Much of the commentary surrounding the resignations of Nicola Roxon and Chris Evans has interpreted the departures as yet another episode in the neverending disaster that is the Rudd-Gillard government.
This is Tony Abbott’s “constant crisis” narrative. As government MPs have been at pains to point out, not just this week but this term, the government has been nothing if not stable and will likely run full term, or close to it.
Talk of “crisis” seems hyperbolic. There has, however, been a consistent sense that the government is teetering on the brink. It’s a sense which can largely be put down to the inevitably precarious appearance of minority government, especially when voters and commentators have had few experiences of it, at least at the national level.
Abbott’s crisis narrative has been actively encouraged by business groups and right-wing media particularly hostile to minority government. The common charge from the self-interested corporates is that minority government forces too much “uncertainty” into the system. Not for them parliamentary democracy, it seems.
Given that Labor and Liberal party polices are rarely radically divergent these days, it’s difficult to know what business means by “uncertainty”. It seems likely that minority government has given business just enough rationalisation to go to war on its natural enemy – Labor – despite remaining uneasy about Abbott’s capacities.
Even as the government has strenuously denied accusations of crisis, at least since the alleged source of the crisis, Kevin Rudd, was eliminated (twice), the government has done its best to otherwise feed into the narrative with its own occasionally bizarre behaviour.
An obsessive focus on Abbott has led the government more than once into making reactive decisions, motivated by the need to neutralise the threat. To observers such a focus has been odd, given that Abbott has done little other than bandy about negative slogans.
But from the moment it backed away from its carbon emissions reduction commitment in response to some negative populism from the new Opposition leader, the ALP has lurched from one panicked reaction to another.
It worried about Abbott’s appearance among crazies at a carbon tax rally. It tried to out-flank Turn-Back-the-Boats Tony on the right with its Pacific Solution Ultra, first by negotiating an unenforceable people-swap with Malaysia and then by making traumatised people not convicted or charged with any crime languish indefinitely on remote Pacific islands. It even decided to announce the election date early in a weird attempt to neutralise Abbott’s campaigning and shift the focus back to “policy”.
Julia Gillard’s early announcement of this year’s election date seemed to highlight the government’s dysfunctional internal consultative processes. That was the rationale given for Rudd’s elimination. The question left hanging in the air then was how the Labor party had been hollowed out to the point that one person was left with the capacity to mess up internal processes in the first place.