You will be told when we need you
It is an interesting aspect of Australian politics that so much time, money and effort is devoted to encourage the nation’s citizens to vote for a politician to become Prime Minister. But those very same citizens are so totally ignored when it comes to un-seating him while he is still in office.
The people’s choice it appears — and Kevin Rudd was certainly that —can be a very tenuous one.
Months of campaigning, millions spent on advertising, travel and printing. Lavish public campaign launches organised to spin the wonders of the new messiah — the one and only. The saviour of the nation. During the last election the main media focus was on “whether Australia would vote for Kevin Rudd”. Australian voters would pick our next Prime Minister, and Kevin Rudd was the hot favourite. Vote for Dick Adams and you’ll get Kevin Rudd.
And after months of softening us up we are all ordered, BY LAW, to trot out on a warm summer Saturday to make our decision. And that night we all (or a lot of us), dutifully watch television to see whether our man got elected. We were not necessarily interested so much in how our local representative got on, but what our vote did to elect the new Prime Minister. In reality we voted for either Kevin Rudd or John Howard.
Certainly the ballot paper didn’t say “Kevin Rudd, for Prime Minister”. Or indeed “John Howard for Prime Minister”, but the implication was there. The electioneering said it. The TV and newspaper adverts said it, the grand entrance at the campaign launch said it. “Comrades… Australia’s next Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd”.
At no time was it ever suggested that a vote for Kevin Rudd, or for that matter a vote for John Howard, was possibly based on the condition that during a meal at a Vietnam restaurant a former union official and fairly innocuous minor minister would get it in his head to whip out his mobile phone and organise a political coup.
Curiously, the Australian Constitution doesn’t mention the term Prime Minister, or even that position as the head of our government. Nor does it mention political parties. These notions are what is known as the unwritten “constitution convention” inherited from the Westminster system.
So what all this boils down to is that while, during a Federal election campaign, we are sold on the merits of a certain person for Prime Minister to run the country for three years, there is a sort of unmentioned caveat that at any time the choice of Prime Minister can be overturned by the political party to which he or she belongs. Or at least by the puppeteers who control that party.
During election campaigns we are desperately needed and feted to elect him or her — but our opinion is totally ignored when someone decides it is time for the Prime Minister’s removal.
While all of this apparently fits into the well worn unwritten “constitution convention”, there seems to be just a whiff of sharp practice in all this. While many of us disliked the Kevin Rudd style of spin and the manner in which he conducted government, and indeed his more extreme policies, this doesn’t detract from the unease surrounding his demise.
Was there not some currency in the value of the people’s choice?
The really nasty business surrounding the demise of Kevin Rudd was the treachery and cowardice of the Labor caucus. At no time did one member of either his government or his party have the courage to confront him on his style and methods. Where were the caucus discussions? Where was the robust confrontation and debate? They obviously thought plenty, but said little.
And the protestations about how loyal they were; what a wonderful Prime Minister he is; how well everything was going. And even the gang of four obviously just sat po-faced as things began to unravel around the Rudd experiment. Indeed who, in the end, stood up to say a good word for Kevin Rudd? Perhaps Kevin Rudd’s finest moment was his departure.
It is rather curious that during the 1998/1999 republican move, and during the various meetings and conventions, progressives from the left were so sure of the trust that could be placed in the parliament (politicians) to elect our Head of State. Others wanted the Prime Minister to select the person. A problem cited during those emotional times was who would or could sack the Head of State. Any conflict between the Prime Minister and the Head of State could have ended up with a race to see who got whacked first.
As all political parties seem so intent in running election campaigns in a presidential style, with people believing that they are “electing” a Prime Minister, perhaps the time has arrived when we should be looking at the notion of the people having the choice of who replaces a Prime Minister if the incumbent is deposed, resigns or dies in office.
The totally undemocratic situation in NSW where three Premiers were at the mercy of party hacks and apparatchiks is unacceptable. The farce of this weeks political assassination of Kevin Rudd was obnoxious. If we have soldiers dying in Afghanistan, apparently dying for the cause of democracy in that country, surely it is time to install some in this county.
Is it time to introduce laws to override “conventions” to allow the people to vote for replacement leaders? Should the change in Prime Minister or state Premier automatically lead to a fresh election? It would certainly kneecap the likes of Senator Mark Arbib.
It seems that there needs to be a better way to enthrone a new Prime Minister other than by the decision being made over a warm Vietnamese salad.
But for now — you’ll be told when we need you!