Three articles from the weekend news media go a long way to sum up the parlous state of politics in Australia.
Guy Rundle has a piece in the Saturday Paper The political caste playing student politics in Canberra which goes a long way to explaining how this state of affairs has come to pass.
Rundle points out that with the appointment of Tony Smith as speaker we have reached the point where all the key roles in both chambers, on both sides of politics, are occupied by former student politicians. Moreover, many of the reporters writing about them, including himself, wrote for student newspapers.
These are people who had free university education, had plenty of time for student politics, and have never had a job in the real economy since. Journalists talk of a political “class”. But says Rundle:
- “Class” suggests a social category, a group too broad to know one another. The people we are now ruled by constitute a political caste, quite a different thing – a group small enough for all the principals to know one another, have associations, obligation and affinities stretching back decades, and hidden from wider view.
Rundle sees a similar phenomenon of narrow castes operating in Britain and the US. In that context, Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders are attracting attention and support because they are outsiders, real people if you like.
We had an outsider here too, one Kevin Rudd, who saved us from the GFC. But the GFC has not in fact gone away:
- Few people have been fooled by talk of recovery in Britain and the US following the 2008 crash. These have been paper recoveries, leaving millions stranded in un- or under-employment, in decaying cities and blighted regions, with no prospect that a real old-fashioned upswing may take place. Those doing well have lives that groan under the weight of student debt, unaffordable housing and squeezed living standards; those losing out are watching the permanent structural transformation of the world of work, which leaves no place for those denied education and training – or never offered the chance to take it up later in life.
There is real desperation in parts of Britain, the US and Australia.
- When the tsunami from the West’s financial earthquake really hits our shores, the political caste may well find itself being dragged away in a manner that has no pretence about it all.
Peter Hartcher finds one government that is adult and competent – that of John Key in New Zealand. In his piece Good government needn’t be a punchline, Tony Abbott he recounts how last year Key brought about half a dozen of his ministers to Sydney for a joint cabinet meeting with their Australian counterparts. After the meeting they put their heads together and quickly came to a consensus:
- The NZ leadership foresaw that “it will all end in tears”, as one NZ participant put it to me. That was February 2014. The Abbott government was five months old.
So while the Key government was re-elected last year for a third term with an enlarged majority and an impressive reform record, the Abbott government is in survival mode, its reform plans in tatters.
The Australian Prime Minister’s office is a crucible of crisis, waging a full-time operation just to keep Abbott in his job for even a single term.
There were two reasons:
- First, they saw that the Abbott government had no reform narrative. It had slogans, but no persuasive case.
Second, they concluded that it had no “political architecture” to manage the government. They were “puzzled about the absence of an architecture for conducting the business of government – how to take the backbench along with the executive, how to reach out to the crossbenches, how to connect with key constituencies”, says a participant.
Finally, the old warhorse Laurie Oakes’ column appeared in the Courier Mail under the heading:
GREAT SCOTT! CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER
Parliamentary security staff have been on drone alert. Similarly the PM’s Office are keeping a close eye on Scott Morrison.
- Morrison is definitely not a drone. He is energetic, clever and ambitious. And members of Tony Abbott’s Praetorian Guard would not have missed the punchline in an article on the Social Services minister and his family in the latest Women’s Weekly.
Morrison, it says at the end of six pages of flattering copy, is “ready to lead”.
Amongst all the political games being played during the week, Scott Morrison was the key figure in putting together the big majority for Tony Smith’s successful bid to become Speaker. Morrison demonstrated his political potency.
While there is no move against Abbott under way, Oakes says:
- the truth is that Morrison’s rise increases the possibility of a move against Abbott before the election if the chaos, brawling and lack of direction in the government continue and the coalition’s opinion poll ratings fail to improve.
A poor result in the Canning bi-election will generate chatter.
There is an increasing expectation within the party that Morrison will lead, should the LNP find itself in opposition after the next election.
That’s my potted version.The articles repay reading in full.