24. Jan, 2015

Pork Barrelling for Proles – Democracy Australian Style

[Definition: Pork Barrelling: US Slang. The use of government monies and appropriations for a project that will benefit or appeal to a select group of constituents, although it, in all likelihood may not fulfil a national or broader need. [Source. J. Coe]].

 

Australians are compulsorily addicted to elections.

 

Hardly surprising that, over a three or four year cycle, a goodly proportion of our 23.13 million souls have to vote for at least three of the following: one federal government comprising a lower house and senate; six states, all with the exception of one who have a bicameral [two house legislature]; two internal territories with a unicameral [one house] legislature and a staggering 565 local government authorities all with elected councillors.

 

Not that this makes Australians more democratic, far from it. It makes us one of the most overregulated, bureaucratic countries in the Western world. With the exception of local government elections, Australians do not have freedom of choice whether or not to vote. They are compelled to vote at Federal elections – due every three years – and at state elections every three years. Those that do not turn up at polling stations on Election Day and have their names ticked off are subject to hefty fines and approbation. So, since they’re there, they may as well vote.

 

So, not only are they compelled to vote, they are subject to one of the most complicated electoral systems inflicted on the world outside perhaps Israel. There is no simplicity such as ‘first past the post’ thank you - namely the candidate that garners the most votes. Australian lawmakers in their convoluted endeavours to give every vote a value, have decreed that all votes are subject to varying degrees of preferences that flow on from party to another party to the ludicrous extent that in the last Federal election, one brainless dropkick standing for the Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party received 479 primary votes, this rose to 16,604 with immediate preferences and then became 483,076 votes with an inclusion of some 143,118 Sex Party votes. More than half of those came in from other parties.[1]

 

This intellectual lightweight, together with a small rump of likewise elected fools hold the balance of power in the affairs of national government. Brilliant.

 

Professor David Flint, a long time and well respected observer of political affairs in Australia has called ‘enough’. In describing the election of the Senate ‘sordid’ and subject to back-room deals and shady manouvering he is a strong advocate of Senate reform.[2] The origins of the demise of the Senate as a reputable house of debate and review may be found in Prime Minister Hawke’s decision to enlarge the House of Representatives ergo the enlargement of the Senate from ten to twelve members and the concomitant reduction of the Senate quota of votes for election to 14.28%. [7.69% in a double dissolution].

 

But to leave these mathematical abstractions aside – it is little wonder that Prime Minister Keating described the Senate as: “undemocratic swill.”  The whole notion of it is nonsense. Professor Flint’s proposals for reform are long overdue. May he have every success in his endeavours, he will certainly have mine.

 

But to return to proles and swill, pork barrelling and pig troughs, it is the turn of Queenslanders to return once again to the game of ‘gimme gimme’.

 

In 2012 one of the most egregious, inept and unpopular Labor governments in the history of the country was swept from power in Queensland with a swing of some 15% against it. The conservative LNP won 78 seats in an 89 seat unicameral chamber and the Labor Party was reduced to seven seats from 51. Astounding statistics whichever way one looks at them.

 

Principally it demonstrates the singular unpopularity of the Labor Government that had run the state’s economy into the ground. 

 

The LNP was elected on an unequivocal platform of tough, unambiguous economic and social reform; tough law and order; complete review of the health system; austerity; economic restructuring and so forth. The people said gratefully and unequivocally ‘Yes Please’.

 

Once elected, within two days the new government got cracking. It reformed huge swathes of the public service; it sacked numbers of public servants and wasteful programmes put in place by the last government as job creation programmes; it undertook critical examinations of the health system; the state infrastructure and recommended either selling it off or long term leasing. It released a series of discussion papers on-line and encouraged, through television and print media advertising, for people to comment on them; it smashed the institutionalised criminal gangs of bikies in the state by creating a special police task force to root out corrupt cops and to put an end to standover merchants. The streets of Brisbane and the Gold Coast are much safer to walk down than ever before. It embarked on an ambitious road building infrastructure programme for Queensland – all in three years.

 

What is also did in undertaking all this is alienate lobby groups from all walks of life. The unions had a field day and it alienated organised crime. By asserting the right of Parliament to make the laws it alienated the cosseted effete group of cross-dressers known as the legal profession. By making them accountable to the public purse it alienated the medical profession and so it went.  

 

So unpopular is this new government that the polls seriously have it as being tossed out at the election next week.

 

And who is the potential premier in waiting to lead her party out from the telephone box - Annastacia Palaszczuk, a dull political apparatchik with a degree in Arts Law and a Master of Arts from the London School of Economics. She has never held a proper job, having been research officer and electoral officer to a number of Labor ministers – in short a political pole dancer all her life. After the death of her father, Henry Palaszczuk, a veteran state Labor MP, she entered Parliament in 2006 winning and holding ever since his old seat of Inala.

 

To date, after three years as opposition leader she has done nothing, zilch, zero, bugger all except whine and criticise the LNP government. In three years she has no review of her party’s failings at the last election. She has extrapolated no coherent policies. She has voiced no grand imaginative ideals. She has demonstrated no wit or intellect. She comes across, arguably, as one of the dumbest and most colourless characters in politics anywhere in Australia today. Her campaign strategy is to criticise the government, bleat about asset sales, and promise more jobs. And pork barrel in country seats about new facilities. No mention how she is going pay for any of this and she has avoided like the plague any serious discussion as to fiscal policy. An incredible lightweight, who would, in real life, be lucky to be voted onto the local Parents and Citizens committee. But she has the correct union based leftist ideological connections. Fortunately your writer used his ample shoulders to steer himself and his wife through a media pack in Townsville recently who were prevailing upon us to be photographed talking to her. Talk to her! Yeah, righto! 

 

Indeed, just as the new Labor opposition leader of New South Wales, Luke Foley, is disavowing himself of all the old socialist dogma in his party and casting himself as a centrist leader in the successful mold of Wran, Hawke and Keating, Queensland’s Annastacia is promising good old traditional ‘Labor’. In a society that has had this up to its ears and so desperately needs economic and social reform, this is hardly encouraging.

 

But Queensland is well known for its political quirkiness. Remember this is the state that brought you the unlamented Sir Johannes "Joh" Bjelke-Petersen and his crooked host; the conman Beattie; the egregious Bob Katter; Pauline Hanson; Clive Palmer to name just a few. That Katter and Palmer have the arrogance to name their political parties after themselves is indication enough of their spuriousness; but it’s to this state’s eternal shame that such a sizeable faction of fools in the electorate actually vote for them is completely incomprehensible. I remember asking Katter in a public forum about his views on our foreign policy with Indonesia – his answer – I’ve still got my rifles ready. My God! What an intellect.

 

After the sweeping and once in a generation wipeout of the Australian Labor Party in 2012 this election is bound to bring about a sorely needed correction in the balance of power in the house. A stronger opposition is at the fundament of democracy. But does the LNP government need to be defeated?

 

LNP leader, Campbell Newman, certainly attacked his job with a vigour expected of an ex-army officer and former Lord Mayor of Brisbane. He acted in a ruthlessly efficient manner, offending interest groups from lawyers, doctors, public servants, police and Uncle Tom Cobbley and all. None of whom weren’t warned beforehand. The fact that he offended such a disparate section of the community indicates that he hit sensitive nerves well fattened off the public teat. He introduced reforms long overdue and he hasn’t resiled from tough decisions. Whether or not he is arrogant depends upon whom you talk to. I find him a very personable, approachable and an understanding man. Others see him as Satan personified. One the first things he did in his early days of power was to scrap the Premiers Writers Prize. As a writer I wasn’t particularly impressed of this action and wrote and told him so. In due course I received a polite and well-reasoned letter that satisfied me.

 

Which brings me to the subject of the much bandied about phrase: ‘the end of the age of entitlement’. Coined by our Federal Treasurer it is a spot on description of our social and economic times.

 

Both the Federal and Queensland Governments, inheriting an enormous financial mess from their predecessors have stated what should be to most of us the bleeding obvious. We as a country are all living well beyond our means. Exports are down, the dollar is dipping, imports are up, wages are up, a disproportionate amount of the budget goes into social services ad infinitum.

 

Indubitably some of us are doing it extremely tough and deserve special attention; and of course there are the fat cats who need desperately to be reined in. This is the proper role of government.

 

The citizenry of Australia knows the country needs reform – but not as long as it affects me, Jack.

 

It is incumbent on all citizens to pull their weight. I have been disgusted by the disgraceful and mean-minded reaction to some of the minor points in the Federal budget. This reaction is mind blowing in its individual selfishness. Who cannot afford a cup of coffee or a cold beer to see the doctor for Christ’s sake? I am strongly reminded of a comment made by a recent commentator in the Australian whose name I cannot remember which went to the effect: “if the LNP lose in Queensland we can say good bye forever to rational politics and economic reform in Australia”.  

 

Being forced to vote remains one of our great problems. Short term elections are another. Politicians buy votes with extravagant policies – a new stadium here; a new road here; a new school here – this is plain pork barreling.

 

Standing in the electoral queues on Election Day is instructive. Listening to the low brow knuckle-dragging gorillas in our midst, dressed in their best tats, singlets, thongs and black shorts, and their fat wives with backsides to do justice to a Wallaby scrum, discussing the intricacies and nuances of politics, makes for great sadness. 

 

Conversely on the other end of the scale, in the south east of this unnatural polity called a state, the lean lycra-clad metrosexuals and diminishing cohort of ABC listeners discussing in animation the soft-cock ideology of social reform and refugees and the plight of the reef. [Great Barrier].

 

What this period of politics also demonstrates is the total inefficiency of our political system. Enough already about the Senate. What we ought to be also seriously looking at is the question of compulsory voting and the length of time we elect our politicians for. What can any government, realistically, achieve in three years? Four years should be the minimum.

 

In this context, my view on the current election is that the LNP does not deserve to lose this election. It has embarked on the first series of important economic reforms. Let’s give them time to achieve and follow though. The government does however deserve a much stronger and credible opposition. And this opposition deserves a lot more from its leadership than the trash that was left out from the last election.   

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[1] Flint, D. ‘The Sordid state of voting for the Senate.’ The Spectator 3 January 2015.

[2] loc.cit