On Bipartisanship, Reform Fall Guys, the Asian Century, and Infrastructure with Michelle Grattan

Protest against industrial relations reforms in Sydney , 15 November 2005.
Photo by Jasabella via Wikimedia CC BY-SA 2.5

At the recent Democracy100 forum at Old Parliament House hosted by the Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis, Bob Hawke and John Howard spoke about the present lack of appetite for reform. Populism appears to be making it more difficult to pursue a reform agenda.

Bipartisanship was a big part of enabling previous reforms. But since the 2007 election, the decline in the stability of political leadership has impacted upon bipartisan support for important policy initiatives, and attempts to address the rise in populism are leading to a feeling in the electorate that politicians are reluctant to act in the public good. Tough reform is difficult in this environment.

Peter Hartcher's reporting of the event captured some interesting thoughts: Bob Hawke and John Howard handled some of the largest reform agendas in Commonwealth history, market and tax reform respectively, yet the were re-elected to become two of our three longest serving prime ministers. It would seem that electors will reward the hard work of reform.

I wrote about this issue recently in The Conversation, but many questions remained unanswered. I often think about Fightback! and how politics may mess up good policy, but eventually policy prevails. My paper at the forthcoming Australian Political Studies Association conference will cover some of these issues.

But then I got to thinking about the idea of a policy "fall guy". When Dr John Hewson introduced Fightback!, he was soundly defeated by the infamous GST birthday cake incident. Yet most of Fightback! has since been implemented (albeit imprecisely). Did Hewson clear the way for Howard?

And then what about Hawke? Was Gough Whitlam his fall guy? And this got me to thinking about the challenges facing democracy and how bipartisanship must be the answer. Yet bipartisanship remains illusive.

So, in an effort to investigate some of these issues to encourage discussion with my students, I put some of these questions to Michelle Grattan AO, Professorial Fellow of the University of Canberra and Chief Political Correspondent at The Conversation

The recording was made at Parliament House, and you can hear the divisional bells for the Senate sounding in the background. My thanks to Michelle for providing this content for my teaching.

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