In the midst of the political instability within many Western democracies, Australia is doing relatively well in the disruption stakes. Sure, Scott Morrison presides over a minority government, but with an election likely in May, and only eight sitting days in the House of Representatives before the budget is handed down on April 2, this should be manageable.
It’s currently fashionable for members of the parliamentary press gallery in Canberra to focus on the independents. This was evident on the ABC’s 7.30program on Wednesday, when its chief political correspondent, Laura Tingle, travelled to the electorates of Cowper (on the NSW north coast) and Indi (in northeastern Victoria) to examine the prospects of what it termed high-level independents.
In Cowper, the Nationals’ Luke Hartsuyker is retiring from federal politics, as is independent Cathy McGowan in Indi. In Cowper, Tingle only spoke to independent candidate Rob Oakeshott. In Indi, she spoke to McGowan and Helen Haines, whom McGowan has endorsed as her successor.
Tingle also interviewed Eric Kerr, the endorsed Labor candidate who will preference Haines ahead of the Coalition candidates. Yet no Coalition candidates were interviewed.
The fixation of sections of the media on the independents overlooks the fact that — as the ABC’s election analyst Antony Green has acknowledged — the Coalition could win two seats from independents at the next election.
They are Indi and Wentworth, where Dave Sharma will contest the seat against sitting independent Kerryn Phelps.
In any event, if the votes on election day reflect the current opinion polls, Bill Shorten will become prime minister, presiding over a comfortable Labor majority in the House of Representatives.
A victory for Labor or even the Coalition would not necessarily lead to a minority government outcome.
Meanwhile, political stability is under increasing threat in Britain and the US.
Last weekend, The Sunday Times reported a move — said to be led by Conservative backbencher Dominic Grieve with the apparent support of House of Commons Speaker John Bercow — to give precedence to members of parliament over the executive in running the government. If implemented, this would dismantle the established Westminster system of government, which has worked well over the years.
On Sky News UK on Wednesday, Conservative MP Nick Boles said that he had support to bring about a situation whereby parliamentarians would be given the responsibility over Britain’s proposed exit from the EU — Brexit — demolishing the authority of Prime Minister Theresa May in the process.
Two years ago, in the largest vote ever recorded in the UK, 52 per cent of British voters supported Brexit and backed the Leave cause. But there is a reluctance by many who voted Remain to accept the democratic choice of the people.
This was evident when BBC star reporter Fiona Bruce presented her first Question Time last week. During the program, Bruce pointed to “the woman in the yellow jacket” in the audience. In a rant that brought spontaneous support from the audience and soon went viral on social media, she comprehensively bagged May.
She praised the EU as “the most successful single market in the world”, and added: “All around the world people want to do deals with the EU and we are going to lose all of that.
“And it’s ridiculous for us, with our hopeless government who cannot get it together to actually work out what the will of the people is today in 2019, to blame the EU and go around feeling sorry for Theresa May.”
The woman — who was subsequently identified as lawyer Diana Good — was saying, in effect, that Britain should stick with the EU despite the fact that a majority of British people voted otherwise in June 2016.
Good’s outburst overlooked two essential facts. In time, a British exit from Europe would probably cause greater harm to the EU than to the UK.
Britain has the fifth largest economy in the world and, apart from France, is the only European nation that can project significant power.
The EU without Britain is a significantly reduced entity, but they would still have to trade with each other.
Second, the unelected EU officials erred massively in not providing a better deal for Britain before and after the Brexit referendum.
If the EU had been more supportive of Britain, then prime minister David Cameron might have gained a Remain majority and, more recently, May might have got her Brexit legislation through the House of Commons.
It is unclear what will be the fate of Brexit. But it would be travesty of democracy if bureaucrats in Brussels and politicians in London thwarted the wish of the British people as expressed in the ballot. This could only increase disillusionment with the political system in the lower socio-economic areas of Britain, which strongly voted Leave.
Meanwhile in the US, as the one-time leftist turned conservative David Horowitz has commented, for the first time since Abraham Lincoln’s election in 1860, the mainstream opposition party in the US has refused to accept the legitimacy of the democratically elected president.
The hostility to President Donald Trump is so substantial that Beto O’Rourke, who is regarded as a possible Democrat challenger to Trump in 2020, has queried the contemporary relevance of the US constitution. He did so in a surprisingly inarticulate interview with The Washington Post’s Jenna Johnson on Tuesday.
It seems that O’Rourke does not like the electoral college system of voting for president which made it possible for Trump to make it to the Oval Office by prevailing in such states as Ohio and Pennsylvania. O’Rourke seems to want the president forever chosen essentially by the residents of the large states, including California and New York.
The present partial shutdown of the US government is just a manifestation of America’s current discontent. Likewise, the Brexit political crisis in Britain.
Compared with our traditional allies, Australia seems a relatively relaxed and comfortable nation (to use John Howard’s phrase of old) despite the current influence of independents in Canberra.
Gerard Henderson is executive director of The Sydney Institute.