24 November 2011

Lateralist Speakers - The New Political Order

There are days when I absolutely loathe Australian politics. All too often, it's an ugly, spiteful and frequently futile exercise in hypocritical and obfuscatory point-scoring. But on days like today, it's the best spectator sport in the land. And that's just brilliant.

It's been reported that the resignation of House Speaker, Harry Jenkins, was completely unexpected. I think it's fair to say that whilst that might be true for most, it certainly isn't true for all. There's been a plan hatched here, and only time will tell whether or not it's a good one.

But first, a word about Harry Jenkins. I love Harry Jenkins. I'd drink my tea from a cup with his picture on it. I'd have his hirsute visage glower at the world from the t-shirt I was wearing. If I ever start a band, Harry Jenkins will get a song. Or even an album. We could, as a band, even be the Harry Jenkins All-Stars.

I'm as fond of Harry as I am because he's been a beacon of frustrated decency in an at-times stagnant and stinking political quagmire. He's done his level best to impose a sense of order on our representative rabble, and has managed to do so with a quip and a jibe, which, given the challenges of the position, mark him as a man of rare integrity and considerable faculty. Bob Katter, who won't praise a man out of any sense of obligation, was unequivocal in naming Jenkins the best Speaker (of the many) he'd encountered in his considerable time in parliament. I think the fact that probably no other Speaker's name and deeds have entered the public consciousness as much as Harry's is testament to his general abilities and broad appeal. Even Tony Abbott, for all the shit he's made Jenkins deal with over the last couple of years, has had the rare decency not the damn the man with faint praise. Although admittedly, maybe Abbott had a hunch all along what might end up happening if Big Harry decided to vacate the Speaker's chair.

Deputy Speaker, Peter Slipper, doesn't seem to be one of the Liberal Party's favourite sons. The prospect of him ending up in the Speaker's Chair is not anyone in the Liberal Party's idea of an ideal outcome. For a start, it would mean that Labor's majority increases by one member, which is great news for them, and bad news for the Coalition. It would effectively terminate Abbott's hopes of a run at the top job before the next election. But as bad as that is for Abbott, it's potentially even worse news for Andrew Wilkie.

Wilkie's made pokies reform the One Big Thing he wants to do with his time in Office. It's both admirable and right that he try to stop people with gambling problems from being a de facto funding source for pubs and clubs across the country, and for making already rich bastards like James Packer even richer. The problem is, pissing off people with lots of money is always a risky proposition. Wilkie seems to think he has nothing to lose. The Government does not share this feeling.

As such, Wilkie may end up finding himself rather side-lined if Labor can effectively govern without his vote. I'm not unhappy about with Labor's position being stronger, but really, that strength would be far better served if it were to advance and support ideas like Wilkie's gambling reforms, rather than potentially curtailing them. Mind you, if Wilkie had avoided hassling the Government on issues like the Mining Tax, they might very well have let him be. It doesn't pay to get greedy or cocky in a business like politics. Things can change far too quickly.

But no matter what the future holds for Wilkie, Abbott's position (and the Coalition's) just got weaker. Jenkins was as fair a Speaker as one can get. Slipper might be a Liberal, but I don't think he and Abbott are close. Ironically, Abbott might now find himself on an even shorter leash than before. And speaking of leashes; Jenkins is now off his. He's a tour de force in that chamber, with a stockpile of political respect and capital that he must be just itching to start using. I can't wait to hear Jenkins first unbridled attack on the Coalition, if for no other reason than it's likely to be bristling with barbs, and almost certainly widely reported in the media.

The more curious question is the role of Kevin Rudd in all of this. Apparently, he and Slipper go way back. Did Rudd engineer this? If so, why? Has he actually helped his Party, and more significantly, his Prime Minister? Or is he secretly hoping that his role in all of this will curry just a little bit more Party favour, and move that second tilt at the PM's Office from the column marked "no" to the one marked "maybe"? Again, only time will tell.

With the resignation of Harry Jenkins, the Australian people have lost a great Speaker, and a great servant of our democracy. We are a poorer nation for that. But there's one heck of an upside. Now, finally, we're actually going to hear the man speak.

Personally, I can't wait.

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