Oh, how all of us on the right side of politics laughed when Prime Minister Gillard used to rabbit on about how her Labor government had managed to pass 7,234,869 bills through the Senate and on to the statute books. Okay, it may not have been more than five or six million, even a tad fewer, but you get what I mean. We’d all guffaw at the moronic assumption that anyone would measure the worth of a government by how many laws it passed. In the Gillard case, they were all pretty awful laws that got enacted. And any conservative worth a salt knows that doing nothing at all is better than doing something bad, something with long-term consequences that will likely be bad for Australia.
And we Righties also used to be sure that getting big-spending Big Government bills through the Senate was never this country’s problem. Anyone could do it, as the otherwise hapless Ms. Gillard so well demonstrated. Look, we know you won’t be able to get independent Senators who love cars, are ex-radio jockeys or got a couple of thousand Tasmanian votes ever to vote for any responsible and much-needed spending cuts, not unless you buy them off with extra spending that always seems to be more than the mooted savings and which probably don’t kick in for a decade anyway. No, no one ever doubted some idiotic ‘back of the envelope’ NBN-type Big Government plan could get through our wholly dysfunctional and in-need-of-massive-reform Senate. What we doubted was that a Coalition government could get small-government, less-spending measures through our basket-case Senate. Or that anything that might aim to counterbalance the massive left-leaningness of our ABC, universities, and other big institutions could get enacted either.
And that brings me to the present day. How bad is today’s Liberal Party? It’s so bad, so devoid of any and all principles and values, that our Treasurer Scott Morrison has been parading himself around bragging about how Team Turnbull has managed to pass lots and lots and lots of bills through the Senate. I believe he said it was 134 new pieces of legislation. And here’s the thing. Our Treasurer, Mr. ‘Oh how we now wish Joe Hockey were back in the job’ Morrison seems to think this is a sensible criterion for heaping praise on a right-of-centre government, that it has passed heaps of legislation.
Really? Seriously? Because when you look at the content of what’s been passed by Team Liberal it looks pretty much identical to what a Labor government would give you – or at least what a Labor government not headed by Electricity Bill might do. Want to undermine superannuation and make the effective outcomes of saving a million no different to saving $400,000 (how’s that for killing thrift and hard work and the savings ethos?) in order to pull in a bit more tax money short-term and punish a handful of rich people? Yep, Team Turnbull enacted that. Did that seem praiseworthy?
Or want to sign up to Gonski 2.0 and massively more education spending in exchange for, well, no performance or productivity gains at all, none, nada, zippo, zero? Yep, Team Turnbull did that too, and in the context of our educational outcomes now dipping so low that we rank with Kazakhstan. Praise for Turnbull and ‘passing all those bills’ should be made of sterner stuff.
Or how about the bank levy, the increased funding for ‘our’ (read ‘their’) ABC, ratifying (with more spending) the Paris Accord on global warming that will achieve absolutely nothing in terms of lowering temperatures (just the de-industrialisation of this country), overseeing record spending and record debt – note, after four years in power the debt problem becomes your fault, Mr. Morrison – which will be worse still once we pay for the out of control NDIS. And heck, let’s not forget Team Turnbull’s flirting with the Finkel plan that would lift an already bonkers 26% Renewable Energy Target up to an economy-crippling 42%. Was all that praiseworthy? Seriously, I’m asking you, Mr. Morrison, the man who by omission helped to defenestrate Mr. Abbott.
Perhaps, though, legislation is not your thing. Maybe you’ve given up on our woeful Senate, thrown in the towel and resigned yourself to big spending and Big Government as far as the eye can see. Okay, let’s look at something that has nothing to do with the Senate, something that is wholly in the gift of the PM and his Liberals. I’m talking about appointments to key positions. Maybe there we’ve seen a bit of backbone, a bit of standing up for right-of-centre values, a bit of fight in the old dog?
Alas, no. Things are, if anything, even worse here, as astounding as that is to report. Think Ed Santow being appointed to the Human Rights Commission to be the Freedom Commissioner and then not saying a single, solitary word in defence of Bill Leak and the QUT students. This appointment was an out and out disgrace to have come from a Liberal Party. Not much better were Michelle Guthrie and Justin Milne to the ABC. (Is it not possible for Team Turnbull to appoint anyone who is right of the Christopher Pyne Black Hand gang to anything?) Ditto, the replacement for the insufferable Gillian Triggs at the HRC, namely Rosalind Croucher. No cojones to close down the HRC — and then they can’t even put a conservative HRC critic in to run it! Or take the Liberals’ appointments to the High Court of Australia since 2013. Where is the next Dyson Heydon or Ian Callinan? Instead we get people who love proportionality analyses, show no sign of winding back past judicial adventurism, and all but one of whom could have been a Labor pick.
Good Lord but this Liberal Party is hopeless, utterly hopeless. Want to know why people finally throw up their hands and vote for someone who promises to drain the swamp? You’re living through the reason right now and right here in Australia. And as bad as things are, these Liberal MPs, including the ones who look likely to lose their seats, still won’t do anything about it. Like bunnies in the headlights, they can’t move and won’t even try to save themselves and the party. Well, they deserve their fates, all of them, especially those we’re assured are on the party’s right.
James Allan, Garrick Professor of Law at the University of Queensland, is the author of Democracy in Decline