I had hoped to bring you a cheery Christmas tale, but the political goings on in Melbourne and Canberra mean I will have to postpone that pleasure and be serious. I must first say something about the Victorian election. After all, I live in Prahran which is not just Prahran, but South Yarra and Toorak and yet it is on the cusp of being won by the ghastly Greens or Labor. If you ask me, the Liberals lost the election for the same reasons the Labor Party lost four years before, traffic and transport. The main roads in Melbourne are like parking lots and the trams and trains at peak hour make Tokyo’s subway look positively luxurious; is it any wonder the people revolted? And it is a terrible cliché but, once again, the almost entire lack of communication to the electorate took its toll. I am supposed to be interested in politics and yet I did not know until John Howard praised it on one of his campaign trips, that Victoria’s budget is in surplus; I did not know until the Premier’s concession speech that Victoria has a triple A credit rating. Nobody had told me. Having achieved a surplus, the government seemed ashamed to promote it, embarked on an embarrassing exercise of handouts for every dog show and sustainable vegetable patch, with not a word in favour of small government, fiscal rectitude or conservative values. The loss had little to do with the federal government. Melbourne is progressive and liberal and the government did everything to promote the wonders of big spending. Naturally, the punters went with the even bigger spenders.
That is the problem facing the feds; how do you convince people there is a problem and that the bizarre and erratic Senate should pass measures to do something about it? Well, first, you keep talking about it. You schedule more speeches like Christopher Pyne’s powerful one in question time about saving money and unleashing incentive in higher education. Abbott and Hockey have a good case and their party should leave them alone and stop carping, leaking and encouraging speculation.
None of this is to suggest it is easy. Government is becoming harder every year and successive governments have made it harder by encouraging the belief that it can solve all problems when it can really solve very few and only with other peoples’ money. The media make it even harder; there was a strange echo of an earlier regime the other day when Tony Abbott held a 45 minute press conference until the gallery ran out of questions. It reminded me of Julia Gillard’s similar press conference about the famous slush fund, when the gallery also ran out of questions after 45 minutes; it seems the magical outer limit of their attention span, knowledge and interest. And there are problems in the ranks, the major one is David Johnston, Minister for Defence. He should be sacked for embarrassing his party, denigrating workers, intemperate language and such incompetence that you could scarcely trust him to hire a canoe for the afternoon.
But the Abbott government, which has the only sensible plan for Australia’s recovery, has a deeper problem. The problem is that it cannot get its contentious reforms through the Senate; that leads to human mistakes, backtracking, compromise, the rise of the ‘I could do better’ syndrome, an outbreak of jealousy and ambition and, finally, ministerial and leadership talk. Of course the Senate should be a house of review. Of course minorities and eccentrics should be represented, as they clearly are. But the Senate should not be able to block the reforms of a government elected by the only fair method we know, a lower house with roughly the same number of voters in each electorate. At the moment it is frustrating the government’s program, sapping peoples’ faith in the process, denying our economic recovery and potentially leading Abbott and his team into immense trouble in the future. Those of us on the constitutional reform committee devised the solution several years ago: propose an amendment to the constitution that when a bill has passed the house of reps twice, it has automatically passed the parliament. With a referendum held at the next election the new scheme could be in operation within 3 years. The ALP should support it, the eccentrics will be hysterical, but at least the Senate might become a real house of review and not a house of revenge.
Bill Shorten should be declared a national treasure, and his interview on 7.30 should be lodged in the national Museum as marking the revival of Australian comedy. He was asked what seemed like 50 times, don’t we need either cuts in our public spending or more taxes to pay for it and instead of saying yes or no, dragged the listener through a cringe-making, endless verbal sludge of clichés and rubbish, as he squirmed and twisted in embarrassment. Dear me; it was bad enough that the Labor Party cleaned out its best and brightest last year, leaving the leadership of this once great party to the runt of the litter, but do we really deserve this embarrassment? And why do we spend so much of our dwindling treasure on the Chasers and imported ABC so-called comedy, when we have, completely free, the genuine article right here at home. But please don’t ask him his name or what time it is. Finally, although we apparently have to be in love with burkas and whatnot, I am one of a dwindling band who is still prepared to say Merry Christmas!
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