Saddling up for the smiley new politics
As suspenseful as a Hitchcock movie, the twists and turns along the path to the nation’s 43rd Parliament remain a source of fascination and frustration in equal measure. And still it drags on.
We may have to wait until the last moment to know who will be Speaker, (and Deputy Speaker) in the House of Representatives, where government is made - and potentially unmade.
It matters because it affects the final numbers able to be called upon in a vote. Labor has already announced a massive legislative program including more than 40 bills this coming week alone. How any will get through is simply unknown.
We do know something however. We know that the new paradigm was merely the old one in drag. Rob Oakeshott’s smiley new politics of cooperation and the common good, well, don’t take it too seriously.
It turns out that was just another rubbery election promise (albeit in the race for independent votes rather than yours). One side still champions it though for obvious reasons: it keeps them in power. It is hardly surprising that the victors want stability.
In the last week, two headland speeches were made outlining the values and principles shaping our major political forces in this new era.
Julia Gillard travelled to Bathurst, stomping ground of the wartime prime minister, Ben Chifley, to deliver the ``Light on the Hill’’ address to Labor faithful. A couple of days later, Tony Abbott spoke to the Menzies Institute and outlined the main points of opposition as he sees it.
The links to past greats was no coincidence. Both speeches were designed to rev up the base, justify the various compromises made in the interests of real politik and locate their respective leaderships within their best party traditions.
But through all the lofty rhetoric and honeyed words, there was an undeniable truth. Labor’s interests lay in making the current minority government work, and the Liberal Party’s interests lay in the opposite direction - splitting it asunder.
``With restraint and civility, we can put aside the empty rancour of partisanship, and seek to work together,’’ Ms Gillard said. How lovely.
Now that the independents have declared for the enemy, Tony Abbott is free to drop the pretence. First came his speech which was about keeping up conservative morale - vital for his own survival as leader - keeping Malcolm Turnbull in check - again vital for his survival - and importantly, keeping pressure on the independents to crack. Abbott knows that nothing succeeds like success and that he is best protected by the widespread belief that victory is just around the corner. And let’s be clear, it might well be.
``In her Chifley lecture on the weekend,’’ he told supporters, ``the Prime Minister invoked the 1940 to 1943 parliament as one of Australia’s finest. One detail she failed to mention, though, was the mid-term baton change to a new government.’’
And then this: ``An opposition that’s only a couple of by-elections or two independents’ change of heart away from government has to be more than just a critic ... we are unlikely to replace the Government by agreeing with it.’’ Too true.
Two days later, he went further announcing that he would not be abiding by a signed agreement, brokered by Oakeshott and Tony Windsor to pair-off the Speaker’s vote.
Barring a Liberal Benedict Arnold, (talk of that possibility abounds) Labor must now provide a Speaker from its own number and in so doing, surrender a vote on the floor of the House, except where there’s a tie.
Confusion reigns even among the cognosenti. A seasoned Labor figure admitted of the Abbott turn-about, ``I didn’t see that coming’‘. Really?
One suspects voters lost interest in the whole drawn out affair aeons ago.
Perhaps the Hitchcock analogy should be replaced with Wagner’s Ring Cycle - a notoriously turgid four-opera marathon which centres on a ring with magical powers that allows its wearer to rule the world.
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