In politics disunity is death, and so it was for Labor. The interpersonal infighting, machinations and resultant leadership changes resonated more with voters than Labor’s policy achievements or concerns about extreme Coalition policies. The conservatives’ appearance of unity behind Abbott, despite internal disagreement over contentious policies and the socially regressive head-kicker having gained party leadership by one vote, clearly counted for much. It helped that he was solidly backed by the Murdoch press, who pilloried Labor and the notion of minority government, along with Murdoch’s pet hate The Greens.
We have elected a coalition with polices to massively reward the already well-to-do; treat climate change concern as an extreme fad – and will reverse Australia’s effort to show some leadership in tackling it; treat asylum seekers with cruelty, opportunistically painting them as a threat to national security rather than desperate people fleeing persecution and terror; will seek to overturn World Heritage listing of Tasmania’s iconic tall tree forests (the first time such a reversal has been mooted anywhere in the world); align with powerful right-wing business and media ownership like the Murdochs, Packers and Gina Rinehart against environmental and other progressive concerns.
We have thrown out a party that made some mistakes but steered us successfully through the greatest international financial crisis since the 1930’s depression; that with help from the Greens developed major schemes supporting medical, dental and disability care, and education; began meaningful action against climate change – arguably the greatest imminent threat to all life on earth including the futures of our children and grandchildren; that attempted to use some of the huge profits of the mining boom to pay for progressive policies and major new infrastructure like the national broadband network. We have elected to both houses representatives of an opportunistic, clownish, billionaire coal magnate promising cash handouts; and to the Senate a number of far right and single issue candidates promoting issues such as car transport and sport, and one obscure group with Liberal in its title (voted in by donkeys).
How could this happen? We are a wealthy nation of under-educated, politically illiterate, disengaged consumers. One of the richest countries in the world, we worry more about the economy than mitigating climate change or helping refugees. Our disengagement leaves us at the mercy of the almost-all-controlling Murdoch press and associated far-right shock jocks; this constituency of big money and media power opposed the mining and carbon taxes, constantly bagging the minority government. Overly attached to sport and shopping, we are heavily influenced by their headlines and slogans, rather than by an interest in or understanding of the big issues. On this basis, anything called a tax must be bad, as it might mean less money in the pocket – though the opposite was more likely. The preferential voting system means that some wacky groups are elected because big party strategy puts them ahead of other real parties on the bewilderingly large senate ballot paper. First-past-the-post might be better for the upper house.
On the positive side of the leger, progressive inner Melbourne has returned a Green to the lower house, despite a heavy combined attack against him by Labor and the Coalition, and the number of Greens senators has increased. Voters were clearly punishing Labor, but concerned about the Coalition gaining control of both houses. As a Greens voter I am part of a progressive minority in a sea of politically disengaged consumers; it’s an odd feeling, like being a stranger in your own country, a nation dominated by right wing media interests with far too much control and power. Democracy, described by Churchill as ‘the worst of all systems but for the others’, works well if choice is informed. Outcomes may be poor if that choice is uninformed and easily manipulated by powerful, self-serving interests.