Thursday, June 24, 2010

Whose turn is it to be Australian Prime Minister today?

There I was on Tuesday making flippant comments about the revolving door nature of politics in Australia with reference to the leader of the Opposition and lo and behold I wake up this morning, Thursday, to discover we are about to get a new Prime Minister. A news flash that came as a complete surprise to me and the rest of Australia (and also presumably to the old Prime Minister Kevin Rudd). By mid morning his successor, Julia Gillard was receiving calls from foreign dignitaries congratulating her on being the first female Prime Minister of Australia.

Those living in democracies that follow the American presidential system where voters elect a President rather than a party must be baffled by the British and Australian method where the voters in effect elect a party which is then at liberty to play musical chairs with the leadership.

The same merry leadership dance goes on at State level as well. In New South Wales, the Labour party that is the current majority party in the State Government is now onto its third leader since it was elected and the cabinet gives reshuffle a bad name as it reacts to incidents such as stories of the Police Minister dancing in his underwear. Becoming Premier of New South Wales these days is actually less like winning at musical chairs and more like being given a ticking time bomb as the music stops, given the current low levels of popular support for the party.

Things are so woeful at State level that you can understand the frantic shuffling of leader but what is puzzling me about today’s leadership change at national level is that a) though Labour was wobbling in the polls, it didn't appear to be a catastrophic position and b) to the ordinary person in the street (ok, I mean me here) Kevin Rudd wasn’t actually doing anything too wrong and c)it wasn’t as if there had been an enormous amount of discussion about a possible leadership challenge.

If Gordon Brown, who benefited himself from having the leadership passed from hand to hand without a public vote, reads the Australian papers he must be thanking his lucky stars he was a member of the British Labour party rather than the Australian equivalent. Based on today’s events, had he been an Australian Labour Prime Minister the party fixers would have had him out overnight as soon as Labour’s rating in the polls started to dive.

I do find it quite irritating that in essence what has happened is a group of political back room boys/power brokers, (and I have a nasty sneaky suspicion that these characters would be predominantly male) have decided to get rid of one leader and substitute another without any form of public consultation at all. As the next Australian national election must be held before April 2011, the public will have the chance to express their view at the polls – particularly as voting is compulsory, but it still sets my teeth on edge to have been a spectator at this fairly brutal political assassination. If Latin tags were still in fashion I am quite sure Kevin Rudd would have been muttering “Et Tu, Brute?” as his formerly loyal deputy stuck the knife in and nipped past him to glory in being the first woman Prime Minister.

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