IT was telling the West Australian premier Colin Barnett talked about the “it’s time” factor as he was bundled out of office in Australia’s biggest state last week.
Barnett’s acknowledgement that voters were looking for a change and that leaders could only expect to hold the people’s attention for so long came from a premier of two terms – hardly an eternity in Australian political history.
But two terms is one term more than most of the nation’s modern political leaders manage before they are turfed out – either by their voters or by their own colleagues.
Barnett’s ejection leaves South Australia’s Jay Weatherill, who was sworn in to the top job in October 2011, as the nation’s longest-serving political leader – and he holds that title now by a fair margin.
In NSW, during a period in which the Coalition has maintained a healthy majority in the parliament and generally strong public support, there have been three premiers in three years.
In Victoria, the Coalition’s single term in office, after a long stretch of Labor rule, produced two premiers. The second of those two premiers was defeated by Labor’s Daniel Andrews in 2014.
Queensland’s Campbell Newman lasted one term. The Northern Territory had two chief ministers during one chaotic, comedic term – and almost a third during a poorly executed challenge from Willem Westra van Holthe.
And, federally, Labor’s Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years have been replaced by the Abbott-Turnbull years, with no guarantee that a second Abbott term won’t be added to make the symmetry complete.
So what’s the problem? Is it the fault of the pollies or the people?
It’s hard to say. But the trend seems to be accelerating.
Barnett’s eight years at the top would have seemed unremarkable in the Australia of John Howard, Bob Carr or Peter Beattie.
But it seems an aberration in the Australia of 2017, where a succession of poor opinion polls can start the internal rumblings (that can be very hard to stop) and where politicians have to work harder and harder to get their message across to a public that has plenty of other things it would prefer to think about.
Maybe one term is the new normal for those heading the nation’s governments.
And if it is, then the era of the big decisions might also be coming to an end.