THE LANDSLIDE recorded by the ALP at yesterday’s Northern Territory election should be a cause for despair for anyone interested in sound governance in Australia; on the one hand, a fractious conservative administration with a penchant for self-immolation has been ejected from office with the force of a missile, whilst a Labor Party responsible for shocking miscarriages of justice has been restored. There is nothing to celebrate here.
I wasn’t going to even bother commenting on the circus that is NT politics, but lest ALP triumphalism spiral out of control, a few passing comments are probably warranted.
They say things are done differently in the NT, but as I see it, politics there are following the same cynical trajectory as is being pursued elsewhere in the country: and the same disastrous consequences — not least, the continued disenfranchisement of increasingly jaded voters — are likely to ensue.
Just as this column declined to publish so much as a congratulatory syllable after the Coalition “victory” at the 2 July double dissolution, we similarly see little reason to do so in relation to Territory Labor today; the ALP may indeed have prevailed in elections for what passes as the Territorian equivalent of a state government, but the circumstances in which it has done so are tasteless in the extreme.
In the blue corner sits the Country Liberal Party: racked by divisions and the competing agendas of misplaced egos, elected four years ago and ravaged by leadership ructions ever since, the CLP has paid a predictable price for self-indulgence, petty bickering, and the utter political ineptitude that now seems to permanently infect conservative administrations comprised of MPs determined on factional grounds rather than merit, and aided and abetted by advisers who in the main are bereft of a skerrick of political judgement, strategic or tactical nous, or the ability to convincingly sell ideas or policies to an electorate that expects better of its parliamentary representatives.
In the red corner sits a Labor Party which, like its interstate and federal counterparts, boasts precisely nothing to recommend it: a classic illustration of the adage about oppositions not winning elections and governments losing them, the new ALP Chief Minister — the aptly named Michael Gunner — may come to rue the fact his election triumph was sealed in a controversy over prison abuses that were perpetrated on his own party’s watch in office several years ago.
The defeat of the CLP — never in any doubt — was almost certainly amplified by some appallingly partisan “investigative” journalism by the ABC, which saw its way clear to run an explosive expose about the torture of young offenders in the NT and other outrages on its Four Corners programme just as the NT election approached: never mind the fact these excesses occurred during the last administration Labor formed, and never mind observing quaint notions of impartiality like declining to broadcast such material during an election campaign; the result of the Four Corners production was to ensure the fallout hit the CLP with laser-like precision, as intended. The kneejerk reaction of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, in announcing a Royal Commission into the affair, made it a certainty.
Territory politics are notoriously volatile, and — since the end of almost 30 unbroken years of CLP rule — have been a template for instability. The projected 18 of 25 seats Labor is expected to finish with will guarantee it one term only, and whilst a further term must be considered likely, such is the nature of the beast that the resurrection of the CLP after a single term, whilst difficult to foresee today, cannot be ruled out.
But in this sense, the NT is merely following the pattern of politics that is starting to become entrenched everywhere else in Australia these days.
We have arrived at the point at which the ALP and, by extension, a broad coalition of like interests — the unions, the
Communist Party Greens, the teachers, the churches and the welfare lobby, among others — simply refuse to acknowledge or accept the election of conservative governments and, whenever such a government holds office, the singular priority of these groups is to destroy it.
Aside from extending the reach of unions and kowtowing to the faceless thugs who run them, the Labor governments subsequently formed either achieve nothing or (as in the case of the Andrews government in Victoria) cause massive economic and social division, as inept MPs propelled by self-interest and greed for power prove spectacularly unsuited to the task to which they have been elected.
This is also a theme that will continue to play out across Australia in the years to come.
I’m not interested in the welfare or good fortune of the parties of the Left and their fellow travellers; even so, the ascent of the ALP in a minor regional assembly merely underlines even further the challenges faced by parties of the Right and their seeming inability to grasp them, let alone resolve them.
An abjectly pathetic approach to electoral politics, in which the hierarchy of the Liberal Party is run as a clubhouse rather than a bona fide war machine, means the actual business of winning elections and prosecuting arguments is relegated to an afterthought as alliances and crony cohorts are elevated above ensuring the best possible people are installed to engineer the triumph of right-of-centre policies and the sustained success that increasingly eludes it.
In the process, Labor becomes more and more the default choice of voters, thanks to compulsory preferences that reward the ineptitude and indulgences of the Liberals in office with defeat.
It doesn’t matter that Labor is guiltier of the same sins, or is demonstrably incompetent when it comes to the business of government: the Coalition parties across Australia is increasingly incapable of carrying even those arguments publicly. This result in the Northern Territory is simply further proof of it.
Turnbull can probably feel lucky in that directly at least, the NT can inflict no further damage on the federal Coalition; Labor controls the Territory assembly, and holds both federal electorates as well as one of the two NT Senate spots.
But any national interpretation of the result can only invite the conclusion that the Liberal Party’s current decline is not just continuing, but accelerating.
Of the remaining Liberal state governments, the one in WA is likely to fall when it goes to the polls early next year; the one in Tasmania appears to have run aground in a state not noted for goodwill toward the conservative parties, and in which the perennial threat of minority ALP-Greens administrations seems once again poised to consign the Liberals to opposition. Mike Baird in NSW is beginning to look as if his party is readying to surrender office to a discredited ALP just two terms after claiming office, as did the Greiner-Fahey outfit 20 years ago.
Liberal oppositions in SA and Victoria — for different reasons — seem certain to remain in opposition in 2018. What happens in Queensland, where Labor has rigged future elections by abolishing its own system of optional preferential voting with neither consultation nor a mandate, is anyone’s guess.
What is certain is that the only victors from yesterday’s field trip to the polls in the NT are the forces of mediocrity, cynicism and hypocrisy: and today at least, that means unjust reward for the ALP, which will simply be emboldened everywhere else.
Once again, the real losers are the poor bastards forced to choose between two unpalatable options.
If anyone finds this state of affairs worthy of celebration, it says much about the insidious narcissism and obsession with power at any price — with flagrant disregard for the consequences — that continues to infect politics and elections in this country.
Make no mistake, there is nothing to celebrate here. It is a reality that the predictably shattered CLP, the more decent adherents of the ALP, and their counterparts across Australia would do well to contemplate.