Published in Insights, The New Zealand Initiative’s newsletter, 13 February 2015
Australian politics always enjoys a reputation for being just a little more vicious than elsewhere. You only need to think of the way in which Abbott’s Labor predecessors Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard fought each other between 2008 and 2014. But even by Australian standards, recent developments across the Tasman were quite brutal.
In Victoria and Queensland, two first-term governments were recently thrown out in state elections. Queensland premier Campbell Newman even lost his own seat as he saw his party’s parliamentary representation almost halved.
Such state landslides are nothing compared to the high drama unfolding in Australian federal politics. Not even one and half years into the job, Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s approval ratings are so low, and his party’s numbers so weak, that some backbenchers started proceedings to remove him from office – backstabbing, treachery and briefings against colleagues included.
Abbott may have survived this attempted assassination for now. However, his less than convincing majority in his own caucus makes him appear less like a lame duck and more like a dead man walking. It is only a matter of time until there will be another attempt to kick him out of the lodge.
All of this is happening in front of sensationalist media eagerly waiting for high drama. If you think of politics as a blood sport, then Australia certainly provides some good entertainment.
There is only one problem with this: politics is not about entertainment, nor is its goal to land punches or kill off your opponents. Politics is, in theory at least, about providing good governance for the country. On this front, Australia is sadly lacking.
As Australia’s headlines are dominated by political infighting, its economic conditions keep deteriorating. Every day, the federal government spends A$100m more than it receives in taxes. Budget deficits are forecast to stay high for years to come. The only thing rising faster than the unemployment rate are house prices, while disappointing economic growth figures last week prompted the Reserve Bank of Australia to cut interest rates to a record low of 2.25 percent.
There is no shortage of problems that would need to be addressed. Yet Australian politicians are fiddling while their economy is bu rning.
That is a tragedy not just for Australia but for New Zealand as well. The political and economic destabilisation of our second-largest trading partner (after China) should now be considered one of the major concerns for the New Zealand economy.