Insatiable: Australian government and politics in the wake of the latest leadership spill

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Words || Katelyn Free

You put your Tony in, you take your Tony out. You put your Malcolm in, and you shake it all about. You do the leadership spill, and you turn Scotty around. That’s what it’s all about.

But in this case, ‘it’ doesn’t mean a strange and slightly innuendo-laced children’s dance. ‘It’ is the Australian government.

Let’s do a quick recap. Because this hokey pokey game of leadership turn-over has been going on for around 10 years, and before we all go shaking our fists at P Dutts (though that is fair game), let’s take a look at the origins of our PM hungry parliament.

It’s 2007 and change is in the air. We have Kevin Rudd, with his frameless glasses who just took over the leadership of the Labour party. He wins over the hearts of Australians a bit fed up with John Howard’s vanilla disregard of the Stolen Generations and becomes PM. A few years down the track in 2010, in a move worthy of a soap opera, Kevin’s Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard challenges his leadership and wins. She scrapes by in the next election and we’re happy sailing until in mid-2013 Kevin comes back swinging, spills the leadership and moves back into the PM position. Labour loses the next election and its finally time for Tony Abbott to get his shining glory as PM. He coasts by for a few years preaching stability, until 2015. Malcolm Turnbull then comes along and steals his glorious, bumbling thunder with yet another leadership spill.

And that catches you up to the events of the 21st and 24th of August. Two consecutive leadership challenges. P Dutts bringing both and being successful in neither. Malcolm surviving the first. ScoMo taking out the second. And the Federal Government has yet again succumbed to the leadership tag team race that has dominated its stage for the past eight years.

Dr. Glenn Kefford is a lecturer at Macquarie specialising in Australian politics and leadership, and he believes that this latest spill was the culmination of various factors. He notes that ‘the result in the Longman by-election is important and cannot be overlooked’. The by-election resulted in a low Liberal National Party primary, and as Queensland holds almost half of the marginal seats which the Liberal party relies upon as part of the coalition, a bit of panic ensued. While this may be an important trigger, he also states that ‘ambition and ego are factors as well’.

‘Peter Dutton and his backers would have viewed this as an opening for him to become prime minister’, Kefford noted. This was reflected in the voting results of the first ballot and subsequent spill where the Queensland MPs and Senators voted almost like a bloc. No other state followed this pattern, so Kefford believes ‘much of the blame needs to go to the QLD LNP.’ Party politics and factional divides reigned supreme in this latest spill, as Kefford observed that ‘Australian voters overwhelmingly favour stability, despise internal navel-gazing and want politicians to determine what the key issues are that need resolving and to act’.

Despite Australian voters making it clear that stability is the flavour of the month, it appears that once the ball got rolling on leadership challenges, the move has established itself as a norm within Canberra. A function to mitigate party politics and resolve internal disputes, all under the guise of maintaining public favour. “We’re on your side”, declared ScoMo in his post-leadership challenge conference, but the Liberal Party’s actions in and of themselves were not on the Australian people’s side. It is compulsory for Australian citizens to vote in federal elections unless they want to be issued a hefty fine upwards of 50 dollary doos. But it appears entirely voluntary for the Australian government to listen to the wishes of its voters.

In a ReachTEL poll for GetUp! conducted a day before the first spill, Malcolm was the resounding preferable Liberal leader, with 36% of the votes, Tony and Julie both held 14% and P Dutts 12%. Among Liberal voters exclusively, Malcolm had 59% of the votes as the preferred Liberal leader. To say that to proceed with a leadership spill under such circumstances and in light of the previous backlash received after previous spills over the last few years, was to be on the Australian people’s side, doesn’t quite line up.

What is becoming more and more apparent is what Kefford has described as ‘an increasing disconnect between the lived experience of many political elites and that of everyday voters’. He notes that the Canberra bubble of internal factions and party politics can draw the political class away from the reality of the citizens who they seek to represent, and members of the political class ‘appear to lose sight of what they are actually elected to do’.
And that is exactly what happened on the 21st and 24th of August 2018. It is not necessarily something new or an issue isolated to the Liberal party. An insatiable appetite for ambition and greater status is not a particularly profound or revolutionary discovery within politics. But what is finally starting to tick over, is how damaging that ambition is becoming as it continues to overflow and intervene in the effective governance of our country.

Individual ambition is not a crime, but when an individual is elected to represent their electorate in government, at a state or federal level, it is the expectation that they will do just that: represent their electorate. Instead, party politics and personal vendetta have been represented. Proof of the public discontent this has generated is found in nothing if not the sheer amount of times the Betoota Advocate article ‘Can You Useless Fucks Actually Do Some Work, Asks Nation’ was shared and flashed across newsfeeds during the spill period.

Ultimately, for four days in late August, the Liberal party lost sight of what there were actually elected to do. They went against the wishes and views of the Australian people. They went against their very job description. And there are not many ways you can swing that.

The Australian government now has a history of chewing through PMs like a pack of Sour Patch Kids. And the Australian people are not the ones who are hungry for more.