[Published 23 May at Independent Australia.]
Take a bow, mainstream media. Your coverage was relentlessly superficial, your selection and commentary heavily biased. You studiously ignored the past six years’ record of train wrecks, extremism, incompetence, brutality and internal warring. You portrayed a one man band, a slick sloganeer, as a viable political party and the most riven, vicious and incompetent rabble since Federation has clung to power.
It is hardly a triumph, regaining minority government or the slimmest majority. The fact that the commentariat is portraying Scott Morrison as some kind of legendary hero is a measure of how low expectations for the Coalition have been, and how desperate they are to keep their man in power.
Labor offered a grab-bag of policies, some good, some misguided and one atrocious (subsidising gas extraction in the NT). It tried to be all things to all people and the result was incoherence and contradictions. It made itself a target but there was no vision to bring people along. Then the distortions and outright lies of the Coalition, faithfully peddled by the media, pulled Labor’s campaign apart.
Evidently almost no-one foresaw a Labor loss, not even Scott Morrison, who is referring to it as a miracle. But it was clear the election was far closer than it ought to have been. Had the polls been accurate, Labor would presumably have formed government but the Coalition would still have been restored to a legitimacy it does not deserve on its record.
Labor’s long-standing strategy of hunting the middle ground has a fatal weakness. The more it makes itself Coalition-lite the less its margin over the Coalition can be, and the more vulnerable it is to mistakes and stumbles. John Howard only scraped back in 1998 and 2001. Had Labor presented its own vision, its own framing of the future, it ought to have beaten Howard handily.
Labor’s core problem is that it abandoned its origins in 1983. Paul Keating likes to claim to have been the ‘radical centre’ but that is rubbish. He and Hawke implemented the neoliberal agenda, which was certainly radical, but very right-wing. There seems to be no-one in the Parliamentary Labor Party who understands the need to break right away from neoliberalism, which clearly doesn’t work, and get back to the party’s roots. So it stumbles along, always on the back foot, always captive to the Coalition’s framing.
The Greens get no credit here either. This was supposed to be the climate change election, but that did not show in the polls and it has not shown in the vote. The Greens’ lower-house vote is essentially unchanged from the last election.
The Greens position themselves as a fringe party. Their strategy seems to be to wait for demographic change and to slowly pick off seats. Perhaps they’ll form government in 150 years’ time. They seem quite unwilling to step up to the main game and capitalise on many voters’ growing desire for major change, especially serious action on global warming.
Richard di Natale is a nice bloke but on his watch the Greens have descended into internal warfare and they are failing to catch the wave. They need new leadership and only Adam Bandt shows any sign of having the gumption to give it to them.
Bob Brown has some responsibility too for his rather bizarre decision to lead a ‘Stop Adani’ caravan into the heart of reactionary Queensland. One has to wonder if he kicked the anti-southerner vote up a few points and nailed Labor’s coffin.
GetUp! also stumbled. In the past they seemed never to put a foot wrong, but this time their leader displayed elementary ignorance of Coalition roles and put out an un-funny and offensive video attempting to parody Tony Abbott. It backfired and they quickly withdrew it. They also need new leadership.
It remains to be seen how long a Morrison Government can last. Barnaby is a loose cannon who’s happy to pump the rivers dry. Peter Dutton has increased his vote and will lust after Morrison’s position. Dutton is the most dangerous man in Australia, already well along the path of turning us into a police surveillance state. He may be his own worst enemy, as stories are rife of incompetence and dysfunction in his monster Home Affairs department, but we must never underestimate the power of fear.
Otherwise the Coalition remains riven with deep ideological and personality conflicts. One can only hope it implodes before more deep damage is done to our faltering democracy, but don’t hold your breath.
There is another path, and it’s already being shown to us. You can’t recognise the next paradigm from within the old one, so you have to be willing to contemplate some strange possibilities – like stepping away from all the parties. More on that next.