Time to endure


In Sandringham, on Saturday I walked past a bottleshop with a chalked sign outside proclaiming that if the LNP won the election the full purchase price of anything bought today would be refunded. At first, I took it as a rusted on Lib supporter, but as I reflected further I figured it was just a commercially savvy owner trying to spur sales. That’s how confident he was the Libs would be out of government. Well, he was wrong, as was just about everyone else, including me.

It was a horror show watching the count unfold. Right from the start the pundits were bewildered. For years Labor had been in front in the polls. Leading into election day they were ahead 51-49, and even the exit polls conducted on the day were showing a 52-48 advantage. But as the numbers came through they were different from that.

There’s going to be a lot written about this, and already has been. In the wash-up Queensland pretty well cost Labor the election – it was a disaster. Not only did they fail to pick up seats there, but they also lost seats they’d held. A couple more seats lost in Tassie were unexpected, and while Victoria swung to the ALP it was smaller than expected and didn’t have the cut through it might have.

Right now the coalition is poised to just get a majority, maybe. As a passionate advocate for change, this has been a killer for me, the only positive being that finally Tony Abbott is out of the parliament.

It’s hard to explain how devastating this was for me on Saturday night. It was like having served a prison sentence on the day I was finally to be released they said, no, sorry, you’ve got to serve another three years. I had serious concerns about my mental health. I didn’t want to get out of bed yesterday. I didn’t want to come to work today. I didn’t want to face the world.

I was disappointed in the result, naturally, but it went beyond that. I’d proclaimed this the most important election for many years because it was a contest between ideas and no ideas – and no ideas won. In itself that was depressing, but the message from that was clear – if you want to win an election its best to present a small target and go negative, as the LNP did. They gt elected on a platform of no policies and lies. It worked, and it shouldn’t, and the probability is that it will condemn us to mean spirited election campaigns for years to come.

On top of that, it hit me thinking about all the good things that won’t happen now. All the good policies that were killed off. I’d have thought climate policy would have been enough to swing the election, but inexplicably wasn’t. We won’t get the federal ICAC now either, not with any teeth.

Finally, and most devastatingly, I felt betrayed by the Australian people. For years I’ve thought and believed the best of them. When they’ve been called racist or disinterested I’ve said no, that’s just a few bad apples spoiling it for the rest of us. This election was lost because of self-interest and ignorance. People were either selfish or uninterested or ignorant. This was like a gut punch to me. I wanted to think Australians’ were better than that, but I was wrong. I don’t know if I will ever really recover from that. I know that half of Australia basically voted for the ALP, and most people I know, but I can’t get over this sense of vast disappointment. I don’t think I’ve ever been more disappointed.

Gradually you adjust. In the short term, I’m avoiding politics. I can’t face that smug, shit-eating grin of the buffoon we’ve got for PM. I need to look after myself for a while. Then I have to choose but expect despite the shame I’ll end up doubling down. I can’t give up the fight.

In the meantime, Labor must pick itself up and learn from its mistakes. Shorten has announced he will step down and the leadership seems a choice between Albanese and Plibersek. I think Albo should have been made leader when Shorten was. Had he I expect we’d have a Labor government today (antipathy towards Shorten a big factor in the election). I like Albo, he’s passionate and authentic and smart. But I think his moment has passed. Plibersek is smart and tough, I’d be voting for her. If Wong was in the house of reps I think she would be the best choice, but that’s not an option. A smoky for the future is Jim Chalmers. Maybe it’s time to give him a run – perhaps as deputy.

The other lessons come from the election campaign. I hope Labor aren’t scared off and will stick by their guns. Be bold. Don’t go down the narrow road the Libs have taken. Just do it better.

Better means properly articulating policies better, as Keating and Hawke once did. Bring the electorate with you. Take them on the journey.

The one policy that killed Labor was the franking credits, which the Coalition called a retirement tax. Many people voted against a policy that would have no impact whatsoever on them. They were scared into making a rash decision. Explain it better – it affects only a minority, and then those who are independently wealthy. Sell the benefits – we get $6 billion back into the coffers for schools and roads and hospitals and – hey! – guess what, it’ll pay for your dental care as a senior. But nope.

The other thing that’s riled me is the refusal by Labor to defend themselves against the lies of the Coalition. This has been going on for years, the most egregious being that Labor are bad economic managers which is repeated every campaign. This is a myth that needs to be killed off for the good of the party going forward. The evidence is that Labor are better economic managers, and you only have to point to Hawke/Keating to see excellent economic management. More relevantly perhaps, all the ALP had to do when the Coalition pointed to the deficit Labor created (on the back of the economic stimulus during the GFC) was that since coming into government that the Coalition has doubled it. Go hard, don’t stand for it.

Now I’ll go quiet for a while and lick my wounds.

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A beautiful day for an election


It’s a beautiful day to change the government.

It was bloody cold first thing this morning, as it has been for the last couple of weeks, but the sky was clear and blue and the sun bright and quickly it warmed up.

I had an early appointment to get my hair cut in Sandringham. I chatted with the hairdresser as he snipped away. I’ve been going to the same place for 5-6 years now and we know each other well, but today I discovered he was a Liberal voter. Like many, he confessed he didn’t follow politics and didn’t know much about it, but as “a small business owner” he always voted Liberal.

I drove back to Hampton after and, parking the car, walked up the road to the nearest primary school. Even from a distance, I could smell the democracy sausages being cooked with onions on the side. I was there for that, and no other reason. I waved my hand at the how to vote cards presented to me as I walked the gauntlet. At the sausage stall, I was exuberantly told there was a plethora of choice, I could have anything I wanted for $3. “Democracy in action,” I responded, similarly exuberant.

It’s been a wearying and occasionally dispiriting election campaign, but there’s something about how elections days are done in Australia that is splendid. It’s a tiresome act in many ways, but the democracy sausage has become iconic. Add in the stalls manned by volunteers selling cakes and the like for the local school fund, the banter along the way, and there’s a light-hearted, almost celebratory fizz to the day.

I had an invite out tonight, but tonight is one night I never go out. Any time there’s an election I’m there in front of my TV watching every development. I’m all in. This time around that’s especially true. This is a watershed election. This is the chance to remake Australia – or slide back into the mire. I’m confident we’ll see a change of government.

There’s always the footy on the other channel, just in case.

Don’t mention the war


I remember reading somewhere about Kafka that in all his diaries there’s not a single mention of World War One, which raged beyond the borders towards the last years of his life.

You can speculate as to the reason. Perhaps, as it would appear superficially, he had no interest in it. On the other hand, maybe it infuriated him so that he refused to write about it. Or perhaps his diaries were kept only for his most intimate thoughts.

Whatever the reason, I sympathise. I’ve studiously avoided comment on the federal politics, and the pending election, though it’s forever in my mind. No matter how many times I swear off it I can’t help but be a politically committed character. I eat it up, and sometimes it eats me up. I’m into economics and generally I’m fascinated by the political process. On top of that I’m passionate about getting the best deal for Australians. I get frustrated and infuriated by the basic and deeply imbued ineptitude of recent governments. More recently ineptitude has tended towards dodgy dealings, if not outright corruption.

I need and want change desperately, but if I haven’t written about it it’s because I can’t bring myself to put into words the tangled thoughts and sheer passion I feel. I’ve chosen to keep it separate, as I expect Kafka did. I can’t keep silent forever though.

The election is on May 18. Labor are poised to win, which will be a blessed relief. In recent years it’s been the case that you’re more likely to vote against one mob than you are to vote for the other. This time I’ll very definitely be voting against the incompetent and spiteful Morrison government, but equally I’ll be voting for the Shorten alternative.

To Morrison first. I’ve long held that he is a blathering fool and the election campaign has done nothing to dissuade me from that view. He holds to Pentecostal teachings but – like so many of the self-proclaimed devout – is a moral vacuum. His priority first and foremost is to secure his political future, by any means available, including outright lies. Everything is secondary to that, including the good of the people he governs for. It explains the lack of political substance or vision and the repetition of old tropes designed to incite fear and cause division.

It’s an interesting question who I hold in more contempt, Tony Abbott or Scott Morrison. Abbott has the virtue at least of being an honest fool. He had an ideology that he held to, bereft as it was. Morrison has no other ideology than to be re-elected. He’s as slippery as an eel. He believes in nothing but his own survival and everything is fodder for that. You could make a strong argument that makes him more despicable than Abbott. Both are shallow vessels. Unfortunately, both have led governments short on talent and morality.

I’ve never been a fan of Shorten – he’s capable of back-sliding as well – but he has a talented team behind him, and is a parlaying a policy agenda more sweeping than anything since the Hawke-Keating years. He gets high marks for being bold. As it happens, I’m all in for pretty much he’s advocating as I think it will make Australia both fairer and ultimately more productive. It’s been a long time since I was so excited by a set of policies. Not since the great man himself, Paul Keating.

The two high-profile proposals relate to Franking credits and capital gains tax.

Right now the Australian government pays about $6 billion annually as tax refunds on franked dividends to people – generally self-funded retirees – who have paid no tax in the first instance. In essence they get a refund of something they never expended. Australia is the only country in the world that does this, and it only applies to a small percentage of wealthy individuals who could well do without it. Unfortunately it takes from the government coffers money better spent on schools and hospitals and infrastructure that will benefit all. On multiple levels it’s a rort that has to go.

The proposed change to capital gains means that it can only be claimed on investment on new dwellings. To my mind this closes a loophole and encourages proper economic activity by encouraging investment in construction, rather than currently the ring-a-ring-a-rosy of investment in existing dwellings. These allowances should be of benefit of all, not just those who choose to invest. Right now it’s money for nothing. In the future it’ll still be free money, but out of it the economy will benefit in new construction, jobs, and economic activity.

Outside of that there are some great initiatives such as properly subsidising childcare. Right now the costs of childcare are so crippling, and workers underpaid, that it’s easier for many to be stay home parents than being at work. This will enable them to be gainfully employed and the economy as a whole will benefit. Dumping franking credits allows for this.

On top of that treatment for cancer will now also be free, and Medicare extended to include dentistry for pensioners – an obvious, but overdue, change.

Perhaps the biggest and most critical difference between the parties relates to climate change and the policies to mitigate it. The LNP, beholden to lobbyists and corporate donations, are stuck in a fossil fuels zone. They’ve blocked or reversed all initiatives to encourage alternative energy options. This is the big killer for the government, not that they really understand. Besides actually promising to do something about it, Labor are advocating for electric vehicles and schools with their own power generation.

This election the Labor party has finally become the progressive party it was when Hawke and Keating changed Australia for the better. We can’t afford for them to lose. And this is the last I’ll write on this until after the election.

Burning zeppelins


Watching Brexit play out is like watching a replay of the Hindenburg catch alight and the flames slowly engulfing it. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen that footage, but it’s iconic, and Brexit looks just like it. From a small spark the whole thing gradually becomes ablaze, crashing to earth an inferno from which little survives.

There’s a couple of months before it becomes official, unless the British government either asks for a stay of execution, and/or calls another referendum. As it stands it’s a shambolic mess with no-one really knowing what’s going on, and no-one who can agree what they want, even among the Brexiteers.

I have to admit watching on with wry fascination. It could hardly be messier or more confused. Though Theresa May is the architect of much of this mess I’ve developed a grudging admiration for her bulldog spirit. She’s on record as a remainer, but true to the result of the referendum ploughs on in the face of discord and abuse, the intransigence of parliament and an obstinate EU, she persists seeking a solution.

It would be clearer and easier if the divide between those who want to leave and those who want to remain was clearer, but half the Conservatives want to leave, some fanatically, and Corbyn on the Labor side has come out in support of Brexit to, though most in his party are opposed to it, because that’s what the people voted for. Then there’s the people themselves. There’s much talk that many have changed their mind when confronted with the facts of Brexit, but the fact is there are increasing protests by those who support it.

It’s the hope of the remainers that a second referendum will be called, and while I understand that I have problems with it too. They voted. There’s many an election here I’d have liked recalled, but just because you don’t like the result you can’t ask for a re-vote. I mean, that’s not what democracy is. And if, say, they did call a second referendum then that’s a can of worms that shouldn’t be opened. It basically discounts the votes of everyone who voted exit and there’d be blood on the streets, I’m sure.

Either way this is a divisive situation. I think the best option is to seek an extension and hope in the time available to find an agreeable solution – whatever that is. I’m not sure if another couple of years will settle things down, and the uncertainty may lead to greater problems. As someone who things the very notion of Brexit is ridiculous this looks like a lose-lose situation.

It really is funny if you’re so involved. Who knows, May might just pull a rabbit out of the hat. Otherwise, this Hindenburg is going down.

The smarter state


I remember the last state election I was staying in Rosebud. I voted there and in the evening my entertainment was watching the election broadcast. By coincidence I was once more in Rosebud over the weekend when the latest election took place.

I was busy out and about through the day but caught up with latest reports and results as they filtered in as I sat down for dinner. Very early on it was a clear that Labor where going to bolt it in. As it turned out that was spot on. The Libs in Victoria have been decimated and Daniel Andrews and his government given a ringing endorsement. It’s well deserved.

I’m a big fan of Daniel Andrews. I was a sceptic when he took on the role of Labor leader but I’m a convert. As premier he’s done what few of his predecessors have managed to do. He’s set out an agenda and delivered on it. It’s been a bold, innovative agenda too – removing level crossings, starting on the much mooted but forever delayed metro tunnel, he’s brought in assisted dying legislation, the safe injection room in Richmond, has championed safe schools and initiated a ground-breaking inquiry into domestic violence – among many other things.

Andrews has made things happen and my admiration on that front is shared by many Victorians. That’s a big reason he got so many votes on Saturday: he does what he says he will do, and he does a lot.

That’s not the only reason he go re-elected. The Libs, both federally and at state level played into his hands.

The rank dysfunction federally, the policy confusion, the stupid booting of Turnbull, along with an embarrassingly buffoonish PM don’t go down well in Victoria.

At state level Matthew Guy is a uncharismatic, slightly shifty character it’s hard to warm too. He might have had a chance, however, but for the ridiculous policy direction and campaigning.

Their slogan for the campaign was ‘Getting back in control’. I guess they’re trying to make a point, but fact is most Victorians would have laughed at the idea that things weren’t in control. The corollary of this slogan was law and order.

Law and order is a classic election theme, especially for the conservative side of politics. The problem in this case is that the scare tactics so much in play over the last twenty years have worn thin. It’s taken a while, but people are beginning to see them for what they are – hysterical attempts to inflame outrage and fear. Most of us have become cynical, if not disgusted, by the hyperbolic attempts to politicise what are matters of humanity.

It might work in Queensland, but there’s no chance in Victoria. Victoria is the most progressive state in the land. Victorians are not prone to knee-jerk reactions and will make their own judgement. Much has been made of this post-election, but I think it’s true. The Liberal tradition here has always been small ‘l’. We are liberal by inclination. With the Liberal party swinging to the unpalatable right a successful Labor party becomes a much more attractive option. Add to that a pretty handy protest vote directed at Canberra there’s no surprise it was a Labor landslide.

What is surprising is how the Libs have been ignorant of this. None of this comes as a surprise to the man on the street. I’ll tell you what’s important – climate change matters and we should be doing more about it, rather than playing politics. Education and transport matters. We’re tired of the demonization of asylum seekers and pity the children marooned offshore, and we’re cynical of the dog whistling regarding Muslims and ethnic groups – the likes of Dutton and Abbott have been disastrous in Victoria.

I expect the Victorian result will be largely replicated come the federal election next year. The Libs show no ability to learn and Morrison is a fool of the highest order. And I expect the lunatic right wing fringe will continue to hold the party to ransom. Reality is they’re too damn stupid to deserve power. I thought Abbott was a shocker, but Morrison comes a close second.

Democratic processes


Did my civic duty early and voted today in the Victorian state election. Election day is not till the 24th, but there’s always a rush on the day, besides, I’ll be away on a golf weekend. Good to get it out of the way, and an easy decision too – one of the candidates gets things done, the other is a ratbag.

As usual, there were people handing out flyers with earnest persistence. I escaped the clutches of an eager Socialist asking if I knew about the “upper house deals being done.” I told her I knew all about it – a slight fib, I know some, but the truth is I know all I want to know about it.

I stood in line and as always refused every bit of electioneering guff with a polite no thank-you. It’s a waste of paper and I always know who I’m voting for regardless. It’s fascinating nonetheless. The unassuming Labor types, a grim-looking woman telling us it was time to ‘take back control’, another earnest and passionate Socialist I’d happily share a bottle with, and a lovely middle-aged woman who seemed to epitomise the Greens.

It took me back to a time – many years ago – when I was one of them. I’ve written about this before, so will keep it brief. I was a scrutineer for the republican movement for the referendum in 1999. It was an interesting and unexpected experience – I became ‘it’ because there was no-one else there to do it. I set up that morning stringing our banners up early on a cold winters morning and ahead of our monarchist opponents who arrived after I did. Take that royalist scum, I thought.

On this occasion, the royalist scum happened to be a lovely, reasonable man who’d had the foresight to bring a thermos of hot coffee with him. When he offered me a cup midway through the morning I hesitated, wondering if I would compromise my political integrity if I accepted it. I was easily bought it seems, and that little episode has informed much of my political thinking ever since. We demonise our opponents when they’re in the abstract. Face to face we realise often they are reasonable people with a view a little different from our own. I guess it’s about respect, ultimately. As it happened this guy was not against the republic per se, just against the model being voted on. That’s all down to John Howard, a man I have no respect for.

Funnily enough this week I had a passing thought that I would nominate as an independent senator prior to the next federal election. It wasn’t entirely random, I’ve thought about it occasionally in recent times – and why not? I’m informed, I’m informed and I’m educated – which is more than can be said for much of the riff-raff being voted I these days. I’d like to make a difference.

Even if I did nominate it’s a million to one against being voted in, but I’ve got a lot better chance in the Senate than in the house of reps. It’s unlikely I’ll do it, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Tide is turning


Many years ago I lived in the Wentworth electorate. It’s a wealthy part of the world but is also very pretty. I lived in Watsons Bay, just about on the tip of South Head. Watsons Bay has a quaint appeal, a bit sleepier than the more glitzy suburbs of Vaucluse and Double Bay down the road on the 325 bus.

I loved living in Watsons Bay, so much so that most visits to Sydney now include a visit there to sit in the beer garden of the pub, or walk along Gibsons Beach, as so often I did back in the day.

Wentworth is in all the news today because yesterday, and for the first time, someone other than a Liberal MP was voted into federal parliament. This is a notable moment in Australian politics and marks – I hope – a turning point. Up till yesterday, Wentworth was the safest of blue ribbon Liberal seats, and it took a swing of historic proportions to upset that. Hopefully, it is a harbinger of things to come.

As I do with most notable elections I set myself to watch the developments last night from the comfort of my couch. By little after 7 it was all over – the pundits declared the seat for Kerryn Phelps, the Independent, and I switched over to watch the A-League.

The result last night was the bitter pay-off for the nasty and underhand shenanigans that led to Malcolm Turnbull, the prime minister and Wentworth incumbent, being deposed. He was a popular member in an electorate better educated than most, and more progressive than the usual Liberal seat. He embodied their small l liberal beliefs, and they were angry.

The whole thing is symptomatic of an utterly dysfunctional Liberal party. They trailed in the polls when Turnbull was in charge, but he was the more favoured leader. Many in the electorate had been disappointed by his performance but retained a belief that he shared similar values. He was the acceptable face of an increasingly toxic coalition. That small bonus became a negative once he was ousted and, after a farcical few days, the utter buffoon Morrison became PM.

Since Turnbull was ousted Labor have increased their lead in the polls. A safe seat has had an unnecessary by-election and been lost that would have been easily held otherwise, resulting now in a hung parliament. An urbane and intelligent leader has been replaced by a hectoring buffoon so generally incompetent that you have to question how he ever made it so far. (I can see him running the local newsagency, but that’s his limit.) Policy making is on the run, reactive to events and polls and primarily concerned with shoring up crumbling support – even so, it is so badly misjudged in intent and executed so poorly that it leads to contempt and ridicule.

This is the big takeaway out of this result. The people of Wentworth have protested. They’re unhappy with what happened with Malcolm, but they’re also sick and tired of a shambolic government that doesn’t represent their interests. Big issues for the electorate were climate change and the refugees on Nauru, issues the Liberal party is disdainful of.

This is why I think the worm may have turned, though it’s taken much longer than it should have. The government has been allowed to get away with general inaction on these topics till now. News Corp has had their back and much of the rest of the media has been pliable (they don’t break news any more, they report it only after it has finally broken). Lobbyists and other interested parties have been in the ears of government ministers and plying the party with donations. And, of course, the RWNJ wing of the party has been vocal and generally destructive in support of retrograde policies. More broadly, there seems to be a mistaken belief inside the party that their so-called ‘base’ is on board with their policies.

Let me break the news. Most Australians believe climate change is real and want some action. Many of us have for years called for asylum seekers to be treated more humanely. The base they allude to is no more than the raucous jeering of conservative ratbags on the fringe of the society, given a megaphone by Rupert Murdoch’s press. This is not Australia. This, certainly, is not Wentworth. This is now, and if they’re smart enough the libs will realise it – but they won’t, and even if they did the kamikazes on the right would sabotage it regardless. The Libs are dead.

I’ve been wary of saying that, but I feel as if the tide has turned. The overwhelming result yesterday is testament to the impatience of the Australian people. If this can happen in a safe Liberal seat, what lies in store across the land? This genie is now – finally – out of the bottle.

I seriously wonder what will happen to the Liberal party. About 18 months ago I raised the prospect of a complete fracture within the parliamentary party. I still think that is very possible, and potentially inevitable. The ideological schism between the conservatives and moderates is too great and too bitter to go on. I can see the conservative faction breaking off to become a traditional conservative party and aligning themselves generally with the likes of One Nation and Cory Bernardi. They’ll take their inspiration from Trump – and there’s a lot of Trump in recent Morrison edicts – and pursue their hardline agenda.

That will leave the moderate rump of the Liberal party remaining – that’s the party of Fraser, and Menzies before him, and Turnbull if he was still around. It’s the party I would flirt with voting for – economically conservative, socially liberal.

If that was to happen it would have a domino effect. The Labor party would have to re-position themselves, probably slightly more to the left than at present, which wouldn’t be a bad thing.

As you may gather, I’m greatly heartened by the signs. We still have another six months of this government, and anything can happen – but I feel in my heart as if we might just survive the general conservative, reactionary, Trumpian fervour that has engulfed so much of the world. Fingers crossed.