Monday, June 20, 2011

Democracy as a stunt

It’s not everyday a political leader tries to redefine democracy, but today Tony Abbott gave it a shot.  He came out (after some nice leaking to every tabloid) and said he was going to move in parliament for there to be a plebiscite on the carbon tax – a vote on the question: “‘Are you in favour of a law to impose a carbon tax?’

The media reacted the way you would expect the media to react (especially those who had been given the leak) – they lapped it up like little puppies. Some of the more serious journalists tried to point out that they really knew what was going on:

Yes, it's a stunt. But it's a good one. image

A good stunt? Wow. Talk about the harsh eye of the fourth estate holding our politicians to account. We know it’s a stunt, but hey, why should we hold that against him? Hell we want stunts – good ones mind, take your bad stunts elsewhere – give us stunts that we can run with and make our own – to whit The Daily Telegraph editorial pretty much campaigning for the plebiscite like it was its own idea:

Words are cheap.

At an estimated $80 million, the plebiscite would be anything but - but that may be the cost we bear to make federal parliament answerable to the people.

Actually no, what makes a parliament answerable to the people is regular, freely-held elections. There will be one in later 2013, until then you need to put up with the one that was voted in at the last freely-held election. Don’t like it? Well vote it out next time. It’s a system that has worked well in this country for around 110 years. I think we can say it has passed the test.

Now I know some of you will say, yeah we know all that, but it really is a good stunt – I mean it sounds great – it sounds democratic, who in their right mind would not agree to it?

And I would almost be with you – after all if the Independents voted against it Abbott could say they were against democracy. He would almost have a case (well not really, but he at least would sound like he almost had a case if you didn’t examine it too closely) except this morning Malcolm Farr of was reporting this:

10.10am Tony Abbott says the Opposition won't adopt the Government's carbon pricing scheme if it was put to a plebiscite and passed.

The Opposition Leader indicated today only the Government would be bound by the result.

When asked his position should a carbon price be accepted at a plebiscite, he told

"I would still think a carbon tax was bad."

The Opposition argues it is up to the Government to get a mandate for its plan to reduce carbon emissions by penalising polluters.

So Abbott wants the people to have a say, but he doesn't want to have to listen to them?


Wait on – wasn’t this Abbott’s idea in the first place? Isn’t he the one who actually wants the people to have a say? I’ll have to go look in my little book of political phrases, but I am pretty sure being able to call for a vote but not being obliged to have to abide by that vote is not within the confines of the English meaning of “democracy”.

Here was Abbott trying out his strategy on radio station 2UE:

JASON MORRISON: The obvious question to ask, if it comes back that in fact more people support the tax than don’t – which would go against all the polls – but if it comes back that way, would you change your party’s position on it?

TONY ABBOTT: Well, obviously, that would be a very powerful message but I don’t want to speculate on what might happen.

Really? What’s there to speculate about? The people vote one way, you agree with them? No? Really? I mean… really?

How about this on 3AW:

NICK MCCALLUM: But you won’t be able to convince the independents though, surely?

TONY ABBOTT: Well, what could be more democratic than having a vote of the people?

Gee I don’t know Tony, what could be more democratic? Oh yes, I know – abiding by the decision of the people! You see holding the votes is easy. Lots of countries hold votes. You seem them reported quite a lot in the foreign news section of the papers. But the democratic ones are those that both sides abide by the result of the vote. Those systems where only one side has to abide by the decision of a vote struggle with the use of the word “democratic” in their system of Government (they generally put it in the title of the country to try and make up for the lack of it in reality). But kudos to you Tony, keep trying to broaden the definition. In time democracy may come to mean what you think it does.

But if you really look at the proposal you know immediately that democracy is not what Abbott is after. You only need to look at the timing. This is the last week in which the Senate will consist of the numbers from the 2007 election. After this the Senate will be made up of those since the 2010 election – and the Greens will hold the balance of power. After this week Abbott loses a lot of power. He no longer can seriously hope to block legislation in the Senate. And he certainly can’t do it by cajoling Steve Fielding (who will be gone) and Nick Xenophon (who will be somewhat redundant).

Abbott wants a vote this week because he does not want to have to accept the views of the people from the last election.

Little wonder that the only independent that matters currently considering Abbott’s proposal is Xenophon, but even his support is not going to do much for Abbott:

`As a general principle, you should (ask the people),'' he told reporters.``But the question can't be loaded, it should be about the specifics, not slogans.''

Hmm. specifics, not slogans? Oh dear. That ain’t Abbott’s strong suit.

It was also ``a bit simplistic'' having a plebiscite asking: ``Do you support a carbon tax, yes or no?''
Senator Xenophon believes the people should be asked to vote specifically on the government's proposed legislation on a carbon tax.

But Abbott wants and needs it simplistic! And waiting for the proposed legislation? That’s no good, because that sure as heck won’t happen by the end of the week.

But in any event, Tony Windsor and Rob Oakschott won’t vote for it, so that kills it.

But thanks Tony, nice try. 


I noted earlier this year that Abbott never utters a word without a political intent. Even when the occasion is bipartisan and calls for statesmen like words, Abbott can’t help himself. Last year when Indonesian President Bambang Yudhoyono addressed Parliament last, Abbott decided to use the bipartisan moment to say in his introductory remarks: IMG_0395

We have worked to end people smuggling before. It worked when we worked together before. People smuggling has started again and we can stop it again, provided it is done cooperatively and with a clear understanding of our mutual interests and with the right policies in place here in Australia.

So when today, the New Zealand Prime Minister was present to address the joint parliament, the odds of Abbott demeaning himself and using his welcoming address to raise a political point were pretty short. And so he did:

I also congratulate you Prime Minister for dramatically watering down the Emission Trading Scheme that you inherited. In this country, your sister party will go further and do better. Should we inherited any carbon tax we won’t just reduce it, we will rescind it.

How classy.

At least while Abbott was laughing to himself while he said these words, and behind him Luke Hartsuyker and Chris Pyne dutifully grinned like idiots as well, Joe Hockey sat stony faced and non-plussed. Good to see, Joe.


BigBob said...

It's unfricking believable.

Abbott will be praised once again for being a smart operator, at the same time as removing the last shreds of dignity from our political life.

This has been the most disgraceful period in recent political history - eclipsing Whitlam's end, in my eyes.

There will be a heavy price to be paid in the future for all this - Abbott has essentially trashed the political process in his desperate bid for power.

Gordicans said...

Only 11 more sleeps to go.

Tezza said...

Couldn't agree more, BigBob.

Red Bakersen said...

Spot on.

Grog's Gamut for PM in 2013!

Anonymous said...

Andrew Elder would describe this as yet another sign that we have already hit "peak Abbott". I think he's right. This does smack of desperation.

If the plebiscite passes in Abbott's favour, he'll be yelling and carrying on in QT that the government is honour-bound to follow the will of the people and dump the tax. But he can't even bring himself in theory of the plebiscite even happening, and even then even if it turns out differently from what he wants will he change his position? Answer is: no.

Even the ABC was willing to call Abbott out on the stupidity of getting all shouty and po-faced about the ill-use of taxpayer funds for months and months on end, and yet perfectly happy to throw away north of $70 million on a non-binding, non-obligatory partisan political stunt which will not prevent the legislation to enact an ETS being drafted, debated, and passed through both houses, whatever the outcome. This was never about the burden on the poor taxpayer. It is just vintage Liberal treachery and lies.

ASL said...

It's terrible that all of the commentators don't just call Abbott out on this stuff. I think that Jonathan Holmes got it right when he said that the media is scared of being accused of bias that they simply report both sides, as though they hold equal value.

wizman said...

@ASL: since the 2PP vote from the last election was just about 50-50, reporting both sides as equal is not so bad. Not calling out stupidity is poor journalism. If they did the same on climate change and had 19 pro to every 1 con, it would be better.

I seem to remember one Tony Abbott screaming blue murder ridiculing the Peoples Advisory Committee thing re:climate change, claiming that a certain group of 150 members, i.e. the Lower House, were a suitable group to ask. Not anymore apparently.

All those stupid people claiming we need another election for a "mandate" better get used to the idea of Representative Democracy, as they have lived under it for more than a century (thanks Grog).

Hell, maybe some pressure group can petition the GG to not give Royal Assent to the carbon price bill - you never know!

Andrew Elder said...

No, Anonymous: Peak Abbott is behind us, not ahead.

Anonymous said...

Glad to see Nick X is supportive of plebiscites. To get more bang for our buck we could ask at the same time:

'Should the government pass a law which interferes with people's right to gamble?'

Might as well ask the people on euthanasia, gay marriage, abortion on demand, capital punishment, corporal punishment, Etc. Etc.

Crowey said...

Grog's Gamut for PM in 2013!

It ain't going to happen Red Bakersen, Honesty will get in the way.

Anonymous said...

"...although Mr Abbott somewhat undermined his case by saying that even if the tax passed at a plebiscite, he would go to the next election promising to rescind it." The Australian today has finally savagely attacked Coalition policy.


Meg Thornton said...

My short answer: Yeah, let's have a plebiscite. Just like the one we had for the GST...

Oh. Yeah.

My longer answer is here:

Hillbilly Skeleton said...

If only we could have a plebiscite to stop Tony Abbott debasing, debauching and traducing the will of the people from the election, ie our national plebiscite, which we had less 12 months ago. However Mr Abbott is unwilling to accept the will of the people, and their representatives in the Balance of Power who chose to side with Julia Gillard & the ALP to form government.

It could be a simple plebiscite question:
'Do you want Tony Abbott to dry up and blow away? Yes or No?
And well worth every cent spent on it.

NormanK said...

Mr Abbott :
"I also congratulate you Prime Minister for dramatically watering down the Emission Trading Scheme that you inherited."
Does he realise that this 'watering down' involved examining Australia's CPRS and adopting a significant number of its better characteristics?

I wonder how many Conservative politicians around the world cringe whenever they hear Mr Abbott refer to their 'sister party'?
You can choose your friends but ......

Anonymous said...

so now we know what he means when he says he favours a guided democracy.

DaveMcRae said...

Top cartoon by Kudelka (it was mentioned by ABC TV Breakfast - a slightly different take to fawning over the Abbott the day before)

Oolon Colluphid said...

It'd be nice if our media took a cue from the UK. There was a journo there recently who said that there's just one question you have to keep in mind when dealing with any politician: "Why is this lying bastard lying to me now?" Some informed analysis of political motives, of the sort I read the Gamut for, would be a welcome relief from the parroting of talking points we seem to have adopted from the American media.

Gordicans said...

Just watching Gillard defenestrate a hapless Abbott in question time with consumate ease on the plebiscite.

This has been Abbott's biggest defeat since the election, not just because he lost but because of it being so amataurish miscalculation with not even Fielding supporting his position. It will sting him. Oh, here's Albanese with the smell of blood and moving in for a go.

Scott MacRae Collingwood. said...

1. There are actually far, far, far, far more important issues than this carbon tax.

Lilly said...

It's been evident for a long time now that Dr No is still smarting over th election loss. He, and many on his side of politics, still can't accept that they are in Opposition. If they aren't in power calling the shots, then come hell or high water, they'll do everything they can to scare and misinform all those who'll listen about how bad things are and how much worse they're going to get. If you keep telling someone they should be scared or they're being ripped off, eventually the feelings of fear, loathing and greed bubble to the surface.
As Gillard said in QT today, Abbott is so inept he can't even pull off a stunt...but he may have done some damage (not just to himself) along the way

Andrew McIntosh said...

"Should we inherited any carbon tax we won’t just reduce it, we will rescind it."

There you have it. He couldn't give a stuff what "the people" want. Even Steve Fielding could see through it. Steve Fielding!

Gordicans said...

Lilly, quite right. And Abbott knows that in 10 days time it's a brand new footy game. He is like a student the night before a big exam who suddenly realizes he hasn't done nearly enough work to pass this thing. Hence the plebiscite. Labor would find it a lot harder with Turnbull as an apponent.

Listened to Nick Minchin's retirement speach and it was extremely good. Generous, warm and funny. He seems like a very nice guy (McGuaran's was awfull, had to turn the radio off). One has to ask though how someone so obviously intelligent can be a total climate change denier? I think he is still fighting the cold war.

2353 said...

And to make the whole thing even more pathethic, the media tonight are concentrating on closed airports in Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney and Adelaide.

By the way, this ash cloud was forecast last Sunday - the LNP should have worked out the timing like lots of other people did!

i vote liberal and think later said...

TA learned to use plebiscites for politial purposes during the Republican debate and associated referendum. He was such a stunt as to come out and say we shouldn't elect a Presdent as the winner would be a poltiician and politians cannot be trusted. Yet later the same year he had the chutzpah to complain in a press conference about Australian's making pollie bashing a sport.

Greg Jericho said...

David McRae - that Kudelka cartoon is brilliant.

Gordicans said...

Barnaby Joyce:

"Stephen (Fielding)was guest speaker at a skeptics conference, um er what's going on here?".

That's what he actually said. If you scripted it for a comedy skit you couldn't make it funnier.

Gordicans said...

This is Barnaby's plea when he found out Fielding wasn't going to back the LNP's strategy on the plebiscite:

"I ask, I hope, that in your final days here you leave with dignity, not disgrace."

Vale Senator Fielding. The Senator has indeed left the parlament with his dignity not only intact but enhanced. Senator Joyce is a bully and puffed up goose acting beyond his station and ability.

CD said...

I seem to recall the Rudd govt had an overwhelming mandate 'from the people' to act on climate change from the 2007 election, yet Abbott crapped all over that. I always hope events like this are the long-awaited 'turning point' for him, but sadly the bar is always lowered and he keeps getting away with it.

Dan said...

I know I'm probably breaking Godwin's Law, but does anyone else see a hint of Dr Goebells in Abbott's antics? Tell a lie (climate change), make it a big one (we'll all be doomed by a carbon tax) and keep telling it until people start to believe it (as they are). The really sad part about our whole political landscape at the moment is that the ALP is absolutely useless. We have run out of viable choices.

Anonymous said...

Given the multi-talented Abbott's cunning stunt proficiency,perhaps he could assist the Meat and Livestock Association in accelerating the resumption of the live exports stunning failure LOL.

Anonymous said...

 life & everything
  - just as easy as 1, 2, 3

1st 1, 2, 3:

1. fully & fairly informed

2. wide range of honest candidates

3. who if/when elected, properly represented

In the days of the horse & buggy, it *may* have made sense, but only if each 'leg' was adhered to. None is; 1 = dumbed-down, 2 = Lib=Lab = bipartisan = un- & anti-democratic, then 3 = reps doing what the *reps* want (or what $s want), not what *we* the people would decide - if (1st 1, 2, 3) were true; looping.

Some years ago the French deployed a 'smart-phone' system, practically to each home.

We, in our wide-brown, even resorting to fencing-wire modems, must be able to go at least 'one-up' on the Frogs?

Instant democracy is both possible and practical, and could once & for all bring 'of, by, for the people etc' to real-life.

It's *our* country, *our* lives, *our* future.

By *rights* we should have a say.

No say = possible suicide.

2nd 1, 2, 3:

1. Globalisation/neoliberal = economic rationalism is voodoo economics *designed* to make the rich obscenely richer at the expense of everyone else, and it's working.

2. Militarism (US+Zs) is rampant, building an empire designed to oppress the entire world, and it's mass-murdering - to steal.

3. The excess-CO2 climate catastrophe could, probably will lead to an extinction-event par excellence, taking out most of the 'top predators' (we the people, in case you didn't 'get it'), and it's accelerating, *being* accelerated. Only way to stop it is to reduce burning fossil carbon below 'sustainability' = achieve a falling CO2 concentration in our once jewel-like planet's air. Arctic ice is melting; it's visibly shrinking.

3rd & last 1, 2, 3:

Putting 1, 2, 3... next to names on a ballot very 3-4 years ain't never gunna save us - as the results over the last 63 years or so show = *prove* - see 2nd 1, 2, 3 = disaster; looping.

Anonymous said...

Shocking abuse of the parliament for ones own grandiose ego-driven agenda. Abbott has over-reached yet again but receives nothing but praise from this craven media that we now have.

Thanks be to LP,GG and AE for being the only voices of sanity. I now get up every morning and want to throw a brick through the window/door/television as I am bombarded with more bullshit from this ghastly dickhead who has no actual plan other than to destroy our parliamentary system. It just makes an old sheila want to weep that we are so bereft of political talent that this nasty piece of work is leading a party and aspiring to lead the nation.And half the nitwits in this country think that would be good.

Anonymous said...

What I find most ironic about the situation is that it is the interplay between Gillard and Abbott that keeps them both seeming relevant.

Remove either and both would fall, shown up as empty windbags.

Australians have been taken in by an enormous fraud - that we have two sides in politics.

Unfortunately we have only one side, with two separate divisions who take it in turns to rule.

Juliar Nur said...

Words are cheap, good point you said that, democracy true a stunt