A sorry history repeats itself

“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” These are probably the most famous words Mark Twain never said. They resonate because they’re true.

I am not only astonished, but also appalled, at the willingness of Australia’s political leaders to prove the point, the Liberals now matching Labor verse for verse. From my vantage point, this is how the rhyme goes.

Rudd and Turnbull: winning by whiteanting

Kevin white anted the PM, putting personal ambition before party interest. Malcolm white anted the PM, putting personal ambition before party interest.

Swan and Bishop: the “loyal” deputy

Wayne was loyal deputy to the PM, until he became loyal deputy to the PM’s assassin. Julie was loyal deputy to the PM, until she became loyal deputy to the PM’s assassin.

Shorten and Morrison: the scheming third in line

Bill was steadfast in his support for the PM (Gillard), until he wasn’t — not because he supported the PM’s assassin, but because when the assassin faltered, he was next in line. He put power before principle. Scott was steadfast in his support for the PM, until he wasn’t — not because he supported the PM’s assassin, but because when the assassin falters, he is next in line. He put power before principle.

Gillard and Abbott: the gracious loser

The poetry here isn’t perfect. You could argue that Julia “rhymes” with Malcolm, both cutting down a first term PM. Similarly, you could argue that Tony “rhymes” with Kevin, both being PMs axed in their first term.

But it’s also true that Julia was honourable in defeat, in stark contrast to her treacherous assassin. And if his departing speech is believed (and I do believe it), Tony is honourable in defeat, in stark contrast to his treacherous assassin.

All of this was bad enough the first time round. You do not remove an elected prime minister in his first term. You just don’t do it. That is the people’s prerogative. But that it has happened a second time is unforgivable. I don’t think Gillard foresaw the implications of subverting the electorate’s right to assess a first term government; Turnbull has no excuse. To say I’m angry is an understatement, and apparently I’m not the only one.

Now I’m in a quandary. I think I will have to vote informally at the next election. I’m all for compulsory voting, but I wish the federal ballot paper permitted optional preferences. As it stands, in Labor-Liberal contests (which accounts for most electorates, and certainly my own), every voter is ultimately obliged to cast their vote for one major party or the other. There is no way I will cast a vote which indirectly rewards the treachery of Malcolm Turnbull or Bill Shorten or Scott Morrison. As far as I’m concerned, none of these men is worthy to be Prime Minister. How can we trust them to put the national interest before self-interest?

What a sorry lot our political leaders are. The canniest political players (the first six) are devoid of honour. At least Gillard and Abbott demonstrate an honour of sorts, but then, they have proved to be hopeless politicians. Maybe that’s causal. Maybe political skill and personal honour are antithetical.

More’s the pity.

  • Simon Hogan

    Tomorrow Caulfield is having a war memorial service. Plus horse racing! I like Race2no9. Race3no8 Race4no12 Race6no7 Race7no13 Race8no4 and 18! Race9 no1 and12 and six! I know Fr. Joel loves my tips! Well maybe Fr. Joel might me our Prime Minster one day! Huge odds! You Malcom Fraser died early in the year now we have another Malcom in the top job! Have a great weekend!

  • Stephen K

    With respect, Father John, I don’t know where you get the idea that the Prime Ministership is the people’s prerogative: on the contrary it has always been the gift of the respective parliamentary parties. The people only get to vote for their local member. That (1) they are sometimes influenced in their local vote by the personality or character of a party leader and (2) that a leader change mid-term has not happened often, are circumstances of human psychology and history respectively.

    On the other hand, your juxtapositions and characterisations of the eight persons you’ve highlighted are indeed your prerogative, of course, as each person’s will be. We don’t all agree on the identity of heroes and villains. There’s no science to the comparisons you or I would make: they are the result of our respective philosophical filters and tribal affiliations, and must be taken as such, no more nor less.

    However I don’t think that at the final moment you’re really likely to vote informal. Whilst I’m sure we both feel at times the ‘pox-on-both-their-houses’ sentiment, in the end, we each have a desire for the better society, and I don’t think you could be quite content to let a chance go by to influence the outcome if you thought your non-vote for the lesser of two evils would facilitate the votes for what you thought was the greater. There is a little Stalinism in all of us, even – I won’t say especially – a conservative Catholic priest!

    Still, I do confess that like you, and others, I sometimes feel “let down” by politicians in whom I’ve invested some hope or feeling, even though my idealism never quite deserts me: I’m looking for a Jeremy Corbyn to vote for! God bless.

    • It is true that our Westminster system never pretends to be a direct presidential election, but I would maintain that conventions have changed in recent times, flying in the face of simultaneously changing expectations from the electorate. Many voters do not know their local candidates; they vote for a party based on its leader.

      Gillard’s “assassination” of Rudd was unprecedented in Australian political history. Never before had an elected Prime Minister been dispatched in his first term. The U.S. presidential tone of the Kevin 07 campaign made the affront all the worse.

      Watching the ABC’s excellent Killing Season earlier this year, most of the agents of that coup expressed regret, and acknowledged the anger and distrust it aroused among voters. I am truly astonished the mistake has been repeated, which is why I’m even madder this time around.

      Dispatching first-term elected Prime Ministers is not a convention any parliamentarian should deem acceptable – be they an ambitious minister or a nervous backbencher. In this instance an informal vote is not a wasted vote; on the contrary it is an expressed protest. I have already written to all federal Liberal parliamentarians explaining my rationale. (I haven’t bothered with the Labor MPs because their new method of electing a parliamentary leader makes the issue moot.)

      You flatter me with that Stalinesque remark. 😉

  • Les Jones

    Father, I think Kevin Rudd was overthrown by Julia Gillard in his first term as Prime Minister.
    We have to balance which local candidate & party, including leader, will best serve the people, or will do the least harm.

    • MuMu

      I was faced with no choice whatsoever in the last Victorian election in my district of Prahran. None of the candidates was prolife.

      But I agree with Les – we have to ring up our candidates, find out where they stand on vital issues and let them know why we will be voting for them – or not. It’s pointless voting for a Party because neither of the majors is reliable.

      I fear the nation has slithered rapidly a long way down the slippery slope after the coup by Chairman Mal.

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