THERE is a certain karma in the fact that Australia’s first brush with President Donald Trump, as predictably obnoxious and embarrassing as it was, focused on Australia’s obnoxious and embarrassing treatment of asylum seekers on Manus and Nauru Islands.
Nevertheless, Liberal and Labor politicians lined up to respond to President Trump’s opposition to the asylum seeker deal with President Obama with the usual lack of self-awareness and no hint of embarrassment at the international exposure of their ugly complicity in the lengthy incarceration of these innocent men, women and children.
There has, since this bizarre contretemps and the behaviour of President Trump more generally, been a flurry of analysis of the implications of the Trump presidency for Australia.
A common thread has been the implications for politics and politicians of the Trump “style” and of the mood reflected by the Brexit vote for change from the more traditional parties to right-wing, populist and nationalistic parties and individuals.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has recently joined the parade saying that “the political system is broken” and that in “these unusual times, politics as usual doesn’t cut it anymore”.
This begs the question whether this is the case here, in Canberra? On the evidence of the recent ACT election it is fair to say that the grip of the traditional parties on the local legislature has actually tightened. In the election, independents and minor parties, with the arguable exception of the Greens, created barely a ripple.
Not only was the ALP returned to government after 15 straight years in office, it received a comprehensive and unambiguous mandate to maintain the policies, administration and style of government that it had pursued in the previous term.
The ACT government has, to take just one example, received a mandate to proceed at pace, irrespective of the business case and regardless of the unavoidable and as yet unexplained changes to the form and functioning of Canberra, with a multi-billion dollar tram network.
The people of Canberra, in agreeing to this have also agreed, by extension, that the government should take the steps required to fund the project. It is not clear at this stage whether this will involve extra rates, additional taxes or cuts to existing services such as health or education. Despite this and a run of hefty Budget deficits the electorate displayed no real interest in knowing where the money was going to come from and is prepared to trust the government to deal with these issues as it sees fit.
It would be interesting, therefore, to explore the basis of the ACT electorate’s apparent satisfaction and trust with politics and the political status quo in Canberra.
Does it really signify genuine support for the Labor/Liberal duopoly? Alternatively, is it an incident of a high level of disengagement with local politics and government or perhaps a reflection of complacency born out of the relative prosperity of the Canberra community?
It might be, for example, that for a majority of Canberrans an increase in rates and taxes to fund the tram is of no particular moment and that we no longer hear the voices of Canberra families for whom the cost of living is a struggle and home ownership an illusion.
The same situation does not apply in other places. The almost 20 per cent of the vote that Pauline Hanson garnered at the last Federal election is testament to the disenchantment with mainstream parties in Queensland.
There is great debate about what is feeding the support that One Nation has attracted. I have family and friends in Queensland who tell me that Pauline’s success comes from a combination of saying what many of her supporters think and standing up on issues that mainstream politicians avoid and so create a void.
There is perhaps no better example of this than Pauline Hanson’s recent stirring defence of the right of the residents of Norfolk Island to enjoy the same democratic rights as all Australians.
Eighteen months ago the Labor and Liberal Parties in the Federal Parliament combined, against the wishes of a significant majority of residents and without consultation, to repeal self-government on Norfolk Island, sack the democratically elected government and replace it with Canberra-based public servants.
In the 18 months since these draconian and undemocratic changes were forcibly imposed on residents, Pauline Hanson is the only member of the Federal Parliament to stand in solidarity with and publicly support the people of Norfolk Island.
If you were a Norfolk Islander who would you vote for?
Jon Stanhope was Chief Minister from 2001 to 2011 and represented Ginninderra for the Labor Party from 1998. He is the only chief minister to have governed with a majority in the Assembly.