If once upon a time my enemy’s enemy was my friend, then bizarrely enough it now seems that my friend’s enemy is my friend. Confused? Me too. I think I liked it better the way it was before.
Over the weekend, we had the coalition, Labor and that well known bastion of social good, the Australian Hotels Association (AHA), united against … ISIS? Donald Trump?
No. Nick Xenophon.
It began (for the purposes of this story but really long before) when Malcolm Turnbull spent some time in Adelaide. One had the sense it was, if not a first, then a seldom.
Was he there to pose support and solutions for South Australia’s chart-topping unemployment – especially among youth? To address declining growth and private sector investment? Reverse its increasing lagging compared to national economic measures?
He was there to sound a warning. That a vote for anyone but the coalition is a vote for “chaos”. The subtext? Vote for Nick Xenophon and his Nick Xenophon Team (NXT) at your peril. It was very inspiring.
Xenophon is a shoo-in to retain his own Senate seat and potentially win more, and his team is making inroads into seats like Mayo (with Jamie Briggs in the seat there’s the odd opening for an inroad). As Laurie Oakes reported (paywalled), the NXT rise gives both the coalition and Labor cause for concern.
Then the Australian Hotels Association weighed in, calling for a “two horse race”, amid claims that it is tipping “hundreds of thousands of dollars” into both major parties’ coffers with the aim of opposing Xenophon and NXT. As we know, Xenophon originally entered parliament (as did Andrew Wilkie) on an anti-pokies/gambling platform, and pokies and gambling are the bread and butter of the AHA.
That’s when then you know (well, you probably already knew) that something’s off.
Small wonder unprecedented numbers of voters are viewing the big guys askance. A recent Newspoll suggests that up to one in four voters is considering voting independent or for a micro party. In the 1970s, it was more like one in 10.
There’s the Windsor versus Joyce conflict in New England – which gained renewed national attention on Monday night’s episode of the ABC’s Q&A. Andrew Wilkie in Denison. And (to name a few) Senate crossbenchers Jacqui Lambie, Glenn Lazarus and Ricky Muir.
All are flies of varying pestilential degree in the ever-more-gritty ointment served up by the major parties.
If electoral success and voting intentions are your yardstick, it’s clear that NXT and other independents or micro-parties are doing something right.
It seems however that both major parties are using another measure. And the noises made on both sides too often smack more of self serving than serving the people.
Instead of asking why the independent voices are increasingly being heard, acted upon (and perhaps even learning from them) the big guys and political insiders seem to be lining up together to prove precisely the point that’s given rise to the situation in the first place. That the major players are more interested in the party than the people. In vested interests than those of the electorate. That they are “out of touch” with “ordinary people”. All the stuff of every independent polly’s platform, ever.
They’re the kinds of complaints that have political insiders rote-bemoaning the foolishness of our electorate and scaremongering about the dangers of populism. Or, gasp … CHAOS! Rinse. Repeat. And fair enough too – to a point. We’d all like to rule unopposed. On everything.
It’s acting as though ruling unopposed is the norm, and the voices of the independents and those they represent are some kind of bizarre, non-franchise-worthy anomaly that’s the problem.
It’s an arrogant attitude which sees often quite sensible propositions from independents condemned out of hand. And which is unforgiving and sweeping in its dismissal of what can be genuine concerns and views relayed from the electorate – often coloured with personal slights that don’t elevate the conversation or offer any prospect of turning it around. Bogan of Burnie, anyone?
Think back to those spectacular Hockey budgets and the extreme disingenuousness of the Government decrying the role of the crossbenchers in blocking its proposed measures. Which was about 877% predictable (hey if Hockey can do numbers, so can I). The giant furphy that it was unprecedented (and undemocratic) obduracy on the part of Labor but, more particularly, the independents, that blocked the passing of those budget measures (rather than their merits or lack thereof) is … well, a giant furphy.
Merits of the budget aside (where they well and truly belong), what it was was arrogance and political failure on the part of the government – especially coming hard on the heels of the Gillard government which dealt daily with an actual hung parliament. Total failure to look and learn – in stark contrast to what we’ve seen from the independents.
I’m not pretending there haven’t been missteps (not to mention eye-watering faceplants, Sharia style) from the independents.
But when you consider they were not brought forth from the womb of the party, fully formed and versed in even the most arcane of parliamentary protocols, ready to slot in to their predestined position, well-oiled by layers of minders and a well-practised PR machine – oh, and lots and lots of dollars – a lot of them are doing ok. Or better than ok. And even actually managed to get there by being elected. By the people.
Nick Xenophon is the obvious standout. Glenn Lazarus freely admits he’s learned a lot since he got out from under Clive (it took him a while to get the circulation back). Jacqui Lambie – who looks like she, too is here to stay, says she is “finding her political mojo”. Good on her. Sort of (you’ve got to rate someone who’s been condemned by both Mamamia and Andrew Bolt). Tony Windsor is the good guy everyone loves to love – even if he doesn’t get across the line. And so on.
And yes there are those who are not doing so well. (Hi Clive!) Or who, like so many in either party, make me (and others) reel in horror.
But the fact is, love ’em or hate ’em, all the evidence indicates that the independents are here to stay. Why not take a leaf from their book for some plain(er) speaking and less overt self interest? Tread on a few toes for the greater good rather than tip-toeing around for the good of a few? The sooner the major parties learn how to deal with the inconvenient reality of “other” voices more productively, the better (Hi Julia! Miss yooouuiii!).
Ignore THAT at your peril, Messrs Turnbull and Shorten.
OK that’s enough. Time to go and watch Mean Girls – it might help me work out who’s friends with whom.
(Disclosure: I recently attended a party themed “Not Boring” dressed as Jacqui Lambie. I have no other affiliation with the Jacqui Lambie Network.)
Kaitlin Walsh is a writer and consultant with more than 25 years’ experience in corporate communications. Her (more amateur) interests extend far beyond the corporate sphere to politics(when she can stomach it),social justice,cooking,whats on telly and reading. Twitter:@hourly planet.