The wooden puppet who dreamed of becoming PM…

In a democratic polity like Australia, there is a compact between the governing party and the governed people. Under it, the people make a choice and thereby give their consent to be governed after having been informed of the policies and platform of the respective parties.

This information is provided in a variety of ways: through official party platforms, policy documents, media releases, communications to organisations and individuals, and media statements. Together, it constitutes the basis upon which the citizens make a choice at an election.

Some of this material is vague and general, but much of it is detailed and precise. Parties make commitments to do – or not to do – certain things, knowing that their word will be relied upon by the people in casting their votes.

John Howard understood this democratic principle when he changed his position about a Goods and Services Tax. Having made the judgement that the nation required a GST, contrary to his earlier position, he took the proposal to a national election.

Of course people understand that an extraneous event, quite outside the control of a government, such as an international economic crisis or a natural disaster, may require a government to modify its policies. But otherwise, the people expect a party to which they have given their consent to govern will honour their commitments.

The current Prime Minister, Ms Gillard, was once an loud advocate of this understanding. On many occasions after Labor won office in 2007, she insisted that the new government had a mandate to abolish Workchoices.

But since becoming Prime Minister, Ms Gillard has trashed this democratic principle.

The first and most egregious example has been well-rehearsed. In the days before the 2011 election, Ms Gillard went on national television to declare that “there will be no carbon tax under a government I lead.” Having secured government through deals with the independents and the Greens, Ms Gillard promptly abandoned the commitment she gave to Australians and introduced a carbon tax.

Since then, she has again trashed the principle. Addressing the Christian Lobby, Ms Gillard was very specific about Labor’s policy and intentions about same-sex unions:

We have determined as a Labor Party the Marriage Act will stay unchanged, so marriage will be defined as it is in our current Marriage Act as between a man and a woman, and we have also said that the Labor Party policy is we do not want to see the development of ceremonies that mimic marriage ceremonies. And so that’s the party policy, and as Prime Minister, as the leader of the parliamentary Labor Party that’s obviously my policy, and that’s what you should expect to see from the Gillard Labor Government if we’re re-elected.

This assurance was repeated by Gillard elsewhere. Her claim now that she was only referring to the possibility of a government bill is disingenuous.

Nor can Ms Gillard claim that the issue was outside her control. She claims to oppose same-sex marriage, but never argued the case at the Labor Party’s national conference. There were many arguments she could have called upon: That marriage was historically understood as between a man and a woman; that the primary purpose of marriage is the raising and protection of children, and while some grow-up in other circumstances, having a father and mother is the optimal situation; that the law’s interest is in recognising that a particular man and a particular woman are responsible for a particular child; that it was Labor which removed the remaining vestiges of discrimination for same-sex partners, while insisting at the time that marriage would remain as it is.

Instead, she abandoned the commitment she made before the election, and had to scramble for a conscience vote in an attempt to quell the chorus of disbelief.

What is evident from these issues is a pattern of behaviour. In each case, Ms Gillard gave commitments and then abandoned them. It goes to her character and fitness to hold the office of Prime Minister. It is little wonder that the people have lost trust in her and her government.

Their consent has been abused.

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