Musical Chairs: Australian Politics for Dummies

Over the past decade, Australian politics has entered a crisis of legitimacy. Becoming internationally infamous as a ‘revolving door’ position, the prime ministership of this island nation has changed hands 6 times in 11 years. Seemingly a cursed job, no politician has carried out a full 3-year term since John Howard, who headed the Liberal government between 1996 and 2007. Rife with inter-faction warring and leadership spills, the helm of Australian leadership is at a crossroads between rising out of the ashes to return to its 1980s-style innovation and falling prey to political infighting.

Scott Morrison is Australia’s current PM, but for how long?
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, ©2018, some rights reserved.

In order to understand the current state of Australian politics, we must first go back to June 2010, when deputy Julia Gillard gained enough support from Labor MPs to successfully challenge and replace Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister, becoming the first woman to hold the job in the process. However, before long Ms. Gillard was vilified in the media for breaking pre-election promises by implementing a carbon tax and focusing on parliamentary misogyny in what some perceive to be a deeply sexist country. As a result, rather than viewing Labor’s leadership spill as an effort to reinvigorate a stagnant government, public opinion polls showed that Ms. Gillard’s takeover was considered a Caesarian-style betrayal. Mr. Rudd ultimately returned for a second term as Prime Minister after conducting a retaliatory leadership challenge to Ms. Gillard in June 2013.

His time in office was short-lived, however, as the September 2013 federal election ousted the Labor government of Mr. Rudd and Ms. Gillard in favour of a Liberal coalition headed by Tony Abbott. Yet the precedent set by Ms. Gillard for political backstabbing and a government at the mercy of opinion polls had now become the Australian zeitgeist. Within two years of coming to power, Mr. Abbott was faced by a leadership spill motion in February 2015; having narrowly defeated this challenge, he was given the minute time frame of 6 months to reverse the negative public perception of the government. After having failed to appease the Australian opinion polls, Mr. Abbott was promptly usurped by Malcolm Turnbull in a successful bid in September that year.

Although Mr. Turnbull’s motion for a leadership takeover was staunchly supported by Liberal MPs as a step towards recovering public party support, it became evident in the September 2016 elections that the everchanging head of Australian government only  eroded the role’s legitimacy further. The centre-right coalition under Mr. Turnbull’s guidance was only victorious by a single seat over the requirement for a majority government, indicating a loss of voter faith towards all major parties. Ironically, much as Mr. Abbott was ousted due to negative polls, Mr. Turnbull faced his comeuppance in yet another leadership spill in August this year after backtracking on his proposed energy bill. Despite winning the initial leadership bid, the political aspirations of high-ranking MPs within the Liberals became clear, resulting in yet another spill within the week. On the 24th August 2018, Scott Morrison was named as victor against Peter Dutton, and became the 30th Prime Minister of Australia.

With such patterns of self-destructive party behaviour and a civic disillusionment with the Australian government, it is likely that before long Mr. Morrison will have to fend off his very own would-be Brutus to remain in power. In particular, reforms targeting the energy sector and policy concerning how best to deal with asylum seekers in Australia remain hot-button issues, lending in part to the high leadership turnover by dividing politicians within their own parties. Yet for a moderate candidate largely unknown in public spheres with conservative views on same-sex marriage and a hard stance on immigration, it is equally unlikely that the appointment of Mr. Morrison as Prime Minister will drive a parliamentary consensus.

After a decade of a revolving door of leadership, ordinary Australians are beginning to feel frustrated at the state of government affairs; elected leaders are quickly ousted by their own, and democratic votes on individual candidates for the role of Prime Minister seemingly have less authority every day. Mr. Morrison has promised to heal this wound by pledging a “generational change” to heal the Liberal party, seeking to end the personal ambition and factional feuding that resulted in the global mockery of a deeply divided Australian parliament. But until the both the Liberal and Labor parties can replace their concern with opinion polls over making unitary policy moves, it is probable that the revolving door that is the Australian prime ministership will keep on turning.

Banner Image: Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, ©2005, some rights reserved.