I want to ask Quadrant Online readers for a moment to do something the polls tell us that well over half of Australians will find tough, and probably a bit distasteful.
I want you to imagine that you’re a dyed-in-the-wool Labor Party supporter, so rusted on that you can still stomach this Gillard government despite its ignoring proper tendering processes, its backing itself into one of the dumbest huge economy killing taxes of all time, its deep-seated dislike of free speech, its tolerance of sleaze, and so on and so forth.
I’ll give you a second to settle the stomach as you do this and imagine yourself a keen supporter of Ms. Gillard.
Now from that perspective pick some right-of-centre democratic leader, preferably one in your new persona you now don’t at all like. Take Mrs. Thatcher perhaps and ask yourself whether your dislike of her was fired by her sitting around doing nothing, or by the fact that she did things you didn’t like – say, remaking the economy to sideline the unions, taking back the Falklands, getting spending at least partially under control, and so on.
It’s pretty clear, isn’t it, that what voters like you (we’re keeping up the pretense for a while) didn’t like and why they wanted a change of government, was because of what Mrs. Thatcher did, what laws and actions she effected, not because she was a do-nothing, slothful, lay-about.
Try it again with George W. Bush. Antipathy to him from voters like you (the role playing continues) stems from what he did, not from his doing nothing. It’s the fact he invaded Iraq, not that he did nothing. It’s his policies on terrorists, not that he opted for the status quo. It might even have been his big spending ways (though given your adopted persona that aspect of former President Bush’s legacy probably doesn’t bother you too much).
Again, though, the point is that what bothered anti-Bush voters was what he did do, not nearly so much that he didn’t do anything or do enough.
Okay, now put away the pretense and role-playing and walking a mile in another’s shoes. Let’s consider the Gillard government’s unpopularity in the polls.
Our Prime Minister keeps insisting that she has accomplished lots and lots and lots in this minority government. And she says that as though doing lots of things, enacting lots of laws, making lots of decisions, is somehow self-evidently a good thing. She seems to equate activity with good activity. She confuses or befuddles mere activity (with no connotation of its having good long-term outcomes) with reform (which does carry with it that strong connotation).
It really does get very tiresome. Ms. Gillard continually talks as though enacting the carbon dioxide tax, the mere fact she managed to pass a law, is somehow the exact same thing as a reform. It’s as though the consequences of this enacted law are irrelevant. It’s as though doing something, whether it’s a Hawke/Keating floating of the dollar or it’s an economy crippling world highest carbon dioxide tax, counts exactly the same because, well, they both changed the status quo.
Same goes for the response to the GFC, the labour relations laws, the dismantling of our previous workable system for dealing with the boats, and so on and so forth.
In the bizarre world of our present government any action is automatically deemed to be a good action and so anything it does gets to be classed in the same league as former changes by her Labor Party that have made Australia better (the dollar float, lowering tariffs, you get the idea).
But really whom is she kidding? This has to be one of the worst governments ever in Australian history. And it’s widely seen in that way not because it does nothing. We should all be so lucky that it was a do-nothing government.
No, it’s awful in part (leave aside the sleaze and lying to the voters) because it has done plenty, and nearly all of it bad. The NBN spend-up? The BER debacle? The $23 a ton carbon dioxide tax business buster? The inability ever to run a surplus (because who are they kidding about a surplus next year)?
Sure, Ms. Gillard is totally correct that this government does things. That is the core problem for it. It does things that cater to the chardonnay-sipping lawyers’ wing of the Labor Party (or Greens if you doubt there’s much difference). And those things are widely despised by most Australians who now have their baseball bats out a la Queensland just waiting for election day.
Here’s some free advice for the Prime Minister. Maybe between now and the next election you should do nothing at all. It couldn’t be worse than what you’ve been doing thus far.