Election day yesterday, and just like every election day I spent last night sitting in front of the TV flicking between channels to catch the latest in election coverage. This was by far one of the more interesting election days to follow.
As I sit here this morning we don’t have a result. It’s more likely than not that Turnbull will be returned as PM, though it might take a deal with one of the independents to make it happen. A Labor victory is still possible, as is a stalemate whereby no party can assume government. Quite extraordinary.
I thought it would be close. The LNP have been favourites all the way through, but when I was asked during the week I said I thought they’d sneak home by a seat or two, but no more. Gut feeling at the time was the so-called Mediscare campaign had some cut through and would impact at the ballot box. On top of that Shorten had campaigned energetically while Malcolm, as is his wont, had looked at times as if he thought he was above it.
The probability is that we won’t know for a week or more who will form government, and deals may need to be made. For the LNP, and Turnbull, it’s a disaster. For Bill Shorten it may be the best possible result. It leaves the ALP poised to pounce next election, and without having the taint of the tough times I think we’re likely to endure. It makes it hard for Turnbull to govern, and to be convincing, which is both good and bad. Good in the sense that it means some of the more contentious policies are unlikely to get through now. Bad in the sense that good government will be hard to achieve.
Last night in the wake of this Turnbull gave an extraordinarily poorly judged speech. He was at pains to appear confident, yet came off at histrionic, even manic. Rather than playing a sensible straight bat to events he chose instead to blame pretty well everyone but himself. It was likely a pitch more to the Liberal party rank and file, keen to shore up his position, than to the Australian people, but it lacked grace.
The reality is that if Malcolm had been the authentic self everyone hoped he would be then he would have romped it in. He’s under threat today because the majority of Australia is disappointed in him. No doubt he’s been put in a difficult position because of the deals he had to make to get the top job. He’s in the pocket of the conservative nutjobs, and I reckon he figured that he would change his tune when properly elected in his own right, and with a mandate to explore his own agenda. It was a reasonable plan, except as it turns out squeaking by (as he probably will) is no-one’s idea of a clear mandate. The irony is he failed to get a mandate to be himself because he lacked the courage to be himself.
Where this leaves Turnbull, and the LNP, is anyone’s guess. He’s talented but flawed, the Hamlet of Australian politics. It may turn out just as bloody as that.
The message from yesterday’s result is that the electorate is weary of mainstream political rhetoric. Independents got a bigger share of the pie than ever before. Unfortunately it means that Pauline Hanson, and One Nation, are back in business, largely thanks to Queensland. It also means that Nick Xenophon and his fledgling party have a voice to.
Like most in Australia I have a lot of time for Nick Xenophon, who appears decent, honest and smart. He sits somewhere in the middle, and I suspect is here to stay. He’s a pragmatic politician who also has genuine belief, which is a good combination. I think many people are drawn to him because he doesn’t belong to one of the party machines, and that for all his pragmatism, lacks the cynical opportunism that characterises so much of our politics today. I’m drawn to him because I can’t believe truly in any of the big parties – but turned away because he’s not yet in a position to make a difference.
The big parties need to ponder this. The primary vote of both the LNP and ALP is shrinking, and even the Greens have stagnated.
Far from being an electoral fail, the result yesterday is proof that the system works, whether you like it or not. This is what Malcolm has to understand: the Australian people have spoken. It’s not their fault you weren’t elected; it’s your fault they didn’t elect you. Perhaps you – the others – should have a listen to what we’re saying. I doubt it though. The superficial message they seem to have heard is that negative campaigning works (true), ignoring the real schism this result has revealed.
Further proof of that is in the senate. Liberal and Labor colluded in their own interests to ‘reform’ the senate to ensure it better represented the electorate. That was the spiel, and it made sense – when independents (like Ricky Muir) get voted in with a fraction of the vote of those who miss out then something was screwy. The real motivation was to keep the senate red and blue, with a smattering of green. It was all about power.
I always vote beneath the line. Like many Australians I was offended by this power grab by the big parties. I was as critical as anyone when Ricky Muir got in, but guess what? He turned into a fine and conscientious senator who represented interests beyond the narrow political agendas of Liberal and Labor.
This is not about Ricky Muir, but about getting a cross-section of views. It’s about democratic process and, as Don Chipp said once, keeping the bastards honest. The result is that after yesterday the major parties power has been further diluted in the senate. It backfired, and it backfired because we’re not so cynical to fall for the neat rhetoric – and because we want to hear other voices.
There’s no point complaining about it boys, this is the world now, and won’t change, unless you do.