Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Hearting Emma Tom + Wedge Politics Karma

Too damn busy to offer the spontaneous blog love today, so here's one I prepared earlier. As always, you can find the penguin prOn here.

Also, read Emma Tom today. High-larious.


Even the strongest John Howard detractors can openly acknowledge his consummate political skill and strategising. A person does not remain Prime Minister for over 10 years by accident, and one of the many tricks he has mastered is to facilitate outstanding wedge politics.

This term is bandied about so often nowadays that its significance is somewhat diminished, but it has been a key component of the longevity of the Howard government to focus on issues in which ostensibly it can appear united while the Labor opposition fractures in its position, thus suggesting weak leadership and indeterminate policy. The Marriage Act amendment in 2004 was a classic example of Howard wedge politics working to perfection. Although Labor officially supported the same-sex marriage ban, many of its MPs, particularly those from the Left representing seats with a high percentage of queer voters, were angered at the move and implicitly opposed their party going along with the government purely for the pretense of unity.

Currently, it is the debate on uranium mining that is “wedging” the Labor opposition, with its environment spokesperson announcing his and his faction’s opposition to Labor’s planned policy amendment lifting its ban on the development of new mines.

The problem with the Howard government wedge politics, however, is that in working so efficiently is in fact turning in on itself. Howard’s recent attempt to legislate for all asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat to be processed offshore has failed spectacularly. Even with a Senate majority, he has been unable to pursue this particular agenda, with several of his party’s senators prepared either to abstain from, or cross the floor to vote against what Liberal lower house MP Petro Georgiou labelled “the most profoundly disturbing piece of legislation I have encountered since becoming a member of Parliament”.

Naturally, Howard is attempting to positively spin this failure, arguing the Liberal Party is a “broad church” that does not censure or expel dissenters in the same way the Labor Party apparently does. Certainly, the Coalition historically has a better record of individuals crossing the floor to vote against its own legislation. However, such democratic representations had not occurred in the Howard government until this year, 10 years after it was first elected to power. First it was Nationals senator Barnaby Joyce, soon followed by ACT senator Gary Humphries opposing the Howard’s government trampling of the Territory’s autonomy in its continuing quest to denigrate and deny same-sex relationships.

In light of a neutered opposition, the role of moderates in the Liberal party to take a stand against some of the extremities of a government somewhat drunk on its own power has become crucial.

Perhaps if the Howard government stopped continually presenting such unjust and mean-spirited legislation, however, it wouldn’t run the risk of wedging itself.


At 16/8/06 8:54 pm, Blogger "AK" Adam said...

I do think that the "wedge" description is overused. Most of the time you could just drop the wedge and call it "politics": we're not all supposed to agree, remember?

Incidentally, the uranium mining and the asylum bill are not really equivalent. That bill was quite extreme, especially given the lack of any great boat-arrival imperative for it. Even gay, inner-Melbourne public servants like me had our doubts about it! And for Libs with elite, doctors' wives electorates, there was the added concern of a protest vote to the Greens.

In the case of uranium, however, the ALP aren't showing themselves to be a broad church, rather they are looking like a freaky witches's coven. Selling out the country to appease some extremist elements looks bad, no matter how you spin it.

Nice pithy article, though.

At 16/8/06 9:46 pm, Blogger Sam said...

It's not a matter of all of us agreeing, Adam; it's a case of this government forming policy and legislation primarily not to further a political vision, but to make the other side look bad. And yes, maybe Labor did that too when it was in power - I was too young to be seriously following the stategies of the Hawke/Keating governments - but many agree that Howard's the master at it.

I'm glad you can acknowledge that the asylum Bill was extreme. Does it not worry you just a little bit, though, that only a very small minority of Liberal MPs were also able to acknowledge this as well?

I'm not sure where Labor "selling out the country" on uranium comes into it - surely the position Beazley is now taking corresponds with the Howard line and therefore pleases you?

Thanks for the positive feedback too. When you only have 450 words each week, pithiness is somewhat mandatory :-)

At 17/8/06 11:02 pm, Blogger "AK" Adam said...

The uranium thing is about furthering a "vision": Australia has this natural wealth under the ground that it should be able to dig up and sell. And I am too young to remember any Keating "wedges", but it may be that the term only came into use more recently.

And I am not particularly surprised or concerned that only the refugee rabble set in the Liberal party crossed the floor on the asylum bill. It is not a horrible thing to comrpomise, rather, it is important for effective governance and the maintenance of party unity. The Libs do not have the Labor revenge mechanisms: if everyone starts voting erratically, the Liberal Party is a dead donkey.

Speaking of which, lame-duck Beazley is showing a bit of late-career-run ticker in pushing for a sane nuclear policy. Albanese et al could at least help the man out and keep their disagreements in the party room. Unless, of course, Beazley wants them to make a fuss, so he can appear to "show leadership" on the issue.

At 18/8/06 1:19 pm, Anonymous david said...

hi adam
bit pissed off by the 'refugee rabble set' comment, demeaning those who in conscience crossed the floor against a really offensive quite inhuman bill. comment is good, but can you leave the name calling aside in future posts? thanks

At 18/8/06 1:46 pm, Blogger Sam said...

Frankly Adam, it's a little naive to think that the "Libs do not have the Labor revenge mechanisms". A friend of mine was a minister in the SA Liberal government in the 90s. Trust me, just because they're not as obvious about it as Labor doesn't mean it doesn't go on.

Also, look at what the uber-right Clarke faction is doing in NSW to Patricia Forsythe for "daring" to identify how they are hijacking the party here.

There's numerous other examples I could cite, but the fact is the revenge mentality is just as prominent in both sides of politics.

At 21/8/06 10:43 pm, Blogger richardwatts said...

Tag, you're it!

At 21/8/06 11:35 pm, Blogger "AK" Adam said...

David, sorry, those sorts of slurs are just crass rhetorical devices I employ from time-to-time. Think nothing of them; I do not mean to belittle people's beliefs. (I will endeavour to avoid them in future).

Sam, maybe the Libs have their means of keeping their MPs in order. Nonetheless, they do not seem as powerful as those in the ALP.

Anyway, what I was getting at was that the reds should have wised up to the benefits of a serious uranium industry years ago - and should not be getting kudos for suddenly acknowledging them now.

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