Features Australia

Counter-factual history

Five ‘sliding doors’ elections

10 April 2021

9:00 AM

10 April 2021

9:00 AM

Go back a decade and a half and Australia had basically no Commonwealth government debt.  We had the democratic world’s cheapest electricity. The Howard government at least made nods in the direction of fighting back against the Left’s total dominance of the ABC and its overwhelming capture of the universities. Military procurement was focused on, you know, helping the military not on trying to win one or two seats in South Australia. Claiming to be offended did not count as a winning political argument. And cancel culture, Big Tech censorship and the implicit racism lying behind claims of ‘structural racism’ or ‘white privilege’ had yet to rear their ugly heads.

Fast forward only 750 weeks and none of that is obviously the case any more. Team Morrison has spent like socialists during the pandemic. It won’t fight on freedom-related issues. It appeases the Left. At best it appoints centrists to key jobs, who then move left. Think of its ABC appointments; its Human Rights Commission appointments; its initial High Court appointments; its AAT appointments. And you’d be a creative writing genius if you could plausibly characterise Mr Morrison’s treatment of Dyson Heydon, those SAS soldiers, Ms Holgate or even his own Cabinet colleague Christian Porter as exemplifying the presumption of innocence.

If only some of our recent elections had gone slightly differently. Let’s imagine, shall we, just for a bit? Start with the 2007 Rudd win over Howard. In retrospect, it’s clear that was a disastrous outcome that started a decade and a half of no reforms, of internecine internal party warfare (Labor and the Libs), of a Senate too big for its unrepresentative boots, and which ultimately gave us today a significantly less talented, principled and effective political class. Who remembers that the Australian came out for Rudd? How many voters do you think bought Kevin ‘07s line about being fiscally conservative? Do you reckon they want that vote back? Remember the wretched self-congratulatory, preening, virtue-signalling and bumper sticker moralising of the 2020 Summit (which we now know got absolutely nothing right). So that’s counter-factual election number one that many of us would like a ‘do-over’ on. If only. If only.

Then there was the razor-thin 2010 election result, the one when the independents who’d sold themselves as true conservatives then stiffed their voters and sided with the lefties. This was the ‘I promise there’ll be no carbon tax’ Gillard win that led to what – other than a carbon tax? And what level of Dante’s Inferno would the voters in Messrs Windsor’s and Oakeshott’s constituencies think best suited these two men? Had Abbott been put in power, as these two men had given every indication to voters was what they were voting for, it would have been a stunning underdog win.

My bet? Even the turncoats in Abbott’s own party wouldn’t have been able to knife him. And maybe Tony, with a budget less blown-out than in 2013 and having made no stupid last second election promises as he did three years later, would have been a bit braver.

Maybe he’d have gone to the wall to repeal s.18C.

Here’s my next counter-factual election that I’d revisit. Remember the post-defenestration of Abbott double dissolution election that Turnbull called in 2016? That was the election campaign that Mr Turnbull opted to spend largely at home, hanging out with his bossom buddy Narcissus. He and the Libs scraped back in with a tiny majority, so tiny that the Libs couldn’t go to the joint sitting after this double dissolution election. Before that election, in these very pages, I signalled I’d be preferencing Labor over the Libs for my first ever time in an Australian election. I thought we’d all be better off if the Libs lost, cleaned house, and decided what they did and didn’t believe in. With Turnbull as leader there wasn’t room for a Labor government to be much more left. But when the Dutton-initiated knifing of Malcolm happened a couple of years later that didn’t just let all of us see post PM Turnbull’s true colours, it made my pre-2016 election analysis look faulty. With Morrison now as PM we Lib supporters looked to be twice lucky.  We’d avoided a Labor Shorten government. And we now had a Liberal PM who would be noticeably more conservative than Turnbull. That’s what it looked like, right?

Wrong. Since the Morrison who had a hand in defenestrating both Abbott and Turnbull became PM in August of 2018 what can we say of his government’s performance? Did Scott shift to the right?  Did he put Abbott back in Cabinet? End a decade of drift and aim to accomplish something for his base and make some conservative appointments? Do anything other than prove he’s a better retail politician than Shorten? Do anything we’ll look back on in 15 years as a worthy achievement, other than winning the 2019 election? No, no, no, no and no.

Yes, some readers will be tempted to say ‘well this Morrison Coalition government did a splendid job handling this pandemic’. After all, compared to most of Europe and to the US we’ve had very few Covid deaths. And that’s undeniable.

But that assumes we’d have had a lot more deaths if all we’d done (as I say we should have) was to close our external borders to China early on and then acted like Sweden, Taiwan, Florida or South Dakota – looked after the old and vulnerable, given regular advice and then left everyone to get on with his or her life without the most heavy-handed, civil liberties and small business destroying lockdowns of the past two centuries. I am a lockdown sceptic for all the reasons I and others have set out in these pages. The numbers and data are with us more and more each day. Defenders of the Team Morrison record need us to be badly wrong to defend this Lib government’s profligacy and zero concern for freedom record.

Time will tell my friends. Right now the pandemic response is literally the only candidate going as far as a noteworthy accomplishment of Team Morrison or indeed of any Coalition PM since Abbott stopped the boats.

If the pandemic response was indeed a screw- up then we’d all certainly have been better off had Shorten won back in 2016.  If so we’d by now have a Liberal party that believes in something; that has some core attachment to freedom and to the presumption of innocence; that would have left the blowing up of the budget to Labor; that would actually fight the culture wars; and that would be a lot more attractive party to vote for in 2022 than it currently looks like being.

Five elections since 2007 and a lot of time travelling in the wrong direction.  For us voters and for the Liberal party.

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