The Way of the Wishy-Washy

htv IIYou can’t draw a line from the Wentworth by-election to the general election. Nevertheless, the electoral outlook for the Coalition and the Liberals in particular looks bleak. In retrospect it might have been better to allow Malcolm Turnbull to stay on and take the fall. As it is, barring a miracle, Scott Morrison’s the fall guy. I doubt he can do anything about it.

Sure, he comes across as wishy-washy, but so did Howard on many things. And when he wasn’t on the GST he lost the popular vote and nearly the election; and when he wasn’t on Work Choices he lost the election. Abbott was fairly decisive but then he had the boats to stop and the tax to axe. Rudd’s and Gillard’s policies were a godsend.

To be clear, I am not a fan of Morrison. I thought that his policies as Treasurer to put a discriminatory tax on the five biggest banks and to penalise part-pensioners were both shameful in themselves and reckless in opening the door for Labor to apply more-of-the-same socialist policies. All the same, when it comes to being less than bold, he is par for the course.

Two bold ideas have taken hold among conservatives. One is to make a profound (not tinkering) cut to immigration levels. The other is to effectively walk away from the existing Paris commitment to reduce carbon emissions (by 26% to 28% on 2005 levels as of 2030) and build some new coal-fired power stations. The story goes that if Morrison turned these ideas into Coalition policies he would win.

I’d vote for him, but that’s conservative me. Would the populace at large be swayed? I am not so sure. It’s only a hypothesis but I wonder whether Australia’s compulsory preferential voting system counts against both bold leaders and bold ideas. America and the UK provide a contrast.

America has a voluntary first-past-the-post system, as does the UK. It’s a system which tends to produce more division between political parties as each tries to gin up its base to come out and vote. There is a rump of independent voters to appeal to and this tends to moderate extreme positions. But, as we can see, both in the US and in the UK, the distinct turn to the left of the Democratic Party and the Labour Party has not left them in the cold. And, of course, there’s the rise of Trump.

What’s going on? For one thing, no party need bother too much about what non-voting eligible voters think. In the US that applies to around 60% of eligible voters in midterm elections. And, to 40% in presidential elections, as it does in general elections in the UK. In a three candidate race it is possible, in the extreme, to be elected with just 35% of the vote and only 14% to 21% of those eligible to vote. Ideas on the edge are not necessarily ruled out by this system.

In Australia everyone is made to vote and to order preferences. Sixteen candidates were on the ballot in Wentworth. Candidates are eliminated and their preferences distributed sequentially from the bottom up. Once just three were left in Wentworth with Liberal Dave Sharma on top, it was crucial to Kerryn Phelps being elected that she edged out Labor for second spot. Consider this illustrative scenario, if Phelps ends up beating Labor by one vote she’s likely elected. Labor beats Phelps by one vote and Sharma gets home in a canter. It’s a chancy system in my view. But that is by the way.

The voting system goes to great lengths not only to count everybody’s view but their subsidiary views as well. It is not a system which rewards those near the edge. It produces guys like my local federal member, dripping-wet Trent Zimmerman. Obviously, this can be a good thing in preventing a socialist anti-Semite whacko like Corbyn rising to the top. On the other hand, would a Mrs Thatcher (or Mr Trump) ever be elected? I think not. Not at any rate in near normal times when dithering and having two bob each way trumps resolution.

A case in point is the decision – or more correctly non-decision – on moving the Australian embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. The joint media statement (Oct 16) by Morrison and Marise Payne has the government undertaking to “carefully examine arguments [that] we should consider recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel without prejudice to its final boundaries, while acknowledging East Jerusalem as the expected capital of a future Palestinian state.” Notice the double-barrelled hurdle between now and any decision being made, which is then followed by pathetic pandering to Palestinians.

Trump simply announces that the US embassy is moving and acts expeditiously. And he doesn’t contemplate giving away East Jerusalem. Yes, that is the same East Jerusalem which contains the Temple Mount and the Western Wall. And some bureaucratic bozos in the Department of Foreign Affairs – presumably advising Morrison – think that Israel might give that up. They should go to Israel and find out. If through some egregious calamity Islamists were ever to take ownership of the Old City, I doubt Israel would be still standing. And if Israel were to go so would Western civilisation.

What in the world was Morrison doing putting his name to what amounts to an anti-Israel diatribe? He could have partly followed Trump in not mentioning East Jerusalem and simply stopped with his caveat: “without prejudice to its final boundaries.” The answer to why he didn’t is clear. If he gives something to Israel he has to give something to the other side. That, after all, is the wishy-washy thing to do; to try (forlornly in this case) to please everyone. Mind you, I note that Albert Dadon, the chairman of the Australia-Israel-UK Leadership Group, writing in The Australian on October 18, more or less echoed Morrison. Infirmity of purpose knows no political, professional, religious, ethnic or national boundaries.

Shorten’s policies on taxation, on government spending, on union-influenced workplace relations, and on renewable energy would undoubtedly damage Australia. However, I hold out no hope of Morrison having the mettle to adopt the kind of policies espoused by conservatives, which would undoubtedly benefit Australia. At the same time, I am far from sure that adopting such policies would win him the election. If we want a Mrs Thatcher we need to reform the voting system (which won’t happen) or, perhaps, to get into such deep doo-doo that a conservative leader and conservative policies are seen as the only resort by most of the people. With Shorten in the wings, that might well happen in coming years. Take some meagre hope from that.

21 thoughts on “The Way of the Wishy-Washy

  • lloveday says:

    Trump had a much more compelling case for moving the embassy than Morrison – the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 was adopted by the Senate (93–5) and the House (374–37). Its purpose was to set aside funds for the relocation of the Embassy of the United States to Jerusalem, by May 31, 1999.
    The law allowed the President to invoke a six-month waiver of the application of the law, and to reissue the waiver every six months on “national security” grounds. The waiver was repeatedly renewed by Presidents Clinton, Bush, and, of course, Obama, and eventually Trump who recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and ordered the relocation of the embassy, and the embassy is now in Jerusalem.
    Trump implemented the all-but unanimous will of Democrat House and Senate members, expressed in law, and is demonised by the Left for so doing!
    Bemused, not critical:
    One of my closest friends (dec), a lawyer and the best male wordsmith I personally knew, used to say “that” was seldom necessary and its use generally wasteful (eg, how would “..used to say that “that” was…” be an improvement?), and railed against people adding [that] to an other’s words purportedly to make them more understandable, a habit which is still in vogue in the media. So, on reading PS’s use of “[that]“, I looked up the media statement of Oct 17 (pedantic, me?), and it includes “…that we should consider recognising ..“, so PS has put “that” in brackets when the original statement did not. My old mate would have liked that.

  • brian.doak@bigpond.com says:

    Would the conservative Peter Dutton have been more effective than middle-of-the-road Scott Morrison? Peter Dutton was first in line when Turnbull did not recontest but the wets engineered Scott to come through the centre.
    Remember Micheal Photios, of the ‘moderate’ NSW faction and Parliamentary lobbyist, making the quick trip to Canberra to in effect protect the Turnbull agenda such as power subsidies.

  • padraic says:

    I agree with compulsory voting, but “preferential voting” is not democratic. It basically gives one group of voters the ability to vote twice. It was unfair that Dave Sharma got 40+% of the vote and Kerryn Phelps got much less and still won.

  • Salome says:

    Preferential voting gives voters the opportunity to vote against the candidate they really don’t want. I had no problem with it back in the 70s, when the leftist politics teacher at school complained that it unfairly favoured the Liberals because of DLP preferences. And I see no reason to change now. First past the post can too easily mean electing the candidate that 75 per cent of the electorate really didn’t want to see elected, but they just couldn’t agree as to which one they preferred first.

  • mburke@pcug.org.au says:

    Oi, point of order, Yeronner! The ability to place Green ninnies last on a ballot paper is a right that I will not willingly forego, even if it means that I am not to be considered a “reasonable Quadrant reader”. Far from it being an endorsement, to me it is the ultimate condemnation.

  • prsmith14@gmail.com says:

    I note some contrary views but I still like voluntary first past the post. I mean exactly what does a vote mean from someone who can’t be bothered to vote unless made to do so? And the preference system simply encourages candidates whose appeal is so marginal that they have no chance of gathering most votes. FPTP also encourages people to think harder about who they want to win. I think it works also to increase the chances of producing more resolute, principled government.

  • pgang says:

    Shorten will probably end up closer to centre. Which is still a long way Left of course.
    There seems to me to be something undemocratic about being coerced to vote, especially in preferences. Is it a little bit authoritarian?

  • whitelaughter says:

    oh, what utter rubbish.

    Preferential voting: is the only thing that gives minor parties a chance. With FPP you have to either vote for a major party or know that you’ve wasted your vote. Preferential voting reduces the need for tactical voting. More importantly, it lets politicians know what their voters truly care about, by studying were their preferences come from.

    The embassy: was announced too late. The people who cared most were Jewish – and who therefore prepolled so as to not be voting on their weekly holy day. Prepolling opened on the 2nd, ScoMo didn’t talk about the embassy until what, the 15th? He lost a fortnight worth of voters!
    That said, offering to ‘review’ it was dumb. He should have announced that it would be Sharma’s first task as MP to handle the move, making it an open and honest bribe.

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