Like any human endeavour, politics is never perfect, and politicians are prone to be fallible just like the rest of us.
Yet there are times when our elected representatives make decisions that are so gob-smackingly stupid we’d be forgiven for wondering how they ever made it out of bed each morning, let alone be capable of running the country.
Politics in 2015 presented no shortage of such ineptitude, and from this writer’s perspective, here are the top five.
While Labor is certainly not the only party beholden to its factions, it did seem to be the one that let factional wrangling produce the most perverse pre-selection outcome this year.
The ostensibly progressive party may well point out it has achieved the ALP’s current 40 per cent quota for women in parliament, and that talented women such as the ACT’s former chief minister Katy Gallagher and Labor National President Jenny McAllister were both brought into its Senate team this year.
But the party seems oblivious to the message it sends female voters and potential party members when other talented Labor women are overlooked so that predominantly male union timeservers can be rewarded with parliamentary sinecures.
This was particularly the case with factionally unaligned shadow climate change spokesperson, Senator Lisa Singh, who was unceremoniously thrown on the electoral scrap-heap to make way for union heavyweights in her home state of Tasmania.
While the party’s senior parliamentarians mobilised to save other Labor MPs from factional pre-selection deals, such as Gary Gray, no one has yet seen fit to save Senator Singh, who is undeniably one of the party’s better performers.
Nevertheless, the union movement’s apparent sense of entitlement to cushy retirement on the Senate benches pales into insignificance next to the self-indulgence exercised this year by the former madam speaker, Bronwyn Bishop.
Given that travel allowance declarations are now published on the Department of Finance’s website, and that alleged abuse of that allowance helped bring down a previous speaker, it beggars belief that Mrs Bishop and her staff thought it wise to clock up exorbitant travel and related expenses.
Similarly stupid was Mrs Bishop’s initial refusal to unequivocally apologise. The heartfelt apology remains the only way to extricate oneself from such sticky situations.
Only once it became clear that even the prime minister’s steadfast refusal to reprimand her could not save Mrs Bishop from her own foolish behaviour, did she belatedly concede that chopper-hopping between engagements did not conform with community expectations.
Abbott’s last stand
The then prime minister’s determination to stand by madam speaker was also emblematic of his misreading of the political tea leaves on his own fate.
Despite the near-death experience in February when Liberal MPs gave him six months to repair the Government’s electoral standing, and then comprehensively failing to do so, Tony Abbott reportedly told friends he didn’t foresee the Turnbull express train that ran him down seven months later.
The poor political decisions that contributed to Abbott’s downfall are so numerous they could fill a book. Indeed there’s a succession of tomes due out in the new year that will explore those very points.
However, the bad decisions taken by the PM can neatly be encapsulated in this way – they were based on the Abbott team’s deep sense of entitlement and infallibility, but engendered within a siege mentality culture.
This meant Abbott’s decisions were made (and likely still are) with no reference to the real world or exposure to viewpoints other than that of his sycophants.
Labor’s politics of envy
A similar lack of connection to the real world is the likely culprit for another of Labor’s stupid decisions this year.
On the ascension of Malcolm Turnbull to the prime ministership, some wit within the ALP’s ranks apparently thought it would be good politics to attack the multi-millionaire for being wealthy.
Perhaps this shoddy tactic was intended to be an extension of the apparently successful demonisation by progressives of rich individuals such as the mining magnate Gina Rinehart.
However, the tactic failed spectacularly, likely because voters tend not to begrudge self-made wealth. Labor seriously underestimated the extent to which PM Turnbull is a poster child for the ambitious and hard-working voters known as the “aspirationals”.
Appointment of Brough
Our new PM may well have become wealthy by making wise decisions, but as we have seen before, he can be particularly unwise when it comes to judging the character of others.
The Godwin Grech saga is a long time ago, and it may not be fair to measure the PM’s competency by the poor judgement he exercised at the time. But Grech has inevitably become a handy stick with which to beat the PM since he appointed Mal Brough, the man accused of being a co-conspirator in the Slipper saga, to the highest ranks of the Turnbull ministry.
Until the police finalise their investigation of Brough’s involvement in Slipper’s downfall, he remains a huge potential liability for Turnbull.
Like PM Abbott before him, Turnbull risks losing public credibility by standing by a discredited colleague. However, the cost of not doing so is to cause further instability within the Government’s ranks.