August 21, 2018

Horse 2455 - The Festival Of The Thirsty Knife - 2018 edition

One of the glorious things about Australian politics is the incredibly quick turnover of the executive of the nation. If for arguments' sake we assume that Malcolm Turnbull gets rolled in the Festival Of The Thirsty Knife,  then he will be the seventh Prime Minister in a decade. This must look completely hatstand absurd to our American friends across the waves, who usually have only two or three Presidents in any given ten year period, where fixed terms usually means that there will be one person in the role of chief executive for eight years at a go. When it comes to Australian Prime Ministers even surviving eight years, I can only think of three that have managed to achieve that.

The benefits of such a flexible system are obvious. One of the chief questions to ask of power is 'how can we get rid of you?' if the person doesn't live up to the task; in Australia that's remarkably easy but in the United States, even if the President is completely unsuited and unsuitable to the job, so much so that they are themselves a cause for national security concerns, the method of removal is so difficult that it has never been successfully completed in 229 years. It is actually easier to shoot and kill a US President than it is to impeach them.

Barton, Deakin, Watson, Reid, Deakin, Fisher,  Deakin, Fisher - 8
In the early period of Australian politics, you should have expected from the outset that there would be a period of volatility. The Commonwealth had just newly federated and MPs were being sent to Melbourne on primarily state issues. The national party machines hadn't yet been put together and so this is why you end up with someone like George Reid from the Free Soil Party as Prime Minister. With no-one really able to establish solid coalitions, rapid turnover was more or less baked into the system. During the early years, Australia's Federal parliament looked quite a lot like a current German Bundestag with parties kind of flying in the same direction but leaving and rejoining the flock.
It also wasn't helped by the fact that John Hope, 7th Earl of Hopetoun as Governor-General, appointed Edmund Barton before the first election; on the presumption that he would be able to form government. This was only after he'd already appointed William Lyne who was Premier of New South Wales, who couldn't persuade members from other states to join his government; this decision is commonly known as the "Hopetoun Blunder".

Lyons, Page, Menzies, Fadden, Curtin, Forde, Chifley - 7
The next period of volatility happened during the end of the depression and during the Second World War. This mostly had to do with the former party of Robert Menzies, the United Australia Party, imploding and tearing itself apart. It is during this period where you get Menzies quitting to eventually found the Liberal Party, Lyons and Fadden both inheriting the premiership because someone had to be in charge, the crossbench deciding that they were sick to the back teeth with that kind of nonsense and switching confidence and supply to the Labor Party through the power of a £1 variation budget, and this was given another twist when John Curtin died of stress in the office of being the chief executive in a time of war (which also happened to FDR in America) and Frankie Forde only hanging around as a caretaker for eight days.

Menzies, Holt, McEwen, Gorton, McMahon, Whitlam, Fraser - 7
Australia didn't suffer another period of rapid turnover of the Prime Minister until after a period of ridiculously boring stability. Menzies sat in the big chair with virtually no opposition from the Labor Party from 1949-1966 and then the Liberal Party went back to its regularly scheduled imploding and tearing itself apart. This is how we end up with Gorton and McMahon as Prime Minister after Harold Holt went for a swim one day and never came back.
After a brief period where Gough Whitlam actually bothered to step up and provide a vision of the future but had literally no idea how to pay for it,
Australia reverted to mostly stable government.

Howard, Rudd, Gillard, Rudd, Abbott, Turnbull - 6
The period following the last continent of stability has had the premierships of a visionary like Whitlam who had no idea how to pay for it (and was by rumour a difficult person to work with), a technocrat who was personally attacked by a narcissist Opposition Leader, that same narcissist Opposition Leader who never worked out how to be a Prime Minister, and now a well meaning pastor of a broad church where the parishioners aren't playing with the same text. To be frank, I don't think that Dutton actually does represent a strong faction of the Liberal Party, its just that the party is doing badly in the polls because its policies are bordering on stupid and actually engaging in cruelty with respect to refugees, and rather than change policies, the Liberal Party would rather change leaders.

In this particular episode of the Festival Of The Thirsty Knife, Malcolm Turnbull has actually done nothing implicitly wrong that would warrant his removal. His Premiership has looked almost exactly identical to Tony Abbott's and I suspect that from a policy perspective, a future Peter Dutton premiership would also look almost exactly identical. If the Labor Party is like the Borg which assimilates MPs into the collective and slightly leftist touchy feely hive mind, then the Liberal Party is like the Black Pearl where MPs become part of the ship and the National Party are no more than barnacles which become stuck on the outside as helpless and sometimes unwilling travelers.

Australia broadly speaking will elect economic and culturally conservative governments into power by default. They will also remove governments if they feel they've been there too long. Those governments though, are mostly made of factions which fly in different directions.
A Prime Minister's term in Australia is not and should not be characterised by the ticking clock of the election cycle. We have consistently proven that a Prime Minister's term in Australia lasts exactly as long as either the public or the factions which hold up their numbers in parliament, stick together. It is a bit like building a table but instead of legs, you're using 76 cats as the base - don't put a full cup of tea on the table because if the cats move, you'll have a spill.

This morning's leadership spill went:
Turnbull - 48
Dutton - 35
Abstain - 2

The National Party stood outside the caucus room as helpless and unwilling travelers and had no say in the spill whatsoever. Had they been allowed, they could have very well titled the results. As it is, Turnbull remains as Prime Minister and as far as we know, the cabinet will return to exactly the same state that it was before.

This morning's Festival Of The Thirsty Knife returned nothing at all. The Knife wasn't as thirsty as we first thought and no blood has been spilled. Mr Turnbull must surely be looking over his shoulder there because the question being asked of power of 'how can we get rid of you?' still remains and infinite possibilities lie in the realm of the unfinished.

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