The electorate’s voting intentions may not gel until the end of the election campaign, but the outcome, more often than not, is the result of perceptions of unity, integrity and administrative competency, that evolve incident by incident throughout the government’s term of office.
After two terms in Opposition, the Coalition won office convincingly with 90 members to Labor’s 55 at the federal election 7 September 2013. This Parliament is Australia’s 44th since federation in 1901, and it was officially opened on the 12th November 2013.
Although only six months into office, the events of the past week or two suggest that with a comfortable majority, the Coalition may already be becoming complacent in office, and elitist. Individually these incidents may be of little consequence, but collectively they have the potential to sway public perceptions. Is the Coalition becoming a Party for the Privileged, and not for the ordinary Aussie battler?
Although not always the “Honest John” of his image, public perception was that he “got things done” that mattered, such as gun control, and the introduction of the GST. He might be a royalist, but his pitch was to Aussie battlers who wished to improve their lot in life, and to family values. He was not pretentious, and avoided the mistake of appearing to favour the powerful, and the affluent. Is it any wonder that he became Australia’s second longest serving prime minister, serving 11 years, eight months and 22 days from 11 March 1996 to 3 December 2007?
Andrew Bolt has a track history of raising controversial issues including those with racial sensitivities, in his work as a journalist and author.
• In 2006 he alleged that the children of the Stolen Generations were not removed for purely racist reasons.
• In September 2010, nine individuals sued Bolt and the Herald Sun over articles such as “It is so hip to be black” that argued that fair skinned people with some aboriginal ancestry were choosing to be black for financial and political advantage.
Senator George Brandis has now famously argued in favour of the right to be a bigot, defending Andrew Bolt, and promoting the right to free speech even when it reasonably offends racial minorities.
He may have legal weight on his side, but one has to question his political nous to make such a statement in Australia’s multicultural society.
2. Tony Abbott’s decision, without debate in Cabinet, to anachronistically re-instate Knights and Dames to the Australian honours system. This autocratic decision does not have the support of leading Liberals, past and present, and is an affront to Republican Malcolm Turnbull. Although his role is now quite secure he won the leadership over Turnbull by just one vote. This initiative provides material for Opposition jest with the message being that the Liberals are the party for the privileged few within society. For one who relates well to ordinary Australians Tony Abbott is the last person I would have believed would do this.
3. 71 year-old Bronwyn Bishop’s blatant bias against the opposition in her new role as Speaker.
Whereas 98 opposition members have been expelled from the house for disorderly conduct, or not obeying her rulings, no Coalition member has been thus disciplined.
Opposition anger eventually bubbled over somewhat fruitlessly into a censure vote, which although easily defeated, did at least draw attention to the injustice, and lack of fairness by the Speaker thus far. Most Australians have a sense of fair play.
Astounding too, was her ruling that the loud laughter which occasionally erupts in Parliament, despite her demeanour, is unseemly, indecorous, and not to be tolerated.
She may not have needed it but South Australia’s loquacious Christopher Pyne soon sprang to Bronwyn Bishop’s defence trumpeting his record of being the most banished Member of Parliament under the previous speaker Anna Burke. The Opposition, he chided, were nothing but sooks for complaining!
4. The issue with potential to most damage the Government’s image as one of Integrity and prudence is that involving the previously highly respected Arthur Sinodinos. Charged with standing to gain $10 to $20 million from his lobbying role for the proposed Eddie Obeid related company, Australian Water Holdings, he repeatedly pleaded an inability to recall relevant details of his involvement, at the current ICAC inquiry.
As one who voted for the Coalition at the last election, I believe the government has made a good start in office, and is paving the way for sound growth in the economy. However they would be wise to avoid complacency.