Originally published at TheVine, 5 Sept 2013
Look, we can’t all move to New Zealand – but this election might actually be a positive thing…
The nation, September 2013
Dear Fellow Left Wing People,
First up: yes, I know. I feel it too. That desperate confusion, that disappointment, that anger. We’re not a small-minded, petty, terrified people… are we? Really? At a time when we have the planet’s most robust economy we’re going to ignore the fact and sniffily proclaim that we want more, all the while refusing to help desperate people – in comparatively tiny amounts, by international standards – who are so in love with the idea of Australia/not being persecuted that they risk their lives in the hope of enjoying freedoms that most of us take for granted, and some of us actively resent. Voting? That’s a Saturday morning pissed away. Thank you very much, democracy.
But when I think of an Abbott victory, I think the following:
Not good because he’ll be a great leader – we’re about to get our own George W Bush, a man who can’t open his mouth without providing the world with a new malapropism and who is prepared to destroy his country rather than entertain the possibility that his political and economic philosophy is flawed, not to say straight-up mistaken.
Not good because it will be a positive time for anyone who’s not a mining magnate or a media baron. If you’re not wealthy, you’re in for a difficult few years – and if you like things like education, healthcare, environmental protection, workers rights, refugee rights, gender equality or any of that kind of thing, you’re going be getting angrier and angrier.
And that’s what’s good. That’s what we need.
Think about it. Even if Rudd sneaks in on Saturday via some mathematically-improbable fluke, what’s the likely scenario?
We’ll get three years of Labor desperately trying to keep the middle ground – no shift on asylum policy, probably some destructive efforts to get an entirely-symbolic budget surplus – with a probably uncooperative Senate and a stronger opposition leader – my money’s on Joe Hockey – with the weight of the Murdoch press behind them hammering home the message that everything would have been better if you’d just voted a Coalition government in. Rudd will be an ineffectual leader in an even weaker position than Gillard was in, there’ll be another election, a Libslide, and we will welcome another Howard-esque conservative dynasty.
But if Abbott wins?
We already know he can’t open his mouth without saying the exact wrong thing. We already know that he’s terrible on policy, can’t think on his feet and dodges responsibility. At the moment he can largely get away with blaming the government; once he’s Prime Minister, that’s not an option anymore. He will look like what he is: a man of narrow views and narrower knowledge woefully out of his depth.
And look at the Abbott front bench: it’s a viper’s nest. They’re not supporting Abbott because they think he’s an inspiring leader, since he’s demonstrated comprehensively that he’s not: they’ve backed him because the greatest strength they have had against Labor over the last 18 months has been in presenting a united front.
Once they’re in power this bunch of smart, ambitious and shrewd politicians are going to be a lot less forgiving of a leader who’s an obvious and embarrassing liability. Hockey isn’t going to fade back into the benches. Neither is Turnbull. Neither is Bishop. Neither is Morrison. Those squabbles have been sublimated for the time being because they had a common enemy: Labor. Once in power, they’ll have a different common enemy: each other.
Abbott will also almost certainly face a hostile Senate, with Greens and most of the sitting independents already indicating an unwillingness to pass many of his tentpole promises. He’s already implied that he’ll ask for a double dissolution if his agenda is not passed, which means that Labor, the Greens and the minor parties now have a chance to buy themselves another year of campaigning ahead of another election. Don’t worry about winning on Saturday, hopefuls: worry about winning after the Libs implode a bit down the track.
If there’s a double dissolution we will see an ineffective leader throwing a tantrum, and the Australian public are not going to thank him for calling us all back to another Saturday at the polls before we absolutely have to (and incidentally, it’s easier for a Senator to get up in a DD scenario as the quotas are halved. Want to get more independents and small parties clogging up your upper house? Call a double dissolution).
Meanwhile Labor in opposition will be stripped back to the MPs and Senators who’ve kept the faith of their electorates. The embarrassments and the dead wood that have made the last two years so difficult for the party will be gone. And those that are likely to survive – Anthony Albanese, Penny Wong et al – are no fools.
So what do we do for the next three years? We fight. We hold on to every asinine headline in the Murdoch press this week, and we use it as a stick to beat them with when the Coalition fail to deliver. We stop bitching on Twitter and start campaigning for the progressive causes we support (hell, it’s an early summer, the weather’s lovely for marching). We give Labor an incentive to move back to the left, because there are enough of us to be worth listening to.
But most importantly, as those depressing numbers come in on Saturday night, we remember that there is one great final secret about the Left, and it is this: in the long run, we always win.
Change never comes as quickly as we want it to, and it’s often in a frustrating two-steps-forward-one-step-back waltz rather than a decisive sprint, but look at the Australia of 2013 compared with ten years back. Or twenty years back. Or forty. There are always new battles to fight, and specific issues like asylum seeker policy or workplace rights or interventions in remote indigenous communities have seen some humiliating retreats in recent times, but eventually things progress.
The Coalition wasn’t at all interested in carbon schemes or marriage equality under Howard; now they know that they have to at least acknowledge these issues, if only to stall movement on them – and stalling only works for so long. These changes are often slow and incremental so we can be forgiven for not noticing at the time, but when you look at the bigger picture it’s clear: Australia progresses. Consensus takes time but ultimately we’re going to win. We always do.
But in the short term we need to stop being lazy, we need to stop being complacent, and we need to start working together. Hell, I’m more guilty than most in thinking a snarky Facebook status or a punchy tweet has fulfilled my community obligations: I need to lift my game, and so do you. It’ll be easier if we all do it together, and then we can totally get a drink afterwards. I’ll get the first round in.
And that is why I look at the forthcoming Abbott government as an emetic: it will make us feel incredibly sick, absolutely, but that’s how we vomit the poison out.
Andrew P Street