The 2010 election delivered up a ‘plague on both your houses’ outcome that is still kicking out the occasional aftershock. To a visitor from Europe there would be nothing particularly remarkable about the idea of a multi-hued Parliament in which political parties and independents are forced to sit down and negotiate on the passage of laws. That, after all, is what Parliaments were designed to do. But there’s something in the Australian political culture, from the press gallery to the opposition benches, that refuses to understand or assimilate the reality of a minority government.
Midnight, December 31 2011. Fireworks lit up world capitals timezone by timezone. The cheerful familiarity of the Sydney Harbour Bridge passing the pyrotechnic baton to Taipei; the Burj Dubai; the London Eye; a packed Times Square. No matter where you were that night, maybe you missed the news that at while nobody was watching, US President Barack Obama was signing the 2012 National Defence Acquisition Act (NDAA) into law.
Much of the debate around uranium sales to India – inside the ALP and in the broader community – will be viewed through the lens of the self-evident interest in maximising revenues from a commodity that Australia already sells to a dozen other nations.
I suspect most people, if they’re interested at all, will wonder what the fuss is about. We sell the stuff to a nuclear-armed communist dictatorship and the organised crime syndicate formerly known as Russia, so why not sell it to the world’s largest democracy?
So, I’ll admit it. I got just as carried away as everybody else on the occasion of United States President Barack Obama’s visit to Australia. I was looking forward to the chance to see him up close and to get a sense of the rhetorical power that first caught the attention of the world at the Democratic National Convention in 2004.
In that regard, he didn’t disappoint. His speech to the Australian Parliament was beautifully crafted, holding 226 Australian parliamentarians and a packed public gallery spellbound. After the oration he worked the room with ease, flashing his smile and taking his own time to meet the MPs who had just given him a long standing ovation. He seems like a genuinely warm and charismatic human being.
The September sittings opened and closed with unplanned symmetry. Opened with a line in the desert sand drawn by Aboriginal elders refusing any further compromise with the uranium miners. Closed with the tabling of a meticulous two hundred page manifesto for the rapid abolition of nuclear weapons, signed by the ALP, the Greens and the Coalition.
One of the few advantages of being new to this job is appreciating it’s strangeness with fresh eyes. Three times a year, while the Senate is in recess, an intriguing and largely overlooked ritual takes place in the airy committee rooms of Parliament House in Canberra. Senior public servants, heads of departments and a highly qualified army of advisers and minders converge for five days of cross-examination in front of the Senate’s eight standing committees.