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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

what's wrong with the political process? « Previous | |Next »
June 15, 2010

Another two weeks of parliament. The final one before an election? Will it be an August election or one in October or November? My guess is October.

No doubt I will watch Question Tim this week. No doubt I will become frustrated at how this part of the political process in liberal democracy works, even though I know that Question Time is just political theatre designed for the television cameras. Try as I might, I cannot shake off the feeling that something is badly wrong with the political process.


The political process needs reform. But what reforms? To answer that requires identifying the problem, and I'm not sure what the problem(s) is (are). For the mainstream media the core problem is that Rudd is on the nose. He promised a lot on the way to power and his government has failed to deliver. So he needs to cut a deal quick with the miners or be replaced by either by Julia Gillard or Tony Abbott depending on your political bias. Problem sorted.

You change the people in the seats but things continue on as before. The political governance is more or less the same (apart from questions of style) even though the personalities change. So the problem lies deeper than personalities or the 24 hour media cycle.

Over at the ABC's Unleashed site John Hewson, in his Politics is a game, and rotten to the core opinion piece, puts his finger on a core problem:

It is a very real question whether our governments can actually govern anymore, with the power of vested interests, the shrillness of minorities, short-termism, and the superficiality of much of the media. It is even more significant to ask whether those who are elected are actually capable of governing.So much of what we call "governing" today is more about winning and keeping government, than it is about actually governing, more about politics and the politics of governing, than "the idea of government".

He adds that politics today is little more than a "game" played out in a 24-hour media cycle. The players will now virtually say or do what they believe is required to win the media on the day, or influence next week's polls.

That description identifies the problem as one of governance. It's rotten. Hewson forgets to mention that Rudd + Co did a good job on preventing the global economic crisis from impacting heavily on Australia in the form of a savage economic recession. But then Rudd+ Co failed badly on addressing climate change and the shift to a carbon economy. They simply gave up under pressure from the Greenhouse mafia.

If our political governance is rotten, then what is the solution? Hewson doesn't say, other than add that we have a political system that is in desperate need of reform on so many fronts, but that, those in the political game have no incentive to really change. So where the push for the reform of political system change come from?

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 11:21 AM | | Comments (12)


Peter van Onselen says its Rudd's advisors that are the problem. They are out of their depth as they (Chief of staff Alister Jordan, 30, press secretary Lachlan Harris, 30, and senior economics adviser Andrew Charlton, 31,) are all relative political novices with no experience in the labour movement and next to none in industry or business.

Peter Beattie in The Australian says that:

n the 21st century, politics is a daily battleground where leaders receive more media exposure than at any time in human history. This daily exposure means the electorate tires of its leaders sooner. Therefore any modern prime minister who believes he or she can win indefinitely is dreaming.

He says that being receptive to frank and fearless advice is the hallmark of a leader.That's all that is needed-- apart from an orderly transition to Julia Gillard in the years ahead.

The politicians don't see any need to change the political system. Hewson is right. Only some of the ex-politicians talk about reform.

Is Lindsay Tanner in the Moir cartoon?

Beattie's observation is as inane as most of the rubbish churned out by MSM commentators, unless he can make a case that the electorate has developed this intolerance of leaders in the two and a bit years since the second-longest serving PM in our history finally got kicked out.

The Rudd Government's dramatic fall from favour is unprecedented in my recollection and I suspect the truth is that nobody really knows how to explain it. All we are reading are bits of punditry that are intuitively more or less plausible according to your preconceptions, but in truth it's all entirely speculative. And of course just as the collapse in support was unpredicted and inexplicable, so might a government resurgence catch everyone by surprise.

Beattie was just defending the ALP and killing off the leadership rumours re Rudd and Gillard. We are a loyal bunch. We stand behind our leaders etc etc.

He has nothing to say about the flaws in the political process itself. Or how to reform the political process so that there is better political governance.

As Ken says, most people who aren't brain dead have been trying to figure out the fall from grace, but I think the Moir cartoon says it all.
People will resent being taken for fools and laughed at behind their backs by people they trust. Until Labor can remove the cancer of Right faction dominance, it will remain nonfunctional.

"...Rudd Government's dramatic fall from favour is unprecedented in my recollection and I suspect the truth is that nobody really knows how to explain it..."

Hey! Well said, Ken. That's it in a nutshell.

So Rudd's mob are on the nose with different sections of the electorate... for several different reasons. I really doubt that my list of grievances in any way overlaps that of Andrew Forrest.

Viewing the recent ad the government is using to sell the mining tax highlights exactly where the political process is at.
The ad I saw is a marvelous example of what smart people can come up with to sell stuff. The message is essentially exactly what the government has been saying but this time it has a good actor saying it with a snazzy ad campaign rather than a boring polly standing in front of a few mikes.

Ross Gittens in the reckons that the problem is Rudd as the inexperienced leader:

Now, thanks to his great misstep in abandoning his trading scheme, Rudd lacks the moral authority to be believed even when he assures us the mining companies' claims that the resource tax would damage the economy are self-serving scaremongering.

Where is our comprehensive energy bill?

I tend to think Ken is right about there being no single reason for Rudd's slide, but it did fall most markedly right after he dropped the CPRS. Having said that, very few people pay close enough attention for that decision to account for all of it.

We also have no idea how influential the polls themselves are on people's decisions about these things. Surely some of it happens simply because Rudd is no longer popular.

Rudd Labor's problem is that it stands for policy-driven, technocratic politics in the context of market triumphalism. There is nothing there about democratic politics being about mobilizing citizens to claim a meaningful voice in self-government as well as policies and legislation.

Drew Hutton points out in Queensland: Home Of The Big Rubber Stamp that Queensland under Beattie and Bligh governments has had, and continues to have, a very light handed approach to regulating the mining industry.

Hutton says:

Beattie won the [1998] election and I then spent a very frustrating couple of years trying — unsuccessfully as it turned out — to hold Labor to its promises on environmental regulation....Beattie might have needed Green preferences to win the election but he also needed to keep the mining industry onside because, well, that’s what you do in Queensland. Anna Bligh’s vigorous opposition to the Rudd Government’s proposed Resources Super Profits Tax reflects the same unswerving commitment to the state’s mining industry.The Beattie incident is a typical episode in the sorry history of the environmental regulation of mining in Queensland. The mining industry is a law unto itself and no government — Labor or LNP — is prepared to tell these companies what they can and cannot do.

That kind of corruption of democracy is what politicians like Peter Beattie hide from the public-- the Queensland Government can’t say no to mining companies.