Now is our Independents’ time to shine
Surely the revelation that the president of the Australian Senate, Stephen Parry, is ineligible to hold office will sound the death knell of this stumbling, embarrassing shambles we call the Australian government.
While former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce waits for the result of the December 2 New England by-election, the existence of the Coalition government rests with four independent members of the House of Representatives: Bob Katter, Cathy McGowan, Rebekha Sharkie and Andrew Wilkie. Each has pledged to support the Turnbull government on matters of supply and against no-confidence motions. It is now incumbent on these MPs to rescind their former guarantees and send us to an early election.
The efforts of Malcolm Turnbull to lead parliament and the nation would be humorous were they not so tragic. The list of farcical situations has become so long that in trying to enumerate them, there is the possibility that some will be forgotten.
Australia stands at the edge of a period of history that will throw up issues we have never previously encountered.
China challenges our traditional friend and ally, the US, for world hegemony and in a short time will have the world’s largest economy. Soon enough, India’s economy will be world’s third largest and Indonesia’s will be the fourth.
Moreover, PricewaterhouseCoopers has predicted that, in 30 years, Australia’s economic place will fall from the world’s 12th largest economy to 28th.
Our bloated university education sector, whose vice-chancellors’ salaries are huge, blithely produces graduates for whom no jobs exist, saddling their former charges with massive debts and threatening their ability to secure future bank loans for housing. In many Australian suburbs high percentages of home units sit vacant, held and hoarded by overseas owners, especially from China, while hardworking young Australians find it impossible to afford the Australian dream of home ownership. Our school education outcomes are falling by comparison with those achieved in earlier decades and are being overrun by accomplishments in many Asian countries, which pay far less for the education of each student than do we.
As we know, there are Australian children who went to school cold this winter because their families could not afford to turn on electrical heating as a result of soaring power costs. With Australia’s oil-refining capacity totally removed, we have the absurd situation of having to send our crude oil overseas before we can bring it back as petrol.
Moreover there are informed estimates that we only hold sufficient energy reserves to keep our armed forces in a field of battle for three weeks.
Tens of thousands of elderly Australians, probably hundreds of thousands, have seen their standards of living fall dramatically following pension cuts after a federal election in which Liberal candidates pledged that no changes would take place. An estimated $110 million has been spent to run an opinion poll on same-sex marriage, which is non-binding and will tell us only what we already knew.
We are now confronted with the fact that several members of the Turnbull government, all of them in positions of senior leadership in the two houses, were ineligible to receive the millions of dollars in salary that they have been paid. Indeed, there is the possibility that some legislation passed relying on their support may well now be illegal. This is a level of farce unprecedented in Australian federal political history. Turnbull heads a Liberal government that is even more incompetent and out of touch than that of Billy McMahon.
Then, while the PM is responsible for the NBN rollout, which ultimately will cost almost $70 billion and which is never going to be very useful, he does not seem to have any sensible plan to remedy or ameliorate this appalling situation. Indeed the PM’s only recent offering is to enter into a blame game accusing his political opponents of responsibility and repudiating his own key role in the utter chaos that is the NBN.
This is the pattern of Turnbull: don’t look to the future of the nation and our economic and fiscal wellbeing, but come up with any arguments best calculated to retain the status of being prime minister, which seems to be Turnbull’s only true political aim.
People found fault with Tony Abbott. But at least he had a vision for Australia, which he pursued relentlessly. It is impossible to explain the underlying philosophical direction of the Turnbull government because there isn’t one. Abbott was a tough and effective political warrior. In comparison, Turnbull is a self-serving dilettante.
The solution to how long we must endure our present parlous political situation without opportunity for remediation now rests with four independent members of federal parliament. They should do their national duty and end this political circus by bringing down the Turnbull government and enable Australian voters to be rid of this utterly hopeless prime minister.
Ross Fitzgerald is emeritus professor of history and politics at Griffith University.
The Australian, November 6, p 12.