This piece by Peter van Onselen is based on a huge misconception of how our system of government should, and does, work. I’ve had his theory of government put to me by my daughters and other non-expert voters, but never before by a professor of politics.
Talking about the resignation of Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu van Onselen says:
Removing a first-term incumbent leader should have been taboo after the turmoil that followed federal Labor’s decision to make such a move against Kevin Rudd.
…Voters do not like partyrooms removing elected leaders, especially when they are in their first term.
…Now the entire party will wear the result of Victoria’s next state election, not to mention the many tags that Tony Abbott and co have happily thrown federal Labor’s way for removing Rudd.
Who were the faceless men? Why did they “assassinate” a first-term premier?
What callous disregard for the voters. What chaos the government must have been in to do what it did.
All of which suggests that van Onselen, in common with many voters is confusing a presidential system they are familiar with from US television programs with the Westminster system that we actually have.
The proposition underlying this piece appears to be that electors choose prime ministers and premiers, not parliaments, and that having been chosen, the parliament is duty bound to maintain them in place until the next election, no matter how bad the choice may prove.
(Or perhaps van Onselen believes this is the case only in their first term, the piece is a little confused on this point).
Many electors may share that mindset, fostered as it is by media coverage that focusses on leadership and individuals, as well as US TV shows, but it is not the way the system actually works.
And just as well. The prime minister, or premier, is just the “first amongst equals”, and it is absolutely necessary that they be able to be dismissed by their parliamentary colleagues. It is those colleagues for whom we vote, not just to represent us, but to vote on who of their number will be entrusted to form the government.
Being able to turf a bad performer is part of the robustness of our system. If voters don’t like that, then they can take it out against their local representative at the next election.
Imagine a situation where the prime minister or premier could stay in place no matter what their sins? Where would that have left the Queensland National Party after the corruption of Bjelke-Petersen had been revealed? Should they have been obliged to stick by him to the bitter end, or elect someone to clean up the mess?
What distinguished the Rudd situation was that for most people Rudd was about as popular as he had always been, so they couldn’t understand why he was removed. This doesn’t apply to Baillieu who now adds potential corruption in his party to poor polling figures.
Which ought to send shivers up Julia Gillard’s spine as the Baillieu incident shows how a leader who has lost the confidence of their colleagues and the public, and how is mired in scandal and non-performance ought to behave.