What do you reckon the odds are? In electorates of some 90,000 voters the best candidate a major political party can find is someone who, by a stroke of incredible statistical and Vegas-busting luck, just happens to work in the retiring minister’s political office. Go figure! Or maybe he or she was a party functionary. Or, crucially in NSW for would-be Liberal members, maybe it will turn out that the successful nominee was on good terms with Michael Photios. Or for Labor, a top union official. Or, and let’s be clear this one applies to both main parties, someone who spent a decade accumulating favours and sucking up to every faction chief and Cabinet minister ever encountered. Or can branch-stack with the best of them. Of course let’s also ensure political staffers have a real inside track to winning nominations. The odd think tank person might be okay. Nor can it hurt to have a law degree, God knows we churn out enough of the holders of those these days.
But whatever else we do let’s ensure that wannabe MPs have as few guiding principles as possible – other than rock-solid careerist ambitions to secure a berth on Capital Hill and a whole-hearted commitment to toeing the line of the party hierarchy, whichever party they happened to pick (which in the case of many Liberal MPs could easily have been the other one).
Ideally, our MPs will be of sufficient contortionist abilities that can utter something along the lines of ‘I don’t know what the PM said, but I agree with it absolutely’ and still, one day in the future, find themselves as the country’s Opposition leader.
Or they might have the dexterity of outlook to be able to claim absolutely that they do want the immigration rate cut back (under one leader) but a few years later, without a flicker of embarrassment (albeit under a new and different leader), to shout loudly that they absolutely do not want it cut back because they now proclaim the experts in Canberra always get it right!
Of course there are some very good MPs in Canberra in both main parties. But there are an awful lot of duds too. And, personally, I wouldn’t want to be betting the mortgage that the former outnumber the latter. Worse, for those of us whose core political philosophies centre around small government, lots of free speech, pro-competition and a ‘we live in a dangerous world’ Hobbesianism (and so would normally be Liberal Party voters) things are particularly bleak at the moment.
Take the soaring cost of electricity. When my family and I arrived in Australia in 2005 its cost was about the cheapest in the democratic world. Thirteen years later and it’s about the highest in the democratic world – in South Australia it is the highest. How is that possible with Australia’s reserves of coal and gas? Well, it’s all self-imposed and it’s self-imposed by politicians who have drunk the Kool-Aid of virtue-signalling, bumper-sticker moralising ‘Renewables are Us’ or, for those who think Twittered half-thoughts are immensely valuable, #PreenWithMe.
Listen as Cabinet Minister Josh Frydenberg squirms and refuses to answer when Andrew Bolt asks him straight out what difference all these ghastly expensive moves to renewables and carbon imposts and other green policies will make to the world’s temperature by the year 2100.
Frydenberg knows the answer as well as any other sentient being (Hollywood actors and actresses excepted). The answer is that Australia makes no difference whatsoever – at most a hundredth of a degree by 2100 AD. Zero-point-zero something. If we go all-in, do everything to which most other countries are merely paying lip service, that’s the extent of what we’ll accomplish: a rounding error. So why not admit this, Josh, and then tell us how this makes any sense at all? Are there legions of other countries, of the democratic variety or otherwise, keen and eager to follow our impoverishing path? If not, why can’t we produce any Liberal politicians who might do what President Trump has done and pull out of the Paris Accords (which, by the way, impose no real limits at all on China or India and are unenforceable anyway)?
Instead we have members of the political class nominally on the right side of politics who go along with this stuff, just an eensy-weensy little bit less enthusiastically than do their counterparts on the Left. They seem to believe that a soupçon of reticence can win them elections. Not for them the Trumpian prescription of more gas, more energy, and no more costly virtue-signalling. Heck, we have a supposed right-of-centre political class that can’t even bear to have a Bjorn Lomborg – himself not a denier that man is a cause of climate change, by the way, but simply a person who believes the sane thing to do is to plan for a warmer world and to spend the gazillions in a better way, the choices of how to do that being myriad. But even that Lomborgism is too confronting for Team Turnbull.
Likewise we have supposesd conservative Cabinet ministers who appear to believe the debate about immigration is settled – take a bow Mssrs Morrison, Cormann, Ciobo and (alas) Dutton. Apparently we Liberal voters can’t even be allowed to discuss this because our present settings are claimed to be perfect, the “expert” mandarins of the Canberra bureaucracy having spoken on this matter from on high. Balderdash! Japan takes in next to no immigrants. while we have about the world’s highest per capita intake. If you look at per capita growth since 2009 Japan beats us.
So we have a Treasurer who doesn’t seem to understand that GDP automatically goes up if you bring in a quarter of a million people a year; who doesn’t have a clue how badly our GDP per person has been doing; who sees this solely in GDP terms, all other factors ignored. It should be deeply disquieting to realise Treasurer Morrison has no grasp of the deficiencies with the GDP measure itself, that he just parrots the line from his bureaucrats.
Again, look at Trump and weep with jealousy. The man has faults, no doubt, but he patently does not think that godly wisdom flows from the every orifice of lifetime civil servants. He does not believe they speak some disinterested and apolitical truth. He commits to policies and then (more than any other President in my lifetime) implements what he says. He does not sell his core voters and voting base down the river.
Trump’s benefits (for me) clearly outweigh his costs. I can’t say that about this excuse for a Liberal Party. You?
James Allan, Garrick Professor of Law at the University of Queensland, is the author of Democracy in Decline