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Canberra
Tuesday, November 24, 2020
Ian Cubitts
Ian Cubitts

The political moment of truth arrives

I can never understand people complaining about voting in Australia. And it is not because it has been my professional preoccupation for decades; it is because, as Scott Morrison said at his low-key campaign launch recently, we enjoy “the promise of Australia”. We live in a prosperous, free country that has genuine national elections.

This Saturday, 18 May, is a festival of that democracy.

The complaints, I am sure, have much more to do with the behaviour of our politicians over the past decade. Frankly, they have let the nation down. The will of the voters has been trashed by conflicting egos and naked internal power struggles. It started with the Gillard coup against Kevin Rudd in 2010 and, remarkably, was continued by the Liberals, despite the toll they saw it taking on their Labor opponents.

The voters passed harsh judgement on Labor in 2013 for the chaos and dysfunction. Now, in 2019 after six years of Liberal-National rule and three prime ministers, the signs are they are about to repeat the medicine. The only real question is how bitter the dose will be.

Politicians from both sides of the political divide tell me the toppling of Malcolm Turnbull last year is still troubling voters. The one-man band Liberal launch is all the evidence you need about that. None of the party’s three living former prime ministers were invited; John Howard probably because if he turned up it would only highlight further that Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull weren’t there. If they were, it would only be a reminder that Turnbull’s promise of “stable government” in 2016 was trashed last August by Peter Dutton and his allies.

Scott Morrison says new rules mean if he is re-elected he won’t be deposed by the party room. The only weakness of that assurance is the post-election party room by a simple majority can change those rules. The same applies for Labor’s leadership stability rules. But at least there Shorten has the past six years to bolster his claim of leading a “stable, united team”.

If, as seems more likely, Shorten wins on Saturday – three years of leading in the published opinion polls and in every one since the election was called – the onus will be on him to restore faith in the system. He will be marked down severely if he fails to provide stable government and keep his promises. Sure, the senate will have a say but for once a potential incoming government has been up front, some would say crazy brave, in spelling out its agenda. The claim of a mandate will be enhanced by a majority of the people supporting it.

It is particularly relevant in terms of climate change action and energy policy. The very issues that brought Turnbull down have emerged in this campaign as key drivers for a number of “Liberal independents”, including senate candidate Anthony Pesec, running against the government.

We’ll soon know if they have accurately picked the nation’s mood.

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