Flat White

The Incumbent Preservation Society

4 December 2018

5:09 PM

4 December 2018

5:09 PM

The leaders on the way out (I was going to write “outgoing” but it would have been confusing because in one sense they are not) like to leave these sorts of parting gifts for their colleagues. First Kevin Rudd:

Kevin Rudd’s parting gift to Labor in 2013 was a set of rules designed to stop the constant leadership changes that had been the party’s hallmark for a decade and which had crippled it politically.

Ironically, had the rules been in place years before and more importantly, adhered to, they would have prevented Rudd becoming leader in the first place, when he rolled Kim Beazley in 2006…

The rules were agreed to by caucus at Rudd’s behest at a special meeting in Balmain in July 2013…

Knocking off a leader would require a minimum of 60 per cent of the caucus vote if the party was in opposition, and 75 per cent if it were in government.

The Australian voters changed the leadership in 2013 but the new rules did indeed work for the new incumbent,  Bill Shorten, protecting him from the more appealing and more human-like Anthony Albanese and ensuring a stable Labor leadership in the opposition.

Australia doesn’t have a presidential system, so Bill Shorten, absent falling under a bus, will become the next prime minister by May next year, despite being consistently less popular than any Liberal leader he competes against. People vote for parties, not leaders, which is why I keep telling everyone to focus on two-party preferred voting trends rather than the preferred prime minister.

Now, Scott Morrison:

It will now be harder to oust the leader of the Liberal Party after Prime Minister Scott Morrison called a late-night party room meeting and passed new rules to stop the cycle of knifing. Mr Morrison called the unscheduled meeting just before 8 pm (AEST) overnight, passing a motion that now requires two-thirds of the party room to vote on changing the Liberal leader.

The two-thirds majority rule would have allowed both Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott to survive their respective challenges.

Speaking to reporters tonight, Mr Morrison said the rule change was “putting the power back into the hands of the Australian people”.

“Australians have the very reasonable expectation that when they elect a government and a prime minister then they should be the ones to decide if that prime minister should continue in that office,” Mr Morrison said.

The PM described the rule change as “a historic decision” and said it was “the biggest change of how our party deals with these issues in 74 years”.

I’m not quite sure how this sort of a rule can’t be changed again by a simple majority of a party room in the future, but be that as it may, it looks like whoever the leader of the Liberal/National opposition will be after the 2019 election will have a pretty secure tenure, no matter how hopeless they might reveal themselves to be down the track.

It’s true that the revolving doors of prime ministership over the past 11 years have been quite ridiculous on both sides of politics, and that voters have been pretty sick of the whole sorry spectacle of constant instability, which means prime ministers seemingly spend more time protecting their position from internal challenges than they do actually governing the nation. But as much as the punters in the voterland have been sick of instability they have also been sick of mediocrity, which is what both parties have presented them with over the past four parliamentary terms.

It remains to be seen whether entrenching that mediocrity for the sake of stability (as you can see I have little faith in the quality of future talent in federal politics) will prove more popular with voters than the never-ending bastardy and bloodshed on the top.

Personally, I’m agnostic. On the one hand, I don’t like more rules that restrict democratic choices of any group of people. On the other hand, I think that often it’s best to leave things as they are and let nature take its course.

For instance, I would have preferred that Malcolm Turnbull was left as a leader until the election, so he could owe the coming disaster.

Instead a new “stab in the back” legend is being created by his acolytes in politics and the media, according to which Malcolm was in line for an election victory and anything bad that is now happening to the Libs federally and in the states is the fault of the treacherous right who pulled down a popular and successful leader and soured the electorate to the party.

To use a historical analogy, 1945 is a neater, clearer end to a war than 1918.

In any case, good luck to the next incumbent.

Arthur Chrenkoff blogs at The Daily Chrenk, where this piece also appears.

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