As the Prime Minister Travels Overseas, So Does Labor’s Agenda

Halfway through the parliamentary term, it seems that the only issues the Albanese government is prepared to argue are based on the current ‘vibe.’
As the Prime Minister Travels Overseas, So Does Labor’s Agenda
Australia's Prime Minister Anthony Albanese listens during the APEC Leaders Retreat Cooperation (APEC) in San Francisco, Calif., on Nov. 17, 2023. (Kent Nishimura/Getty Images)
Kevin Andrews
11/20/2023
Updated:
11/20/2023
0:00
Commentary

“The vibe” may well become the leitmotif of the Albanese Labor government.

As the weeks and months of the 47th Parliament pass, it seems that the only issues the current government is prepared to argue are based on the current “mood.”

Don’t get me wrong: every government must listen to the electorate. Prime ministers who fail to do so tend to have a shorter time residing in the Lodge.

But there is a limit to slavishly following so-called “public opinion,” whether nationally or locally.

As Winston Churchill once quipped to the suggestion it was a time when leaders should keep their ears to the ground: “All I can say is that the British nation will find it very hard to look up to leaders who are detected in that somewhat ungainly posture!”

Members of Parliament are elected to bring their judgment to national proposals, not slavish submission to particular groups. Sometimes this requires standing up to various groups, including supporters.

Worse, “public opinion” is not immutable.

As many supporters of The Voice discovered to their chagrin, superficial support can evaporate in the face of a sustained counterargument and common sense.

Yet the Labor government remains fixed on the “vibe” of issues supported by their narrow membership, inner-city aspirations and values, and electoral vulnerabilities about causes unpopular in their electorates.

Three young people ride e-scooters towards Chinatown in Melbourne, Australia, on Oct. 28, 2023. (Susan Mortimer/The Epoch Times)
Three young people ride e-scooters towards Chinatown in Melbourne, Australia, on Oct. 28, 2023. (Susan Mortimer/The Epoch Times)

The equivocation about the Hamas terrorist attacks is an example of the latter, leaving the government looking like it cannot condemn mass slaughter without equivocation.

Good leadership, in my three-decade-long participation in politics, is the timely, thoughtful, and well-explained decisions about unexpected or unwanted events.

It involves a preparedness to address the unanticipated. It includes sensible adjustments to policies.

Missing the Mark on Several Fronts

In recent weeks, the government has floundered on a number of related issues.

First, the rising cost of living is at the forefront of national worries.

Rather than proposing action on economic policy, the treasurer sounds like a commentator. He appears to hope that the Reserve Bank might save him, but it is doing its job. 

As the weeks pass, it appears that his strategy is simple: build up the budget bottom line in order to offer handouts before the next national election.

In the meantime, however, individuals, families, and households continue to suffer significantly.

These day-to-day pressures are exaggerated by the record immigration numbers, but there is no meaningful discussion of the issue.

Neither the current high intake nor extra low numbers is the answer. Australia desperately needs a sensible, well-informed population debate, but the government has failed to initiate it.

The decision of the High Court on detainees has added to Labor’s immigration woes. Not being prepared for the possibility of the Court’s decision on the issue smacks of incompetence.

It is beyond belief that the relevant government departments had not advised ministers of the options open to them.

Apart from the relevant departments, the issues would have been discussed by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, which maintains a watching and advice brief on all aspects of government policy.

There was clearly a significant failure of process.

The role of the prime minister’s office is critical, but it seems distracted by foreign trips, which have become an issue in themselves.

Other related issues, including energy policy, are a growing challenge for the government. Whether it is his self-belief or arrogance—or both—Energy and Climate Change Minister Chris Bowen is not helping the government.

Role of PM

Worse, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese seems to have confused being a president with being a prime minister.

The primary duty of a prime minister is to listen to the Australian people, shape, and lead the Cabinet, and be the chief advocate for its decisions in the Parliament. It is not to indulge in overseas trips unless unquestionably necessary.

When former Prime Minister Robert Menzies was planning to leave for London in January 1941, his wife Pattie warned him if he went, internal party intrigue would cost him the prime ministership. She was correct.

Australians expect their prime ministers to be seen addressing local issues as a first priority

Circumstances differ from 1941, but Mr. Albanese’s ignorance of political history is mind-numbing.

The criticism of his frequent trips abroad has been compounded by his refusal to discuss Australian domestic issues while travelling.

(L to R) U.S. President Joe Biden speaks with Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Australia's Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen during the G7 Leaders' Summit in Hiroshima on May 20, 2023. (Brendan Smialowski/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)
(L to R) U.S. President Joe Biden speaks with Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Australia's Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen during the G7 Leaders' Summit in Hiroshima on May 20, 2023. (Brendan Smialowski/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

Australia has had 31 prime ministers over 123 years.

None of them, until now, has refused to answer questions about his or her domestic responsibilities while overseas.

The subservience of the travelling media is astonishing. A trip with the PM has become a reward for not doing their job!

The low esteem with which the mainstream media is held has sunk even lower.

The government’s attack on Opposition Leader Peter Dutton underlies its desperation.

Rather than address the issues on its watch, it has flayed out at the leader of the opposition, claiming that he is the reason for all its inadequacies.

Having watched this political play for three decades, it is always an admission of impotence. It may rally the troops momentarily but it doesn’t address the challenges facing the government and the country. 

In fact, Mr. Dutton has turned the prime minister’s absences to his advantage.

The drift in the government is palpable. It is without focus and internal discipline.
Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
The Hon. Kevin Andrews served in the Australian Parliament from 1991 to 2022 and held various cabinet posts, including Minister for Defence.