With just a little bit of Aussie bloomin’ luck, the destabilising and destructive approach to the dark art of politics in Australia may have been put to bed in the early hours of Sunday morning when Prime Minister Scott Morrison euphorically claimed a come-from-behind victory in the federal election.
Have no doubt, most Australians had been mere bit players in the nasty drama scripted in Canberra and played out in the parliament and media – mainstream and social – with such blatant advancement by key antagonists of their own agendas that they lost sight of the real game.
It has taken a decade of divisive politics to fully reject the bitterness. One by one, stars of the Canberra melodrama have been dispatched by voters expressing their real intentions for the future of Australia, not blindly following opinion polls, rather their desire for a better national narrative.
Julia Gillard was first the experience rejection at the ballot box but in example of false electoral accounting, was propped up by independents post the 2010 election. Then nemesis Kevin Rudd snatched his old job back before being comprehensively felled by voters. Directing the orchestra in that game of Capital Hill musical chairs for Labor had been Bill Shorten.
The Liberals were making their own overtures for a return to power but firstly had to settle on the best “brand salesman” in a team that struggled without the wisdom, authority and focus of Howard and Peter Costello. It was a throw-back to the 1980s – where the Howard v Peacock internal battles of that era were driven by economic ideology (remember the Wets and the Dries?), the new “battelines” were defined by the arch-conservative stance of Tony Abbott against a more liberal Liberal in Malcom Turnbull – both achieved occupancy in The Lodge, both destroyed the other.
On Saturday, voters passed judgement on the final two players left in the parliament – opposition leader Shorten who knifed two prime ministers and an increasingly isolated Tony Abbott who had destabilised another.
Abbott is now out of parliament, not at a time of his choosing, after 25 years the member for Warringah. Past service and contributions to the nation as a long-time minister and then prime minister, unselfish volunteer efforts as a surf livesaver and firefighter counted for little in a bitter, personal campaign that set the scene for adjudication on Abbott’s entrenched views on life and climate.
Shorten, stepping down as Labor leader after six years but committing to remain in the Parliament (for now), went from frontrunner in opinion polls for almost three ypars to running a campaign framed by old-style union drills that would have made even Bob Hawke blush before downing a pint and confused the electorate as much John Hewson did for the Liberals in 1993.
Leaving the old Parliament too were some other regular players in the shenanigans – Julie Bishop and Christopher Pyne for the Liberals and Wayne Swan. Again, irrespective of their contributions, they were associated with the instability.
It was a campaign where few political parties and some over-zealous foot soldiers will get a good report card – personal abuse and physical attacks on volunteers, dodgy election signage, poor candidate vetting, the financially verbose presence of Clive Palmer, an almost-complete intolerance of anyone with a contrary view.
To his departing credit, Shorten did tell dejected disciples to respect the election result as they booed the outcome nearing the bewitching hour on Saturday night. Sadly, it has yet to be fully heeded with social media posts of such appalling content still flying the flag of democratic intolerance. Wrote one :
We chose to be guided by xenophobia, greed, and stupidity. We all watched as increasingly vocal groups of white supremacists, homophobes, and misogynists rallied together, and we decided to re-elect their preferred major party. I have no kind words for you tonight if you helped this happen. The vulnerable members of society needed us. Our planet needed us. We failed.
Scott Morrison succeeded in uniting the Liberals after a fractious period and achieved the greatest turnaround of political fortunes in Australia for more than a generation.
He has challenges: balancing the aspirations of rural communities that have been ignored and misunderstood by city centric bureaucrats for two long, re-establishing the footprint in major regional centres that has been washed away by the Liberals’ fair-weather approach to those cities and now sees Labor holding seats like Ballarat and Bendigo by double-digit margins, creating and finding common ground in a shared future that embraces and supports all states – bringing Victoria back into the national fold would be a start – and keep working every burning moment for Australia.
The Liberals pulled their heads in when faced with electoral oblivion. For our great democracy to rebound from this excruciating experience, it’s a defining lesson that should compel all Australians to recognise the Age of Bitterness is over.
Chris Earl is a rural and regional consultant.
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