Leadership Debate

Clearly there are momentous events occurring outside of this chamber right now. With all due respect to Senator Peris, I think the Australian people would expect a more considered contribution in that event than simply the stale talking points and sound bites from a staffer's or opposition leader's written speech. 

One of the problems we have had in Australian politics over the past few years is the rise of Blackberry politics, if you like—that we all tend to simply read points off our mobile phones that are emailed to us in the morning—and I think the Australian people can see through it. I think the Australian people realise it and we are all suffering because of it.

Today I want to start with a bit of history. I was reminded on the weekend by Minister Barnaby Joyce. He is a student of history himself. He gave a speech to the National Party convention and quoted Ecclesiastes: There is Nothing New Under the Sun. I certainly think that what we are experiencing today is nothing new under the sun as well. Barnaby wanted to quote Roman history and I want to do so too, but it is a very different part of Roman history. I am not sure if Senator Ryan is a student of Roman history, but, Senator Ryan, you might remember that there was a particularly handsome emperor called Commodus, otherwise known as Joaquin Phoenix in Gladiator. Commodus was a disaster as an emperor. He was a tyrant and an evil one at that, and the empire was in a mess when he was subjected to his fate by the Praetorian Guards. They installed a guy called Pertinax. Pertinax promised the Praetorian Guards a large sum of money, but he never came through with that, so the Praetorian Guards dealt with him and he was gone. The problem was that they did not have a replacement. Instead of simply choosing the best person for the job, the Praetorian Guards established an auction at the time.

Senator Wong:  "Why don't you mention Tony Abbott? This is about Tony Abbott."

You might learn something, Senator Wong. You had best listen up.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT:  "Order on my left, Senator Wong! Things were going very well until you interrupted."

The Praetorian Guards set up an auction. They decided to say to the Roman people, 'You decide. Whoever can pay us the most amount of money can become emperor,' and that is what happened. There was an auction between a guy called Sulpicianus, who was the father-in-law of Pertinax, and Didius Julianus. Sulpicianus started the bidding at 5,000 drachmas, but eventually Didius Julianus won at 6,200. It was an unbecoming act for the empire. It was effectively a standing auction on who could be emperor. Unfortunately, I think something is happening with the Australian body politic as well at the moment, because we are being subject to a bidding process through polls and popularity, not through the policy consequences of what we are doing. It is an unbecoming process and it is not one that I think the Australian people hold us in high regard for doing. If we continue to enter into this cycle and continue to be slaves to an announcement of polling results every fortnight, the Australian people will continue to think less of us every time.

In my view, we should seek to re-establish trust in this chamber and in the other chamber and in this parliament—a trust that has deteriorated and been downgraded in the past eight years. We have become fat and lazy and complacent on a couple of decades of very good government. Now we—and I think all political parties have been subject to this in the past few years—have failed to show that leadership, that constancy, that consistency and that stability that the Australian people expect of us. We will not restore our trust until we can rekindle and refine what we had not that long ago.

I am standing at the Whip's chair. I am a National Party senator and I am very proud. I want to make comment on other political parties, but I am very proud that the National Party has had 12 leaders in 95 years. While those leaders have gone through great tumult and change through decades, there has been a very reliable element of constancy, stability and certainty from the National Party and, before that, the Country Party. When you read National Party history, there is a great story. After Earle Page lost the leadership, Archie took over briefly, but there was a bit of tumult at the time and there was a leadership spill between John McEwen and another gentleman whose name escapes me—he never became leader. John McEwen tied the leadership with this guy in 1939, I think. They could not break the tie, so they installed Arthur Fadden as a temporary leader, but then, of course, World War II broke out—

Senator Wong:  "Mr President, I rise on a point of order on relevance. I appreciate that these are wide-ranging discussions, but the MPI is on the Prime Minister, Mr Abbott—the current Prime Minister's failed leadership. He has not touched on that for some time."

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT:  "Senator Wong, there is no point of order. This is about leadership and Senator Canavan is drawing an analogy. Continue, Senator Canavan."

Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President Williams. As I was saying, John McEwen lost that leadership battle and Arthur Fadden took over as a temporary leader. He was eventually made permanent during World War II because of the war. Arthur Fadden remained leader until 1957. So McEwen was one vote away in 1939 and did not take over as leader until 1957. As somewhat of a conservative, I do perhaps miss the patience that might have been shown by a different generation. I think the Australian people also share some frustration with the level of self-centredness and selfishness that sometimes leaders display in this place. I can only speak for my own contribution in this place, but I will always try to live up to the example that we should be putting the Australian people first with every decision we make.

Senator Wong interjecting—

We should not just be putting the Australian people first; we should be putting the future of our country first, the future of our nation first, and protect our future generations with an example that demonstrates our ability to run this country in a way that is respectful and consistent over many decades.

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