Stanhope / When the common good is nowhere to be found

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IT has been an ugly few weeks for democracy with politicians and the political class working overtime to justify the contempt in which the community in general holds them.

Jon Stanhope
Jon Stanhope.

And I am not talking just about Australia and the ACT. In the US, the largest, most powerful and important democracy in the world, the President, who is pathologically loose with the truth, has close associates engaged by the criminal justice system and is supported by politicians without courage or principle, is sinking inexorably under the weight of his manifest unfitness for office.

I get the sense that here in Australia we find it hard not to look down our noses at the chaos being wreaked by President Trump and quietly sneer that it couldn’t happen here. I think that the majority of local sentiment is that our political establishment and democratic institutions have a stability and maturity that protects them from the excesses and turbulence of a Trump.

However, since the recent implosion of the Liberal government and the brutal sacking of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, the conga line of Australian prime ministers sacked in office and governments imploding would be increasingly concerning many Australians about the quality of our democracy.

The anger and frustration expressed by Australians at the events in the Liberal Party was palpable and universal. The level of anger this time round is far higher than the earlier coups against Rudd, Gillard and Abbott.

And not because Turnbull was loved or because it involved the Liberal Party, but because people simply could not believe it was happening again and are furious at the self-indulgent and self-focused behaviour on display.

The odious and destructive behaviour of Trump has nothing to do with the soundness of the political institutions of the US and is entirely a consequence of the character of the President and of those within the Republican Party who enable his behaviour.

Similarly, the issues that we face in Australia in relation to the working of our parliaments and the effectiveness of our governments are also, in the main, related to the competence, capacity and character of our elected representatives and has little to do with the structure or operation of our democratic institutions.

To the extent that our democracy might seem to be not working too well it has little or nothing to do with the organs of democracy and a lot, or everything, to do with the players.

One of the interesting aspects of the Turnbull coup was the media coverage that such events accord little-seen backroom operators and never-heard-of backbench members.

I watched interviews with Liberal and National Party members I had never heard of and it became obvious very early why that was so. I am not being partisan here. The same could I’m sure be said of the ALP.

It is often said, and is accepted as a truism, that we get the politicians and governments we deserve. I have always felt that what is closer to the truth is that we get the politicians and governments that the dominant factions in the Labor and Liberal parties decide we can have.

The issues at the heart of the Turnbull sacking were a combination of factional ideology, personal ambition, ego, power and revenge. Policy and the common good were nowhere to be found.

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Jon Stanhope
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.

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