Some blame minority government, but this is nonsense – effective minority governments remain common across Australian jurisdictions. The blame lies squarely with just two people.
Despite his 2010 call, Tony Abbott was swept up in the international ultra-conservative movement largely led by the Tea Party in the US, where the formula is simple – oppose everything! The aim is clear and simple, make anything but the conservatives look incompetent, particularly in matters financial. Ensure governments achieve as little as possible so that when the conservatives return to power they can build a community in their own image.
The partner in delivering the worst years of Australian politics was rewarded in the short term by being returned to the prime ministership. While Abbott was busy running a negative agenda in opposition he was supported indirectly but effectively by Kevin Rudd running a campaign undermining his own government from within.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard seemed plagued by controversy. How often did she appear to be on a winning move when a crisis from within Labor would suddenly loom large?
Gillard finally booted Craig Thompson from Labor ranks. However, her legal background combined with her sense of justice and fair play allowed Labor to be hamstrung for months and months. Whenever an achievement was in the wind or a good news story, another element in the Thompson prostitute scandal would emerge. The level of detail could only have come from within the Labor movement.
I suspect that history will eventually recognise that the bright light in the whole sorry scenario of the last term of government was the ability of Gillard to deliver so much of an agenda based on social justice principles with the support of rural independents Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott and, at least until her mistake over poker machines, the support of Andrew Wilkie.
Gillard understood that the independents would stick to their commitment of considering the merits issue by issue and would vote accordingly. Abbott did not care. He had the golden opportunity to operate at least partially constructively by winning the support of some of the independents for implementing policy change. It is not as though Windsor, Oakeshott and Katter were philosophically on a different page from the Abbott Opposition. But this was not part of his negative campaign plan.
Underlying this whole sad saga is the narcissist belief of the two men that they should be “President” of Australia. A Prime Minister answers to a parliament. Julia Gillard illustrated her clear understanding of the concept through her management of the minority government. In contrast, a directly elected President in a US-style democracy negotiates with a parliament. This belief has been clarified during the election campaign when Abbott declared he would not serve as Prime Minister in a minority government. He also argued that the Senate would have no right to reject his mandate to abolish the carbon tax. Both statements fly in the face of Australian democracy.
The actions of two men accelerated the concentration of power in Australian politics as they sought, effectively, a three-year dictatorship. However, this would not have been possible without their simpering supporters within the two major parties and a complicit media.
This new phase of Australian democracy has a prime minister more beholden than ever before to Rupert Murdoch and his concentration of media outlets. The impact was no clearer than in the swinging seats of western Sydney and Queensland. There was never a more blatant partisan campaign in the media than the one Murdoch ran in this election.
It has been a rough three years in Australian political history where the worst sort of political behaviour has been rewarded. The standards have been set. It is difficult to foresee circumstances in which the downward spiral will be reversed.
Michael Moore was an independent member of the ACT Legislative Assembly (1989 to 2001) and was minister for health