It’s happening again. Australia is unique in many of the great Western governments in that its prime minister can wake one morning and earn a backbencher’s pay by the end of the day.
After six years of a federal Labor government fighting viciously for control of its prime ministerial stewardship, a new Liberal Government, after only eighteen months in power, today avoided its own leadership spill, by a knife’s edge.
A quick overview of Aussie Politics 101 for out of town readers: Australian politics is basically a fight between two political forces—the Australian Labor Party (ALP), think US Democrats, and the Liberal/National Party (Coalition), the country’s Republicans (“liberal” in Australia means “right wing”). Confused? It gets better. Though Australia operates a lower and upper house just like US, there’s no president or Executive Branch. Whoever wins control of the lower house, chooses its prime minister—not the voters. And instead of a president, we have a governor general whom no one elects at all because the Queen of England makes that decision for us.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott today, survived a spill vote with a deceptive-looking margin 61 to 39 (one informal). Given that beforehand, his cabinet pledged its solidarity, those 39 votes against him bring a darker omen. Mainstream media calls Abbott all but gone.
How much more so when those 39 parliamentarians voted their lack of confidence in Abbot while no one ran against him? In other words many in the parliamentary Liberal Partly today, preferred an empty chair to Tony Abbott.
And it’s in this atmosphere that everyday Australians must now carry on. Whether they can do so will depend on the political vacuum this crisis leaves behind. Evidence of its existence came just 48 hours ago.
In the southern state of Victoria, motorists woke on Saturday morning to petrol priced at AUD $0.97 a litre. By 2pm prices had exploded to $1.15, a level last seen when NYMEX Crude traded at USD $90 a barrel. On Saturday afternoon crude listed at USD $54.
Locked in its leadership imbroglio, the government’s response was silence. Similar indifference met the Aussie Dollar’s plummet to USD $0.75 currently stripping huge purchasing power from Australian wallets.
Coupled with total neglect of the pullout from the Australian auto industry of Ford, GM, and Toyota and we have all the hallmarks of a return to the “banana republic” thinking of the early 1980s. And now, we don’t even own our farms.
It was during the 1980s when eyes were taken off the ball for almost a decade as Labor Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, and Treasurer, Paul Keating, fought a death match for the leadership mantle. And one of the country’s worst recessions was the prize.
How much longer can Australia cope without a stable leadership vision? It is this that renders today’s political crisis Australia’s most dangerous: for no one lifted a hand to contest it. Had the vote to spill succeeded, who’d have grasped the baton? Australia hadn’t a clue.
Political leadership is not a job. You need to want it. You have to believe that your entire life has driven you to a point in time where the burden of your country’s potential becomes your birthright. You need hubris. You need guts. And above all you need to accept the risk of abject failure when pulling Excalibur from the rock while all the time believing you will succeed. You have to feel the will of the Divine to wade into the Red Sea, trusting the waters will part, because no alternative remains.
But Australia has no such person, including its present incumbent whose only public leadership skill comes from a spin-doctor’s twirls.
What has gone largely unarticulated in political commentary till now, is the reality that in 2013, Tony Abbott’s Liberal/National Coalition was not voted into government, rather than Julia Gillard’s/Kevin Rudd’s Labor Party voted out. Australian’s would have gladly voted for an empty prime ministerial chair that year given their options that September’s day.
Now if Labor’s leader of the opposition, Bill Shorten, believes Australia will make this same mistake again by electing him at the next poll, he seriously needs to reconsider his own drive, put his political sniper scope down, and start elucidating a specific vision of his Australia quickly. For till now one hasn’t been furnished.
This same truth will likely impact US voters in their 2016 Presidential Election: Mitt Romney has already pulled out, facing his own leadership exhaustion. True leaders never give up.
What Australia needs is a person of mission—from business, ex military, of philanthropy, of academia who feels an unbearable pressure to stand up and say, “Here I am.”
For sure enough, as I write, NYMEX dropped to $52.31 USD but petrol rose to $1.19 AUD. And no one in power flinched.
© 2015 Adam Parker. You’ve just read a Parkerpinion.
Main Picture: Great leaders and empty chairs. Inside the Capitol Dome, Washington, DC, author’s photo.