When I started writing on Wednesday morning, I was considering the loss of two independents from the Australian political scene and what it might mean for future independents. Now, I’m contemplating the loss of at least six remarkable Australian parliamentarians, and even more from the front bench.
Alongside the devastating loss is the restoration of hope – just a tiny shard of hope - that perhaps the good people from the Left can keep Tony Abbott out of The Lodge.
Bringing us this drama was a media that ranged from slick and innovative to angry and partisan.
Australia is poorer as we contemplate a future without the calming influences of two true-blue gentlemen who for many years have steadied the daily drama within Canberra’s galleries of power.
For many, this hung parliament has brought out the worst: from the leadership instability within the ALP to the mean-spirited Liberal decisions around when they would or wouldn’t grant a pair, from the revelations about Craig Thomson and Peter Slipper to the accusations hurled across the floor, from the political convenience of benching former speaker Harry Jenkins to the empty sloganeering of Tony Abbott, we have seen some of the lowest behaviour imaginable.
Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor gave us the very best they have. They were elected as independents in traditional National Party heartland seats, but the actuality of the hung parliament elevated their roles beyond their electorates. To the disgust of some who thought they should behave as National Party stand-ins, both of these men realised the weight of their added responsibility and made their decisions accordingly.
Their retirements are a double blow to the integrity of our political system. Without the requirements of a political party to drive their vote, these remarkable men were free to vote for what they believed was right, instead of what was politically required. Every vote was a conscience vote.
Most memorable during this period of consistent negativity and nastiness is the dignity these two independents carried with them. Rob and Tony are the examples all of our politicians, all of us, should emulate. Regardless of the stresses of their positions, the daily frustrations and the torrent of malice directed their way, these gentlemen remained good humoured, honourable and humble.
It seems unfair that as independents, these two just walk out of public life. If they belonged to a political party, they’d be Elder Statesmen, choosing which Embassy they wanted to run for a few years. Instead, they go home, which I’m sure is what each of them wants.
Go well, gentlemen, with our thanks. You made a difference.
In twitter style, each event gets its own hashtag to identify tweets which relate to that event. When Gillard toppled Rudd, it was #Spillard. Following that logic, last night’s leadership challenge should’ve been Spudd. But we all settled for #spill, it trended worldwide on and off for hours during the evening.
We know the story now: A petition was circulated to pressure Ms Gillard into calling a spill. Mr Rudd did not go to China. The spill was called for 7pm. Bill Shorten switched camps and voted for Rudd, as did Penny Wong. In fact, enough people changed sides to get Kevin Rudd over the line and back into the Prime Ministership. The best blow by blow description has been compiled by the ABC from Wednesday's tweets, mainly by ABC reporters.
Unfortunately, Mr Rudd’s victory is defeat for Australia’s first female Prime Minister. After the relentless attacks she’s had to endure, and the outstanding success she has had in reforming Australia’s education structures, introducing a price on carbon, brokering the MRRT, looking after the disabled in our communities and so much more, she deserves better than being dumped by the party that handed her the Prime Ministership.
Tony Abbott continues to describe the Labor Government as “dysfunctional”. It has certainly been entertaining, and I wouldn’t call it stable, but I can’t accept that a government which has achieved as much as this one has is dysfunctional. It’s highly functional, but like so much of the process of governing, it’s ugly. The best summation of the achievements of this Parliament is contained in Rob Oakeshott’s speech from earlier this week.
Prior to the vote on Wednesday evening, Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd both confirmed that if they lost the leadership vote, they would resign from politics, ending the question of leadership. Julia Gillard did lose, and has confirmed that she will not recontest the safe Labor seat of Lalor, in Victoria. Sadly, some of Ms Gillard’s highest profile supporters have taken this a step further. Former Ministers Craig Emerson, Peter Garrett and Stephen Smith will not be recontesting their seats either.
Former Treasurer and ex-Deputy PM Wayne Swan will move to the back benches, where he’ll be surrounded by his former colleagues in the Ministry including Joe Ludwig, Steven Conroy and Greg Combet.
And still, Julia Gillard is the only woman to have resigned from Parliament this week.
I am sad, and more than a little scared at the likelihood of a future Australia under Tony Abbott, but I am appalled at the level of hatred in some tweets that have come from the right today. Not all conservative voters behave like undignified rabble on twitter, but some do – and some of them should know better.
Chris Kenny, a former Liberal political operative and journalist, now commentator for Sky News, tweeted
Get your dig in there Chris. It doesn’t need to be accurate or honest, just snarky and calibrated to benefit the Liberal Party, right?
Of course, you know that neither Oakeshott nor Windsor is leaving politics out of any desire to duck what Mr Kenny believes would be unacceptable results. People who can’t handle rejection well don’t go into politics. The truth is that Mr Windsor needs to manage some health issues and Mr Oakeshott is done. He’s been 17 years in politics and he’s done. Has Mr Kenny ever worked in the same job for seventeen years?
Sky News Australia has become Fox News Australia in all but name, and as the drama amplified yesterday, the conservative bias became more and more obvious. Paul Murray, whose show airs nightly at 9pm is setting himself up as Australia’s answer to Rush Limbaugh. He is an angry, bitter man filled with and fuelled by hatred for the Labor Party in general and Ms Gillard in particularly. His guests are almost exclusively from the right and further right, turning what was once a reasonably balanced news-chat show into the proverbial echo-chamber of simpering agreement.
Regular guests include former Howard Ministers Gary Hargraves and Peter Reith, Sky News colleague Janine Perrett, serial Gillard insulter Grace Collier, broadcaster Derryn Hinch, conservative (News Limited) columnist Janet Albrechtsen and her partner, Liberal Party has-been Michael Kroger, 2UE talkback colleagues Jason Morrison and John Stanley, economics writer for (News Limited’s) The Australian Adam Creighton, former Liberal Party staffer Chris Kenny, Andrew Stoner, leader of the NSW Nationals…and a light smattering of progressive guests like Peter Bentley of the McKell Institute and former Rudd staffer (and now MamaMia Mama) Jamila Rizvi, and current Labor MP Ed Husic plus some generalist commentators like PR pundit Prue MacSween and editor of the Australian Womens Weekly, Helen McCabe.
Sky News Australia should take notice of some of the comments that were floating on Twitter last night about Mr Murray’s performance. I don’t know if his preference for conservative-leaning guests is the result of an instruction from his employers, or is a personal choice to support the Opposition, but it’s obvious, and it’s far too close a Fox News clone for my liking.