If you think The Swamp is bad, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Yes, Washington D.C. may be nicknamed after a disgusting, slimy cesspit, but an even more ruthless political town just may be able to rival the U.S. capital: Canberra, that quiet, little known town that, despite its sleepy appearances, was purpose built as a home for the Australian federal government.
While the Democrats may be searching for any means possible to impeach the elected president, U.S. politics remains positively tame compared to some rather more ruthless governments out there. The August ascension of Scott Morrison to the role of Australian Prime Minister (PM) made a few small ripples around the world, after he ousted the previous PM Malcolm Turnbull in a leadership coup, making him the latest in a long line of Australian leaders to come to power with – purely metaphorical, of course – blood on his hands.
ScoMo Takes the Stage
Morrison, or ScoMo, as he has been dubbed, represents a moderately conservative wing of the governing Liberal Party, while Turnbull had a reputation as a centrist. Confusingly for international communication, the Liberal Party is the more right-wing party, while the Australian left wing is represented by the Labor Party, not that there is truly much difference between the two on most issues. Morrison opposed the 2017 same-sex marriage bill and was responsible as immigration minister for implementing the controversial “stop the boats” policy that aimed to prevent migrants and refugees from illegally entering the country by sea. A social conservative, he is seen as a satisfactory choice by both the centrist and strongly conservative wings of the party, at least for now…
But don’t feel too bad for the usurped Turnbull; he himself seized power from predecessor Tony Abbott, also a Liberal MP. In fact, the last decade has been characterised by governmental backstabbing and Australians have long been wondering exactly whose interests their political elite have at heart. Ever since John Howard stepped down from the top job in 2007 after a long 11 years in power, not a single PM has been able to serve their full three year term and most were tossed out by their own parties.
The New National Sport
The leadership spill has become somewhat of a national sport, so let’s take a look at these rather contemptible machinations:
- 2007 – 2008: Kevin Rudd (Labor) wins by a landslide, but gradually loses popularity as time for re-election draws near.
- 2010 -2013: Julia Gillard (Labor) stages a coup just in time to win the election in Rudd’s stead, also becoming the first female Prime Minister of Australia. Hers is the first betrayal and sets the precedent for those to come.
- 2013: Guess who’s back, back again. Kevin Rudd swoops in to take back power in an epic act of public revenge. It’s not to last long however and his second reign only lasts three months before the disgraced Labor Party is voted out.
- 2013-2015: Tony Abbott (Liberal) is voted in but colleagues fear his right-wing policies will alienate voters.
- 2015-2018: Malcolm Turnbull (Liberal) replaces Abbott to attract more moderate voters.
- 2018: Morrison (Liberal) takes his chance to gain the leadership role as a compromise between the conservative and progressive wings of the party.
Ostensibly, Turnbull was given the boot for introducing a climate change policy of cutting emissions, a move that did not sit well with his more conservative colleagues and was scrapped in the days prior to his downfall. But this pattern goes well beyond a mere one policy opinion-difference. What emerges is a clear picture of a political class obsessed with popularity and short-term power in a country with perhaps too regular elections. Unsurprisingly in such an obviously toxic environment, accusations of bullying have been made, with politicians now beginning to name and shame one another along gender lines.
While Howard was at times a controversial figure, his rule was ultimately characterised by stability, a trait that has been sorely lacking since his departure. The last time the Australian government saw such drama was when Prime Minister Harold Holt disappeared into thin air during the 70s – nobody knows quite what happened to the man, but a coroner’s report suggested he was most likely eaten by sharks.
Naturally, Aussies are not pleased. But it does make for some entertaining and poignant Twitter commentary:
— Angry, loud, unapologetic 👩🏻🎤 (@emgyres) August 24, 2018
There’s nothing that can describe the despair that blue-blooded Liberals like me feel watching what’s going on in our capital #auspol
— Christine Forster (@resourcefultype) August 23, 2018
House of Cards is not an instructional video.#auspol
— The West Wing (@thewestwingTV) August 23, 2018
Aliens: Take us to your leader.
*Australians look around nervously*
Australians: Ok, so here's the thing…
— mp (@mparker179) August 23, 2018
Australia and the U.S.
Morrison spent his first day in office in contact with world leaders in neighboring New Zealand and Indonesia, as well as holding a “very warm” phone call with President Trump. “Both underlined the strength and depth of our alliance and the unbreakable friendship between Australia and the United States,” said a spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s office. Positive tweets came from both ends, as Trump congratulated Morrison on his new position and Morrison took the opportunity to reinforce the history of cooperation between the two countries.
“I think we both get it,” Morrison said in a subsequent interview with the New York Times, titled Trump Finally Makes a Friend. He also called the U.S. president “very practical” and someone “who’s not going to waste a day,” adding that, “I like that about him.”
Morrison has already invited Trump to visit the land down under, although the White House quickly put the kibosh on speculation that the president would be stopping by as part of a November trip to Papua New Guinea for an Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, by announcing that Vice President Pence will be attending the summit in his stead.
And who can blame him? With ScoMo leading a government with a mere one seat majority, and with an election looming in May 2019, it could just be that the president is waiting to see whether he will be around long enough to be worth the trouble. After all, he is not the only one playing the Game of Thrones down under.