Australian Labour is distressing democracy

By Andrew L. Urban

Ever since Julia Gillard climbed over Kevin Rudd in his first Prime Ministerial term in 2010, Labour collectively has behaved as if it is determined to diminish and distress Australian democracy, slippery bit by slithering bit. The Rudd knifing itself was a significant smack in the head for our system, because it was so brazenly self serving and undemocratic. The sour taste it generated has never leftAustralia’s mouth. The electorate feels cheated and is well aware that the democratic process was manipulated. Self serving attempts at an explanation only made it look even more sleazy.

Then came the election in which the majority of voters (by about 800,000) chose the Coalition, but electoral facts of life delivered a hung parliament. Now it was up to three independents to offer their support to install a Labour government, even though the electorates of all three independents were unequivocally Coalition supporters (in a two party part preferred context). Once again, the electorate felt cheated and the democratic process was seen to have been manipulated for special interest groups – the seats of the independents, which were later showered with Government gifts.

Election over, and the ink had hardly dried on the written treaty between the Greens and Labour, when Julia Gillard infamously reversed her pre-election stand on a carbon tax. This was a serious body blow to democratic process, emphasised by the fact that it was so soon after her election undertaking and the fact that the only reason she could give for the about face was again brazenly self serving; holding on to power. This broken promise has come to symbolise the Labour party’s lack of respect for genuine democracy. It’s what you do that counts, not what you say.

In what will go down in history as the biggest financial gamble by this Labour Government, Comms Minister Stephen Conroy has defiantly pushed through the establishment of the NBN Co, a multi billion dollar Government owned monopoly, ignoring rational and reasonable calls for a cost benefit study. Unable, it seems, to separate the advantages of quality broadband services around the country from the disadvantages of having it delivered by such a corporate monolith (eg waste and inefficiency), the Government went one step further in its disregard for democratic principles. It passed legislation to exempt the NBN Co from the provisions of the Freedom of Information laws to erect a wall of secrecy around the organisation. This means that we, the taxpayers whose money is being spent and who are the ultimate owners of the NBN Co, can not look into its activities or examine its books.

The constant distressing of our democracy continued with the garbled and discredited process that ended with the Government ignoring two separate independent tenders and handing the Australia Network to the ABC in perpetuity. The transparently self serving reasons for this decision are linked to the very first anti-democratic act identified at the beginning of this article: the deposing of Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister. The link is in the fact that the Australia Network was overseen by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which was the responsibility of the deposed Rudd in his capacity as Foreign Affairs Minister. This responsibility was arbitrarily moved to the Communications department under Conroy, before the contract was awarded to the ABC. All without Rudd’s input. Yet it was Rudd who originally called for tenders.

The electorate has had no reason to trust this Government ever since it took office and the manipulative arrangement to replace the Speaker with a Coalition member on the last day of the 2011 sitting year simply underlined the shabbiness of today’s Labour Party.

While this process of continually damaging democracy by fairly significant acts of self interest is of great concern, it is equally concerning that Julia Gillard’s political amateurishness didn’t prevent her from being party leader and Prime Minister.

First: nobody seems to have thought through the consequences of dumping Kevin Rudd from the Prime Ministership even before his first term expired. What were they thinking, these bright lads from the back room? What was Gillard thinking? What did they think Rudd would do? How would it play out over time with Rudd the Ronin? So it is that 18 months later, the Rudd factor is Labour’s greatest concern. It is hard to think of a polite way to describe the decision.

Second: why did Gillard sign a treaty with the Greens as part of the minority Government landscape? The Greens were/are never going to vote against a Labour Government on confidence; did she think they might join the Coalition? But the irony is that even though she has a treaty with Brown the Green, she had to plead with the Coalition for support on one of her three major policy areas: asylum seekers. Trying to get legislation through to force a way to enable the Malaysian solution for offshore processing, she needed the Greens. Her official allies.

But she raved and ranted at Opposition Leader Tony Abbott to support the bill; we never heard her scream at Bob Brown to the effect that ‘Hey, mate, you’re part of our official parliamentary team … vote like it.’ The agreement is not only useless, it’s a permanent reminder of another politically stupid decision.

And of course every decision Gillard made –or rather, put into a thought bubble – about asylum seeker policy blew up in her face. How clever is that? Ineptitude is not criminal, but when coupled with self interest as the prime mover of policy, it tends to steer into the ditch. The depth of ineptitude was revealed during the election campaign, when the Gillard camp became a butt of jokes about who was the real Julia, etc. When a politician is so thoroughly ridiculed for so long as Gillard has been (not just by cartoonists), it is a sign of having run out of political capital. I question whether she ever had much political nous, but her Labour Party colleagues obviously thought so. Or was Gillard tricked into agreeing to knife Rudd because no-one else was silly enough? The plan might have been to save as many of their seats as possible; Rudd wasn’t the way. Someone else was a chance, but that someone else would have to cop a lifetime of angst for the knifing.

27/1/2012: Since the above was written, further insults to our democracy were delivered by the Gillard Government. The ‘Slipper Speaker substitution’ took place on the last day of sitting in 2010, when Harry Jenkins agreed to step down as Speaker so that disgruntled Coalition MP Peter Slipper (now listed as Independent) could be installed.

 This shored up Labour’s slim majority in the House – as a precurser to the next piece of political thuggery: the poker machine fiasco. Gillard won Andrew Wilkie’s support for the minority Government after the election on the promise of legislation she was to push through on pokies.

Gillard pulled out of the deal in January 2012.

 Knowing in advance that Wilkie would not back down, it was crucial to secure a replacement vote for Wilkie, which gave Slipper a welcome payday, instead of the boot he could have expected from his party.

 These conjoined political decisions have continued the litany of swindles against democracy by Gillard’s Government.

8/2/2012: Public trust in the Australian media has increased significantly, while trust in the Government has fallen, a survey published today by PR agency Edelman suggests, reports

According to Edelman’s Trust Barometer, confidence in the media to do the right thing has risen from 32% last year to 43% this year. At the same time, trust in the Government to do the right thing has declined from 52% to 47%.

Whereas a year ago, the gap between public trust in media and government was 20%, it is now just 4%.

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