Taking off on a dangerous ride at Wedding Cake Island off Coogee …
You’d expect right wing shills like Tim Blair and JF Beck to be gleefully stirring up fear and loathing over Peter Garrett’s refusal to distance himself from federal ALP support for a proposed new US military communication base in Western Australia.
Martin suggests that Garrett is a person no longer to be admired and (in a predictable lyrical parody): “It’s “just enough to make you want to cry”…”
Dunlop poses a question to his readers with only two possible answers:
So do we admire his honesty and accept that it is legitimate for people to change their minds, or do we dismiss it as gutless expedience?
Well Tim, has it occurred to you that Garrett might neither have changed his mind nor be guilty of “gutless expedience”? Have either you or Peter Martin ever heard of a concept called “cabinet solidarity”? Here’s how Australian Politics explains it to high school children:
One of the major principles of Cabinet government is that the deliberations of the ministry are secret. This is related to the idea that the cabinet is collectively responsible for its decisions and actions. The principle of cabinet solidarity is important for governments wishing to maintain a united front in public. Often this united front extends to the government’s relations with its own party members in Parliament.
It is now accepted, for example, that cabinet ministers will all support cabinet decisions when they are presented to the Caucus (in the case of the ALP) or the party-room (in the case of the coalition). This solidarity allows the executive to nearly always get its way with the parliamentary wing and contributes to the domination of the parliament, particularly the House of Representatives, by the government of the day.
The principle applies to shadow ministries as much as it does to Cabinet itself. There has probably never been a politician in any Cabinet or shadow ministry in Australia, at federal or state level, who has not frequently been required by this principle to act precisely as Peter Garrett has just done. It’s inconceivable that anyone could ever find a political party whose policy positions always conformed precisely with their own convictions. As a highly intelligent person with long-held and very public beliefs on a wide range of peace and environment-related issues, I’m sure Garrett gave prolonged consideration to the implications of the cabinet solidarity principle before deciding to throw in his lot with the ALP. This basic democratic principle requires that government members confine their disagreement to the cabinet room. If you want the luxury of public dissent, you stay on the back bench or join the Greens or Democrats.
So when Peter Garrett states that he “unreservedly accepts” the ALP policy position on the proposed new US base, it says nothing at all about what he really believes. In fact, given ongoing reports that the Bush administration continues to contemplate bombing Iran, it would be surprising indeed if Garrett didn’t privately harbour significant concerns that a new US military communications base on Australian soil might well end up being a “setback for (y)our country“. Indeed, in the very interview transcript Martin reproduces as evidence, Garrett went as far as any (shadow) minister could ever properly go towards expressing dissent when he said:
My views are clear and theyâve been clear since Iâve come into the Parliament.
Update – Jeff Sparrow at LeftWrites has an alternative explanation.