The current Parliament is not that much worse than previous parliaments. Australia's problem is its government.
The fact that we have a minority government is no excuse for poor policy nor is it an excuse for protecting people who shouldn't be protected. Of course the media like to say how things are worse than ever because it sells newspapers and certainly many people are very frustrated at Australia's recent and poor economic management.
The situation is exacerbated by the fact that the global financial crisis that started at least five years ago is still a problem. Understandably, even though Australia is in better condition than other countries, recent huge losses on share markets and falling house prices have all added a level of uncertainty that we are not accustomed to.
When the Australian public look at the political system today they see a government that has made one bad decision after another and while they clearly support a change in government that is not going to happen for a little while yet. No wonder that people are not impressed with politics today. That is understandable; but we should not lose sight of the fact that Australia has a relatively vibrant and successful democratic system.
Compared to most countries, Australia is free of corruption. Some decisions made in the Australian Federal Cabinet and party rooms may at times smell of incompetence, they may further vested interests of minority groups, they may be made in ignorance and they may be made with the basest of motives but fortunately corruption is not part and parcel of the way we do political business in Australia. The truth is that there are enough good people in the Federal Parliament, a free press and a judicial system to keep Australia free of corruption.
So our system is not as bad as some people make out but most would agree that we have our fair share of hypocrisy. Hypocrisy can sometimes reveal the weakness in a proposition. There have been two examples recently.
The first was the appointment of Peter Slipper as Speaker of the House of Representatives. The hypocrisy of the Slipper appointment was overwhelming because Labor prides itself on opposing people who rat on their own side as exemplified by their reaction to Mal Colston's defection. But there was also a certain amount of hypocrisy from the independent MPs who promised a new paradigm for the new Parliament and then voted for a person whose standing in the Parliament was not of the same standard as the previous speaker Mr Harry Jenkins. Literally within weeks of the appointment, the Labor Government had reason to regret their decision.
The Colston incident will probably go down as the classic act of hypocrisy in Australian politics. The 1996/97 Labour Party senate opposition attacked Colston for travel rorts but it was later revealed that Labor had protected Colston from the very same allegations.
Mal Colston, an ALP senator, harboured ambitions to be the deputy president of the senate and he was promised the job. The trouble was that his colleagues changed their mind so Colston abandoned his own party, nominated for the deputy president's position and won the vote with the support of the Coalition. That set off a chain of events. Unlike their pitch for Craig Thomson today, Labor did not wait for due process; their attack was revenge, pure and simple. Colston retaliated by moving a motion that the travel allowances of all members and senators be investigated.
This led to the revelation that under the Hawke government, Colston had been protected for years for his 'misdemeanours'. The proof of the cover-up was a file note in August 1983 that stated 'The Attorney felt that any action that might be taken should stop short of investigation". Alan Ramsay wrote "it remains the most exquisite irony that, with Beazley and Evans now Labor's national leaders, the very investigation Labor stymied 14 years ago should now involve not only Colston's inventive behaviour over the years but their own roles in shielding him from exposure in 1983". (Alan Ramsey Sydney Morning Herald 19 April 1997 and 19 November 1997). The hypocrisy rebounded on Labor.
Quite frankly, the controversies around Peter Slipper or Craig Thomson will all be sorted out one way or another in due course. The public will make up their own mind and if someone's been a hypocrite then they will be judged at the ballot box or in the party room and life will go on.
But one recent example of hypocrisy has however been worse than usual. Mary Jo Fisher is a South Australian Senator. She once worked with me as an adviser and she is a person of the highest integrity. She was recently in the Adelaide Magistrates Court arising from a panic attack in a supermarket and a claim that she had stolen groceries.
The incident occurred at a time when Senator Fisher was trialling new medication for depression. Whilst the Labor party have been saying that allegations against Craig Thomson should be dealt with in the courts and he should not be judged beforehand, the Labor Party, including Prime Minister Gillard, seized on Senator Fisher's problems by giving them as much airing as possible as a counter to the activities of Craig Thomson.
This in itself was despicable behaviour. Her situation was completely different to Craig Thomson and it was the basest politics for Labor to drag her name alongside Craig Thomson. When the matter was first listed in the courts Senator Fisher's barrister, Adelaide QC, Michael Abbott told the court that police prosecutors offered to resolve the matter without it going to court. Abbott's view was that, like many other similar cases, this matter should never have gone to court and the police agreed with him. It was agreed that there would be no conviction recorded.
But instead a decision was made higher up and a lengthy and expensive trial was held. The senator was acquitted of theft and the magistrate found the assault charge 'trifling'. The opposition justice spokesman in South Australia said recently (in the Australian, May 26, 2012) 'I am very concerned that there may have been interference on political grounds'.
Labor has had much to say about due process for Craig Thomson. It's a pity they have never afforded the same courtesy to Mary Jo Fisher.