Most Prime Ministers when they achieve Government with a sizable majority set out to put in place policy initiatives that might define a legacy they will be remembered for. John Howard’s GST, Paul Keating’s Native Title and Bob Hawke’s sweeping changes to our monetary system come to mind. They all burnt up their political capital in the knowledge that it doesn’t last for ever. They all focused on big things. Large programmes that remain indelible in Australia’s historical political discourse.
Tony Abbott on the other hand seems more intent on burning up his political capital on issues of ideology: on his hatred of all things associated with Labor. With him it’s personal. This can be seen in his undoing of Labor polices regardless of merit or common good worthiness. His politically based Royal Commissions that will trash long held conventions for the sake of a personal vendetta. Commissions that may well come back to bite him on the tail.
On top of that there is the deliberate attempt to downgrade Question Time, inflict his own moral compass on the community and redefine free speech in order to give greater licence to those with the power to influence public opinion. All this in the absence of any serious policies of his own. All we have is a Government of undoing, unable to present a coherent narrative. One that seems immersed in some sort of cultural battle that it must win before it can focus on real issues. Things that might enhance our society.
For all its criticism, the Whitlam Government came to power with a sense of direction, of purpose and for its short time in office achieved some good reforms. Among them were:
• End conscription
• Withdraw troops from Vietnam
• Begin to work towards equal pay for women
• Establish a single department of Defence
• Grant independence to Papua New Guinea
• Abolish tertiary education fees
• Raise the age pension to 25 per cent of average male weekly earnings
• Establish Medibank
• Introduce no-fault divorce
• Pass a series of laws banning racial and sexual discrimination
• Extend maternity leave and benefits to single mothers
• Establish the Legal Aid Office
• Establish the National Film and Television School
• Launch construction of the National Gallery of Australia
• Reopen diplomatic ties with China
• Establish the Trades Practices Commission
• Establish the National Parks and Wildlife Service
• Establish the Law Reform Commission
• Establish the Australian Film Commission, the Australia Council and the Australian Heritage Commission
• Create Telecom and Australia Post from the Postmaster-Generals Department
• Devise the Order of Australia to replace the British Honours system
• Abolish appeals to the Privy Council in the UK
• Change the national anthem to Advance Australia Fair
• Institute Aboriginal land rights
For its part the Abbott Government’s plan appears to be to diminish government’s role in society and replace it with free market business principles based on a Thatcher/Reagan philosophy from a distant past. They have decided that a war on ideology matters more.
The Most Biased Speaker Ever
Take for example this week’s move (the first since 1949) by Labor to move a motion of no confidence in the speaker. Public opinion regarding Question Time has always been one of derision. Without a care the government has shown a complete disregard for the democratic process and has sought to downgrade it even further. Bronwyn Bishop has been universally condemned as the most biased speaker the Nation has ever had.
“The Speaker of the Lower House of the Australian Parliament can only be described as a nasty bitch. Unnecessarily so” (John Lord).
This week we had the ludicrous situation of a shadow minister being thrown out of the house for saying ‘Madam Speaker’. The first since federation. Had she wanted, she could have, with her self-professed knowledge of the standing orders become an acceptable speaker or even a fine one. Instead she has put party before independence and set out to crucify Labor at every sitting. To the point of exasperation.
She acts like some sort of medieval evil schoolteacher intent on provocation with intent to alienate rather than mediate. Constantly with a look of contempt that would kill. Her manner of speaking is disingenuous and full of nasty implication. She seems to have little interest in adjudication wanting to be a player in the process. Any Speaker who attends her own parties Parliamentary meetings (or takes part in) to listen to tactics cannot be unbiased and is unworthy of the position.
The question this all raises of course is; What is the point of Question Time? Ministers are now not even remotely required to answer questions with any relevance. Labor would be better to just boycott Question Time until they get some form of guarantee that some semblance of the Westminster system would be adhered to. It surely cannot go on this way for another two and a half years.
Anyway I will leave the last word to conservative commentator Peter Van Onselen:
“Bronwyn Bishop has been a disgraceful Speaker, plain and simple. A shocking selection”.
Titles. On my Selection
Further, the Prime Minister has sought to impose his own cultural interpretation of Australian society with the reintroduction of titles, even though he ruled them out in December. The shock, ridicule and disbelief has reverberated across the nation, even from perpetual sycophantic anglophiles like John Howard who in effect Abbott has demoted in title recognition. Social media was inundated with self-titled Sirs. I refrained because I am already a Lord.
The cringe from both sides of politics has simply reinforced the belief that Abbott has a cultural and moral view of Australia that is supported by few Australians regardless of the political divide. One that we have long since moved on from. All he is doing is highlighting the negative view people have of him.
On The Drum Friday night when the subject was raised all the panelists started laughing such was their incredulity at Abbott’s stupidity. This is reinforced by opinion polls that show him and his government to be the least popular newly elected government in forty years. In fact it is the only newly elected Government in forty years not to enjoy a honeymoon period.
In announcing his new titles he further empathised his deep seated Catholicism by using the term ‘Grace Notes’. A term I recognised in musical expression but deeper searching revealed the church connection. He has now placed future recipients in an awkward position. If they accept will they face public ridicule? My guess is that the individual calibre of person he selects will speak volumes for his judgement. But then this is a Prime Minister born in England and only taking out citizenship at the age of 24 to ensure an Oxford education. Not only has he downgraded Australia’s current tiles but his Knights and Dames of the future will be tarnished with the fact that is was Abbott that selected them.
“The return of imperial honours defies the spirit of the nation we have become” (Michael Smith).
Then we were subjected to the idiotic ramblings of the blunt and confronting Senator (John Howard is a lying Rodent) Brandis who suggested that anyone was perfectly entitled to be a bigot if they wanted to be and that outright free speech, as he proposed would give them that right. The general response has been one of condemnation.
“Something drastically wrong with the moral compass of a nation when it legislates to make bigotry a right” (John Lord).
I have written much on this subject with an open mind and appreciation of both sides of the argument. I don’t propose to express any more except to say that in all the discourse there is a point that seems to be overlooked. It is this: Who are the proposed changes supposed to benefit? Do I need more free speech than I already have? On this blog I have repeatedly called the Prime Minister a pathetic liar. And I think, with justification. I could probably say worse but I have no desire to do so. Many writers on this blog express their views aggressively but never overstep the line of decency like Andrew Bolt does. If we did I doubt that any of us could stand up to the might of a Murdoch for example.
So who would benefit from the proposed changes? Not the average citizen or writers of my ilk. People with a voice who had a vested interest in influencing the intellectual poor would. And those who are like minded. All the conveyers of subtle hidden persuaders would. In essence the likes of Murdoch and his hate press.
All of this preoccupation and philosophical hatred of the left is not serving the country well. Abbott should stop and reflect on his culture war. He is shooting bullets at those who don’t deserve it.
These are but a few examples of what the March in March rallies were about.