Asia Pacific / Politics

With latest leadership change, Australian voters angry at way politicians are treating them

AP

In Australia’s far north, Darwin’s Northern Territory News ran a front-page message for the nation’s ruling politicians Friday as they mobilized in Canberra to give the country its sixth prime minister in just 11 years.

“HANG YOUR HEADS IN SHAME,” it said, describing events in the capital this past week — in which the ruling Liberal Party switched its leader and thereby changed prime ministers — as “nothing short of disgraceful.”

Online, an Australian satirical website, The Shovel, summed up the national mood in a more humorous manner in a story headlined, “Nation just so over this.”

It quoted a so-called spokesperson for the nation as saying to politicians: “We don’t care about your ridiculous little arguments and pathetic personal grudges. Without wanting to sound old fashioned, can you just do your job?”

Australia’s latest leadership switch — in which Malcolm Turnbull was replaced by Scott Morrison in an internal party coup — has struck a particularly sour note among a populace typically well-educated in politics but increasingly disillusioned with the actions of those it elects.

Many Australians say they have “had a gutful.” They are tired of voting in elections only to see their choice of leader overturned within the ruling party to boost its popularity and chances of re-election.

Turnbull is the fourth prime minister — from both the conservative Liberal Party and more leftist Labor Party — to be dumped by his or her party before serving a full three-year term since the trend of leader-swapping began in 2010.

Some Australians used the latest internal party upheaval to poke fun.

One set up a tongue-in-cheek Twitter account that names Australia’s prime minister, with hourly updates. A popular meme purports to be a public service announcement: “Remember, Australia: Change of prime minister means change your smoke alarm battery.”

Others struck a more serious tone, echoing the sentiments of the major headline from one of the biggest newspapers, the Sydney Morning Herald, which said, “Australian democracy is a laughing stock.”

“It’s just ridiculous,” said Justina McAlister, a homemaker and mother from the Blue Mountains, near Sydney. “We all voted and had our say, but it just seems irrelevant.

“Who leads the country shouldn’t be decided by a small group of men and women in a party room. The public doesn’t know what really goes on in there, but you know it’s not about policy. It’s the party saying their leader mightn’t be good for them at the next election. But surely we’re the ones who get to make that choice — at an election.”

Sydney workplace environment manager Darren Moore said it was nonsense for a party to claim it should be allowed to change leaders as it likes on the grounds that the public had voted it in.

“Regardless of how our system works, most Australians vote for a personality who leads a party, rather than for the party itself,” Moore said.

“It’s got so cynical now that the politicians are coming out blatantly and saying they need to change leader in order to win the next election. Is that the sole focus? How about running and organizing the country?”

Adelaide business manager Dave Pearlman said such internal coups “could not be more dismissive of the people of the country.”

“We need constitutional change so that to change prime ministers it must go to a general election,” he said.

Stewart Jackson, a lecturer in government and international relations at Sydney University, said Australians are more disillusioned with this latest coup than the previous one, in which Turnbull himself ousted Tony Abbott in 2015.

He said the electorate then was disappointed Abbott had not delivered on several election promises and was largely accepting of the incoming Turnbull. He said this switch, which came with relatively little warning, was far more shocking, orchestrated as it was by disgruntled junior members of the government.

“Increasingly the public see these two major parties as treating politics as a game between the two of them,” Jackson said.

“You’ve seen the party back bench destabilize a legitimate government. Most people have been left asking ‘What’s going on?’ It’s inexplicable.”