What a strange chaotic week here in Australia. Don Aitkin has a useful description of the day of wooden clubs in The meaning of an extraordinary day in Australian politics, if with one error that I also made; more on that later.
In Australia's coup culture, the BBC's Nick Bryant takes a rather bemused look at the recent pattern of political executions. The story begins:
Australia has one of the most brutal political cultures in the democratic world, in which party leaders are dispatched with abandon. As yet another prime minister faces down a threat from her own side, has the country become the "coup capital" of the world?
In the piece, Mr Bryant makes a passing reference to the NSW disease. I first wondered back in June 2008 whether then Prime Minister Rudd was in danger of being New South Walesed. My focus then was on what I saw as the transfer to Canberra of bad decision making approaches. By May 2010, I was convinced that the process had occurred.
In the 2008 post, I said in part:
Now, or so it seems to me, Mr Rudd is in danger of becoming a somewhat up-market version of NSW. There are the same tendencies to try to do too much, to moralise, to be reactive, to respond to problems with yet another strategy. If this continues, the Rudd Government will fail.
With time, other aspects of the NSW disease transferred to Canberra including political ill-discipline although not, I believe, quite the type of problem we have seen in the Obeid matter.
One of the things that puzzles international observers is just why there is such political instability when Australia is, by international standards, doing so well. I am not sure that I can answer that question. I think that it's partly because Australia is doing so well that other games can play out.
During the week, I avoided commenting on the detail of events. I really had nothing to add. However, I was drawn to comment on two thing in my most recent posts.
First, in Thank you Richard Torbay I looked at the sudden political and public demise of a prominent New England politician apparently caught in the wash of the Obeid matter. Then in An odd post - why the ALP will, must, recover I responded to the despair expressed by a loyal ALP supporter at the events in Canberra. Both were slightly unusual posts for me, the second more so, in that I am neither a Torbay nor an ALP supporter. In both cases I wanted to do something simple; in Richard's case recognise certain achievements, in the second case assert the importance of what one might call a longer term perspective in the face of immediate problems.
Ten days ago, Confusions over Minister Conroy's media changes reflected my own confusion about Minister Conroy's attempts at media reform. Well, in the midst of all the other chaos, they went down with only two of the four Bills passing. I another post, The NBN, Tony Windsor and a case of shifting priorities, I reported on problems with the NBN roll-out. To add to Senator Conroy's current woes, the NBNCo has now confirmed that it will not meet its roll-out targets.
On a more pleasant note, last Sunday's Snippet's post dealt in part with awful academic writing. Not that there is anything pleasant about awful academic writing, but it drew a useful comment from blogging friend and colleague, Legal Eagle. She wrote:
Jim, with my specialist book which is likely to be only read by specialists, I went down the specialist route. Same if I were writing for a specialist journal. If I ever wanted to write a more "for the public" book or article, I'd write it quite differently, hopefully such that family members could understand it! So you're right, it's horses for courses. But it does make it a bit hard if an interested lay person wants to get a handle on the topic.
In one of the areas in which I write, there's an inordinate amount of jargon (it really irritates me). I believe it is in part an indicator of whether you're in the "in group" (all of whom are totally au fait with all this stuff). Even experienced legal academics have problems with it, which to my mind indicates that it's really gone too far.
That being said, sometimes I forget that some of the words I use are not in common parlance. A friend of mine wrote something in "plain English" the other day (for a lay audience). He tested it on me first, and I thought it looked very simple and good, but the lay audience member he then tested it on didn't know what "reading down" the statute was, which hadn't even occurred to he or I as something we'd have to explain! Heh, probably good for us both to get reminded of this. And it's a reason why I blogged - to practice writing more plainly.
Note the past tense of blogged. Both Legal Eagle and fellow group blogger skepticlawyer are taking a break from blogging and I miss them! At least repeating LE's comment places her back in the bloggosphere. I know from my own experience how hard it is maintaining consistent posting, harder still maintaining quality in posting.
There seems to be a momentum issue involved. Sometimes you get into a run, one where one post leads to another constantly refreshed by background thinking and related events. At other times, the ideas have to be dragged from a stagnant pond with the hope that there will be something there.
Personally, I find that it is my commenters and correspondents who increasingly keep me going.
In the the first version of this post I wrote: "The only thing that I would add is that in the voting on the no confidence motion moved by Opposition Leader Abbott, New England independents Windsor and Oakshott voted for; the Government survived because Bob Katter abstained."
In an important factual correction, kvd wrote in comments:
Both you and DA say that a 'vote of no confidence' was lost, whereas I understood it to be a 'vote for the suspension of Standing Orders' SO THAT such a motion could then be debated and voted upon.
And I seem to remember Tony Windsor making that point in explaining why he'd voted for the suspension of Standing Orders - i.e. that this might then be properly considered.
It's interesting to see just how quickly history can be miswritten. Here's the Hansard:
Mr ABBOTT (Warringah — Leader of the Opposition)(14:09):
That so much of standing and sessional orders be suspended as would prevent the Leader of the Opposition from moving the following motion forthwith:
That this House declares no confidence in the Prime Minister.
kvd was correct. At 14:09 on Thursday 21 March In the House of Representatives, Mr Abbott sought leave to move that this House has no confidence in the Prime Minister. When leave was denied, he then moved the motion outlined above. That motion was carried 73 votes to 71. Messrs Windsor and Oakshott voted yes; Mr Katter was absent from the House, The Speaker declared the vote lost: "The question is not carried by an absolute majority of members as required under standing order 47."
The PM appeared quite pleased:
Ms Gillard: I asked the Leader of the Opposition to
take his best shot and we got that damp squib, so they
obviously do not want question time.
I hate making factual errors, so it's good to have them corrected.
Just a further note. In a piece on the ABC's The Drum, Dr Peter Chen appears to have made something of the same error of interpretation that I made in regard to the votes of the independents when he wrote:
But occasionally, just rarely, this ancient institution comes back into focus as a key political arena. The current period of minority government is a good example of this. While Canberra's "insideratti" were having conniptions of pleasure over the abortive spill, and today's tabloids (sorry, "compacts") are awash with wasted ink dissecting yesterday's ballot in minute detail, it was the Opposition's proposal to hold a vote of no confidence in the Government that was the takeout headline of yesterday's festival of political self-immolation.
With her uncontested re-election to the leadership, Julia Gillard has certainly fended off a challenge from Kevin Rudd, until at least after the ALP's election defeat later in the year. But there's no relief to be had in this victory. What might have been a possibility for creating clear air from consistent - and often malicious - media speculation about her position was potentially derailed by Tony Abbott's parliamentary move.
By gaining the support of three "untainted" independents to hold this motion, the political legitimacy of the Prime Minister is considerably damaged.
Unlike my earlier comment, Dr Chen recognises the distinction between a no confidence vote and the vote to suspend standing orders to allow a no confidence motion to be debated. However, his last sentence fails to recognise one of kvd's points, the distinction between a procedural vote and the subsequent vote on the no confidence motion. Both the New England independents voted for the procedural motion to allow the substantive motion to be discussed. We don't actually know how they would have voted on the subsequent motion.
On a different matter, Neil's post What happened yesterday reminds us that the leadership imbroglio was not the only thing that happened that day.