June 5th, 2017
(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: email@example.com
Success bred complacency. The old policymaker’s adage has been proved anew: “Good times make bad policy.”
By late Howard years, ambition and rigour were lost and spending grew wanton.
Budget night came to resemble “Christmas night in the pirates’ cave” in the words of the former Treasury budget examiner Stephen Anthony, as the government lavished handouts and tax cuts in the forlorn hope that it could win the people’s gratitude.
The former Treasury secretary Ken Henry, who served Keating and Costello, dates the onset of complacency in the political system and the wider public around the same time.
“We had drifted into a state of complacency in the years before the GFC [global financial crisis of 2007-8],” Henry says. “Remarkably, the GFC didn’t shock us out of it.”
Why should Australia care? By good management and good luck, the economy continued to grow even as the Western world collapsed. The complacency deepened.
So the Australian people relieved their governments of responsibility for the economy. And governments relieved themselves.
This seems to have had a liberating effect on the political class, which has indulged itself mightily. Without a crisis, without a serious purpose, the political parties, Labor and Liberal alike, have indulged personal ambition and factional vendettas in a frenzy of regicide.
“So in the century up to 2010,” writes Rod Tiffen, Sydney University professor emeritus of political science, “three sitting prime ministers were victims of party coups. Then in just five years three more followed [Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott].”
Australia started to burn through leaders faster than the notoriously impatient Italians. The fever spread to opposition parties, state parliaments. Plotting, coup-making became the chief preoccupation.