Saturday, 28 February 2015

What's Good For Them: Tony Abbott And The Australian Electorate

Tuning Out: Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, and his Chief-of-Staff, Peta Credlin, epitomise that faction of the political class which believes that popular consent is no longer essential to effective governance. The Australian electorate is fast disabusing them of this elitist political fantasy.
TONY ABBOTT, Australia’s beleaguered Prime Minister, is just the latest (and nearest) casualty of a steadily widening rift within the international political class. Essentially, this class is split between those who believe that effective and efficient governance is possible without popular consent. (Which, they assert, can now be convincingly simulated without political risk). And those who continue to believe that a certain, irreducible, measure of popular consent remains indispensable to the maintenance of a government’s political legitimacy.
Abbott is a particularly vivid exemplar of the non-democratic mode of governance. The speed with which he jettisoned his electoral promises to the Australian electorate confirms his entirely instrumental view of the electoral process. In Abbott’s eyes, a party manifesto should never be construed as some form of contract with the electorate. This is because electoral promises are not promises in the conventional sense. They are, rather, to be understood as straightforward voter motivators: an important means to the ultimate end of amassing more votes than one’s opponents and winning power.
Abbott’s extraordinary practice of making “Captain’s calls” – decisions made without reference to either his cabinet colleagues or his own backbench – epitomises his view of governance as a series of top-down directives – to be implemented without question or delay. In pursuing this strategy, Abbott is strongly assisted by his controversial chief-of-staff, Peta Credlin, who has repeatedly demonstrated her contempt for cabinet ministers and back-benchers alike. Working together, Abbott and Credlin have perfected an Australian variant of government-by-decree – a practice more usually associated with hard-pressed presidential regimes (most infamously with the ill-starred Weimar Republic).
That Abbott sees himself as some sort of presidential figure was made clear in his outraged reaction to the suggestion that his colleagues might be preparing to over-turn “the people’s choice” for prime-minister. In advancing this position (with considerable support from the right-wing news media) Abbott was, in effect, turning the whole Westminster System of parliamentary government on its head.
Between elections, he was saying, the Prime Minister must be invulnerable to challenge. A notion which directly contradicts the long-established convention that the Prime Minister holds office at the pleasure of Parliament, and that democratic accountability is traceable through the people’s representatives exclusively. It is Members of Parliament who determine, by majority vote, the composition of the government – and no one else.
The problem with this convention, at least as far as the non-democratic faction of the political class is concerned, is that it places far too much power in the hands of politicians who are, themselves, vulnerable to the electoral power of the voters. Inflict too much pain on the electorate and it just might decide to turf the government responsible out of office.
That this is much more than a theorem of political science was demonstrated to the Australian political class by the voters of Queensland, who, only last month, rounded savagely on their proudly non-democratic premier and his unmandated assault on the people of the sunshine state by emphatically reinstalling a thoroughly chastened Labor Party to office.
It was this demonstration of the voters’ power (which, itself, followed hard on the heels of a similar upset in the state of Victoria) that prompted a significant minority of Abbott’s back-benchers to call for a leadership ballot. That Abbott held them off was in large measure due to the formal loyalty of his Cabinet. But even inside the Cabinet Room, a restive and growing group of Liberal Party ministers are rapidly coming to terms with the practical political dangers of persisting with the fiction that Abbott is some sort of elected Kaiser and Peta Credlin his Iron Chancellor.
The neoliberal zealots who populate the think-tanks, employer lobbies and commentariat of the Australian Right may have convinced themselves that elections are mere charades to be managed by public-relations mavens, pollsters and spin-doctors; and that, as soon as these irritating democratic rituals have been safely concluded, the real business of “responsible” governance can resume – regardless of promises made and any naive voter expectations that those promises will be kept. Wiser heads within the political class know better.
Major economic and social changes, imposed without a clear electoral mandate, can only be preserved through an ever-increasing reliance on political distraction, demagoguery, and outright deceit. Inevitably, this sort of political chicanery, accompanied, as it so often is, by the imposition of unannounced and unfairly distributed pain, will be answered by the sort of emphatic electoral rejection so recently demonstrated in Victoria and Queensland.
As the moderate faction of the political class absorbs these fundamental democratic realities, and their unease is communicated to the Liberal Party’s wavering politicians, Abbott’s position will become increasingly untenable. Sooner or later (and most probably it will be sooner) he will be made to pay the price for ignoring the pragmatic examples set by his more durable predecessors.
The best Aussie barbeques are those where the guests get to eat the steaks and salads they’ve prepared themselves – not the ones where the host alone decides what’s good for them.
This essay was posted on The Daily Blog and Bowalley Road on Saturday, 28 February 2015.


Guerilla Surgeon said...

" reliance on political distraction, demagoguery, and outright deceit. Inevitably, this sort of political chicanery, accompanied, as it so often is, by the imposition of unannounced and unfairly distributed pain,"

Begun in New Zealand by the 1984 Labour government I'm sad to say. And even more un-democratically by a small clique within the caucus, who pushed everything through deliberately quickly. So that there was no chance to build up any resistance.

Brendon Harre said...

Another 'variant of government-by-decree' is John Key's government's use of common law 'third source of power' to acquire red zone land in Christchurch post earthquakes.

Maybe John and Tony talk about these sort of abuses when thy meet?

Check this link

or consult with young lawyer Natalie Jones who wrote the chapter "The Quake outcasts and the third source of government power" for the book "Once in a Lifetime: City-building after disaster in Christchurch"

The Flying Tortoise said...

And when will we get to hear that Abbott and his chief of staff are having 'a relationship'...

Wayne Mapp said...


I think one of the comparisons you were to make on reading this article is that John Key does not operate like Tony Abbott. One of the notable features of John Key is how much he sticks to the manifesto/promises that he has made prior to elections.

I appreciate that much of the Left do not get this, but much of the electorate does. So for instance when he says privatization up to 49% thats what you get. And in this term he has said no privatization, and people expect he will be true to his word. On all the major issues, the govt has essentially done what it said it would do.

On Christchurch the govt has pretty much acted in the way it said it would. I am sure that in part it explains why the Nats now win Christchurch, which they never used to do.

Pasquino said...

Abbott is a direct descendent of that Rooster in Norman Lindsay's, Magic Pudding, who,

"...was one of those fine up-standing, bumptious skites who love to talk all day, in the heartiest manner, to total strangers while their wives do the washing."

As an Aussie, I can tell you: it won't be long before The Amalgamated Trade Union of Australian Washerwomen gets together and rings his neck, or makes him the Earl of Botany Bay.

Robert M said...

It may be that Peta Crelin, probably correctly conceives that half the Abbott cabinet are barely competent and a different 50% of the Cabinet are essentially center politicians and would be more happy with the policies and leadership of Malcolm Bligh Turnbull, and therefore tight control, from the top is required.
Last years Hockey budget was not as radically right as most conceive. It is not unreasonably that the top four Australian universities might charge $100,000 for a four year degree, say ANU, Sydney, Melbourne Uni and WA, ( I have to admit I was once twenty years ago, offered a place at Melbourne University for $4000 fee, which I did not take)because attracting top talent among professors and lecturers and avoiding the lifetime tenure give to mediocre lecturers who arrived in the 1960s and 70s in NZ, has rather devalued NZ universities.
I recommend the R. Weisser, Abbott and Gumbys, article in the Spectator (Aus)21/2/15 which praises John Key's government as a model of fiscal tightness and control, and perfect model for Abbott. The key is according to Weisser is that the English NZ policy is not to attempt, too many cuts to existing expenditure, but to ultra rigourous in the examination of new spending and generally only approve new spending if the departments makes, corresponding cuts of its own selection. In the NBR 27/2 Jaquelin Rowarth, examines the enthusiasm of Weisser and suggests the real nature of the NZ economic success and 'rockstar' economy is Dairy, Christchurch and house sales to foreigners in Auckland. The real secret is the fact where selling our houses to foreigners, generating overseas income, and if the tap was turned off? Our model may not be the answer for Australia.
Nevertheless, Abbott's real problem is that in running against Malcolm Bligh Turnbull, he is running against someone who sees himself and a degree is seen by the public as a man of destiny, rooted in the most historic and mystical Aussie descent and like Bob Hawke before him is difficult to deny. Also Shorten as leader of the Opposition, is a far more effective opponent than Gillard or Rudd would be. Bill Shorten plays the traditional Labour cards and is uncompromising and ruthless with no nods to the market,or the third way. In some ways Bill Shorten is very similar to Andrew Little. When I worked for a provincial newspaper in the mid 1980s, the deputy editor who had spent time working for the Sydney papers, told me, this was 84-85 the pattern of politics in New Zealand and Australia is remarkably similar, eg Whitlam/Kirk Time for a change and the rise of Hawke/ Lange or later Howard/ Bolger.

Robert M said...

In reply to Wayne Mapp, Key at least until now has had either a clear majority or reliable partners, on a crucial vote, Abbott does not have a majority in the Senate and is dependent on the vote of half a dozen equivalents of Alamein Kopu.
Key and English have also been able to hold to a fiscally tight policy because of the Ruth Richardson Transport and Finance Acts. In any other country, even say Australia, the Government would face much higher transport and defense spending. In any other country than NZ, modest high speed rail would be developed between Auckland and Hamilton and Wellington and Palmerston North and hourly commuter services would already be operating on those routes and doubtlessly the Government would be helping finance light rail and the replacement of the Wellington trolley bus systems and electrical system for say $150 million.
Abbotts move to attempt to allow Universities to set there own fees is quite reasonable if you consider the consequences of George Osborne in the UK and Reagan/ Bush in the US on their tertiary eduction fees.Australian fees would not go anywhere near Oxford, Cambridge, Standford, Harvard, Yale. Australia has a three tier university system and most would not necessarily pay all that more.

Brendon Harre said...

Wayne Mapp John Key is anything but a man of his word. The instances of him lying are legion....

The reason Christchurch voted for National is they prefer team unity and they have not had that from Labour for the last two terms.

The next election with a unified Labour under Little will be much more indicative if Christchurch has switched from Labour to National permanently.

Loz said...

Tony Abbott was crystal clear prior to the Australian Federal election that a vote for his party would mean no cuts to healthcare, no cuts to education, no new taxes and no cuts to the ABC. The savaging attacks then put forward by his government have shocked all but his ardent supporters as a rabid ideology has manifested as the true guiding direction of his leadership.

As a trained Jesuit priest, his unwavering faith trumps any rational criticism of the policies he has tried to enact. Robert’s assertion that the policy platform is actually reasonable I clearly not accepted by the electorate and would have been universally condemned if the party had demonstrated any honesty with the platform they pledged to voters.

The belief in Market Economics has reduced democratic politics in Australia is the same hollow husk that exists throughout the western world. The major parties engage in a banal rendition of political Tic-Tac-Toe which differs only with the aggressiveness of starting moves. The only time democratic mandate has ever been mentioned is when an embattled leader claims their right to maintain a personal position of power is beyond the reproach of party colleagues.

The ideas of citizens’ universal equality and democratic control of a nation’ direction have usurped by the most powerful interests being freed from taxation and regulation. The wild swings of electoral support between governing and opposition parties have rarely been met with any substantive change in economics, regardless of the predictable pledges that opposition parties invariably make toward rescuing ailing health and education sectors. The recent Queensland election was a stunning reminder of how unelectable demonstrable neoliberal parties actually area, along with how destructive their policy platform is on society and the economy itself.

aberfoyle said...

Is that print a hope that some other fabulous leader shall fill our P.M.s SHOES the same as their political creed.

Well for sure they will.How fabulous,who has that fabulous gift of divergence over truth,the bounty Paula,how well she smiles and articulates.

Is she like one of us,no,but she will do.