What’s Good For Them: Tony Abbott and the Australian Electorate

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TONY ABBOTT, Australia’s beleaguered Prime Minister, is just the latest (and nearest) casualty of a steadily widening rift within the international political class. Essentially, this class is split between those who believe that effective and efficient governance is possible without popular consent. (Which, they assert, can now be convincingly simulated without political risk). And those who continue to believe that a certain, irreducible, measure of popular consent remains indispensable to the maintenance of a government’s political legitimacy.

Abbott is a particularly vivid exemplar of the non-democratic mode of governance. The speed with which he jettisoned his electoral promises to the Australian electorate confirms his entirely instrumental view of the electoral process. In Abbott’s eyes, a party manifesto should never be construed as some form of contract with the electorate. This is because electoral promises are not promises in the conventional sense. They are, rather, to be understood as straightforward voter motivators: an important means to the ultimate end of amassing more votes than one’s opponents and winning power.

Abbott’s extraordinary practice of making “Captain’s picks” – decisions made without reference to either his cabinet colleagues or his own backbench – epitomises his view of governance as a series of top-down directives – to be implemented without question or delay. In pursuing this strategy, Abbott is strongly assisted by his controversial chief-of-staff, Peta Credlin, who has repeatedly demonstrated her contempt for cabinet ministers and back-benchers alike. Working together, Abbott and Credlin have perfected an Australian variant of government-by-decree – a practice more usually associated with hard-pressed presidential regimes (most infamously with the ill-starred Weimar Republic).

That Abbott sees himself as some sort of presidential figure was made clear in his outraged reaction to the suggestion that his colleagues might be preparing to over-turn “the people’s choice” for prime-minister. In advancing this position (with considerable support from the right-wing news media) Abbott was, in effect, turning the whole Westminster System of parliamentary government on its head.

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Between elections, he was saying, the Prime Minister must be invulnerable to challenge. A notion which directly contradicts the long-established convention that the Prime Minister holds office at the pleasure of Parliament, and that democratic accountability is traceable through the people’s representatives exclusively. It is Members of Parliament who determine, by majority vote, the composition of the government – no one else.

The problem with this convention, at least as far as the anti-democratic faction of the political class is concerned, is that it places far too much power in the hands of politicians who are, themselves, vulnerable to the electoral power of the voters. Inflict too much pain on the electorate and it just might decide to turf the government responsible out of office.

That this was much more than a theorem of political science was demonstrated to the Australian political class by the voters of Queensland, who, only last month, rounded savagely on their proudly anti-democratic premier and his unmandated assault on the people of the sunshine state by emphatically reinstalling a thoroughly chastened Labor Party to office.

It was this demonstration of the voters’ power (which, itself, followed hard on the heels of a similar upset in the state of Victoria) that prompted a significant minority of Abbott’s back-benchers to call for a leadership ballot. That Abbott held on was in large measure due to the formal loyalty of his Cabinet. But even inside the Cabinet Room, a restive and growing group of Liberal Party ministers are rapidly coming to terms with the practical political dangers of persisting with the fiction that Abbott is some sort of elected Kaiser and Peta Credlin his Iron Chancellor.

The neoliberal zealots who populate the think-tanks, employer lobbies and commentariat of the Australian Right may have convinced themselves that elections are mere charades to be managed by public-relations mavens, pollsters and spin-doctors; and that, as soon as these irritating democratic rituals have been safely concluded, the real business of “responsible” governance can resume – regardless of promises made and any naive voter expectations that promises will be kept. But those wiser heads within the political class know better.

Major economic and social changes, imposed without a clear electoral mandate, can only be preserved through an ever-increasing reliance on political distraction, demagoguery, and outright deceit. Inevitably, the imposition of unannounced and unfairly distributed pain will be answered by the sort of emphatic electoral rejection so recently demonstrated in Victoria and Queensland.

As the moderate faction of the political class absorbs these fundamental democratic realities, and their unease is communicated to the Liberal Party’s wavering politicians, Abbott’s position will become increasingly untenable. Sooner or later (and most probably it will be sooner) he will be made to pay the price for ignoring the pragmatic example set by his more durable predecessors.

The best Aussie barbeques are those where the guests get to eat the steaks and salads they’ve prepared themselves – not the ones where the host serves only what he, alone, has decided is good for them.

9 COMMENTS

  1. Key and Abbott have a lot in common – hence the current “bromance” during Abbott’s visit. (It may very well be btw, that Joolie wasn’t falling asleep, but merely trying to prevent herself from throwing up).
    They both seem to believe in the ‘elected dictatorship’ idea – winner takes all. Thankfully the Victorian and Queensland electorates have different ideas – and quite possibly NSW, Tassie and SA to follow.
    In recent times I’ve come to realise the difference between Okkers and Kiwis (having once held OZ citizenship (not exactly sure if I still do). Its that Australians are less ready to take shit whereas Kiwis over the past 30 years have gradually signed up to just rolling over and taking it up the proverbial – no wonder they regard us as their little ‘brothers’

    In saying that, you might have witnessed their right wing media creaming themselves over JK’s get some guts outburst on Sky News (Viewpoint & PML – both stacked with a FucksNews-like panel of hacks).

    I’ll bet Abbotabad is also chatting with JK about benefit reforms and ‘rationalising’ various public welfare systems whilst figuring out how to justify the maintenance of corporate welfare.

  2. “….Major economic and social changes, imposed without a clear electoral mandate, can only be preserved through an ever-increasing reliance on political distraction, demagoguery, and outright deceit….”

    Labour said they had $18 billion of debt – but when the Liberals got elected it turned out to be close to $40 billion. And since then the RB board has come out and said that spending is unsustainable and spending needs to change.

    Aussies in general listen to the RB – hence why there is no complaining from the public- at times like these campaign policy becomes a non-issue.

    Abbott’s polling has been rising too – and as we can all then see – Turnball is running out of time!

  3. Hi Chris, you said;

    “The neoliberal zealots who populate the think-tanks, employer lobbies and commentariat of the Australian Right may have convinced themselves that elections are mere charades to be managed by public-relations mavens, pollsters and spin-doctors”

    Yes they rule by their own crooked arrogant decree, obvious they knew it was from rigged elections both Key & Abbott.

    Or should we call them Abbott & Costello?

    Here’s the proof how to rig an election, just as Key has obviously done already, if not Abbott.

    http://theteapartytruther.com/programmer_testifies_about_rigging_elections_with_vote_counting_machine

    • that’s about rigging voting machines in the USA. we don’t use those here in NZ.

      this is not proof of the last election in NZ being rigged at all.

  4. The NZ election was so rigged, I think even John Key was surprised himself that it worked. I bet someone crooked said ‘ Leave it up to me’ and hey presto National wins…even though there was obvious dislike for them all over the country before the elections. Sometimes ‘things’ just feel dodgy – with the recent elections being one of them.

  5. Yeah , Id have to agree with ONCE WAS TIM .

    Alot of kiwis like to bash the Aussies but one thing you can admire them for (and some would call them brash ) is that they are not afraid to speak plainly and succinctly without verbosity as in …. ‘ We reckon youre full of shit , mate ! ‘

    And do you remember what happened to the long riegn of John Howard when he tried to introduce ‘ Work Choices’ – the equivalent of our Employment Contracts ?

    After mass union mobilisation he was out on his arse in less than six months.

    Now see we have the same sort of pig ignorant neo liberal piracy here in NZ. The same sort of lying bastards who think its their ‘ RIGHT ” to tell US what WE will be doing.

    Key epitomises this odious ilk. The smiling face, the verbose twisting of the truth , the constant tripping over his own lies , the arrogance , in short….the twisted ideology of a one world governance.

    And the vehicle? …neo liberal economics. These characters are masters at having as their front men and women people who wield the ‘common touch’. Who are groomed to come across as ‘ oh so sensible ‘….when in reality ….they are little more than trojan horses to weaken a nations economy , moral standing , and autonomy.

    In order to create a servile populace you need to weaken them. In order to create a global governence you need to legislate , introduce binding economic and geo political agreements – all under the guise of something as benign as ‘ trade ‘.

    We now have the TTPA on the horizon .

    We now also have ‘ the war on terror ‘ to which this arsehole has unilaterally committed us to WITHOUT THE MANDATE OF PARLIAMENT.

    What a little prick.

    What sort of jerk is this that thinks he can overrule our democratic and parliamentary systems?

    Its time we all woke up to the little shit and kicked the little fucker out of parliament and back to his filthy neo liberal dosshouse in Hawaii.

    We dont need the piece of crap here.

    Same as the Aussies made that loud and clear about that pointy headed little freak who wants to be King over there.

  6. Abbot is poised for a cameo in this season’s “Walking Dead”, and Hockey, who is on the whole infinitely more competent than Bill English, has completely destroyed his public credibility. They’re gone, and the sooner our versions of them go the same way the better.

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