By Andrew Bolt ~
Barrister Louise Clegg, writing for the Centre for Independent Studies, explains why Australia can’t get it’s own Donald Trump.
Our political system won’t allow such a revolutionary – which means it’s either too safe or too immune to reform. You decide.
We know many who voted for Trump neither liked nor admired him… Trump won not because it was him, but because he was up against Hillary, the most obscenely establishment politician to ever have run for President. At its simplest, Trump is the manifestation of the rejection by a lot of clear thinking, common sense people of ‘politics as usual’. And Hillary was the embodiment of ‘politics as usual’.
Why are the people (but not so much the establishment) rejecting politics as usual? Is it the spin, the broken promises, the talking points and slogans, the leaking, the annual entitlements scandals, the designer gear, the white cars? …
But it’s worse. It is worse because the behaviour is worse. On both sides. The lack of respect for the office of prime minister – 5 in seven years…; the appalling treatment of Prime Ministers while in office; the now accepted idea that we are in perpetual campaign mode; the obsession with polls and polling; the abject lack of authenticity and of courage; the obscene increase in the numbers of advisors and their influence; the increasingly pervasive impact of vested interests. No one likes any of this, but ordinary people hate it more. Because this does not accord with the way they live their lives.
Add to this the values problem. Identity, outrage and victim politics has been embraced by Labor and progressive Liberals in a pretty big way. Many ordinary Australians think it is inappropriate (to say the least) that we are teaching kids in schools that it is perfectly normal to think that you might be a boy if you are a girl and vice versa, or that it’s perfectly standard to be sexually active with multiple partners in your early teens; they shake their heads when students who make a silly, bolshie remark on facebook or a political cartoonist is taken to court for being racist… These things are nuts and totally at odds with the common-sense values of middle Australia.
Possibly the most defining difference between insiders and outsiders here and around the world is their attitudes towards their country. In the suburbs and regions in Australia people are proud to be Australian; they love Australia day and ANZAC day; they think it is important to vet all immigrants, they don’t like immigrants coming here to go on to welfare; they think it is 100% fair for immigrants to integrate – after all, that’s what many of them have done and that’s what made modern Australia. These are the views of the mainstream right throughout the western world.
Yet big swathes of those who inhabit and control our institutions; journalists, CEOs, lawyers, academics and politicians in both major parties think that these attitudes are base and embarrassing… They have no problem at all (when it suits them) curtailing the freedoms that our founders assumed (freedom of speech, of the press, fair trial, property rights, religious freedom) in favour of their values.
The singular characteristic that propelled Trump was his willingness to take this on in a way that was unprecedented…
The big question for us is: can someone outside the mainstream parties emerge as a new knight in shining armour?….
Our innate conservatism, compulsory preferential voting and the monumental physical and human campaign infrastructure required in every [House of Representatives] seat leads me to the conclusion that it’s unlikely, at least in the short term. We’ll get some serious One Nation disruption in conservative states but it wont change things overnight. We will get more Clives, more Shooters and Fishers, and we might get a Cory. Absent the majors coming to their senses, we will get more minority governments and gridlock in the Senate.
And from within the major parties? We would do well to remember that the Donald launched himself from within the Republican party. He was a transplant, a seriously foreign body that nearly got rejected. But he survived, and emerged victorious from within a mainstream party. The prospect of one of the major parties in Australia now producing a parliamentary leader who is not put there by backroom deals, who will challenge his or her own party room and bring entitlements into line with community expectations, and eyeball vested interests is very remote. Yet this is what is required to restore faith.
There’s another huge impediment, and that is Westminster. I was reminded recently that Jim Spigelman used to have a wonderful line in his speech when he admitted new solicitors to the Supreme Court: “We Australians like to think of this as a young country. Indeed, the second line of our national anthem is that we are young and free but when it comes to basic mechanisms of government, the rule of law and parliamentary democracy, this is an old country.” On that measure we are older, and more evolved than the USA. But this also makes us more immune to political disruption.
‘Responsible government’ is a serious bulwark against populism. The requirement that the head of state (be it a monarch or not) by convention exercises no political power; that the head of the government is a member of parliament; that he or she leads the executive council which is entirely comprised of those who sit in the parliament and is merely the ‘first among equals’; that the executive has both individual and collective responsibilities to the parliament and to the cabinet.
All these things evolved over centuries quite deliberately so that Westminster is a serious brake on untrammelled executive power. It’s a genius system of ensuring that no individual gets too much ahead of themselves. It is a strength in that it is conducive to stability no matter the battering. It is a weakness in that there is a practical limit to what leaders can do. Pressure in the system can only be relieved through elections. Which is now not that helpful when both major parties are beset by the same structural and values problems.
It is very hard therefore, both in theory and in practice for populism to flourish in an Australian context.
However, the little bit of Washington which we inherited from the USA (the Senate) counteracting the stability that is inherent in Westminster. The Senate is now operating in a way entirely removed from what was intended. Governments simply cannot execute their agendas. To be fair to the politicians, this has become such a serious structural impediment that it is probably the number one factor in what is now, without doubt, a crisis in our democracy…
Andrew Bolt writes for the Herald Sun, Daily Telegraph, and The Advertiser and runs Australia’s most-read political blog. On week nights he hosts The Bolt Report on Sky News at 7pm and his Macquarie Radio show at 8pm with Steve Price.