A recent post noted that while the government was indulging in union-bashing, the Leader of the Opposition was playing a different game with his questions on Kirribilli entertaining.

It seemed to have worked rather well. But it is not immediately clear why. Inviting supporters of the government to the PM’s residence as a way of thanks does not seem out of bounds, and there is no better supporter than a financial one. Linking a donation to the invite may be a bit more explicit but the principle seems the same. No wonder Howard can point to similar actions by earlier PMs.

What seems objectionable in this fairly normal political activity, is the idea that money can buy influence and that the government and its property are open to sectional interests. But running government on sectional interests has been the basis of Australian, and most other Western democracies for over a century. The union movement set up and funded a Labor party explicitly to represent union interests and was expected to bring in laws to support those interests once in power (although the problem was they often didn’t). To prevent them, business interests likewise financed and supported the Liberals and other non-Labor parties. As this week’s farcical debate over the union threat shows, these roles played by political parties are largely at an end. This leaves the question: what are the major parties for?

So it is unsurprising that Howard and Abbott looked uncomfortable defending this on TV. When Howard says, rather pathetically, “Its my home!” what he is saying is that he is entitled to use it as the leader of Australia’s political class. But an attack on normal practices of the Australian political class implies an attack on that class itself. That is why the coalition’s defence that earlier Australian politicians did it too, will not work. The charge of a self-serving political class was something Howard used so well against Keating. Now with so little policy agenda that he looks as though he is in power for its own sake, Howard himself is vulnerable. A rushed decision by the AEC will probably not be enough to kill this story.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Saturday, 16 June 2007.

Filed under Tactics

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