overreaching, protectionist Independents to defend our system of government, what hope that she will resist their calls to reverse course on the bipartisan economic policies of Hawke, Keating, Howard and Costello?
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