An excellent article from Elizabeth Farrelly - Turnbull faces ambiguity, and that’s a damn good thing for democracy. Maybe we just might see the man he used to be. No, I doubt it. But we can, and must hope.
The week since our fabulously failed election has brought much hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth. Yet to me it's been a week of hope. Even now, the pundits dirge on about market miasma, ongoing uncertainty, lame-duck leaders, constitutional crisis and policy paralysis – like these were bad things. But right now, for Australia, I reckon a Parliament hovering between the hung and the hapless is the best possible kind.
Election Saturday offered a grim choice between one government hopelessly glued to coal, concentration camps and dirty roads, and another with the exact same adhesions. Both are hopelessly bewitched by big money – corporate on the one hand, union on the other – and they do its ugly bidding.
But Sunday dawned upon a small miracle; ambiguity. Somehow, despite the left-right straitjacket of our binary system, despite all the gerrymanders and pork barrels, we'd lucked into the kind of ambiguity that may yet get us out from under Big Money. To me, every day we wake up sans government seems another day bright with possibility.
Many talk now as though Malcolm Turnbull's catastrophic descent into hypocrisy was patently preordained.
Money is more symptom than cause. Our binary system is busted, blown apart not by fiscal deficit but by a monstrous deficit in public trust. We no longer believe our politicians tell us the truth, about anything, ever – even when perhaps by some chance they do. We don't believe they speak according to fact, act according to conscience or promise according to intent.
But deceit is self-limiting. Government spin is like super-phosphate. It worked for a while, delivering apparent bounty before undermining its own benefits, leaving us in the deserts of corporatism. And yet - miraculously - we managed on Saturday to split the system right along its mid-seam. This is hope. This is the crack where the light gets in.
The whole left-right thing has always seemed to me a false and irritating dichotomy. Values do not come in packages. Believing coal should cede to renewables doesn't necessarily mean you support feminism or multiculturalism or free healthcare. You can oppose cycle lanes and also genetic modification.
A much better guide, surely, is to apply principle: truth, justice, beauty, public interest, long-term goods, altruism. Prising the two halves apart, swelling the cross benches in a way that requires genuine parley instead of stitched-up backroom deals, might just make room for principle.
I've been much berated on social media of late for giving Malcolm Turnbull the benefit of the doubt back when he was newly Prime Minister and it seemed – at least to me – that his intelligence gave cause for hope. Sure, such optimism seems naive in hindsight, and we'll never know whether he was saving his true colours for after a decisive win, or if he has any.
But many talk now as though Malcolm's catastrophic descent into hypocrisy was patently preordained. In fact, I blame our scoliotic two-party system, without which things would have turned out differently indeed.
Had Malcolm not been forced into months of excruciating party-line ventriloquism; had he not come to seem a husk of a man, deprived of all sincerity; had he and Shorten not both spent weeks sounding like bad actors reading worse scripts, the electorate might not have dumped on them both quite so hard. I can only hope it heralds an end to mindless political tribalism.
All Western democracies are tribal, but Australian politics are tribal in the extreme, as though democracy were one big footy match where you choose your side and stick to it. This may reflect that original, Sydney Cove division into convicts and redcoats, west and east and, very loosely, Catholic and Protestant. Either way, Australian politics places an inordinately high value on loyalty; higher than altruism, sincerity or truth.
Hence the "rusted on" meme that is such a feature of Australian politics, where you're born either left or right of the divide and expected to die there, in a direct analogue of the class system we pretend to despise. This is profoundly dangerous.
The truth is that our party-whip democracy is a failed system, and one that fully deserves to fail. The whip is designed specifically to override conscience, reinforcing the worst aspect of binary tribalism in the name of party discipline and perpetuating the left-right delusion.
Whipping derives of course from the UK, where it was first recorded as a practice in 1621 (under James I) and as a term – "whipping-in", a hunt metaphor naturally – in 1772. On the face of it, hustling MPs into Parliament seems no more than requiring them to do their job. But the only reason their presence is required is to guarantee the numbers in a division, so it necessarily implies the tethering of votes to the party line. And that's the evil, since it sidesteps conscience and entrenches hypocrisy.
The whip, it is said, ensures stability. But that's just code for backroom deals, often made – as in House of Cards - through the most arcane, perverse and self-serving of power plays. Stability gained at gunpoint is no more reliable than information gained by torture. Coercion is always the enemy of truth.
Imagine if, instead of loyalty to party, our MPs were expected to display unswerving loyalty to truth, fair-play and beauty. Imagine if we demanded long-term and broad public interest be their guide, rather than delivering to their mates. Imagine if, to that end, the whip system were abolished, making every vote a conscience vote, and party donations banned, with all parties funded equally from the public purse.
What would it mean? It would likely prioritise food and water over coal and gas, renewables over fossils, high-quality schooling for all and affordable healthcare, given without them we cannot mobilise our greatest single resource, human creative energy. It would mean public debate, shifting allegiances, multiple viewpoints. Democracy. Hooray, I say, for a well (or even poorly) hung parliament.