Reason and informed debate are both being used much less in politics than they should be. Too much time is focused on populist policies for political gain and not enough on well thought out ideas. The withdrawal of sensible thought has been accelerating during this 43rd parliament and it is a blight on both sides of politics.
There are two recent decisions in particular which best display the timidity of thought and action that now pervades our parliamentary process.The first is the “tactical withdrawal” from moving towards indigenous recognition in the Constitution in the preceding weeks. The second topical example is before the parliament at the present time and that is the decision to excise the whole of mainland Australia from the migration zone.
The former, indigenous acknowledgement in the Constitution received much more attention than the latter, the excision of Australia has. That in itself is a sad example, not just of the lack of reason and thought used in the political discourse, but also the wildly out of kilter priorities of those put forward by our political parties.
The excision of the mainland was not a policy advocated for by the government as part of the misguided response to asylum seeker policy. Instead, it was put forward by what was, in name only, an “expert panel”. However, it and all the other recommendations set out in the Houston report have been adopted wholeheartedly by a rapidly changing Australian Labor Party.
The ALP is a political grouping that appears to be doing its best, at least on asylum seeker and refugee policy, to appear a faction of the Liberal Party. At the very least, they are playing wedge politics in an over-indulgent manner.
The policy of removing the Australian mainland from the migration zone defies all logic. As some have argued, it would be quite funny, if it were not sad and cruel, to believe anyone really thinks that pretending the mainland does not exist for the purposes of being able to send more largely desperate people for offshore processing, will help “stop the boats”.
Immigration detention is jail wherever it takes place. It is punitive and it is ugly. It is also something that should be beneath Australia as a mostly civilised nation. Funnily enough too, the spectre of detention has actually not deterred too many from risking their lives.
So why does the asylum seeker and refugee debate lack reason. First and foremost, because it appeals in some way to a fear of difference that some in our community hold onto. This area of government action also lacks commonsense because it is easier to appeal to fear, engage in knee-jerk responses and to punish than it is to invoke compassion and implement more comprehensive and sensible policies.
What of that much less discussed and debated issue, the one that should be of much more domestic concern than the over-inflated “boat people” “issue”? How about choosing not to pursue, for the moment at least, indigenous recognition in our Constitution?
The dropping of the process, the tossing of it into the too-hard basket is again a case of the easy way out.
Yes it is true that it would have been very difficult for the constitutional amendment to pass, especially when it was supposed to be posed at or before the 2013 election. The question would have required a majority of people in a majority of the states to say ‘yes’ to whatever the proposition put forward by the government and of course only 8 out of 44 referenda have successfully been prosecuted.
However, just because the circumstances are difficult does not mean that the process should have largely been abandoned. A smart approach would have been to acknowledge the difficulty in forging ahead with the vote on the timetable agreed on.
After doing that it would have been quite reasonable to say to the public and more importantly, our indigenous people, that we would like to forge ahead with the planned constitutional amendment, but in doing so would need more time to forge a strong consensus in the community.
The fact that we need more time to forge a consensus within the Australian public that indigenous people are indeed humans populating this country and did inhabit this country prior to our ancestor’s arrival is an uncomfortable thought too. It shows that perhaps some of the lack of reason it appears our politicians show might actually be more of a fear of losing power .
The apparent abandonment, or at least wariness of the Coalition towards implementing the next best thing, a legislative instrument giving some form of recognition to indigenous people, gives pause for thought and defies sense.
Why would the Coalition give bipartisan support for constitutional change, including recommending a bipartisan committee, but then apparently baulk at the opportunity for an Act of Recognition, a meek and mild form of acknowledging a truth? Why seek a preference of separate statements to the parliament when the question of a statement proved difficult for some in the party back in 2008? It just does not compute.
These are but two examples where logic and reason have been abandoned in Australian politics, both for similar but also divergent reasons. They are only two examples, others do exist and will continue to eventuate as a result of a number of factors, not the least of which are appealing to irrational fears and beliefs as well as a rampant desire, an uncontrollable lust for power and political dominance.
Leadership rumblings: they’re like a perennial thing in politics these days unless it seems you’ve had the same Prime Minister or Premier in for more than a term or so and doing consistently well. Comments last night from Chief Government Whip, Joel Fitzgibbon, whilst not explicitly suggesting or admonishing Julia Gillard to depart from the top job have added fuel to the leadership fire. This fire began smouldering basically on the day Ms Gillard snatched the leadership from Kevin Rudd 2 years ago with the public not taking particularly kindly, especially in Queensland, to the move to oust Rudd from office. Throw in an array of political and policy failures along the way, some neglected under Kevin Rudd and not dealt with or attacked in the wrong way by Julia Gillard and that inferno is now well and truly alight.
The appearance of Joel Fitzgibbon, a key Gillard-backer just months ago during the February leadership spill brought on by the Prime Minister on Q&A raised not just the question of who would be leader at the next election, Gillard, Rudd or a third candidate, but also exactly what qualities and appeal that leader would need to possess to be electorally enticing.
From the outset, it is important to point out that the next election for Labor, despite leadership choice will surely be a lost cause for the ALP. Not only will it be a loss for the government, but on polling numbers for months on end, it has the makings of an epic defeat where the Labor Party could be all but wiped out in Queensland.
To lose an MP or two in Queensland, without gaining any elsewhere would be a big enough worry for the ALP Government so on the nose with the public and enough to seal their fate. But the government also look likely to have trouble saving seats in New South Wales too which due to it’s population has a number of seats on offer that the Coalition failed to grab, but could easily have won in 2010.
Staying with Prime Minister Gillard will almost certainly lead to a massive defeat, with the current Prime Minister seen by the public as the face of the credibility crisis that the Labor Party faces at the present time. Out of the three leadership options of Gillard, Rudd or anyone but Rudd and Gillard it is the one likely to lead to the biggest electoral defeat.
Were Labor to go with the second option, a return to Rudd, they would need to mend the massive wounds caused by the Rudd-Gillard spat which has been continuing even since the PM secured 2/3 support of her party room in the February ballot for the ALP leadership. That would mean countless ministers either resigning their posts and as they said at the time, refusing to serve under Kevin Rudd or it would mean a reconciliation of sorts between these senior figures and the reinstated PM. The latter would be hard for the public to buy with the harsh words splashed across the news just months ago and the former would just add to the electoral rot.
That said, in spite of the immense problems a Rudd return would bring, it would serve at the moment as the best option that the ALP have to at the very least save some of the furniture and perhaps do a bit more than that. But it would also give the Liberal and National Party much more electoral fuel to run with and ultimately likely still end up with a Labor electoral loss.
This is where Mr Fitzgibbon’s comments about populism mattering in politics come to the fore. Kevin Rudd is by far the most popular person in politics in Australian in just about any poll that is realised and that is despite the Opposition under Tony Abbott enjoying such an extensive lead in the race for The Lodge. It is true though that a Rudd return has been shown to translate into a winning position for the ALP but this would have to be accompanied by policy backdowns and reversals at the very least.
The idea of populism mattering in politics doesn’t just apply to leadership too. Populist politics as far as policy development and implementation goes is also smart politically, at least in limited use over ideologically pure politics and is common practice of just about any democratic government anywhere in the world.
A third candidate would probably be the most disastrous option with none of the floated alternatives, be it Stephen Smith, Bill Shorten, Simon Crean or otherwise polling anywhere near competitive in preferred leader stakes. It would be best to save one of these candidates until after the election to lead the Labor Party in a process of rebuilding rather than to waste them on an election they would lose and not admirably.
All in all it looks at least for the foreseeable future that the government will persevere with Julia Gillard as Prime Minister, but you would have to think that Kevin Rudd or a third candidate, regardless of the pitfalls are still options that are being canvassed, surely with electability being foremost on the collective mind of the caucus.
Labor have a lot of questions to ask inwardly of themselves over the next 12 months before the 2013 election but basically every answer will be a completely negative one with the most important question then being “what do we do to help put us in the best position to rebuild in a fast and efficient manner”. Also, a little dose of populism despite the ugliness of the term in politics might just help a little.