A Plebiscite On Gay Marriage Would Tell Us What We Already Know

When Malcolm Turnbull seized the Prime Ministership from Tony Abbott two months ago, the nation breathed a collective sigh of relief. At last, we might have something that looks a bit more like a 21st century government, rather than the Jurassic Park we had come to expect during the Abbott era.

 One issue that came to represent the Abbott government’s archaic world view was marriage equality. Most Australians looked on in disbelief as the Prime Minister concocted one elaborate excuse after another to prevent progress, eventually settling on a plebiscite as a last-ditch attempt to head off a free vote in the parliament.

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Abbott left little wriggle room on promises

‘Tony Abbott is a pathological liar who has lost the respect of the Australian people. He leads a beleaguered government, held ransom by extremists in the Senate. His government is illegitimate. He must resign and end our collective misery!’

Of course, no one is calling for the head of our PM just yet but this is precisely the kind of hyperbole Abbott used to demolish Julia Gillard’s prime ministership when she confronted similar political circumstances just three years ago.

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April Fool?

You could be excused for thinking April Fools Day came early this year, after watching the performance of the Abbott Government last week.

Forget the right to health or education, it’s the “right to be a bigot” that’s top of their list. Meanwhile, the return to knighthoods had all the characteristics of a sick joke. Indeed the man who as Opposition Leader was derided as the ‘Dr No’ of Australian politics, has emerged from the Lodge as its ultimate ‘Joker. ‘

But sadly these bizarre policy announcements are no laughing matter and reflect a government hopelessly out of touch with mainstream values.

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Personal attacks don’t advance the cause

Australian politics is certainly not for the faint-hearted and vitriol is levelled at politicians of all stripes. John Howard was famously described as a “lying rodent”, Julia Gillard a “bitch” and a “witch”, while Tony Abbott has been derided as an “economic illiterate” and an imbecile. But how much is too much and where do we draw the line?

It seems in answering these questions it’s difficult to stray far from partisanship and here both sides are guilty of hypocrisy.

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Playing The Man?

Julia Gillard came under fire for playing the so called ‘gender card’, but a closer examination of the Rudd v Abbott contest reveals that it is her male adversaries who have been using gender as a political weapon.

The relationship between masculinity and ‘strong leadership’ is a persistent theme in Australian politics. Hawke positioned himself as an Aussie larrikin, while Keating used his aggressive style to establish his authority. Howard channelled masculine concepts of power when the War on Terror saw him emerge as a ‘Man of Steel.’ Both Rudd and Abbott have sought to draw on these themes, projecting their own versions of masculinity and using this to define their opponents.

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Rudd’s Greatest Moral Challenge

Kevin Rudd has begun his second term as Prime Minister in much the same way as he ended his first, with back-flips and dog-whistles on immigration. Through his latest capitulation to Tony Abbott, Rudd 2.0 is providing more than just neat symmetry. He has left no doubt that win or lose this election, the conservative side of politics will continue to shape Australia’s asylum seeker policy. It’s an error that will have serious consequences for his party and our nation.

While it’s been in office for almost 6 years, many Australians are still unsure about what their Labor Government stands for.  Part of this stems from Labor’s inability to use the authority of incumbency to set the political agenda.

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Stand for Something or Fall for Anything

March 2013 will long be remembered by political tragics as a month of brutality that would surely have made Brutus himself wince.

Labor’s botched leadership coup may have been Rudd-less but it certainly wasn’t bloodless, with a series of ministers caught in the crossfire. Meanwhile, on the conservative side of politics, a premier and a chief minister were knifed after a string of unfavourable opinion polls.

Leadership change and renewal are inevitable in any democracy. Ultimately, even the most successful leaders must eventually step aside or face their makers, be they in the parliament or the electorate. However, the frequency of the leadership changes of recent years suggests a disturbing trend in our politics.

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The Gillard-Abbott Paradox

Whatever the outcome of this year’s federal election, one thing is certain; most Australians will welcome the opportunity to finally end the bitter leadership struggle that has so consumed our politics.

In what has descended into the political equivalent of ‘Survivor’, Gillard and Abbott are locked in a fight to the death. Outplaying and outlasting their opponent is the order of the day.

But at last the end is in sight and the curtain will soon fall on the longest-running campaign in Australian political history.

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Malcolm in the Middle?

For more than a year the Coalition has held a seemingly unassailable lead in the opinion polls. But after a bruising few months of media gaffes, speculation about his university days and damaging outbursts from some high-profile supporters (Corey Bernadi and Alan Jones), Tony Abbott’s march to the Lodge is looking less like a sprint and more like a hurdle race.

While Abbott has continued his ‘Great Big Campaign Against Everything’, Malcolm Turnbull has been busy carving out an alternative vision for his party and the nation. It may well prove attractive to his colleagues if the tide continues to move Labor’s way in the opinion polls.

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Abbott’s Race Against Time

As the damning opinion polls continue to mount, many commentators are already writing the Prime Minister’s political obituary, but if history is anything to go by, the potential for the Leader of the Opposition to face a political execution of his own, should not be discounted.

This claim may seem fanciful when one considers the dominance of the party Mr Abbott leads in the opinion polls, but should he survive as Opposition Leader to the next election, he will be the exception to opposition politics in Australia, rather than the rule.

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Abbott’s Uncertain Legacy

he old refrain that ‘oppositions don’t win elections, governments lose them’ is certainly true of the Abbott ascendancy.

The Opposition has not achieved its position of dominance in the polls by mapping out an alternate vision for the nation; rather, it has sought to tap into a thick vein of community resentment towards the Government.

This ‘small-target strategy’ has been a mainstay of oppositions from both sides of politics for decades, but whether it’s good for voters is another story.

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Unrivalled Blood Sport

It’s hard to think of a time when national politics has been more divisive, venomous and downright nasty. The latest focal point is the scandal engulfing former Labor and now crossbench MP Craig Thomson. This has dominated news coverage for weeks and threatens to derail the Government.

The media interest in the Thomson matter is understandable at one level – after all, in this finely balanced Parliament, the Government is just one seat away from oblivion – but the intensity of this interest and the saturation of coverage is symptomatic of a broader culture that is corroding our politics.

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The Holy Grail and Poisoned Chalice of Politics

The Senate is shaping up to be a key battleground of the next federal election. While most of the mainstream media have focused on the numbers in the House of Representatives, the Senate is equally as finely balanced and, if the polls are to be believed, there is the potential for the Coalition to win a majority in both houses of Parliament.

This prospect should alarm voters of all persuasions.

For Opposition Leader Tony Abbott’s detractors, his Senate domination would represent a doomsday scenario, as his new government could move swiftly to dismantle the Labor agenda. The rescission of carbon pricing, the culmination of decades’ of debate, in particular would be a major blow for all those who advocate climate action.

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