So there is leadership speculation in the ALP. Again. Quelle surprise. The party of Chifley, Curtin, Whitlam Hawke and Keating has surely never been in as deep a funk as now. Even the DLP split at least achieved some kind of resolution.
The Slipper story seems like it could be, in tandem with the ongoing Craig Thompson shenanigans, enough to finally end the Prime Minister’s tortured reign. Irrespective of the merits of the government’s policies, the ALP is on the nose among the vast majority of the electorate – more than that, it’s actively hated.
Without diving into that well-worn trope that the government is failing to ‘communicate its message’ or some other rubbish, the public’s awareness of its government’s policies is sufficiently thin to suggest that its troubles stem from the dominance of the debate by the coalition. Abbott and co. have effectively framed almost every debate on every policy as an argument around cost of living, feeding into the sense of entitlement that Joe Hockey seems to be so worried about.
This has naturally led to claims that the battle is being fought on issues that have no bearing on the nation, that the debate needs to move back to Serious Issues Facing the Nation. But this overlooks a crucial element.
It’s easy to say that this fixation on politics over policy is trivial (and it is. As I type, Craig Emerson, trade minister and economics PhD, is describing the minutiae of how Cab Charges work), but there are very real ramifications for the nation from all this political intrigue. The Gillard government’s inability to bring the country along with ANY of its efforts at reform, or even giving the country handouts, is going to lead, most likely to an electoral evisceration come next November, if not sooner.
What that means is that in order to win, the coalition really needs only to turn up. In its haste to turf the ALP from office, the public will, in all likelihood, vote for a flaming, turd-filled brown paper bag if it has [Liberal] next to it on the ballot paper. The Liberals will know this, and unveil only enough policy to avoid serious condemnation from the commentariat. Then they will win, with a mandate to do…what? Other than reversing 98% of legislation enacted under the present minority government, we’re unlikely to know.
This likely handing of the keys to the lodge to Tony Abbott on a platter is deeply troubling. The old adage goes that weak oppositions make for poor governments, but in 2012, that has been neatly flipped on its head. An Abbott government will have ascended to power without any of the scrutiny of its politics that any decent opposition should receive.
The Howard government was booted from office in large part because of public fear of WorkChoices, its desire to strip disenfranchised workers of rights, its near-explicit desire to smash the unions and its medial capital. There is no reason to expect that, despite Abbott’s back of the napkin (literally) pledge to not reinstate it, that the next coalition government wouldn’t put ‘IR reform’ straight at the top of its agenda.
The Australian people, in their desperation to remove Gillard from office, will quite possibly find themselves faced with a government intent on bringing draconian IR legislation back in, having barely been queried on it during what is likely to be a horrifically unedifying campaign.
The utter shambles that the ALP has been during this electoral cycle suggests that they could well do with a stint in the naughty corner, and given a chance to think long and hard about how they’ve behaved.
But likewise, Australia as an electorate needs to think long and hard about the alternative. It’s easy to dismiss the present coalition as lightweight, but unless we start to hear from them what they plan to actually DO, they are destined to remain as such. If it is indeed the case that they aren’t competent to occupy the government front bench, we really need to know that before any election.
The ALP may not deserve to retain government at the next election, but they have an obligation to do at least well enough to make people take a close look at the alternative. Anything less is a major failure in its duty to the electorate.