Of this decade’s many leadership crises, this one is by far the most infantile. We should not stand for it.
One of the saddest condemnations of the state of Australian politics is that the last Prime Minister to serve out a full parliamentary term was John Howard. In the five prime minister-ships we’ve had since, only one was brought to office by the ballot box rather than by party room coup (Tony Abbott in 2013).
That the Prime Ministership is an uncomfortable and precarious chair to sit in is one of best elements of the Westminster system. Our democracy is stronger because prime ministers are never fully secure, always needing to be cautious and responsive to the pressures of Parliament and the people. No one is irreplaceable on Parliament Hill, and any prime minister who forgets this finds themselves out of power.
However, the act of disposing a government should be a decision made only in circumstances of actual need, where a change of leadership is necessary for the functioning of government, the good of the party, or for a closer reflection of the will of the people. The threat of a leadership coup is more useful than the reality, to bring prime ministers to heel and reign in the executive government from any excesses.
An argument could be made that the coups of 2015, 2013 and 2010 met these criteria to varying degrees. Abbott in particular – with a slew of broken election promises, a deeply unpopular policy agenda, tendency to make captain’s calls and low levels of public support probably serves as the best example of a coup in the public interest. Rudd, for all of his popular support, had a deeply problematic cabinet leadership and executive management style.
In each case, an argument could have been made that the successor had a better chance of leading the party to an electoral victory.
And then there is… this.
Let us be very clear. No one is arguing that Peter Dutton has anything even close to popular support – what little polling numbers exist indicate that his numbers are abysmal, verging on non-existant. No one is arguing that Dutton would have a higher chance of winning an election. No one is making an argument that Dutton could better manage cabinet or run the government. No one is saying that Dutton has better policies, more popular policies, or is indeed talking about his policies at all.
The only reason why this appears to be happening is that a single poor Newspoll presented an opportunity for the right to seize power. And that was the only consideration, along with the opportunity for personal ministerial advancement among MPs.
In fact, there is nothing about Australia in this leadership debacle. The Commonwealth has been disregarded, the public interest thrown to the wayside as the Liberal Party engages in one of the most spectacular exercises of collective self-absorption that has ever blighted Parliament.
It is puerile, selfish, destructive and an insult to the people and Constitution of Australia. It is a disservice to the hundreds of thousands in the APS who serve to make the Government work.
It is time for us to put away childish things. This transcends partisan allegiances or factional squabbling. Should the government fall, as citizens of the Commonwealth our singular demand should be an immediate dissolution of Parliament and an immediate election.