Governing is hard, just get on with it

Aug 24, 2021

In the face of declining trust in our federal government we need a government which will get on with the hard business of governing.

Joe Biden, in celebrating the passage of his bipartisan infrastructure package through the Senate said: “This is us doing the real hard work of governing.”

Biden’s statement, when taken together with the plummeting trust in the Australian government as shown by the Edelman survey, explains a lot of what is going on in Australian politics at the moment.

We need a government that will just get on with the hard business of governing in the crises we face.

The current Prime Minister is not prepared to take responsibility for anything. His skill is in dividing, deferring and deflecting.

We shouldn’t expect him to be perfect. The public will accept that some tough calls will go wrong or that a genuine attempt to solve a national problem may fall short.

But he is the Prime Minister. He should at least try to put forward plans to make Australia a better place and a better contributor to solving international problems.

Noone ever thought Bob Hawke was a saint. But he certainly made Australia a better place.

John Howard had his flaws, but he accepted responsibility for the gun laws after the Hobart massacre.

Can anyone imagine Paul Keating abandoning responsibility for quarantine in a national health emergency?

Being Prime Minister means stepping up when it is hard.

The current government has reached the absurd level that it is now passing responsibility for immigration of agricultural workers to the states!

The Seasonal Workers Programme which brings Pacific Island workers to work in the agricultural industry, to our mutual benefit, is one of the initiatives of which I am most proud. At this time of crisis in our agricultural industry, and in the economies of our neighbours, the federal government needs to step up and make the necessary arrangements to expand the scheme, not just defer, deflect and divide.

In the pandemic Australia has suffered from a lack of leadership and a failure of government to accept responsibility for what are necessarily and constitutionally federal responsibilities.

We all know what happened during the bushfires.

Climate change has illustrated a lack of leadership and acceptance of responsibility by our government.

Australia is bludging on the rest of the world in the continuing struggle to eliminate global poverty.

The continuing absence of the promised National Integrity Commission despite promises to create one has illustrated a lack of commitment to doing the hard things.

The fact that ministers continue to act in breach of ministerial standards and the requirements of administrative law without any sanction shows something is lacking at the top of the government.

Even the right-wing analysts can see the problem. A recent edition of the Australian section of The Spectator asserted:

“The Liberal Party is adrift, a large, ugly and ungainly tanker that has slipped its moorings and is taking on water as it flounders in a turbulent and unpredictable sea. On the bridge, an ineffectual captain navigates by opinion polls and focus groups, with sinister factional bosses whispering in his ear.”

Notwithstanding all this, there is no certainty that the federal government will lose in 2022. It is important to remember that Morrison did pull off an unexpected victory in 2019. However, appearances may be deceiving. It always seemed to me that Labor lost the 2019 election rather like the Liberals lost the 1993 election.

There is no automatic historical link which means 2022 will be like 1996.There is nothing that guarantees an unpopular government which evaded the wrath of the voters by diverting attention to the opposition at one election, will face increased wrath the next time. This will only happen if someone makes it happen.  One big question that arises from this analysis is whether the current Opposition will ditch policies the voters rejected last time, as John Howard did in 1996?

There are several other big questions to be decided in the lead up to the next election.

The questions include: who is most likely to get on with the hard business of governing? Who is most likely to make Australia a better place? Will any party offer policies which will begin the long hard process of restoring our international reputation?

Trust in the Australian government is falling. I don’t believe this is because the members of the current government are not saints. I believe it is because they are not doing the hard work of governing and because no one can see a positive plan to make life better.

Whatever this means for the next or subsequent elections, reversing these trends of declining trust and lack of focus on the hard business of governing is important for the future of our democracy.

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