“If [Robert] Menzies and my leader [Rupert] Hamer were watching this, they’d be turning in their graves … even John Howard … How could it have come to this, that these people are now no better than the ALP!?”
Those were the emotionally charged words spoken by former Victorian Liberal Premier Jeff Kennett this afternoon on the ABC’s coverage of the latest Australian political ‘leadership spill’. His point isn’t to deride Labor or to make it an issue of partisan politics, but rather to invoke the idea that the foundations of democratic Government in this country are crumbling before our very eyes.
If Malcolm Turnbull successfully pulls off what is effectively a coup for the leadership of the Liberal party, it will mark the third such time this has happened in the past five years. To put it into perspective, consider this: As of June 23, 2010, it will mark Australia’s fifth Prime Minister. Unprecedented doesn’t explain it; absurd doesn’t describe it.
Indeed, Government stability is being increasingly relegated to the annals of Australian political history, seemingly in exchange for short-term political populism and backroom back-stabbing. Although, to be sure, Turnbull has capped his run off with an unmistakable public front-stabbing.
Political skepticism is a sign of a healthy democracy and society; when the citizenry of a nation questions and challenges both the motivations and policies of Government, it directly encourages debate and the free-flow of information. One of the foremost characteristics of the quintessential Aussie is that he holds with him a burning skepticism of anything spewed forth from the mouth of one of those ‘snake pollies’. But what does it say of a nation when politicians themselves are unable to trust each other within their own barracks!?
It’s common across the free, developed democratic world for politicians to underdeliver on their promises. Partisanship in a democratic framework often blocks the path to progress (see: Parliament in Australia, Congress in the United States), and the citizenry is often left wondering why they aren’t getting what they voted for. Such is one of the glaring flaws in democracy (to which there are many). It is however a complete anomaly for any developed democratic nation to continually thrust itself into Government instability, effectively undermining the principles of democracy that the institutions of the country are founded upon.
Projection polling is the common justification used by those implicated in these leadership spills. Kevin Rudd is unpopular, and if he remains leader of the party then the party will not remain in power, they argue. This is fallacious, disingenuous, and ultimately a smack in the face to the Australian voter. Government’s primary job is to govern, and if they’re using that time — outside of campaign season — to protect their own political interests in advance, they’re inherently abusing the trust of the Australian people.
And this is exactly why Tony Abbott is in power as of writing: the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd Government tenure disrespected the Australian voter. It turned the political landscape of the nation into a new level of shit-show, undermining democracy, and in the process spoke to the soul of the quintessential Aussie: “Fuckin’ snake pollies“.
As much as it is disgraceful, it might well be equally embarrassing. Australians should be collectively red-faced. We stand as a nation of near incomparable prosperity, both economically and institutionally; yet here we stand at the forefront of political degeneracy, unable to present the people with Government stability.
But we should not absolve ourselves of responsibility. We have become a nation of intolerant, impatient children whereby we all seem to suffer a case of Attention Deficit Disorder. We are bipolar in our attitudes and emotions, and we ourselves offer Government no concise message, no consistent voice, and ultimately no stability. It might serve well the common Australian voter to remind themselves of an old idiom that we’re all familiar with: Rome wasn’t built in a day.
If tonight Tony Abbott has spoken his last words as the accepted leader of the Liberal party, then quite fitting they were.
I firmly believe that our Party is better than this, that our Government is better than this and, by God, that our country is so much better than this.