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The Disease of Caretaker Governments


A tear should be shed, though keep in the singular.  Australia’s first female Prime Minister Julia Gillard and probably last for some time, is no more.  Elected by unelected officials, she was knifed by the same individuals who encouraged the knifing of her rival, the now re-elected Kevin Rudd.  Promoted by individuals an electorate would scarce recognise over an individual loathed for his personality and his dislike for factions, Australian politics stutters to its farcical climax come September.

The Australian opposition always termed them the factional bosses, the deranged nits of the Australian Labor Party who preferred favours to democracy.  But the unstable mind is a terrible punishment, and the Australian public have found that their new Prime Minister is their ex-Prime Minister who was deposed in favour of the ex-Prime Minister.  One leader (Rudd) could campaign but not govern; the other (Gillard) govern but not campaign.  The bifurcation of the ALP’s leadership has been its source of torment and doom.  Tribalism remains it source of misery.

On the basis of this recent conduct, there is much to be said that Australian politics in its current form should be abolished, its politicians either promoted to the Sylvan idyll (the equivalent of a cobwebbed House of Lords) or banished to some imitation of Devil’s Island on terms of hard labour. Better still, given its tardiness in protecting its citizens, the Australian government should petition for Australia to become a U.S. protectorate.

A note on the not so dearly departed. Gillard was always an extension of other people’s programs, their designs laced with factionalism, a person who might have done better had the blade remained in the scabbard.  Her skills as a negotiator were never promoted, advertised or encouraged.  A minority government is no mean feat, and gathering the views of independents is a rare skill in the Westminster system.

But every triumph of the Gillard government became an bumbling error. The mining tax did not yield the amount it should have.  The mining companies always had the better accountants.  The issue of refugees arriving by boat never went way – here, the Gillard government decided that it should go one better than the conservative Howard government and excise the entire mainland in abject defiance.  Evidently, its lawyers aren’t much better than the accountants.

Gillard’s supporters, who were as reliable as Politburo hacks on the take, are now in retreat.  Peter Garrett, not the best musician to gyrate in rock history, was a poor minister and has announced his retirement as Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth.  “I believe I have always acted in the best interests of the Party and the Government. I was a front-man who chose to be a team player and make a difference in politics.”  A band is a not a party but don’t tell Garrett, one of the least able politicians since governors began being appointed by the imperial authorities.

Similarly, the spineless ex-deputy Prime Minister Wayne Swan, a person who always managed to make sound economic management look like an act of massive mismanagement, is handing in his resignation.  “Politics is a tough business.  The experience either makes you bitter or better.  I choose the latter.”  Standard rot follows: the ALP knows how to help working people, much is “on the line” and so forth.  Rudd’s return will be Labor’s return.

Gillard herself suggested, not very convincingly, that Labor MPs “don’t lack the guts, don’t lack the fortitude, don’t lack the resilience to go out there and argue Labor’s case.”  Even, it seems, when it is fictional.  Regarding the nature of the opinion polls, Gillard also suggested that her colleagues had shown “spine in the face of that pressure.”

So who do we now have leading the ALP and the Australian nation?  Rudd in his second bloom, a person deemed a mood freak, a micromanaging fascist with religious inclinations and a punishing God.  He calls staff members late at night wishing them to provide him with material. He sits on decisions.  He panics in the headlights, the nerd of nerds who finds paralysis at the end of analysis.

The current shambles of a government, this paraplegic sham, this mangled show, is what the Australian electorate has before it come September.  Do you elect the chronically insane, or a fresh set of independent political figures who regard policy above faction, service above patronage?  At this point in time, the Opposition leader Tony Abbott has all the cards, though his own credentials on stability are questioned. He is the wolf hiding in not so convincing sheep’s clothing.

There is no better time now than to seek an independent, elected leader of the country, one above the party drones who fear the demise of their feathered posts.  An executive separate from Queen and the party machine, an end to the permanent regime of caretaker governments.  The Westminster system needs reform.  Now wouldn’t that be novel?

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email:

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