Even if you aren’t in Australia, you can’t help but find the Australian Parliament the best reality TV show on the box anywhere.
The background: Our Leftie Labor Government was elected with a roughly equal tally of seats as the right leaning coalition, in late 2010. It was such a knife edge, one Labor seat was won by just 400 votes (Corangamite). There were five independents, who would normally be as important as the wallpaper in the House, but suddenly had supreme power. Our PM Julia Gillard did deals to remake the entire national economy with the one Green member of parliament, promising everything he wanted and more for his vote, even though he would rather walk on glass that vote “right”. (And some say she’s a good negotiator?) She won the support, with deals, platitudes, and pork barreling promises of three of the other four independents — two of whom who were representing rural, conservative electorates, so they did exactly what the members of their own seats didn’t want (those same voters voted very conservatively in the Senate). The whole schmozzle of our hung Parliament is balanced on a knife edge. If only one independent switches support from Labor to the opposition, it’s all over.
Labor’s governing has been so flagrantly awful I’ve heard a story that a Labor branch leader got annoyed that people were suggesting Gillard was as bad as the infamous Whitlam government. (Whitlam et al were so bad they were “sacked” by a governor general in an unprecedented constitutional crisis). The Labor supporter thought Whitlam didn’t deserve to be put in the same category, “he had more class”.
Gillard broke unbreakable promises to win over the independents and thus gain power, and the voters are caning them in the polls. We’re looking at historic wipeouts if an election were held now. If Abbott — the opposition leader — was in control in the House for ten minutes, he’d call an election and, given the current polls, win it resoundingly.
Meanwhile one not-so-upstanding Member of Parliament in the Labor party — Craig Thompson — faces allegations he was a very naughty boy with union funds in his former job as a union top dog. There are thousands of dollars in question, plus receipts for prostitutes on his credit card. It’s all especially rich because his union members are in some of the lowest paid jobs in Australia. He denies he has done anything wrong. If Thomson were to go, a by-election in his seat would likely mean a change of government. Through diligent dodging and tortuous rule bending the Labor Party have managed to keep him in Parliament for years now, when any normal government would have dumped him like a ticking nuke.
To buy herself an extra vote of safety, Gillard thought it would be smart to attract a turncoat from the other side for what is known as the Speaker’s position. The Speaker in Australian politics sits on a throne in the Chamber, gets to keep order, and importantly doesn’t vote unless the situation is an absolute tie. So it neutralizes one vote of the opposition if she convinces one of them to take the Speaker’s role, which she did. There is a man so toxic that the opposition were in the process of turfing him out themselves. Because the opposition had given up on Peter Slipper, the Labor Party offered him the highly paid Speaker’s job, and he took it. Not surprisingly, it’s only taken a matter of months for his sordid past to be laid bare — can he really justify all those odd cab-charge expenses, and did he send those text messages which appear to be sexual-harrassment-writ-large? Peter Slipper denies he has done anything wrong.
It’s all on today — Gillard has finally had to stop enthusiastically endorsing both these men. Thomson appears to be quitting the Labor Party so he’ll be an “independent” member of Parliament, but we all know he won’t vote to take down a government that will end this gravy train job. Most of the so-called independents are running scared from an election — the turncoats will be turfed out of Parliament at the next election, and the others will lose their moment of import in the sun.
Bring out your popcorn. Will we get an early election sometime this year or will we have to wait until late 2013 for the next one? Will Bill Shorten take over the Labor party, and if he does will he dump the Carbon Tax, or neutralize it by dropping the price?