Thoughts on the election

From today’s Fin:

“He [Tony Abbott] has undermined and potentially destroyed a first-term Labor government.” This eulogy to Abbott from former prime minister, John Howard, captures all that is bad about the coalition’s approach to opposition. Oppositions do not have to be destructive, but Abbott prefers denigrating political opponents, mostly with outrageous exaggerations which even he doesn’t believe.

The opposition aimed at voters who believe that the Commonwealth should have no net debt because government finances need to be managed like household budgets. It was directed at electorates obsessed by boat arrivals, not knowing (because there are only press releases for boat arrivals) that thousands of asylum seekers come each year by aeroplane. Voters were even told to worry about the “constitutional coup” when Kevin Rudd resigned in favour of Julia Gillard. The opposition ignored 2007 when Liberal ministers (unsuccessfully) asked Howard to stand down in favour of Peter Costello.

What Abbott exposed, like uncovering a sore, was the fragility of a government which could not – and seemingly cannot – defend itself or for that matter explain itself. If Abbott’s discovery means that all future governments have to learn how to take the community with them, so much the better. But if Abbott has detected that the best way to win voter support is bellicosity, smear, innuendo and exaggeration, we will all be diminished. Politics is not a game where what happens stays on the field: the contract between citizens and government is also undermined by constant opposition denigration.

Another election failure was the confusion of state and federal responsibilities. Because the Commonwealth is financially stronger than all state governments combined, the Gillard government and the opposition could seduce voters by promising a marina here, a road there, a stadium, more law and order, whatever it takes to gain the electorate’s attention. In spite of the constitution and legal accountabilities, state governments are being reduced to symbols – and even symbolism is threatened when federal parties promise to bypass state structures to deal directly with individual schools and hospitals. Federal politicians are creating a burden for the Commonwealth as they raise expectations that they can be held responsible for all government functions.

But not all about this election was disconcerting. It seems voters in Western Australia have finally decided to dismiss Wilson Tuckey – that’s a step forward. And the emergence of independent members of parliament is a boon. As we have seen in Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania, Western Australia and NSW in the last two decades, there is nothing to fear from minority governments. The three independents who supported the Greiner and Fahey minority governments in NSW in the 1990’s improved parliamentary practice and democracy without impeding good government. The overwhelming majority of government legislation passed: all government had to do was persuade the independents of the virtue of government policy.

There are many who believe that the Commonwealth government’s inability to control the Senate has meant that good policies have been sacrificed. Others think that all will be lost unless a government can control the lower house. Economists point to weaknesses in the Goods and Service Tax which arose because senators holding the balance of power insisted on exempting unprocessed food from that tax. While economists were offended by the exclusion, if governments cannot persuade the public or legislators, they should not be able to impose their will. When governments control the upper or lower houses, all democratic niceties are forsaken because they are not needed.

The independents will have ideas which advance their electorates. But they can make more progress in reforming parliamentary and governmental processes. There should be an independent speaker; ministers should be banned from offering irrelevant answers in question time; ministers should be required to make statements rather than issuing press releases so there can be proper parliamentary examination and scrutiny of government policies. Key appointments should not just be in the gift of the government. The public service should be protected so that it can disentangle itself from political process. Advances were made by NSW independents, but they were not enshrined and were later reversed by the Carr government. Don’t believe that governments happily support democracy.

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11 Responses to Thoughts on the election

  1. dorinny says:

    It would be interesting to know who wrote this article.

    It seems quite one-sided, as if the Labor government didn’t exaggerate facts and as if they didnt use a fear & smear campaign to try and bring the coalition and tony abbott down.

    The opposition aimed at voters who believe that the Commonwealth should have no net debt because government finances need to be managed like household budgets. It was directed at electorates obsessed by boat arrivals, not knowing (because there are only press releases for boat arrivals) that thousands of asylum seekers come each year by aeroplane.

    Firstly, the point the coalition was making about debt, was that the 2nd stimulous package was wasteful, and put us into unnecessary debt due to mismanagement by the Government.

    TONY ABBOTT: But look, on the question of the stimulus payments I think there is a lot of mythology here about what the Coalition did and didn’t do. There were two stimulus packages. The first was in late 2008 when we really were in a crisis because the banks were very shaky and a wave of fear and loathing swept the world’s financial markets. It was a very dangerous situation. So the first stimulus package, about $10 billion, was fully supported by the Coalition. That wave of fear and panic passed and the banks were largely stabilised by a range of measures taken by governments around the world, including the Australian Government.

    Notwithstanding that the crisis had passed in February the Government proposed a further stimulus package, in February ‘09 and that was the $42 billion package that involved pink batts, remember the pink batts? It involved the school halls. Now, for the Government to say that that package saved us from recession when we know how the pink batts programme has worked out. We know the waste and the fires and tragically the deaths and as for the school hall package, for a recession that lasted, or for a crisis that lasted a couple of months the school hall programme is dragging on for four years. The school hall programme lasts longer than the First World War to deal with a crisis that in its acute phase lasted about six to eight weeks. So look, we didn’t support that. We didn’t support it and we were right not to support it because we knew that rushing out programmes like this was not going to work. That it would result in terrible waste at the very least. So I make no apologies for not supporting the second stimulus package, for saying that the second stimulus package was too much too soon, for wanting a much smaller second stimulus package. My problem with the Government’s economic management here is that by spending too much, by wasting too much they’ve weakened us. So if we do, and I hope we don’t, but if we do find ourselves in further economically tumultuous times in a year or two’s time we will be much weaker to deal with it than we were back in 2008. – [source]

    Second, the Labor government had the same policy on boat people, so it isnt exactly fair to say the “opposition” was trying to scare the electorate about boat people, consider both the Labor and the Liberal parties had similar offshore processing policies. And that aside, it was never about “asylum seekers”. The issue was regarding people smugglers, and the massive increase in dangerous sea voyage arrivals, many of which did not have the necessary documents to prove that they are genuine refugees.

    Nicholas could you please provide a link to this article?

  2. Nicholas Gruen says:

    Apologies doriny,

    I physically posted the article, but forgot to set it to the ID of its author, which I’ve done now. It’s Tony Harris.

  3. Nicholas Gruen says:

    “The first stimulus package, about $10 billion, was fully supported by the Coalition”

    I wonder what definition of ‘fully’ is being used here?

  4. dorinny says:

    the definition as in, “fully sick bro”

  5. James Farrell says:

    The Coalition supported the first package under Turnbull. I bet Abbott opposed it in their shadow cabinet meetings, or whatever they held. Left to his own devices, I suspect Turnbull would have even supported the second stimulus, since it was going to pass the Senate anyway. But by then he was under pressure to be a proper opposition leader and oppose everything. It was about the same time he threw dignity to the wind and prosecuted the Gretch affair.

  6. Mack says:

    As per first comment, the “centrist” description in the Club Troppo blurb seems to be awol – a partisan article selective on facts and with notable ommissions. Whilst I’m no fan of many Liberal policies and styles of argument – this Labor government broke all records in terms of spin, over-reach and lack of accountability – remarkable after the last term of Howard. Spin and gestures aside, they were IMO disfunctional and therefore I shed no tears if they lose government

    That being said, much of the last paragraph proposing reform is solid

  7. SJ says:

    Read it first thing this morning, Tony. Very good.

  8. Mark Heydon says:

    I think this is a ery good article.
    Abbott’s undermining has been so effective that even such seemingly rational people as dorinny have been suckered.

    The independent reports on both the so called “pink batts” and “school halls” programmes seem to have been very favourable to these programmes.
    With respect to pink batts, I have read that the *rate* of fires due to insulation installation has been lower in respect of insulation installed under the scheme than previously. The absolute number of fires may have increased, but that is a consequence of the hugely increased number of installations.
    Also, there was oversight and safety procedures instituted with the insulation scheme where previously there had never been any.
    Blaming the federal government for the tragic deaths related to installing insulation is a travesty, though typical of the hyperbole Abbott has been espousing. I thought the employer owed a duty of care to its employees, and if anyone is to blame it is the relevant employers. And I seem to recall that at least one of the employers has had charges brought against them.

  9. dorinny says:

    Abbott’s undermining has been so effective that even such seemingly rational people as dorinny have been suckered.

    I find it amazing, that a group of seemingly intelligent individuals such as yourselves actually buy this rubbish about abbott undermining the labor government, while completely ignoring the blatant smear campaign against tony abbott throughout the entire lead up to the election.

    Does workchoices ring a bell? Even though he has admitted that he respects the electorate and will not bring back work choices, even though he made a promise that he will not touch any aspect of industrial relations legislation, this recurring lie about him resurrecting workchoices is the one card the Labor government had going for them.

    The day before people went to the polls, this is the first thing Julia Gillard had to say in her “doorstop interview”. The subject of the transcript is “Federal Election Campaign; Risk of Tony Abbott to families; WorkChoices.”

    As the hours count down towards the opening of the polls tomorrow, the shape of this election contest is becoming clearer and clearer and certainly, a major issue that’s becoming clearer and clearer today is Mr Abbott’s plan to reintroduce WorkChoices.

    They will be eating their words if he does become PM because he isnt touching workchoices! And if he does, I swear to god, I’ll be voting ‘donkey’ next election.

  10. Mark Heydon says:

    Totally agree with you on Abbott and Workchoices. It was always a rubbish scare campaign from Labor – Workchoices was an issue in 2007 but don’t see that it was at all relevant in 2010.
    I fail to see how that negates that Abbott undermined the government with nonsensical points bordering on lies, sometimes crossing that border.

  11. John B says:

    Abbott never promised not to go back to Workchoices. He only played a game of words, eventually admitting that the legislation will not be changed, but the regulations and directives under this Act will be changed and that other legislation will be changed by him to override the Labor legislation, rather than to directly alter this legislation.

    Tony is, was and always will be as slimy as a snail’s trail and just as useful. He has no respect for the populace and shows this at every opportunity. His body language when discussing the independents speaks volumes about his real position.

    He is an acknowledged serial lier and he is a policy free zone. There is nothing about him and his party on which to hang a hat, let alone your future.

    Mark Heydon, wake up and read his actual words. Nothing he has “promised” is couched in the words of a promise. This sham is a smoke and mirrors man if ever there was one.

    PS. I do not happily vote Green or ALP, either. I am a very disappointed voter with nowhere to go, most of the time.

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