Monday, August 23, 2010

Time Warp

Editors Note: The following was written on the Friday before the election, the day before polling day. It was meant to be posted that day... or at least the next day, before the polls closed... or at least that evening, just shortly after the polls closed but - crucially - before I went to an election night party to get blind stinking drunk. Of course none of these things happened which is why I'm posting it now. Your correspondent saved it on a different computer on the Friday before polling day and couldn't access the fucking thing across the weekend. This is why your correspondent should be never be charged with doing anything important. Nor anything unimportant for that matter. In fact, your correspondent should probably spend more time in bed reading and leave the doing of things to others. My final thoughts then, from a sort of time warp, before the votes were cast...

Australian elections aren’t generally super close. They’re not generally landslides either, in either direction. When they are landlsides, there’s normally an overwhelming reason for it: Labor’s Paul Keating got buried in the ‘waiting with baseball bats’ election in 1996 when everyone in the country was sick to death of him and the Libs Malcolm Faser got wiped out in 1983 because he was stupid enough to put the economy in the hands of a young up and comer named John Howard, who did such a bad job that Fraser’s career came to an end.

But we’re a conservative bunch in this country.

The majority of people will vote the same way all their lives, never changing from whatever major party they support regardless of changes in leadership or policy. A handful, about a quarter of the electorate, of swinging voters who do actually change the way they vote from time to time decide elections in Australia. And this group - mostly immigrants, students, intellectuals and nutters - take some convincing.

Hence the fact that we’ve only changed Government three times in the last thirty years; 1983 (Hawke over Fraser), 1996 (Howard over Keating) and 2007 (that bloke from Queensland with the glasses whose name escapes me over Howard). That two of these elections are mentioned in the first paragraph about landslides tells you two things:

1) The limited amount of research I do for these entries leads me to reuse a lot of my material,


2) When we do decide to change Government there’s normally widespread community sentiment that the incumbant mob are not up to the task and need to be turfed out on their ear.

Which brings us to our current election, Julia v Tony.

Having read and watched and listened to a simply ridiculous amount of election coverage, and absorbed so many polls in the last few weeks that I’m inclined to talk about any topic at the moment in terms of numbers (‘What movie would I like to see tonight? 41% of me says ‘Incepetion,’ 39% says ‘Scott Pilgrim,’ 14% says ‘Me and Orson Welles’ with 6% Undecided’), I get the feeling that the Australian public at large is not angry enough with Julia and that Queenlsand bloke with glasses to aggressively turf them out. Nor are they sufficiently enamoured with Tony to get right behind him and sweep him into The Lodge so that he can yell ‘Stop the Boats!’ at them for three years.

The Labor Party has not been bad enough, nor the Liberals good enough, for this election to move into the decisive result category. Which leaves us where, exactly?

As Faye Dunaway put it in the movie ‘Network':

‘That puts us in the shithouse. That's where that puts us.’

In terms of where we are as a country.

The most likley result tomorrow is that Julia Gillard and Labor will be returned with a reduced majority, losing roughly a dozen seats in Queensland and NSW, and offsetting those by nabbing one or two in Victoria and South Australia, with the staus quo in place in Tasmania and West Australia. Not a very good result for a first term Government, but not disastrous enough for them to lose office.

A net gain of 17 seats, which is what the Liberal Party requires to win office outright, appears unlikely. The best that Tony Abbott can seem to hope for would be a hung Parliament, with Labor fairing worse than expected in Queensland or New South Wales and the Libs squeaking an unexpected seat or two somewhere else. There are likely to be four independants in the next Parliament, three of them former members of the conservative National party and it’s a possibility that Abbott may gain the Prime Ministership through the back door, leading a minority government with the support of these three.

Which leaves us where, eaxactly? No wait, I did that already. Ok! This time I’ll try and answer that question.

Where either result - narrow Labor victory or Liberal minority government - will leave us is with a hanstrung government without a sufficient mandate to do anything much. Small margin in the legislative lower house, blocked by the balance of power greens in the Senate. Which might not make much of a difference, since neither party has really appeared to propose to do anything much, policy wise.

The simple truth is that this has been a dispiriting election, with little on offer from either side other than some sloganeering and some, pretty modest, pork barrelling for punters who live in marginal seats. If you do live in such a marginal seat, you may find yourself with a new railway line if you vote Labor, or a new hosptial if you vote Liberal, or vice versa depending on where you live.

But the important questions that Governments need to deal with; how we’re employed, how our economy functions, how we deal with the rest of the world, how much tax we pay and what it gets spent on, how we look after our environment, how we attend to our poor and underprivelaged, will be little changed regardless of who wins the election. There will be some fiddling at the margins in terms of policy, and some lofty rhetoric from whichever side gets to do the fiddling, and a small number of punters who are slightly better or worse off because of it. And that’s about it. No wonder former Labor leader Mark Latham went on telly to tell everyone to vote informally (as about 6% of the electorate, or as many people as vote for the National Party, do anyway).

And the price tag for this never ending 5 week circus that will deliver this negligible result? This relentless bombardment of ads and slogans and photo ops and op eds pieces that will encourage approximately three quarters of a million people to write ‘Fuck’ on their ballot papers or just leave them blank? According to the ‘SMH,’ somewhere in the nighbourhood of $200 million dollars. And that’s just the tax payers share.

Something to think about during the next Parliament, when whoever is then Prime Minister starts describing how there's no money left to do anything substantial.

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