WHILST neither is perfect, Australia’s major parties boast rich recent records in government: viewed through this prism, the Abbott government insults the Howard years; the offence given to the Hawke-Keating legacy by Labor — an injury allowed to fester for years — is worse. Election 2016 looms as a contest between the useless and the power-mad lawless. True reform has never been more urgent at a time neither party can propose, sell or enact it.
So it comes to this: a vacant Liberal seat in Western Australia, occasioned by the death of a popular but outspoken MP, has become a de facto referendum on the future of Tony Abbott as Prime Minister; observers on all sides of politics agree that if the Liberal Party loses Canning (or even gets run close in a swing falling just short of the 11.2% needed for Labor to win), then Abbott, in all probability, will be finished.
If it came to pass, would anything change?
I want to talk simply today, without links to external resources, about the fraught state into which Australian politics has degenerated since the Howard government was defeated by union muscle, union money, and a set of tacky slogans in 2007; it’s not unreasonable to wonder whether the Howard government will prove in hindsight to have been the last genuinely competent government ever elected in this country, for the present incarnation of the Liberals in office is dreadful: and any switch to the ALP would prove far, far worse.
As things stand, next year’s election is shaping as one of the most abysmal contests for office Australia has ever seen.
In the blue corner sits the Liberal Party: nominally the party of free enterprise, small business, families, individual opportunity and reward for effort — whilst looking after the needy, and protecting traditional institutions and maintaining strong national defences — the Abbott government has proven simply hopeless, and whilst some of the obstacles it faces (hostile Senate, belligerent unions, and a class-obsessed ALP led by a confessed liar) could be overcome or ameliorated by concerted hard work and properly directed strategies, for a raft of reasons it has opted not to do so.
In the red corner sits the Labor Party: supposedly the defender of workers’ welfare, the ALP long ago was hijacked by a bizarre amalgam of compassion-babbling, bleeding heart, anti-Australian socialist chardonnay drunks in the inner cities and an overriding contingent of militant, lawless, violent unions that dictates the party’s every move and utterance; obsessed with power above all other things and to the cost of sound governance, probity in public office, rigorous policy or the sustainability of living standards for those it purports to represent, Labor today is prepared to trash anything or anyone standing in its way of simply winning power for its own (and the unions’) sake.
As things stand, Labor is likely to win office next year; this is not some short-sighted read of a temporary blip in opinion polling but the end consequence of a Liberal government that has chosen to calibrate itself in a way counter to acting in the interests of those by whom it was elected. The Abbott government, if the ALP returns to power, will be largely responsible for allowing such an outcome to materialise. But the storyline will not end there, for Labor will prove even less conducive to capable government than the Abbott Liberals have over the past two years.
Over the past two years, to continue that thread, the Abbott government has racked up two substantial achievements — the abolition of the carbon tax and “stopping the boats,” both of which fulfilled key election promises (Bill Shorten, take note) — but beyond that, there is little to recommend the government’s record.
It has proven utterly incapable of managing a hostile Senate — to be sure, perhaps the most hostile Senate faced by any government in 40 years, if ever — with no evidence that “strategies” and “tactics” deployed to this end are effective in any way other than the superficial.
It has chosen to negotiate with Clive Palmer — an individual sworn to the destruction of the Liberal and National parties — at the cost of billions of dollars to a budget bottom line that, whilst haemorrhaging, formed one of the unquestionable items the Coalition was elected to fix in 2013.
It opted to introduce a budget to that end in 2014 that deliberately and disproportionately targeted its own supporters, and floating Coalition voters in marginal seats in particular; it followed that endeavour up in May with a small business bonanza that proclaimed the “hard” work of budget repair was over despite most of the previous year’s savings being bogged in the Senate.
It promised moderate labour market reform based on recommendations from the (impartial) Productivity Commission, but ran away from such an endeavour at the first sign of obstruction from Labor and the unions.
It promised to develop options for taxation reform, but squibbed that too, preferring instead to handball the logical solution of GST reform to state Premiers where agreement was almost certain not to be forthcoming (and in the end, wasn’t). But it has acceded to a key Labor demand that the GST exemption for online purchases be cut from $1,000 to zero, despite the move set to cost billions more to administer than it will collect in additional GST receipts.
The federal Coalition appears to suffer from an acute case of “David Cameron Syndrome” — that malaise personified by the British Prime Minister when he was leader of the opposition, and whose attempts to be all things to all people (and refusal to take a firm stance on issues identified as most concern to UK voters) resulted in the failure of the Conservative Party to win a majority in that country in 2010, forcing it into a five-year Coalition with the Liberal Democrats.
As we all know, those who try to be all things to all people (and who seek not to offend anyone) end up pleasing nobody: so it is with the Abbott government.
Its ability to communicate with, or sell anything to, a cynical and weary electorate is virtually non-existent.
As for its legislative program, most insiders I know point to the fact Parliament “has passed x number of bills” and is therefore functioning well; the problem is that average voters couldn’t care less about “functionality” — all they see is a distinct lack of tangible outcomes, and certainly this is the case where anything meaningful is concerned.
And functionality is one thing, but strategy is another: faced with such an obstructive Senate, the Abbott government should have been repeatedly introducing key measures twice — with the objective of having them voted down twice — to accrue a plethora of double dissolution triggers that could form a potent policy suite to be passed at a joint sitting following an election for both Houses of Parliament. Instead, it has just one such trigger (the abolition of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation). It’s just not good enough.
All of this has contrived to see the Coalition trail in every published opinion poll for 15 months — a trend that easily negates any statistical flutter from survey to survey — and whilst Labor leads after preferences were at first built on a low primary vote and a ridiculous dependence on preference flows, the ALP vote now has increased to sit, on average, just below 40%.
In other words, the threat to the Coalition isn’t just theoretical any more, for — even if harvested from a backlash — Labor appears to have rebuilt its support base.
Readers know I have been a persistent critic of the Abbott government: not from sour grapes because I didn’t get a staffing role in it (although that certainly grates) but because it is so frustrating to be forced to watch from the sidelines as basic mistakes are incessantly made, and whilst a solid win in 2013 appears increasingly likely to be superseded by defeat after a single term in office.
But only a sycophant could make the case that this government is travelling well, or that it deserves re-election as it stands: it doesn’t. If “friendly fire” backed by sound political judgement — a commodity in sadly short supply in government ranks — can’t influence outcomes for the better, then such assistance is scarcely going to be offered by its opponents.
Yet unbelievably, the “alternative” is far, far worse than the “best” efforts of the Abbott government.
Labor’s only policy interests are those that either pander to the Green fringe and the lunar Left — 50% RET, double-whammy carbon tax, watering down controls on asylum seeker arrivals — or are driven by class hatred and resentment of success (higher taxes for middle Australia, punitive superannuation changes for self-funded retirees, abolishing the private health insurance rebate).
It remains wedded to authoritarian measures such as media “regulation” (read: state control and censorship) and takes a completely illiberal approach to issues such as same-sex marriage, for which it would ram through legislation with cavalier disregard for public opinion or the conscience positions of elected MPs.
It perpetuates the lie that rampant social spending — even on items like welfare payments, Medicare and pharmaceutical benefits — is sustainable on current trajectories when it patently, and clearly, is not.
It refuses to acknowledge fault for plunging the country into some $350 billion of debt in its last period in office when none existed beforehand, and compounds its culpability by now seeking to hold the Coalition — despite Labor’s Senate obstructionism blocking bill after bill of savings measures — responsible for its own management failures.
It shows unprecedented interest in legislating away freedom of speech and even freedom of thought, whilst stifling and sabotaging debate that features dissenting opinions or ideas — from climate change to asylum seekers and from taxation to welfare, the only permitted voice is the one advocating the plunder of Australia’s economic security to facilitate Labor’s short-term political ends.
It is run, funded and dictated to by the union movement, which now represents less than 15% (or one in seven) of all working Australians — hardly a representative movement at all — and is blinded utterly to the requirement of fidelity in government by the political and social objectives of the unions.
Labor seeks to have a Royal Commission into the unions shut down; it apologises for and dismisses violent and criminal conduct by union personnel; it refuses to allow unions to be subjected to reasonable standards of regulation faced by business; and it justifies extortionate and lawless behaviour by unions on the basis they “represent workers” which — broadly — they do not.
It is “led” by a smarmy, sleazy, two-faced unionist who evaded rape charges on the spurious technicality of the lack of admissible evidence, and who has publicly admitted to lying to cover his dishonest, disloyal, treacherous pursuit of his own petty ambitions.
I don’t want to hear about how Labor’s hit list of chip-on-shoulder “initiatives” amounts to “reform,” because it doesn’t, just as I’m not interested in the raw number of bills enacted being held up as proof that the Abbott government is a good government. It’s not.
On the one hand sits an entity that is crazed by a lust for power for power’s sake; determined to be in charge for the explicit benefit of the thugs at Trades Hall, Labor’s only real election offering is the perpetuation of social spending and bribes to entrench cultures of entitlement, dependency and obligation (and the inclination to vote Labor): I’m not talking about basic services or legitimate welfare needs but the vast extravagances either legislated by the ALP before 2013 or committed to now that are unaffordable even if, like the NDIS (with a $22 billion price tag per year) the fundamental idea is worthy enough.
Prepared to say and/or do anything to anyone to just get into power again, Labor has no moral fibre whatsoever; it excuses illegal actions; it doesn’t care whether or not it lies to the Australian public to achieve that end; and most (if not all) of its zingers and ranting about things that are “unfair” are contrived not in the interests of what is right but solely with an eye to what it thinks will enable it to hoodwink voters and win an election.
On the other hand sits a government that cannot implement its programme, cannot or will not respond to a hostile Senate or an opposition (including the unions) that is lawless, immune to the strictures of competence in government, and out of control; it is stewarded by a cabal of utterly useless advisors whose counsel seems destined to cost the Coalition government; and whose machinations stink of either booting undesired issues down the road and out of sight rather than dealing with them, or the total inability to mount any sort of case to carry debate on the reform agenda that is so critical to Australia’s future — but which has been treated as expedient, secondary, and jettisoned because it is all too hard.
Now, the Abbott government is fighting a by-election in Canning at which it is certain to suffer a large swing against it: the only questions are how big it is and whether it’s enough to tip the result Labor’s way.
If the Liberal Party wins, Abbott could be gone within days anyway; if the ALP wins, it will crap on about the result pointing to the “national embrace” of Bill Shorten and Labor when, even if Labor wins the election next year, it will be an endorsement provided through clenched teeth and with a peg on voters’ noses, and not made from any sense of affection or excitement.
But if Abbott is replaced, the Coalition now faces another potentially mortal threat — time — and the fact that its supply of this commodity isn’t just beginning to run short with an election due in one year, but that it has squandered through inability and ineptitude two-thirds of a three-year term already.
The price of misguided loyalty — which is the root cause of the Liberal Party’s political troubles — could be a high one indeed. The virtual uselessness of the Prime Minister’s Office as a political spearhead is something we have assessed repeatedly over the past year. Another sign of it emerged this week, with the spectacular fall from grace of a key member of the insiderish cabal that runs the party, who was hand-picked and backed by the party’s federal director, Brian Loughnane. These are not accidental coincidences. The Liberal Party is little better than dysfunctional.
Any new leader would have to use his or her authority to quickly instigate a root and branch overhaul of executive party structures and the inner citadels of the government: something time may conspire to prevent even if institutionalised resistance from vested interests and hacks did not.
And then there’s the issue of likely replacements.
Would Malcolm Turnbull restore the government’s fortunes? Polls heralding the sort of stratospheric numbers enjoyed by Kevin Rudd during his exile should be treated with the utmost caution. At a minimum, for every vote Turnbull attracted on the Liberals’ left or moderate flank, another could be expected to disappear to its right. At best, Turnbull is a zero-sum game. At worst, he is an electoral disaster in the offing.
Julie Bishop? Who knows. Nobody doubts her ability. Nobody knows if she would be effective. Coupled with an astutely selected deputy she is likely the Liberals’ best option if Abbott falls under the bus. But that in itself is no guarantee of the retrieval of the party’s fortunes, even if she makes a reasonable fist of the Prime Ministership.
Scott Morrison? With just eight years in Parliament and two as a minister, Morrison isn’t ready. I think he will be Prime Minister one day. But to risk him now, whilst still largely untested — and with the spectre of electoral defeat looming daily larger — the Liberals could throw away their best longer-term leadership prospect by elevating him now.
On the Labor side, Tanya Plibersek is representative of the chardonnay-swilling elitism that puts the ALP at odds with the silent majority in middle Australia; Anthony Albanese is an amiable (and agreeable) boofhead, but not a serious candidate for the Prime Ministership; Chris Bowen is a regurgitator of vacuous slogans in the Kevin Rudd mould; and beyond that, the ALP’s prospects for getting rid of Shorten are as threadbare as those of the Liberals.
The point of today’s article isn’t to prescribe solutions, or to advocate in favour of specific people, measures and/or ideas; rather, it is intended to reflect just how bereft of credibility, plausibility or even so much as a fucking clue at all our major parties — both of them — have become.
The Hawke-Keating legacy was sullied by the concealed mountain of debt bequeathed by Keating and his Treasurer, Ralph Willis; a permanent mark rests on the Howard government’s record in the form of an industrial relations package introduced after winning an unexpected Senate majority despite not having been first placed before the electorate.
Now, Labor is again a culprit for plunging the country into debt — more than three times as much as Keating did — with the difference the hole feeding that debt pile is structural; no bridge appears able to be flung across that chasm, in no small part due to its own unforgivable behaviour in the Senate. Meanwhile, Labor is gearing up to fight a fourth consecutive election over WorkChoices: and the Liberal Party seems unwilling to combat or incapable of neutralising what has become a ridiculous line of attack.
Meanwhile, the things Australia badly needs from its government, whoever forms it — taxation reform, structural budget reform, sensible labour market reforms, and in view of the mess it has become (in part because of the 1984 Labor reforms that were designed to rig it) Senate reform, and an overhaul of the electoral system — go untouched, largely undiscussed, and are written off by all sides for divergent reasons as all too hard.
I would never advocate for a vote for minor parties, although it’s not difficult to see how even the most lunatic entities that are springing up — to say nothing of a growing band of high-profile independents — are attracting slowly but constantly rising levels of support from an understandably jaded and disgusted voting public.
But in the overwhelming majority of electorates, the system that both forces people to vote and to allocate preferences against every candidate’s name (both of which requirements I believe should be abolished) means that voters are also forced, ultimately, to choose either the Coalition or Labor ahead of the other.
Partly through political preference against the ALP and partly on account of a deep-seated dislike for, antipathy toward and hostility to the union movement, I don’t really care if Labor ever resolves the challenges all of this face it with.
But where the Liberal Party is concerned, I do care — and I know, from private conversations with members across the country and including most of the states, that there is a swelling tide of resentment (and barely concealed rebellion) against the way the party is being run.
I’m going to leave it there for today, because my intention in posting this is more to provoke discussion and thought among readers than to put solutions on the table, although my door is always open when it comes to Liberals who are serious about fixing the party up and changing the way things are done.
As things stand, though, the Abbott government is an insult to the fine legacy of the Howard years, and it is disingenuous in the extreme that Abbott and those around him ever dared to hold themselves up as offering a return to the best aspects of that excellent administration.
Similarly, Labor — which has never had a shred of economic credibility before or since the Hawke-Keating years — seems determined not to merely trash the praiseworthy record it achieved in the 1980s, but to kick the living shit out of that credibility altogether: far be it for the ALP to attempt to even pose as responsible or capable when there are union criminals to do the bidding of.
And so the imminent election — irrespective of who leads the parties — looms as an insidious spat between a reprehensible degree of amateurish ineptitude on the one hand, and an almost pathological, criminal mindset of megalomania on the other. What a choice. Australia will be far the poorer for the charade soon to be played out under the guise of an election campaign.
It makes the by-election in Canning look to be both small bier and a pivotal moment in the country’s political history all at once: and whatever follows, if not informed by change and any meaningful attempt at reform on any level, can only diminish the regard in which politics and politicians are already held — and that is low enough as it is.
As a final thought, I remind readers that I have always identified as politically conservative first and a Liberal Party man second, although I concede that despite my (justified) penchant for criticising the party in recent years, I remain just as rusted onto it as those who run it, dominate it and seem determined to wreck it.
Should subterranean mutterings of a new conservative party to replace the Coalition come to anything however — a properly constituted, mainstream, broadly based party, catering to urban and regional conservatives, and with broad support from business, industry and the wider community, rather than the sort of half-baked crap served up by Palmer, Jacqui Lambie, fringe groups like Family First, or anything remotely like them — I know an awful lot of people who would at least stop to take a look, if not put their hands up to help get it going.
If the Liberals do lose next year — and if the same failed coterie that runs it now continues to do so, even after the humiliation of a first term election loss — then I, too, would be open to at least having a look.
Politics is everywhere; it influences and shapes everything we do. It should be a noble undertaking, not the debased vocation it has become. Serious change is crucial. For it is not just the fortunes of the major parties that are at stake, but the welfare of the country in the long term.
Even some in the ALP must acknowledge, in their private moments, that no good can come from their silly antics.