Australia’s Baby Boomers cut their teeth on flourishing rivalries against a backdrop of dreams and aspirations, achievements being carved out to give greater hope and foundations for success in future generations.
Rivalries that were signposts on a colourful canvas encapsulating ideas, action and inclusiveness defining a modern nation shaped by societal attitudes handed down by families and communities through the generations and influenced by life and local events.
Colonial parochialism guided many attitudes – Australian Rules football was viewed by most as a superior code to any form of rugby and fuelled the great suburban rivalry between Collingwood and Carlton in Victoria and equivalents in South Australia and Western Australia.
Brand loyalty was cemented with the arrival of Australia’s own motorcar after World War Two when you soon became either a Holden or Ford family. During the pop music revolution of the 1970s, you were a devoted fan of Keith Lamb’s Hush or Daryl Braithwaite’s Sherbet. There was no middle ground.
And politically, the ideological separation had been given clarity after the great Labor Split of the 1950s when religious and union leaders clashed, shattering cohesion within the ALP that would linger for a generation.
Those same Baby Boomers are now heading into the age of retirement, seemingly disillusioned with wars based on almost-forgotten rivalries but still yearning for visionary hope they can embrace for their children and grandchildren.
They have seen the demise of car manufacturing in Australia and the loss of career prospects that icons of automotive and other Australia industry created for decades, Carlton is such a consistently poor pale and faded shade of its former glory that its crowds are among the lowest in the AFL competition, the next great thing in Australian popular music now only comes along at the behest of judges in Eurovision. Cricket rivalry once defined as Australia against England has almost evaporated and we struggle to win a non-test version of the game under the Duckworth Lewis method.
And there are compelling indications that the great rivalry of Australian politics – Liberal versus Labor for just over a century – is headed in the same direction, with such powering momentum it may prove unstoppable.
The Victorian election on Saturday – albeit conducted over two weeks to accommodate the modern notion that convenience voting must be on a par with online shopping and fast food – has delivered the Liberals with their worst result in history.
Labor may not eclipse the numerical seat results of the 2002 rout it handed Robert Doyle and the Liberals. But Premier Daniel Andrews has comprehensively landed potentially fatal wounds deep into Liberal metropolitan heartland – once-safe Liberal seats have fallen or only will be retained by perilously thin margins.
The story is the same in regional and rural seats. The Liberals have struggled for two decades for a presence in Geelong, Bendigo and Ballarat at state and federal level where some margins are likely to be above 20 per cent for Labor after Saturday on the back of poorly-resourced Liberal campaigns, absence of tangible commitments to provide improved services in the regional capitals and lacklustre candidates where the party line was placed on a higher plane than being a community advocate. The straightjacketed control of country candidates continues what has become institutionalised rejection of local ideas and action.
The increasing inability of non-Labor parties to connect with country communities was demonstrated in this election when the festering backlash filtered from the big cities down to the next tier of cities – Wodonga, Wangaratta, Mildura, Warrnambool and confirmation that the loss to independent Suzanna Sheed in 2014 was no accident.
The survivors, winners and big-impact candidates in these seats were local women, continuing a trend that stretches back to the 1980s when the Liberal Party was at the forefront of pre-selecting hard-working women in regional seats to be won, a mantle assumed this century by the National Party in many areas of the state. No gender wars, no quotas for the country-based party.
The fallout will be ugly … it started within minutes of polling booths closing on Saturday evening. MPs past and present were quick to point bloodied fingers at the Liberal Party organisational wing for Saturday’s election debacle, conveniently hoping to deflect attention from the four years when they were the elected, public face of Victoria’s alternative government with the dual responsibility for pursuing government accountability and researching, developing and promoting policies to engage and excite voters in the competition of ideas. That they failed so dismally over such a long period demonstrates betrayal of the democratic principles many expect will guide every MP.
One-time Liberal regional candidate Megan Purcell went further on social media than former premier Jeff Kennett who used an election night TV spot to call for a resignation by midnight from Victorian president Michael Kroger.
Purcell that wrote she had spent three weeks in campaign headquarters pulled out the emotive gender card on why things went so wrong:
A ‘senior leadership team’ (of seven men) with egos as big as houses but some of them have not necessarily the brains to match. A focus on being too tricky and just not bloody hard-working enough, whilst others were treated dismissively and disrespectfully. For goodness sake fellas surely it’s time to give us ladies a go as we can’t possibly stuff it up any worse than you lot!!?”
The Liberal heartland is haemorrhaging like never before. A once-mighty party faces a mammoth struggle to find visionary relevance with voters let alone cohesion and responsibility of own members in the backrooms and in the Parliament.
Labor versus Liberal may have been another great Australian rivalry buried by Saturday’s Victorian election … unlikely to return in the life of Baby Boomers.
Chris Earl is a rural and regional consultant.
Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.