I trust the people of Tamworth take full advantage of their new $43 million dam upgrade, new $220 million hospital, new $42 million cancer centre, new $10 million maternity wing (designed to “make life less stressful for mums and dads”), new $20 million medical school facilities, new $2.4 million disability services, new $4.3 million GP Super Clinic, new $1.6 million youth care program (advice on drugs, alcohol etc), new flying school and – not to be confused with it – new Centacare pilot program.
It’s a hefty bill. And the rest of us are paying for it, every day.
Thanks to these and many others worthy items bestowed upon the electorates of Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott, such as the NBN start-up (seven customers and climbing) and a new Rural Financial Counseling service (to advise on how best to get money out of governments, perhaps?) the rest of Australia is forced to endure one of the least popular, least effective and least competent federal governments in our history.
Mischievously, Tony Windsor attempted to deflect attention from his role in anointing the Gillard government by claiming that Tony Abbott had offered to “sell his arse” in order to be Prime Minister.
In contrast Julia made no such anatomical offer. Instead she just sold the rest of us - down the river.
How ethical is the horse-trading which saw the two grinning Independents grab a wheelbarrow full of goodies for themselves in exchange for guaranteeing Julia Gillard and Bob Brown the keys to the nation's treasury?
“If a firm were to favour a company owned by a Director,” wrote Alan Moran, Director of the Institute of Public Affairs, “the activity would be recognised as theft from other shareholders. The Director would face jail.”
Yet in politics, particularly where minority governments are concerned, the granting of gifts to the favoured few is as old as democracy itself. Some argue that such trading is in fact the cornerstone of the democratic process. Under this theory, parliament is nothing more than a struggle between different lobby groups or tribes vying to grab as much of the national coin for themselves as possible, like a flock of gulls skirmishing over a discarded bag of fish guts. Indeed, isn't that the role of our elected representatives? To make a list of promises and then gallop off to the seat of power and come back laden with as much loot as they can fit in their saddlebags?
Country Independent and equine enthusiast Tony Windsor clearly thinks so. On his website, he brags: “My use of balance of power is achieving outcomes the Nationals were never able to.” On the ABC’s Q&A program earlier in the year he gleefully spelled out how he had piled his plate high at the Gillard smorgasbord. When a member of the audience asked “if we had a Tony Windsor as our local member, would our streets be paved with gold?” he smugly responded “Would silver do?” He then explained that “country people (have) always had that power and what I've tried to do is encourage people… to use the hung parliament to advantage in terms of this.”
Clearly, what Tony advocates is a system whereby the rest of the country is permanently held to ransom by a group of “balance-of-power” rural Independents. Taken to its logical conclusion, government business would be reduced to seat-by-seat bribery. (Readers more familiar with the corridors of power are probably struggling to think of any other definition of our current parliamentary system.) But again, what are the ethics? Just because "everybody does it" doesn't necessarily make it right.
"A democracy... can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public purse." This quote, attributed to 18th century historian Fraser Tytler, seems to be what Tony has in mind. But you don't have to be a maths genius, or indeed the Treasurer, to recognize that this system is ultimately doomed to empty the coffers. Ethically, it is clearly "wrong."
It is also "wrong" if the upshot of the horse-trading is a government that the rest of the country clearly can't stomach. Those who benefit from the current arrangement are fond of repeating the idiotic claim that "this is the government the country voted for." Er, no we didn’t. Only a measly 2.52% of us put down an Independent as our first choice. There is not a single voter in Australia who coveted a hung parliament with power resting in the hands of Windsor and Oakeshott, other than possibly Windsor and Oakeshott.
The "largesse" Tytler refers to in Oakeshott’s electorate of Lyne includes a multi-billion dollar grab-bag of goodies similar to Tony’s; such as hospitals, road upgrades, bridges and so on. Despite all that, one opinion poll puts his local support at less than 17%.
In exchange, the rest of the country gets lumbered with a government that after less than a year has the lowest polling figures ever, is introducing a tax the vast majority of people - according to repeated opinion polls - do not want, has made fools of us on the international stage over our on-again, off-again exports of both live cattle and live children, has had its flagship policy torn to shreds by the High Court and is so busy protecting one scandal-ridden MP that it is unable to worry about protecting the nation from the gathering clouds of rising unemployment and the next international financial crisis. Hardly a great bargain.
John Howard recently said that “both Oakeshott and Windsor, if they run (again), will lose their seats.” Hopefully that means Tony can keep his derriere intact.