Parliament federal election
(Image: AAP/Mick Tsikas)

Who would be the best politician in a political system that is manifestly broken?

Australians don’t trust their government. They are losing faith in democracy itself. We live in a police state in which whistleblowers who reveal government crimes, sources that embarrass the powerful, and journalists who report on them are raided by police goons and prosecuted, under a climate-denialist government that threatens to ban criticism of fossil fuel companies, with a parliament where the opposition is in a funk, still stunned that it lost an unloseable election.

The economy is floundering while prominent ministers are embroiled in scandals that illustrate the dearth of any federal integrity body worth tuppence. And that’s just the lowlights reel.

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Honourable mentions

All things being equal, Scott Morrison would be politician of the year, to the undoubted fury of Crikey readers who mistake the award for some sort of endorsement of the winner’s political tactics or policies.

Morrison pulled off an astonishing election win, slogging away on the campaign trail when even many of his own party had given up. “How good is Australia” should be up there with Keating’s “this is the sweetest victory of all” in political folklore. His content-free campaign, opportunistic attacks on sound Labor policy and carefully-confected persona might have rubbed the policy wonks the wrong way, but look at the scoreboard — a victory that defied pretty much the entire political class and commentariat, including the pollsters.

But that political skill has been unmatched in any way by policy. For all the talk about the authority that his victory lent him, Morrison has failed to use any of it. His government is incapable of devising an effective energy policy, refuses to even contemplate meaningful action on climate, and is resolutely do-nothing on an economy that has stagnated to the verge of recession.

His sole policy ventures have been on pissant culture wars like religious discrimination — more a reflection of Morrison’s own personal hang-ups about LGBTIQ people than any genuine policy issue — demonising unions and threatening critics of fossil fuel companies.

This has led to frustration not merely from progressive critics but from business, which has been crying out for stimulus, economic reform, and a resolution on climate and energy for months to no avail.

Morrison is a clever politician but a policy flake, a non-leader quick with a smirk and some mugging for the cameras but frozen in ideological amber where it counts. Accordingly, the prime minister only merits an honourable mention.

Also up for an honourable mention is serial member of these end-of-year lists: Mathias Cormann. Putting aside the argument about the need for economic stimulus, Cormann has been our most successful finance minister.

Yes, the government has benefited from iron ore tax revenue, and relied on income tax bracket creep, but the return to budget surplus this year also required spending discipline and Cormann has delivered that in spades, pulling spending below 25% of GDP for what will, at the end of this financial year, be four years running.

It’s a tough and thankless job, and Cormann has combined it with leadership in the Senate, where he has delivered legislative wins more often than not with a motley, often completely unpredictable crossbench. In the year Australia returns to surplus for the first time since the Howard years, Cormann’s work over the last six years deserves recognition.

Politician of the year

But politician of the year goes to someone who illustrates that you can be electorally successful while remaining ethical and speaking out on issues that major parties are too terrified to talk about.

Independent MP Andrew Wilkie has increased his majority in the seat of what is now called Clark at every election since entering parliament in 2010. Earlier this year, in an election in which the major parties and the Greens flatlined or went backwards, Wilkie boosted his vote to over 72% on a two-party-preferred basis and won without needing preferences for the first time.

Wilkie has done something else that the major parties are unable to do: speak up on Australia’s greatest political scandal — the illegal bugging of the Timor-Leste cabinet by the Howard government, its ensuing cover-up by both sides of politics and the harassment and prosecution of Witness K and Bernard Collaery. Wilkie revealed the vexatious prosecution of K and Collaery by Attorney-General Christian Porter last year and has continued to talk about it — something only one major party federal MP, Labor’s Graham Perrett, has been prepared to do.

He has led calls for Julian Assange to be returned to Australia as the United States tries to extradite and imprison Assange for journalism. He has led the political response to the AFP’s attempts to deter and intimidate whistleblowers and journalists and nailed the hypocrisy of a government that happily leaks sensitive information to its media mates but deploys the full array of state power against those who might embarrass it.

At a time when the government — using powers that the opposition has readily supported — is engaged in an all-out war on whistleblowers, Wilkie has been a determined foe and articulate critic of what he compares to a police state.

Sadly, in coming years, we’ll need many more like him.

Who would you give the trophy to? Did we miss any stand-out pollies? Let us know your thoughts by writing to boss@crikey.com.au. Please include your full name if you would like to be considered for publication. 

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief
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