The view from Australia

As part of Connect’s plans to move into new markets, our Chief Executive visited Australia to gauge the political temperature…

Despite the bushfires and Cyclone Marcia (category 5) my fact finding mission to Australia and Asia was also peppered with a political brouhaha over the future of Prime Minister Tony Abbott. The shock result in Queensland – where Labor romped to power in a voter backlash against Campbell Newman – was unprecedented. It sent reverberations around Australia placing Tony Abbott’s leadership on very shaky ground. How could Labor win in Queensland? The Liberals spun into panic mode and forced a spill motion, where technically the job of leader of a party becomes vacant and open for re-election. Tony Abbott survived the motion by 61-39, which means that roughly a third of his MPs and senators are not behind him.

The news bulletins rolled and rolled with a beleaguered Tony Abbott saying he had listened and learned his lesson. Whether I was talking to a taxi driver, sheep farmer or lobbyist, everyone thought he was ‘toast’. It is unlikely that he will hang on for much longer, not least as he is seen as something of a car crash of a Prime Minister. At his first outing at Question Time following the spill motion, he stated that Labor’s stance on a submarine contract would lead to a ‘holocaust’ of job losses. This, on the back of his announcement that Prince Philip should be knighted, left most Australians wondering whether their Prime Minister was in tune with the real world. Seeing this leadership challenge roll out made me think how spill motions might work in the UK. Whilst a spill motion can happen here, the Conservative and Labour party machinery doesn’t work at such a pace or in the same way. Imagine if it did?

Australia is, in so many ways, a paradise; it has escaped the banking crisis, the global recession, austerity measures and an expenses scandal just to name a few things. It also has some very interesting and liberal tax laws – no inheritance tax, and even gives first time buyers $15,000 tax free to help them buy a home! The Government fully supports the public sector; where no one would question the value of tax payers’ money for funding local government, public services or even a statutory lobbying register for that matter. But somehow Australians yearn for greater credibility and not buffoonery from their leaders. They have had a bad run and the halcyon days of Bob Hawke are referred to with great nostalgia. In the UK we too yearn for great and powerful leaders. I can report that even in Australia Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson seem to resonate more than Cameron, Miliband and Clegg – hence the problem for voters on 7th May. So watch out for the result of the NSW State election on 28th March. If Labor win Tony Abbott will almost definitely face another spill motion and will, in my view, be out for the count!

In my mission to talk to business leaders, trade unions, think tanks and lobbyists about the changing face of politics in the UK, devolution and the General Election I discovered a genuine distance between both countries in terms of our respective futures. There was surprise and bemusement about the impact of our Coalition, the Scottish Independence vote, the state of the parties and the probable end of two party politics. We must not forget that Australia is a Federal country with elected state Parliaments, compulsory voting and PR. These constitutional differences cannot be underestimated. Once again, it will be worth looking at the results of our May General Election in the context of votes versus seats won and to consider the arguments for and against a more proportional voting system.

Here are my thoughts and predictions which may or may not happen in the months ahead.

Watch this space:

  • Malcolm Turnbull may well take the Australian Prime Ministerial job
  • Labor voting Australians love Julia Gillard but not Bill Shorten or Kevin Rudd
  • Further lobbying reforms are on their way (I will be doing a webinar with the PRIA on 10th April – comparing and contrasting the UK with Australia on this very subject)
  • Australia leads the way with Pay Wave (contactless payment) – everyone uses it. Goodbye Chip and PIN?
  • Whatever the shape of the government post-May we can expect greater devolution and the promise of Lords reform
  • The UK will adopt a point system similar to Australia to curb immigration
  • Paddle boarding will become the new UK craze!

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