The 21 August, 2010 Federal election in Australia ended in a limbo with no outright winner. As a result of the unprecedented number of informal or protest vote casted by our frustrated voters, our unique Preferential Voting Systems failed to prevent the outcome of a hung parliament. The Age (23 Aug 2010) is right to title the situation as a 'sign of disillusion' by the voters.
While the two major parties still waiting for the outcome of the few undecided seats and are in the process of a negotiation with the 4 independents and the green, let’s have an overview of the kind of candidates available to the voters.
Election without choice - Quality of Candidates need to improve
Our parliament is by right the most important and respectable institution in the country. It bears the heavy responsibility in the management of our A$1.1 trillion economy. Our elected representatives bear the responsibility in the formulation and regulation of policies in the area of health, education, defence, law and order, social welfare, infrastructures, foreign relation etc., to ensure a safe, harmonize and prosper society. The issues are complex, challenging and they required deep thinkers, great leaders and people with all kind of special knowledge and skills to brainstorm ideas in order to move thing forward.
However, let have a quick look at the kind of candidates Australia voters were forced to choose from:
Let put aside the reality of some ‘funny’ personalities running as candidates such as:
· Outcasts bikie who “had served time in Australia and Holland for drug, firearm and kidnapping offences, and said the experience served as an eye-opener to flaws in the system”. (News Limited, 21 July 2010)
· The stupidity of a major party (Coalition) candidate went on Facebook to describe his opponent as “a strong Muslim'' and claimed that Labor would bring Australia ''closer to the hands of a Muslim country” (Sydney Morning Herald, 26 July 2010). Even though he was immediately replaced by someone else from the party, the case reflected badly on the availability of quality candidates within the major parties.
· Then we have another stupid candidate from the Family First Party who was forced to say: ‘I'm sorry for homophobic tweet’ (Brisbane Times, 12 Aug 2010)
· 24 candidates from the Australia Sex Party sponsored by the sex industry. Their only interest is about the interest of the sex industry.
· A candidate from the Coalition Party who have a record of anti-gay, anti-Semitic and anti-female views in a magazine either penned or edited by him. This is just an example of how he wrote: “the truth is that women are bloody stupid" and reproduced a joke about a gay man dying of AIDS. However, his leader, Tony Abbott dismissed the views as “colourful”. (Sydney Morning Herald, 10 Aug 2010 - Abbott dismisses candidate's anti-gay, anti-Semitic and anti-female views as 'colourful')
· Again, a 19 year old teenager without any work experience became a major party (Coalition) candidate. (Brisbane Times, 5 May 2010 - ‘Teenage candidate stands up to PM’)
· ‘Independent candidate charged over broken jaw attack’ at a night club in Gosford (Sydney Morning Herald, 19 Aug 2010)
· ‘Democrats sorry for sex offender candidate Darren Andrews’ (News Limited, 20 Aug 2010)
· Independent Candidate’s ‘Bob Katter threatened to kill me, claims Liberal MP Peter Lindsay’ (News Limited, 25 Aug 2010)
· Another Coalition Party case: ‘Logan City Council calls in Crime and Misconduct Commission to investigate how-to-vote cards on Luke Smith’ (Courier Mail, 13 Aug 2010)
· A blind candidate from another major party - the Labor Party (WA Today, 9 Aug 2010 - ‘Peacock makes 'handicap' gaffe in blind candidate's electorate’)
Note: I have to confess, I do feel bad to include the blind candidate to the above list of ’funny’ personalities. It is definitely a sensational thing to have all type of people from all wards of the society to present as candidates in an election. However, given the responsibility of the parliamentarians to the well being of the nation and the people, I believe that, it is fair for one to ask, will these people have the necessary skill, knowledge and expertise to make the right decision on our behalf? Are they able to understand and comprehend the challenge we encountered in this fast moving 21st century?
The sad thing with the Australia political circle since 1996 are that, there are hardly any good and able people offering themselves as candidates. Even the credibility of the heavy weight within the major parties are often questionable. For examples:
Coalition Party - Leader, Tony Abbott
Tony is a sceptic of climate change. In a recent visit to an Adelaide school, in a question-and-answer session, he told his student audience (Year 5 and 6) that the issue relating to “human contribution to climate change” is an “open question,” he then claimed that: “it was warmer at the time of Julius Caesar and Jesus of Nazareth than now”. (Sydney Morning herald, 10 May 2010 - ‘Climate scientists cross with Abbott for taking Christ's name in vain’)
In another question-and-answer program on the ABC’s TV, when he was quizzed on his criticisms of the Rudd Government's softening of Australia's border protection policies and how that criticism squared with his own strong Catholic faith, he claimed that: “Even Jesus Christ would not accept every asylum-seeker” (detail in News Limited, 6 April 2010)
As for his personal finance, Tony “made no secret in the past that he had often found it challenging to make ends meet”. When he lost government in the 2007 election, his income was halved as he lost his ministerial salary, he then complaint in January 2008 that “politicians don't get paid enough”. He later “took out a new A$710,000 mortgage on his family home” but failed to declare the loans to Parliament for almost two years apparently in breach of the parliamentary rules covering MPs' pecuniary interests. (News Limited, 23 June 2010)
(Note: The income of a member of parliament including all kind of allowance is around A$160,000/year, it is a lot higher for a shadow opposition’s minister and leader. If Tony Abbott find it hard to make end meet with that kind of income, how the average Australians going to live on? For detail of politician’s income, click on ‘Politicians awarded secret pay rise’ - News Limited, 25 Aug 2010)
However, Tony Abbott is at least honest about one thing: during an interview with the 7.30 Report, he admitted that “his only utterances that should be regarded as ''gospel truth'' were carefully prepared and scripted remarks such as those made during speeches or policy pronouncements”, “Otherwise, he indicated that statements he made during the ''heat of discussion'' such as radio interviews or under questioning at press conferences, were not necessarily reliable” (Brisbane Times, 18 May 2010 - ‘Read my lying lips: Abbott admits you can't believe everything he says’)
As a result of his above “gospel truth” confession, in an interview with the Radio 3AW, when Tony Abbott claimed that he will not reintroduce ’Work Choice’ if he win the election, the radio host didn’t believe him and challenge him to put his promise in writing. He then follow suit with the statement “Work Choices dead, buried, cremated”. The childish action has effectively make him a crown and has since become a laughing stock across the media industry and among his opponents. (‘Mr Squiggle: Abbott's scrawl over the WorkChoices finish line’ - WA Today, 19 July 2010)
Tony Abbott has focused his campaign almost exclusively on stopping the boat (i.e., stopping the asylum seekers). One of the Coalition most frequently appeared political advertisement on TVs was to “STOP the Boat”. He pledged to reopen the detention facilities in Nauru and restart the Howard government’s Pacific Solution on asylum seekers. (Adelaide Now, 2 Aug 2010 - ‘Nauru and asylum seekers a first-day priority for a Tony Abbott Government if elected’). To enforce the point, few days later he travelled all the way to Brisbane to meet the Nauru President who visited Australia (WA Today, 7 Aug 2010 - ‘Abbott to meet Nauru President’); He then pledged to set up a hotline between the Navy and himself, and he will personally decide if an asylum seeker boat be turned away. (Courier Mail, 16 Aug 2010 - ‘Holy asylum seekers! Tony Abbott to take charge of boat people hotline’). On the eve of the polling day, he further set a target of limiting unauthorised boat arrivals in Australia to three a year. (Sydney Morning Herald, 20 Aug 2010 - ‘Three boats a year our target, says Abbott’).
There are too many examples pointing to Tony Abbott inability to understand a broad range of issues and their implication to the country and the society in the short and long run. Below are just a few more selected links for readers to explore:
· ‘I'm no Bill Gates': Abbott stumbles on broadband plan’ (The Age, 11 Aug 2010)
· Tony Abbott once claimed that “economic is boring” and has been exploited by the Labor Party throughout the election campaign. This is the treasurer statement on the ALP website.
· ‘Tony Abbott faces revolt from within on paid parental leave’ (News Limited, 6 Aug 2010)
As a result, we can easily understand why his own party comrades trying to stay away from him during their election campaigns by “airbrushing Tony from their election materials”. Detail in News limited, 20 July 2010 - ‘Why tense Liberals are airbrushing Tony from election material’
When Tony Abbott won the leadership in the Liberal Party few months ago after an internal coup, former Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser was so disgusted that, he decided to quit the party (The Age, 26 May 2010 - ‘Baillieu tells of sadness after Fraser quits Liberal Party’).
Former Labor Prime Minister, Paul Keating also openly added his voice by accusing the new opposition leader - Tony Abbott of being an "intellectual nobody" without policy ambition. (Brisbane Time, 16 March 2010 - ‘Abbott a poor man's John Howard, says Keating’)
Two weeks before the polling day, Malcolm Fraser went further to warn Australian voters that the ’Coalition not ready to govern’ (Sydney Morning Herald, 6 Aug 2010).
Labor Party - Leader, Julia Gillard:
Julia Gillard was the Deputy Prime Minister in the Rudd Government. She was one of the gang of four in the so-called ‘Kitchen Cabinet’ that take the key decisions on behalf of the 20-person cabinet. Therefore, she was unable to fully clear herself of any blunder made by the Rudd’s government such as the bungled insulation scheme, the $1 b wasted on schools building economic stimulus program, the decision to break the Rudd government key election promise on climate change by delaying carbon scheme until 2012, and a series of ruthless and racist’s poll-driven-politics on the issue of skill migration and refugees leading up to the election.
As a deputy in the Rudd government, she perform well acting on the side line. However, when she overthrown her elected master in a poll-driven coup, and became the first female (unelected) Prime Minister in Australia. Her performance on the front line was incredibly and unbelievably childish. For examples,
1) On the issue of her green policy, instead of coming out with a solution as a leader of the nation, she totally avoided her responsibility by proposing to set up a Citizens' Assembly after the election to let the citizens decide by themselves the nation's future climate change policy. The Galaxy poll indicated that ‘Voters reject Julia Gillard's Citizens' Assembly’ (News Limited, 26 July 2010).
2) On the issue of Asylum seeker, she tried to race to the bottom with the well known racist coalition party (Note: During the Howard’s era, the Coalition government was condemned by the United Nation as a racist government, this is why I term them ‘Racist party’).
To differential herself from the Coalition Party well known Pacific Solution with off shore processing center at Nauru, she proposed an alternative off shore processing center in East Timor without any prior consultation with the government there. The result was, she has to suffer a series of embarrassments through her own indecisiveness and subsequence flip-flop decision on the issue. For examples,
When her unconsulted proposal rejected by the East Timor Deputy Prime Minister, Jose Luis Guterres: ‘Timor says it's too poor to do Australia's dirty work’ (Sydney Morning Herald, 8 July 2010), she begin to back away from the idea: ‘Prime Minister Julia Gillard backs away from plan for East Timor processing centre for asylum seekers’ (Courier Mail, 9 July 2010).
However, within a mere 24 hours, she decided to revive the idea: ‘PM Julia Gillard revives East Timor as preferred destination for refugee centre’ (Herald Sun, 10 July 2010). Then, came a report that “EAST Timor's parliament is planning to make its disapproval of a refugee processing centre on its soil known by sending a strongly-worded condemnation of the proposal to Prime Minister Julia Gillard.” (WA Today, 10 July 2010 - ‘Not on our soil: East Timor leaders’).
It was then reported that, beside Nauru, virtually all the ‘neighbouring countries shun Gillard boat plan’ (Adelaide Now, 13 July 2010).
The fascinating thing is, “The Gillard government will forge ahead with its proposal to establish a refugee processing centre in East Timor, despite that country's parliament rejecting the idea yesterday” (Brisbane Times, 13 July 2010 - ‘Push for refugee centre will continue despite East Timor rejection’)
Note: Australia has a history of colonising the pacific island nations, bullying their leaders, interfering with their internal politics, exploiting their resources and has been exploiting the East Timor oil and gas resources since their independent from Indonesia. It puzzle me that, as the Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard seems to have no knowledge of our shameful history in the pacific region, or at least a basic understanding towards the kind of resentment again Australia in the region. The notion that she can forge ahead with its proposal to establish a refugee processing centre in East Timor despite their on-going expression of refusal remind me of the existence of the colonial mentality among some of our political ‘elites’ (perhaps?).
Of course, in the face of the persistently hostile attitude toward her asylum seeker policy in the region, Julia Gillard has finally come to term with directly copying the coalition’s Pacific Solution Policy using Nauru as a processing center. As a result, “NAURU has re-emerged as a serious option for Julia Gillard's asylum-seeker processing facility” (Courier Mail, 14 July 2010)
The down side for Julia Gillard is that, she tried to race to the bottom with an authentic racist party, and she is unable to win over the category of voters that supported that party. Her action has instead alienated her own traditional base supporters. This was perhaps one of the major reason behind the high volume of protest vote that resulted in the current hung parliament situation.
3) Despite the fact the Tony Abbott had in many occasions insisted that “Work Choices is dead, buried and cremated”. Labor still tried to make that an issue through their political advertisements and a series of media interviews. On the eve of the polling day, Julia has a last shot on the issue of Work Choices. (The Australian, 20 Aug 2010 - ‘Julia Gillard campaign switches to negative mode, warning of 'risk' of electing Tony Abbott’)
4) Facing a dramatic down fall in her popularity in a series of opinion polls, Julia Gillard suddenly came out with an idea to revive herself by telling voters that what they have seems of her so far are not her true self. She then created a term called the “Real Julia” - (WA Today, 2 Aug 2010 - ‘'Real Julia' vows to throw rule book out window’).
Please forgive me, I cannot thought of any nation leader as childish as this, as a result, she has effectively become a laughing stock by the media and her opponents over the next few weeks leading all the way up to the polling day.
There are other issues with Julia Gillard such as ‘Bodyguard deputised for Gillard for national security meetings’ (Perth Now, 30 July 2010) etc.
The Childish Behaviour of Post Election Blame Games
If you cannot control the behaviour of your own comrades within your own party, you are not a good leader. The logic is as simple as that. A good leader will usually undertake the responsibility of the party performance.
However, in Australia, there is a culture of blaming someone else for their failure. The cruel reality is that the very people that involved in the childish blame game are our nation most highly ranked politicians at both state and federal levels. The blame game actually reflected badly on the kind of leadership quality we rely upon to run the country.
Despite the flaws and stupidities on her own accords during the election campaign, Julia Gillard begin to blame the incompetency of the state government of Queensland and NSW for her dropped in popularity before the polling day by telling voters ‘Don't blame me for their sins’ (Illawarra Mercury, 16 Aug 2010)
As a result, immediately after the election, a political blame game has began between the state and nation’s Labor governments. You may click on the following links to have a good laugh at the childishness of our top ‘elites’:
‘Labor members bag party's 'faceless men'‘ (The Australian, 23 Aug 2010)
‘Federal Labor points finger of blame at Bligh’ (Brisbane Times, 23 Aug 2010)
‘Keneally lashes out at Bligh's 'NSW disease' jibe’ (Brisbane Times, 24 Aug 2010)
‘Keneally blames Rudd for state's voter backlash’ (The Australian, 24 Aug 2010)
‘Anna Bligh puts blame on Labor machine’ (The Australian, 24 Aug 2010)
‘Labor war hurting bid for power’ (The Australian, 25 Aug 2010)
‘Keneally blames MPs for her falling popularity’ (Sydney Morning Herald, 26 Aug 2010)
The Coalition is of no exception. They have two leadership Coups prior to the election. The following is just a sign that, if they are unable to form a minority government, there may be another leadership coup:
‘A terrible time for Liberals to go to war’ (The Daily Telegraph, 24 Aug 2010)
‘Now Coalition begins its own civil war’ (WA Today, 25 Aug 2010)
The Frustration of Australia Voters
Given the above examples of the kind of political leadership we had in this country, I believe that the following survey will not shock any body:
Two month before the election, a survey conducted in June indicated that “Australians are pretty fed up with their political leaders” (News Limited, 4 June 2010 - ‘Polls reveal public fed up with politicians’).
A month later, another survey in Queensland indicated that “majority of Australians think neither Labor nor the Coalition deserves to be elected” (Courier mail, 18 July 2010 - ‘Queensland voters facing a bruising time as fertile election ground’)
In fact, the number of people interested in our democratic process has dramatically declined. Despite the fact that voting is compulsory in Australia, according to the Australian Electoral Commission two months before the polling day: “1.4 million people are "missing" from the roll” (Herald Sun, 10 July 2010 - ‘Record number of young people have not enrolled to vote’). 20 days later, the Australian Electoral Commission issued another warning: ‘Decline in voters 'a threat to nation's democracy'’ - (The Age 30 July 2010).
The reality is, the number of membership within the two major political parties have drastically declined as well. Dr. Kemp, a former Howard government minister have this warning to the Liberal Party two years ago ‘Ailing Liberals need young members, says president’ (The Age, 31 March 2008). IT was then revealed that “membership of the Victorian party has fallen from a post-Whitlam peak of 33,000 in the 1970s to 13,000 today. Over the past two decades, the number of Liberal branches has dropped by almost 20% to 393, and the average age of a Liberal member is 62.”
The Labor party is facing the same problem - former cabinet minister Race Mathews revealed a year ago that “the party's national membership has plummeted to about 50,000 — down from about 370,000 immediately after World War II — and the average age is about 50.” (The Age, 26 Jan 2009 - ‘Faction-hit ALP 'faces extinction')
How Long can we afford to have politicians not doing anything right for us?
The list of incompetency among our political leadership that I am able to provide is by no way exhausted. I do not want to bore you with too many of such examples, but to make the point, I would like to provide another two stories:
· Our federal deputy opposition leader ‘Julie Bishop apologises after second plagiarism incident’ (ABC, 27 Oct 2008)
· Latest incident: ‘Furious independent Rob Oakeshott harassed by rogue Liberal MP’ (News Limited, 30 Aug 2010)
Like all countries, Australia is facing a series of new and accumulated problem. For examples, the currently hotly debated issue of aging population; the record level of national and individual debts; the lack of hospital funding; years of water mismanagement with dying rivers; Global warming with disastrous weather pattern such as the threat of flood, bush fire and sand storm; the threat to the survival of the Great Barrier Reef and a series of social imbalance in the form of the number of homeless population and the issue of housing affordability etc. All these required finance, technology and human resources to overcome. Can Australia cope with these challenges without reforming our election process to ensure people with the right mindset, attitude, knowledge, skill, expertise, delegation and commitment seating in our Parliament?
This short article written by Geoff Gallop, former premier of Western Australia may worth your time to read: ‘An election is fine, but what about the future?’ (WA Today, 20 July 2010)
I know, some Westerners are sensitive with the way I brought up the name China. However, for the sake of our own humanity, I believe that it is in our interest to put aside the prejudice we had against China. After 30 years of economic and political reform, China is no longer the country our media wanted us to believe in.
There are many advance feature in their political system that ensure democracy and consultation on a broad base such as in the form of village and county’s elections, as well as , narrower based democracy such as within the party, government departments and ministries.
We have witnessed the smooth transfer of their top leadership every 10 years with younger generation without drama.
The records of lifting 400 million people out of poverty within the last 30 years, and the ability to become the world 2nd largest economy this year, and the biggest creditor of the United State with a national reserve of USD2.4 trillion are by no way nothing got to do with the leadership their system managed to provide.
China is still not a perfect country, but it is getting better and better every year. Only if we can put aside our prejudice against China, we can then learn from their wisdom and make improvement on our own. I will write an article on democracy with China characteristic sometime in the future.
Written on 30 Aug 2010
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