Stop-Start? No, I don’t think so.
I don’t believe we ever managed to see a start which came to a stop in the first place. And which decade are we speaking of, Annabel? Which specific 10 year period? Let’s start with my own memories of political history which came about as I awoke to the realisation that politics per se actually existed in 1972 with the election of the Whitlam Labor Government. From that point on I started paying attention. By 1975 I voted in my first election so the political direction of my country meant even more to me. Remembrance Day 1975 means more to me than Armistice, 1918.
I loathed Malcolm Fraser for what he’d done, not necessarily what he stood for. At that stage, I didn’t understand what he stood for and history records that neither did a whole lot of others in my generation. History records that Fraser never achieved a whole lot, even Liberal Party historians agree on that score. Yes, sure, he let in the Vietnamese boat people, but only after an internal party brawl and only because he didn’t have much choice in the matter anyway. Then came Hawke, the Drover’s Dog. The government he led, and that of Paul Keating who succeeded him, were the most modern, market-sensitive and rationalist government I have seen thus far in my lifetime, and I dare say, won’t be exceeded for passionate reform. Genuine consensus efforts, economic and industrial reforms even conservatives approve of, all achieved with the support and allegiances of the union movement and genuine Labor true believers. Hawke & Keating delivered a narrative, a direction and a vision of the modern Australia not matched since that time.
Then followed Howard, thirteen years later. Keating had to make some hard decisions and some painful decisions. If there’s one thing voters can’t cop, it’s electoral pain. So, along comes Lazarus. Now, I can’t stand the man, what he stands for, what he represents and above all else, what he did to this country. Howard regarded himself as a Menzies Liberal, yet we all found before very long that he is a Social Conservative, albeit a pragmatic Social Conservative. As un-Menzies-like as is possible to be. Howard gave every impression of having read, several times, Machiavelli’s “The Prince”. His every political play & ploy came directly from that text. He was artful, conniving and principally untruthful with the Australian electorate, as personified by his admission to ‘core’ and ‘non-core’ promises. John Winston Howard openly fostered divisive social debate in this country, driving for ardent nationalism, refusing to apologise to indigenous peoples for past governmental wrongs, and defying over-whelming public opinion to take this country to war on the pretext of paying obeisance to some poorly understood and oft over-blown international treaty between this country, New Zealand and the United States of America. Howard was almost thrown out twice. 1998 and 2001, saved at the last through chicanery and deceit, he lied to and frightened the bejeezus out of the gullible electoral, playing on the none-too-subtle “terrorist_under_the_bed” theme by claiming refugees in boats were somehow undesirables invading our shores. In short, I find the man detestable, yet the epitome of everything we – the voters – have come to expect from politicians. Did John Winston Howard do anything for this country? In my estimation, he did a lot TO this country, and fuck-all FOR it.
Howard was seen off by Rudd Labor in the classic “it’s time” election result. Within 12 months that government was presented with a Global Financial Crisis which required that whatever reform agenda it came to office with took second or third place to management of a recession potential which this country avoided by the skin of its collective teeth, and thanks only to the Labor government heeding advices of Treasury. I am of the firm belief that had the GFC never eventuated, we’d have seen an entirely different Rudd government, albeit still driven by the same flawed personality at the helm. Labor never genuinely intended to allow Rudd to run full term in any event, but that’s a longer tale which I won’t bother with here. Suffice to say that the transition to whomever – and I’m not claiming it would have been Gillard in this imagined alternative timeline – would have been a lot less divisive & knee-jerkish. Still, politics works with what it has at the time. Since that time, more than 260 successfully passed pieces of legislation have resulted, principally from a minority government thanks to the hung Parliament of August 2010. Minority governments are by nature tenuous and fragile, yet this one we have currently, despite nay-sayers to the contrary, functions well in legislative terms. That it seems not to know just what it is in ideological terms, or just which direction the end game lies in is not all that surprising given that as a minority government, it’s literally only seeking to survive until October 2013.
Anyway, as to ‘Start-Stop’ governments?? Not a bit of it. Even my own shallow life experience proves that in the huge majority, governments survive single terms, and so agendas are auctioned, reforms established, ideologies cemented. That the past four years seem to have been ‘Start-Stop’ is a perception formed by the comings and goings of major party leaderships on both sides of the divide, two on the government side and three on the opposition side. Government itself hasn’t stopped or slowed or been diverted to any major degree, as proven by the legislative program to date. Politics is what it is, governments are what they are. We get what we elect, as the adage goes. Under our current three year electoral cycle where government of the day can actually call an election whenever it so desires within that timeframe, governments will ALWAYS appear to be ‘Start-Stop’ in between elections as a result of the system we vote under. Until we adopt fixed four or five year terms, that situation of ‘Start-Stop’ perceptions isn’t going to change.