This is a lesson in how not to govern
AUSTRALIA is now in the appalling position of being a nation without adequate leadership. The citizenship issue is not yet a Constitutional crisis but it is a crisis — yet our leaders seem incapable of dealing with it quickly.
What, if anything, can we take from our federal Parliament’s past 15 years? The last stable administration was the Howard government from 1996 to 2007. It had its challenges, but it made the best use of our growing economy and not only wiped out the debt left by Labor but also directed billions to set up the Future Fund.
Its two downsides were the lack of expenditure on infrastructure and the start of the period of entitlement, when the government threw money at the electorate in order to win the 2004 election, which it did. Of course, the Howard government had no answer to Kevin Rudd in 2007, probably due to a combination of the electoral pendulum swinging after 12 years of a conservative administration and the apparent freshness of the new Labor leader.
John Howard had the opportunity to retire with grace before the 2007 election and hand the leadership to Peter Costello. But he elected not to do so. Whether Costello would have led the Liberal Party to victory or not is now only a matter for conjecture.
But since 2007 we have had a period of political “disruption” during which personality politics has emerged, delivering us a decade of wasted opportunity. Individual ambition has compromised government after government. As a result the public has become disillusioned with the political class in Canberra and that has resulted in independents and smaller parties winning seats in the House of Representatives and the Senate, where legislative disruption has become a sport.
And while the minor parties have been blamed for the disruption to the government’s programs, I believe that is a copout. The blame lies more with personality politics and the tactics of oppositions. Started by Tony Abbott and now embraced by Bill Shorten, the aim is to simply oppose, at any cost.
Of course, as Abbott discovered, if all you can do is oppose, it is very hard to govern effectively. And that brings us to this question: if a leader takes his party to power, is it in the party’s interests, and those of the nation, if the leader is removed midterm by their colleagues?
The evidence is that it is not. Rudd to Gillard to Rudd, Turnbull to Abbott to Turnbull.
It is all focused on personalities. Our leaders have lost sight of their responsibility to the public and to the profession of politics.
What I find so remarkable about our present situation is the failure of leaders to do what should be obvious to anyone in commerce or government: to act quickly to
solve a problem. When we had the explosion at the Esso gas plant in September 1998, we moved quickly to put a response in place: temporary restrictions to keep gas supplies flowing to households and commerce, measures to deal with the human tragedies, steps to keep the public and the media informed; through transparency, we worked our way back to normality.
IN contrast, the issue of citizenship is diverting Canberra from the goal of good government. Once the High Court ruled on the Gang of Seven, Parliament knew it had an issue. The only way to deal with it quickly was an audit of all members. It could have been done relatively quickly by the Electoral Commissioner, who then could have referred to the High Court any member whose situation was in doubt.
Instead members took political positions and now instead of lancing the boil, it continues to grow and cause pain.
I question whether Parliament can now pass any legislation knowing there is a risk that some of those who will vote might be ineligible. Once the High Court ruled as it did, Parliament cannot continue to legislate until the eligibility of all members is confirmed. It should go into recess until the matter is resolved.
Surrounded by dysfunction, everyone is focusing on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and it’s true the buck stops with the leader; but it also stops with the leader of the opposition, Bill Shorten.
And this debacle further demonstrates the eroded authority of our recent leaders. When Gillard ousted Rudd, when Rudd ousted Gillard, when Turnbull ousted Abbott, they were diminished in the eyes of some in their parties but moreso in the eyes of the public.
The result was the rise of the minor parties and independents and all the legislative difficulties this has caused the Parliament, leading to compromise after compromise. Our once high political standards no longer exist.
Amid the confusion, there has been talk of Turnbull being replaced. Yes, we thought he had a plan when he took over from Abbott, but that was a false hope. None existed.
But would another change achieve anything? No, of course not. It would deliver only more chaos. Perhaps there would be a short-term lift in the polls but it would be followed by a long-term failure of authority.
Why do we have to endure this self-interest from so many of our representatives? Good governments have delivered good things for our country. While we might not have agreed with all of it, the benefits of stability were demonstrable. Hawke, Keating and Howard. Since then it has been a waste of space.
Our current leaders may not be responsible for the citizenship crisis, but as sure as hell it is their responsibility to solve the problem.
Let’s face it, the past 10 years have been a lesson in how not to run a country.
Have a good day.