Political Thrill n’ Spills

It is going to be a messy week in Australian politics. Yet again, the nation is being held hostage by the ebbing and flowing dynamics prevalent within political parties.

Malcolm Turnbull is Australia’s 29th Prime Minister. He seized the reigns of the nation after staging a political coup against his political rival Tony Abbott, in 2015.  Abbott won the 2013 on the back of infighting within the Labour Party – which saw Julia Gillard make a surprise attack on Kevin Rudd’s leadership in 2010, before Rudd regained his Prime Ministership for a total of 53 days before losing the 2013 election to Mr Abbott.

Since Turnbull staged his political coup, Abbott (often associated with Australia’s conservative movement) has been on the political sidelines. Over the past three years he has often been a bee in Turnbull’s bonnet, creating controversy by doing as he likes – specifically by not acting in the best interest of his government or Prime Minister’s agenda. However, Turnbull has been able to weather the Abbott storms repeatedly for two reasons: first, Turnbull has proven himself to be a more flexible and adaptive politician than Tony Abbott, who ultimately lost his Prime Ministership due to his rigid and somewhat cold leadership style. Second, Turnbull has been a stable and reasonably popular Prime Minister. I will now speak a little more broadly regarding this second point.

Malcolm Turnbull is not the best Prime Minister Australia has had. But he is probably the best person to run the country given the underwhelming selection of leaders within Parliament House. Turnbull is the longest serving Prime Minister in the last decade and his leadership has brought about a general feeling of political stability within Australia. Australia was a laughing stock following the Labour Party’s infighting and then Abbott’s downfall. With four Prime Minister’s in five years, anyone would have been forgiven for pointing at Australia and saying “that’s how not to run a country.” Nonetheless, Turnbull has provided mild stability through tumultuous times.

With such a divided political spectrum, Turnbull has provided Australia with a centrist and indeed truly liberal Prime Minster while managing those from within his party who would seek to see him fail – namely Mr Abbott. However, it would seem that his political fortunes are turning, rapidly.

This week Turnbull has shown political weakness in appeasing the conservative faction within his party by doing a 180 degree turn. His ‘NEG’ (National Energy Guarantee) appears dead in the water. There was some beauty to the NEG in that it promised to lower energy prices while keeping to Australia’s Paris Climate Agreement commitments. All appeared to be going swimmingly when Turnbull’s party internally voted in favour of legislating the NEG.

Today, Turnbull has revealed he does not have the support to pass the bill, thus, he is pulling the plug, for the time being. To make matters worse, growing support for yet another leadership spill is building momentum.

If Australia has yet another leadership spill, then it shows there are serious problems in Australia’s democracy. If Australia’s democracy were functioning to ensure stability and good leadership had at least a chance to flourish, then there would be legislation forbidding Prime Ministerial coups via means of internal party politics. Australia is at the mercy of corporatist styled parties, and democracy is not a requisite within a corporation. This is a blight on Australian politics and on the people whom our parties are supposed to be working for.

It is for the reader to imagine how much credibility political parties in Australia deserve. The two-party system in Australia is faltering. If we want to maintain a truly democratic political system we need more transparency from the major parties, though somehow I feel this will not be forthcoming.

Turnbull – The Next Election

Malcolm Turnbull cops a lot of heat. Probably more than most Australian Prime Ministers, perhaps more than he deserves. Turnbull finds himself in a very delicate position. Turnbull is one of the most left leaning politicians in the Liberal Party. The Liberal Party is considered Australia’s conservative party, and rightfully so. The Liberals hold personal liberties in the highest of regard, low taxation as a foundational priority and private rather than public enterprise as a national imperative.

Turnbull’s party are leaning further and further right. This is certainly not a new trend. ‘The right’ has gained political momentum throughout much of Europe and North America, it really is only a matter of time before we feel the same wave here in Australia. It makes political sense if politicians within the conservative party listen to their electorates and begin drifting with the tide. However, this spells eventual trouble for Malcolm Turnbull.

Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, Clive Palmer’s ‘Palmer United Party’ as well as The Liberal Democrats and Katter’s Australian Party are becoming refuges for conservative and ‘right wing’ voters in the Australian electorate. Australia’s conservative party is moving notoriously slowly in response to this trend. Time can only tell how the Liberal Party will respond.

The next 12 months will be telling. The Australian constitution requires there to be an election on or before the 18th of May 2019. I cannot see Australia changing prime ministers before May 18th next year. If the Liberal Party seeks to maintain credibility, then there will be no challenge on Malcolm Turnbull, from within his own party. Though, only time will tell who the prime minister is at the next election.

If Turnbull makes it to the election and leads his party to a third term, then it will show that the Australian electorate is more moderate than it appears to be.

Party Politics: The Great Australian Blight

Federal treasurer Scott Morrison has appointed Michael Brennan as the head of the Productivity Commission. The Productivity Commission’s primary role is to advise government on micro-economic issues, relating to the productivity of the Australian economy. Such micro-economic issues are brought to the commissions attention by the Australian government.

The Productivity Commission prides itself on political and ideological independence. Morrison’s appointment fundamentally calls this claim of independence into question.

Brennan was a former Liberal Party advisor to Liberal Finance Minister Nick Minchin as well as Victorian Liberal Treasurer Kim Wells. Brennan studied at ANU before briefly working for one of the four major accounting firms – PwC.

Brennan’s appointment raises alarm bells, around the independence of governing bodies. A person who has dedicated multiple years of his life to pushing the Liberal Party is expected to forgo all loyalties to the party that helped him reach his current position. It is naïve to think that Brennan would forget where he has come from and who has helped him get here.

Morrison is pushing the Liberal Party’s influence into bodies that ought to be independent. Over 250 years ago the French philosopher, Montesquieu, considered the importance of separating powers that are present within society. Specifically, he advocated for the separation of the executive, judicial and legislative. In the 21st century, we can add a fourth power, lobbying and advisory groups.

The executive generally refers to the head of state, the judicial to the courts and the legislative to the elected parliament. Lobbying and advisory groups refer to precisely what they are: groups that seek to influence political decision making based upon private rationale.

It is important to recognise that the Australian legislative body is dominated by two realities. First, by party politics. Second, by politicians with allegiances to political parties. It is worrying that the legislative body has the capacity to instate advisory bodies that foundationally share ideological goals. Yet more worrisome is that the Productivity Commission will be tasked with monitoring the government’s economic behaviour. If a government and its commissioner share ideology, then regulation becomes unlikely and somewhat pointless.

Latham: Considering Broader Political Problems

Former opposition leader Mark Latham has voiced his support for ‘minor parties’ ahead of five upcoming byelections. Although not directly affiliated with Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, Latham has offered his lip service to a message that ultimately seeks to diminish the Labor Party. Latham has recorded a so called ‘robocall’ message expressing his distrust for Bill Shorten and the Labor establishment.

ABC News linked to the entire recording of Latham’s message, while The Australian printed the entire message Latham has recorded:

“I’m Mark Latham, former Labor Party leader. I’ve had personal experience with Bill Shorten’s dishonesty. He just lies and lies and lies. The reason we’re having a Longman by-election is because Shorten lied about the citizenship of his Labor MPs. Whatever you do, don’t reward Shorten’s dishonesty. Don’t vote Labor. Please support minor parties and independents to shake up the system. Put some honest politics back into Canberra.”

Latham joined the ranks of the Liberal Democrats in 2017, consequently the Labor Party disowned him, stating he was banned from the party. It is still unclear whether Latham will throw all of his support behind Hanson and One Nation. However, it is crystal clear that Latham see’s major problems on the Australian political landscape.

One ought to make one’s own mind up, as to whether the two major political parties in Australia are acting in the best interest of the nation. It is, nonetheless, worth considering the priorities of the major parties. I am not going to provide a detailed policy analysis, outlining both Liberal and Labor perspectives on key issues. Rather, I seek to highlight the immediate priorities of these major parties.

Neither the Liberal Party or the Labor Party have the best interests of Australian’s in their hearts. Modern politics is a game of character assassination, rather than a space for rational economic and social policy discussion. Australian politics has become a laughing stock insofar as the priorities of the major parties are concerned. If rational policy is recommended by either side, then it is cast down in a wave of anger and envy. Both parties seek to destroy their opposition number so as to gain political points, come election time. This is a blight on Australian politics.

Although I do not have ‘personal experience’ with Bill Shorten, I believe Mark Latham is skimming the surface of a broader political problem. I have no faith in Pauline Hanson or her party, they engage in similar character assassinations. However, I do respect Latham for bringing the problems of Australian political parties into the spotlight, even if for just one day.

No one can tell you who to vote for. Though, you should vote for the candidate the best represents you and your electorate. I will hazard a guess and say that no party politician will do this. Party politicians are required to ‘keep to the party line’, lest they lose their jobs. While, independent politicians know their electorates better than anyone and ought to be considered. Independent’s yield to no party, only to their true masters – the electorate they represent.

Can we maintain faith in the Catholic Church?

This question extends well beyond whether anyone considers secularism a social goal, whether faith in the Judaeo-Christian God is worth your time or whether spirituality should be institutionalised, more generally. Rather, the question of faith in the Catholic Church extends directly from the ongoing spate of court cases the institution is facing.

Today is a turning point. Archbishop Philip Wilson has been sentenced to 12 months detention following Newcastle Local Court decision, finding him guilty of covering up child sexual abuse in the 1970s. To date, Wilson is the highest-ranking Catholic Church official to be convicted of crimes relating to the sexual and or physical abuse of children. There are wide calls for the Pope to actively acknowledge and indeed condemn Wilson, on behalf of the Catholic Church.

Business, as usual, will not hold muster. Although most of the Catholic Church’s officials, throughout history, have behaved in accord with their spiritual oaths – the abuses of modern priests must not be overlooked particularly by those at top of the Catholic tree. It is essential that senior Catholic Church officials outwardly condemn Wilson if the church expects to limit the inevitable social damage that will manifest over coming years and decades. Accountability will be essential to the continuation of this ancient institution.

So, getting back to the question at hand, can we maintain the faith in the Catholic Church? This remains to be seen. Much will depend upon what happens over the coming months and years. In reality, it will be an uphill battle to repair the social damage that has been caused in the name of the church. Wilson is just one priest that has been found guilty and it so happens he is the most senior official convicted thus far. It is highly likely he will not be the most senior official to be found guilty, for long.  The world awaits the outcome of the court case of Cardinal George Pell, who is the institutions third most prominent figure.

Whether you should maintain faith in this institution is your choice. However, the sheer enormity and scope of the cover-ups the Catholic Church is responsible for, are alarming. The severity of this problem cannot be understated, the social recovery will take a long time. Whether the Catholic Church deserves our trust is a question that begs to be answered. The manner in which the institution deals with abuse survivors and the convicted priests will speak volumes.

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