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

goodbye to the dictatorship of the executive « Previous | |Next »
September 9, 2010

Leunig is right about the theatre of politics. We can now draw the curtains on the previous act, interesting as it was. In the next act things are going to be different for the House of Representatives, because the politics by necessity will be one of consulting, negotiation and compromise around a varrety of policy issues, as opposed to just ramming the legislation through the House as was routinely done in the previous act.


How then are to understand the action in the new act? Arthur Sinodinos, John Howard's former chief of staff, states in The Australian that Gillard:

is in office but not in power. The new parliamentary processes tilt the balance back towards the legislative arm at the expense of genuine leadership. Collective decision-making robs parties and leaders of individual responsibility and accountability. Who will stick up for anything remotely difficult now?

That gives the game away. Sinodinos is all for a strong executive ('genuine leadership') and opposed to strengthening the power of the legislature against the executive. In the previous act that meant the House of Representatives was a rubber stamp for those who controlled the executive (ie., the inner cabinet).

So how do things in the new act look for those who defend the dictatorship of the executive as being good for the country? Not good. Sinodinos sees a more deliberative House negatively:

More parliamentary scrutiny of contentious legislation may help build consensus but compromise is not an end in itself. It is only worthwhile to pursue consensus that improves outcomes and furthers the national interest. It is easy to get consensus if you aim for the lowest common denominator.Some of these new parliamentary exercises could descend into a dialogue of the deaf. The terms of reference of the new parliamentary committee on climate change make it clear that only true believers need apply. And that is meant to give us consensus on climate change?

In other words it's all talk and nothing much can get done. You can only get things done with a dictatorship of the executive. This is the position of News Ltd as well.

The problem with this argument is that Howard and Sinodinos had to negotiate and compromise with the Senate over their legislation, since for most of the decade they were in power they did not control the Senate. When they did gain control in 2004 they overreached themselves, hollowed out the way the Senate conducted its business of improving legislation, and got tossed out for their Workchoice efforts.

For all their talk about being Burkean conservatives they showed no reverence for the established political institutions, trashed convention and tradition, dumped the accumulated wisdom of established institutions and allowed the power of dictatorship to go their heads. Behind the mask of conservatism stood Hobbes, Leviathan and the sword. In other words effective government must be undivided and unlimited sovereign power.

Liberal democracy in Australia is structured on checks and balances on sovereign power (its divided and limited), and it is premised on debate, negotiation and compromise rather than the bully boy in the schoolyard approach. Many in the ALP are going to find that hard to accept--eg., the power brokers of the NSW Right---and they will have to be kept in their box.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 10:12 AM | | Comments (11)


A price on carbon is coming---as the combined votes of Labor, independent and Green members constitute majority support for a carbon price in some form yet to be decided.

So how does Sinodinos interpret this policy? Referring to the rainbow coalition he says:

Bill Shorten, Martin Ferguson and the saner branches of the trade union movement will be keen to block the Greens agenda..... If La Gillardine goes too far in accommodating her green friends or her ratings head south, Shorten will become restless. A lurch to the Left will invite a knife from the Right.

Putting a price on carbon would be lurch to the Left for Sinodinos since the Right and the saner ranches of the trade union movement (eg., Paul Howe) forced the Rudd ALP to dump the emissions trading scheme and to retreat from the climate change issue.

Maybe Sinodinos isn't aware that there are 12 operating and seven proposed renewable energy plants in Bob Katter’s seat of Kennedy, and six operating and five proposed plants in Tony Windsor’s electorate of New England.

What a brilliant cartoon!

Every now and then Leunig
creates something extra special that really appeals to me.
I have 2 favorite cartoons of his.
One is of a lunatic leaning out of a building [you know he is a 'lunatic' cos the building is labelled "Lunatic Asylum"] and looking at the madness of the city surrounding him ...and smiling.

The other {and I've just realized it's actually by Ron Cobb, remember him, he's still around] of an old fella sitting on a bench in a concrete, steel and glass city admiring a blade of grasssy weed poking up through the asphalt.

Sorry about the trivial derail but that cartoon hit the spot.

"...You can only get things done with a dictatorship of the executive...."

Maybe true, maybe not.

But the fact remain that only those "things" that have been filtered by focus groups and marketing gurus will be seen to be done. Anything politically risky will be put back in the box.

I find it a very colourful and graphic cartoon. I much prefer this style cartoon from Leunig than the ones he does with lots of words and small images.

"A price on carbon is coming---as the combined votes of Labor, independent and Green members constitute majority support for a carbon price in some form yet to be decided."

Lets have a new start from Labor. Senator Wong needs to go. She's done her time with climate change and needs to move on.

under Gillard Labor the focus groups have colonized policy with disastrous results. On Lateline Rod Cameron said that:

The focus group has a long and prous history in government campaigning, political campaigning but it's being so grievously misused by this present Labor party - so grievously misused.I think all they do, they go out and find a list of prejudices, usually in Western Sydney, and convince the leader of the day, 'Well this is a problem. We have to- we must run away from it. We can't touch it'.This is not the way to use focus groups but this is the way it was used.

He adds The ETS is apparently a problem, we can't touch it. Debt, it's a problem. Run away from it. The Building the Education Revolution. Oh, it's a problem in the focus groups. Don't touch it. He adds:
Modern campaigning has become so dependent on the market research, to the point where it's vastly overplaying its usefulness. It's a useful adjunct to help explain policy. It shouldn't be used as an excuse for making policy.And it shouldn't be used as an excuse for ignoring problems.

That poll-driven culture is the dead hand of the hollow men of the NSW Right.

Rudd would be the one to takeover from Wong maybe or would that be a conflict with the UN thing.

"Modern campaigning has become so dependent on the market research, to the point where it's vastly overplaying its usefulness."

Of course this approach was (more or less) gospel with the vile little rodent as well. So no hope of true LEADERSHIP then?

I think this bit of history is relevant in any judgment of Wong.

"TENSIONS are emerging between major greenhouse emitters and Climate Minister Penny Wong after a number of hostile meetings before the release of the Government's green paper on emissions trading in July.
Senator Wong has told small groups of chief executives from major power and other energy-intensive companies that the Rudd Government's election promise of a renewable energy target was "not negotiable".

One of these meetings in Melbourne last Tuesday completely broke down, with Senator Wong reportedly furious at the way she was being treated by the eight business leaders present, telling them "you wouldn't treat (former Treasurer) Peter Costello the way you are treating me".

Those present at the meetings, described by a spokesman for Senator Wong as "frank and robust," included Rio Tinto Australia managing director Stephen Creese, International Power executive director Tony Concannon, Alumina Limited chief executive John Marlay and senior executives from Exxon Mobil, CSR and BHP Billiton."
There is more.

Now that was over 2 years ago.

I suspect, I don't know, I just suspect that the ALP, cabinet I presume, literally 'chickened out' when it came to facing the combined political power of that vested interest group and the MSM and Wong had to pull back on the ALP's original plan.
As such she personally may never have been the problem, more a party/cabinet thing in which the ALP blinked in the face of their enemies and left Wong weaponless.

So I'm inclined to cut her a bit of slack.
With the proper backing I reckon she would do as good, or better, a job as anyone.
With the proper backing.

I recall that story. Your interpretation about the ALP backing off in the face of hostile opposition from the miners is plausible. It is a trouble shooting portfolio. Wong needs a new start. She has paid her dues. Greg Combet would be a good choice. Definitely not Peter Garrett ----he is suitable for Veteran Affairs + Tourism.

"you wouldn't treat (former Treasurer) Peter Costello the way you are treating me".

hahahahehehe... okay, I know some will say it's not really a laughing matter, but...

Wong would be the ideal Minister for the Bleeding Obvious.