July 28, 2015

With a Prime Minister’s job on the line, you might think that there was a buzz of excitement around Parliament House on Monday – a feeling that history was being made before our eyes. But you’d be wrong.

The mood at Aussies Cafe, where  politicians, staffers and media queue up to buy their flat whites, was summed up by the phrase: here we go again.

Leadership spills are getting a bit ho-hum. For some years now we’ve seen images of Important People in Suits Doing Power Walks Down Corridors. Same pictures, same suits, same power walks, same corridors, same platitudes, same concerned looks – just different people.

This feeling of déjà vu belies Mr Abbott’s assertion that Liberals and Labor are cut from different cloth. In fact, both are hostage to backbenchers in marginal electorates protecting their jobs by defending big spending government programs. And indications are they will further come to resemble each other.

Mr Shorten has been delivering platitudes about spending our way to economic growth and budget recovery.  Like a drowning man seeking to pull himself up by his own hair, Mr Abbott seized on these platitudes with all his might in his Press Club address.  Expect to hear a whole lot more about how spending money on childcare and infrastructure will save us all.

Of course, Mr Abbott will try to distinguish himself by outdoing Labor on national security issues at the expense of our freedoms.  But Mr Shorten won’t let Abbott get too far ahead in that race: he shares the lazy view that being tough on national security is a vote winner.

We also won’t see as many clashes between Liberals and Labor in Parliament.  The Government is looking for ways to avoid having decisions made in the Senate at all. For example, it is effectively abolishing the agency that reviews Freedom of Information applications by starving it of funds rather than by putting the Bill to abolish it before the Senate.

And with Mr Abbott winning the spill by an unconvincing margin, leadership speculation will be the order of the day, as it was in the Rudd-Gillard years.

This meant Monday’s spill was of little consequence to me.

Had Malcolm Turnbull won on Monday, it’s unlikely the legislation coming before us in the Senate would have noticeably changed. I enjoy Malcolm’s company and he is much more likely to support my Freedom to Marry Bill, but the conscience vote issue is likely to be considered by the Coalition party room in any case.

The bigger question is who will lead the Liberals into the next election.  The bookmakers are usually right about these things, and they say Malcolm Turnbull is most likely. Few of the Liberals I’ve spoken to would take the juicier odds on offer for Tony Abbott.

The only person winning from all this is Mr Shorten. It’s entirely possible that thanks to the turmoil, he will win the next election. The bad news for Bill is that if the current mood in the electorate continues, opinion polls will start to bite him in the bum as well. It’s just as likely he’ll be toppled by another candidate who will then lead Labor to defeat in the next election.  More in the parade of one-term wonders!

Australia can only stand so many poor governments before it starts to bite us, too. Is there any alternative to this depressing probability?

Wouldn’t it be refreshing for the Liberal leader to accept that he can’t outspend Labor, and to concentrate on convincing the public of the need to fix the budget and economy regardless of the consequences for popularity and the next election?

Wouldn’t it be refreshing for the Labor leader, whoever that may be, to plan for his next stint in government rather than pretend that the status quo is just fine?

Too many of our politicians don’t really seem to believe or stick to anything. Julia Gillard was passionate about addressing climate change, until she wasn’t. Tony Abbott was passionate about the Paid Parental Leave Scheme, until he wasn’t.  If our leaders don’t believe in anything much, then it stands to reason that there’s nothing much to lose by changing them around, and much good theatre to be had in the process.

This could all stop if we had political leaders of all persuasions who have values they believe in, can articulate those values, keep articulating them until they win, and then stick to them when they do.