OPINION: There's risk in changing government every election

IT'S FAIR to say there will be a lot of navel gazing right now, after such a gazumping defeat for the LNP just three years after a gazumping defeat for Labor.

How could such a huge majority be lost by Campbell Newman's government in just one term?

Of course, there were some controversial policies and decisions made in the past three years - overturning same-sex civil union laws, making substantial public service cuts, introducing the "bikie" laws, appointing a Chief Justice who divided the legal fraternity and, crucially, pursuing an asset-selloff agenda.

But we've had leaders and politicians before who have come into power with reform agendas and who have made decisions they have sold as unpopular yet necessary, without suffering such annihilation at the polls after one term.

Geoff Egan

So what's happening? Something seems to have changed - both on the political landscape and in the minds of voters - since the shock dumping of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and subsequent replacement by Julia Gillard before he'd even had a chance to see his first term of government through.

Politics seems to have become more cut-and-thrust, parties seem to listen more to regular polling (even though they say they don't) and there is talk of leadership speculation just about every time a party or a leader has a bad run.

This is no more evident than now, with Prime Minister Tony Abbott subject to the loudest chattering yet about doubts over his leadership and his political judgment, following a poor "captain's pick" to bestow a knighthood on Prince Philip in the latest Australia Day honours.

There's no doubting it was a bad decision with which hardly anyone in Australia agrees; it would also seem like a relatively trivial thing over which to oust a prime minister.

Mr Abbott has certainly made some other solid errors in judgment since being elected, including his decision to reinstate knights and dames in the first place, and his resolute determination to stick to an elaborate  paid parental leave scheme few people believed in.

But there's something else at play, too. Voters no longer seem to be prepared to give new governments a second term to settle in and implement their policy agenda if some of their decisions are unpopular and poorly explained.

It is rare to see first-term governments lose, but we've just seen it in Victoria, we're about to see it in Queensland and, if the Coalition isn't careful, we'll see it in the federal space too.

Now we're all on social media, we love to "engage" and have our voices heard (whether or not we understand what we're opining about) and we love to feel outraged about all manner of topics.

But we also need to be a little careful.

Chopping and changing governments all the time allows for no stability, no genuine reform agenda to be put in place, nor does it encourage any government to seriously make long-term structural changes or risk the "unpopular but necessary" decisions we all sometimes need to cop on the chin.

Annastacia Palaszczuk at the sausage sizzle outside Inala State School.
Annastacia Palaszczuk at the sausage sizzle outside Inala State School. Pamela Frost

Governments are often cynically blamed for making three- or four-year policies aimed purely at getting them re-elected, rather than forming policies genuinely aimed at making their states or countries better places to live in.

But just as we tend to be fond of ditching sporting coaches after a few losses on the field, if we continually signal to governments that every misstep will be punished at the polls, we will get what we voted for - short-sighted, populist policies.

There is no defence for a bad government, and our democratic right to vote them out is a central tenet on which our system of government is built.

And there is no doubting both Mr Newman and Mr Abbott have a few things in common - in particular, ambitious plans to reform and restructure (in a number of cases purely on ideological grounds) without adequate consultation, a failure to disclose pre-election just how far that ideology would run, and with a style often perceived as arrogant and elitist.

They have a responsibility to govern for all their constituents - something all leaders say they will do but rarely deliver on - and to properly explain the reasons behind their decision making.

But we as voters have responsibilities, too.

Without trying to take sides one way or the other, let's remember that sometimes we owe it to governments to do the things we elected them to do in the first place, and leave the relentless chopping and changing to basketcases like Italy.

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