Australian Politics & Current Affairs
By Nick Kenny
“As the true grail will bring you life, the false grail will take it from you”
In the final scene of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the middle-aged villain, Walter Donovan, grows old and dies in under a minute. He had spent his life chasing the Holy Grail – the mythical chalice that once caught the blood of Christ, promising eternal life to whomsoever should drink from it – then died after sipping from a shiny golden imitation. Ironically, his pursuit of eternal life cost him the very thing he hoped to preserve.
Much the same can be said of the Labor government.
Let’s a take a quick snapshot of this government since 2007. Cruising into a landslide win, through practically no effort of their own, they finally had an imitation of John Howard they could call their own. Rudd’s first order of business was to rope 1000 of our “best and brightest” – plus Cate Blanchett – into the same room, and outline a vision for 2020. This was an ambitious and remarkable idea at the time. The top 10 issues that landed on the agenda made you think someone, somewhere, was actually thinking about the bigger picture: productivity through education and innovation; long-term health reform; economic infrastructure and post-mining boom opportunities, regional and global security and prosperity, democratic and institutional reform, and so forth.
Looking back from today, it is just depressing. They didn’t even make it to their first re-election without knifing their leader in the back at the first sign of trouble. They then spent the next three years selling their souls just to stay in power. And they are now staring down the barrel of an unprecedented decimation later this year, raining on their 2020 parade before even making it halfway.
The obsession with power in Canberra has put a quick, brutal end to every admirable goal the self-proclaimed “progressive ideas” party had in the first place. The ETS was shelved, tax reform buckled under pressure from Rinehart & Co, health policy involved state and federal administrators swapping t-shirts and claiming “reform”, the superannuation shortfall is so glaringly obvious even the Coalition wants to boost it, universities are still factories focused on profits, schools are a two-tiered system of haves and have-nots, and the closest thing we’ve gotten to anything “new” in the way the country is run is Gillard announcing her government’s painful death seven months in advance. Worst. Precedent. Ever.
We are now treated to the most pathetic show a government can ever put on: damage control mode. Watching their clumsy efforts to figure out which funds to which people in which demographics will swing enough marginal seats in their favour by September is like sitting in a bar, watching some fat drunk bloke at closing time, staggering up to every remaining single female, buying each one a drink in a desperate attempt to avoid a repetition of past failures. It’s actually embarrassing to watch – just like the single ladies, voters can smell the stench of desperation a mile away, and they are turned off in a major way.
Ironically, just like lndy’s nemesis, the pursuit of power is exactly what has cost this government power at every turn. Polls show the ALP would have won outright in 2010 if they stuck with Rudd rather than jumped ship. The concessions made to the independents for control of a hung parliament showed us how sickeningly desperate they were to hold power for the sake of power. Playing musical chairs with the Speaker of the House since, just for that extra parliamentary seat, has been a disaster and a major distraction.
But the biggest damage to the government has come from their retreat on almost every major issue, frightened by the polls, desperate to please everyone and keep the numbers on their side. This is no way to run a country, and it is certainly no way to win over voters in the long term. We expect leaders to lead. We expect them to invest in serious research and collaboration, assess the most worthwhile, realistic, and rational solutions to our biggest problems, make a decisive judgement, and then stay the course in the face of any shouting that will spring from major change.
Difficult decisions always rustle a few feathers, but voters ultimately respect those who stay staunch in the face of unrest. It might cost you in the short-term, it might even make you a handful of enemies, but at the end of the day, you will earn the respect of enough people to call yourself a leader, and you will have a fighting chance of leading once more. Whether you win or lose now is far less important – years later, long after the struggle, long after the fallout, long after your government has run its course, the people will look back and thank you. Not a single successful leader in history has ignored this fact. Not one. And soon history will ignore this government.
The true test of a government is not the length of time it can remain in office. It is not some zero-sum power struggle just to make a name for yourself, or to have your rude head on television each night. The true test lies in the impact you can make with the time you have. It lies in your capacity to make great changes, ones that will outlast your time in office, outlast your opposition, and outlast your successor. This is the true grail, and the only hope for eternal life a democratic visionary can reach for. Every government has a lifespan – it’s what you achieve in those years that makes you immortal.