It didn’t take long for the hubris to kick in.
Before the dust was settled, an exultant Liberal was reported ass gloating: “We just campaigned on a strong economy – we’ve got a mandate to do anything!” Well, anything – or nothing.
And just in case there was any doubt about who that “we” referred to, when asked who would drive the agenda if they coalition won, the Supreme ScoMo replied flatly: “I will.”
If this sounds arrogant and authoritarian, it’s because it is: a long way from our miraculous prime minister’s claim to straddle the middle ground. But we are now realising that Australia – or at least parts of it – have shifted decisively to the right, and we do not mean the centre right but the extremes.
It is now clear that the big swing in Queensland was against Labor, but it was not to the coalition: the winners were Pauline Hanson and Clive Palmer and to a lesser extent Bob Katter. It was their preferences that delivered the swag of seats which procured the majority Morrison needed.
So he owes them. He may have enough political capital to ignore the debt – at least for a while. But there will come a time of reckoning. The senate results are still to be finalised, but it is highly likely that Morrison will need One Nation’s two votes sooner or later.
And while Palmer is out of the parliament in body, his presence will live on, demanding commercial favours as he has always done. He will not, and cannot be ignored.
And in the meantime the Liberals’ own steroid-charged right wing will want their kilograms of flesh. The most obvious and immediate will be the boost for religious freedom – by which they mean Christian privilege. But there are other areas which will suffer far more than the humanists.
The ABC is an inevitable target – it certainly won’t get the funding that it wants and needs, that is a given. But the demands that it must be cut down to size, if not actually privatised entirely, will become still shriller and more strident. Once again, Aunty will be going through another change of life crisis.
Depressing enough, but the fate of indigenous Australia is even more dire. Bill Shorten’s promise of a referendum for implementing the Uluru Statement from the Heart now lies in the dust of the red desert where it was devised. Malcolm Turnbull promulgated the lie that it was promoting a third chamber of parliament and Morrison quickly doubled down on it.
In the past I have written, optimistically, that the history of reconciliation has always been a process of two steps forward, one step back – tortuous and frustrating, but at least there was progress to report. Now it has been kyboshed for many years. No doubt there will be the odd token gesture, a few paternalistic and patronising moves to what is called “practical” reconciliation – meaning the government will decide what is good for the blackfellas, and they should bloody well be grateful.
The hope that they might actually be given a say in what they actually want has been crushed by the weight of Hanson and Palmer. Business as usual – as it has been for the last 231 years or, f you take the longer view, about 60,000.
And then there is the Labor Party— or its smoking remains. As always, it is raking over the ashes for consolation — hey, we could still be in reach of government in another three years, the Libs lost the unlosable election in 1993 and stormed back in 1996, we have kept our key members, it could have been worse. And it could – but not much. After a clobbering like that, there will have to be a completely new agenda.
The leader in waiting, Anthony Albanese, says that we will have to review the policies, but not the values, which is all very well, but one clear lesson from last week is that the values between the blue collar traditionalists and the white collar progressives are becoming increasingly incompatible.
Albo believes he can somehow square that circle; well, good luck with that. As a lifelong warrior from the left, he will have do a lot of reconnecting. The trolls of the Murdoch press have already decreed that he should have been strangled at birth as a crypto-communist. Well, they would, wouldn’t they? And there are those on his own side of politics who fear he is past his time – a class warrior in the mould of the great loser, Arthur Calwell. They see the need for generational change.
But at least Albanese starts with a near unanimous endorsement from his party. Even the once dreaded New South Wales right has effectively backed him, and if he may not have the full support of his caucus, he will be overwhelmingly welcomed by the party rank and file.
This is why the potential candidates from the right – Chris Bowen, Jim Chalmers, Joel Fitzgibbon – meekly surrendered as soon as they saw those who should have been their factional allies drifting to Albanese. They knew their only hope was the party room – in the open ground the only people who could have given Albanese a fight were Tanya Plibersek and Penny Wong, neither of whom were, for different reasons, unavailable and both of whom ended up backing Albo anyway.
And this, I think, is Albo’s great virtue – while some may disagree with his prescriptions, no one seriously questions his integrity. During the last Labor governments, he was a zealous supporter of Kevin Rudd, who briefly rewarded him with the deputy’s job. But during the leadership of Julia Gillard, he was unswerving loyal as one of her senior ministers – indeed, she said she cold not imagine a Labor government without Albanese in it.
And although he had beaten Bill Shorten in the rank and file vote in 2013, Albanese worked tirelessly to elect his leader for six long years – no sniping, no wrecking, no undermining Albo exudes an authenticity that ScoMo can only fake. And if the voters come to realise that, he may be halfway there.