Debacle subverted the will of the people

Then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Treasurer Scott Morrison, his eventual successor, speak at a press conference in Canberra on August 22. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen.
Then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Treasurer Scott Morrison, his eventual successor, speak at a press conference in Canberra on August 22. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen.

As Scott Morrison's hour neared on Friday, this columnist was in a classroom at the Murray Bridge TAFE.

I have been fortunate enough to join the Murraylands Leadership Program this year, a course which will give me a qualification in leadership and management – something handy for a senior journalist to have tucked into his back pocket.

(I recommend it to anyone with aspirations to a higher role, or who wants to be better at managing the team they have – it has been positive, inexpensive and local.)

At any rate, as the clock struck 12 in Canberra, my classmates and I were working on a unit called "show leadership in the workplace".

The workbook could have been useful in Parliament House last week, eh?

Let's zoom all the way out to the big picture: why do we have a government?

To establish, in an organised fashion, the laws and policies that give every Australian the best chance of a good life.

It would be too unwieldy to educate everyone on every issue, so we elect people to make informed decisions on our behalf.

In an ideal world, our MPs would take the available information, debate possible courses of action, and decide on one.

But our parliament is filled with professional politicians, people who have for too long known only the cut-and-thrust of Liberal versus Labor, left versus right factions, and ideological and personal cliques.

Perhaps that is why, since Julia Gillard replaced Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister on June 24, 2010, our nation has been led by someone other than the leader it thought it had elected for a total of one year, two months and 13 days.

Last week, there appeared to be a reasonable chance that former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull would be able to get his "national energy guarantee" through Parliament, with support from MPs on both sides; but he never put it to a vote because he wanted the Coalition to pass it without relying on Labor.

He appeared to put party unity ahead of the national interest, and allowed half of the party with half of the seats in parliament to decide the issue.

Worse, it was on the issue of addressing climate change, something most Australians agree needs to happen but most MPs seem to find problematic in the extreme.

From emissions trading schemes to carbon prices, no leader has yet been able to sell a helpful idea to the electorate without being torn down by his or her opponents.

Had the NEG gone to a vote, I understand it would have been hard for Mr Turnbull to deal with the anger of the conservatives within his own party, including our local MP, Tony Pasin – no-one wants to annoy the people they have to deal with every day.

But it is our politicians’ job to get things done, for the good of the rest of us.

A video by the soon-to-be-cancelled ABC TV show Tonightly summed it up, though I'll omit the expletives here.

"Sometimes I have to work with people that I don't like, and it can be hard, but I do it because it's my job," said an office worker.

"Sometimes I look at my boss and I think I could do a better job than him, but then I shut up and I do my job," said a barista.

I can understand the desperation of the number-crunchers who feared losing their jobs at the next election, too.

But every election reflects the will of the people, and changing leaders purely to avoid an election loss sounds a lot like gaming the system and taking us all for fools.

​Peri Strathearn